When the Covid-19 pandemic changed the way we live and work, no one was prepared for the extent of these changes or how long they would need to stay in effect. Leaders are trained to handle upheaval, but this health crisis presented a long-term challenge that disrupted our global economy at its core.

Here we are, nearly two years later, still reacting to the reverberations of that disruption. The role of leaders has changed, and it’s likely that things aren’t going back to the way they were. Remote work and hybrid arrangements are the next normal. Leaders have to perform their roles differently by leaning further into trust, beyond resistance and discomfort, and learn how to effectively manage from afar. 

Listen as Debra discusses the challenges that Covid-19 has presented both inside and outside of the workplace. We’ll break down the new understanding we’ve gained about the evolving role of leaders and share a few interesting statistics from employee and leadership perspectives when it comes to working remotely. 


In This Episode, You Will Learn:

  • Survey statistics regarding remote work among employees during the Covid-19 pandemic (2:00)
  • 4 workplace models we can expect to see in the future (4:57)
  • Benefits of adopting a more global static hybrid model of remote work (8:49)
  • The challenges for remote leaders in a hybrid team scenario (10:59)
  • How the increasing demand for flexibility will affect the workplace of the future (15:48)
  • The biggest challenges organizations faced when Covid-19 hit (17:29)
  • Pleasant surprises that have come from the remote work model (19:53)


Resources Mentioned in this episode:


About the Host:

Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues.  Debra is a dynamic keynote speaker, innovative educator, impactful coach, seasoned executive, and successful author.  She is the co-author of the recently released book, REMOTE LEADERSHIP – Successfully Leading Work-from-Anywhere and Hybrid Teams, as well as several other books on remote and virtual teams.  

Since publishing her first book on telecommuting in 1999, Debra has been a pioneer in the shift to virtual work and remote leadership.  Few practitioners in the field have the depth of knowledge and hands-on experience that distinguishes Debra in the hybrid workplace and remote leadership space.  As a nationally recognized expert in remote workplace and distance leadership, Debra has spoken widely on related topics, and developed and taught “Leadership in the Virtual Workplace,” an online graduate-level course offered by Duquesne University.  Previously, Debra was a teleworking executive and has worked from her home office for more than two decades.




Schedule a call with Debra HERE.

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Debra Dinnocenzo:

Welcome to the Remote Leadership Podcast. I'm Debra Dinnocenzo and I'll be your host and guide as we explore new challenges and proven keys to success for leaders and teams who must get results from a distance. For more than two decades, I've helped organizations and leaders successfully go virtual. Now that we're all on a trajectory toward the next normal of work from anywhere and hybrid teams, I'm excited to share with you the insights and expertise that 1000s of leaders and teams have acquired through my books, coaching, training, and presentations. Join me to learn tips, techniques and skills that leaders and teams in your organization can implement now to achieve effectiveness in our evolving remote workplaces.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

With the likely increase of remote work as our next normal, and in spite of its challenges. This is how and where the essential work of a growing number of organizations will get done. The challenges of building trust, communicating, collaborating, onboarding, coaching, motivating, problem solving, and maintaining organizational culture. While leading work from anywhere and hybrid teams is the leadership imperative for the next era of remote work. And I look forward to sharing with you the tools skills, and the techniques remote leaders and hybrid teams need to achieve their best results. Many of the topics in this in future episodes draw from the book I recently co authored which is titled remote leadership successfully leading work from anywhere and hybrid teams, you'll find the book at remote leadership book.com. In conducting research for the remote leadership book, I along with my co author Jason Warwick, surveyed and interviewed hundreds of leaders and team members during the COVID 19 pandemic, from across industries in organizations of varying sizes. In many cases, people discovered how to work remotely for the first time. When asked how often they worked remotely prior to the pandemic 40% of the respondents answer not at all. Yet, only 7% of those surveyed wanted to go back to the office full time and never work remotely again. The vast majority responded with some combination of working in the office and working remotely. Just over 20% of survey participants who are already working remotely to some degree prior to the pandemic wanted to increase the amount of time away from the office when the pandemic was over. In short, and this is worth noting, people overwhelmingly want some degree of flexibility to work remotely. What we found even more interesting is that there was no significant difference in desire to work remotely between leaders and team members. Studies done over a decade ago indicated that team members wanted to work remotely more than leaders. Presumably, many leaders were uncomfortable leading from a distance or untrusting of how their employees would perform if unsupervised. And my work with clients over the past two decades certainly reflect this leader resistance. However, our research for the book helped us see that leaders have evolved beyond their previous resistance and perhaps discomfort. When we asked what has gone well while working remotely, leaders were far more likely than team members to mention productivity, collaboration and communication. We found this both interesting and encouraging, and an important dynamic that will further accelerate the expansion of remote work.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

It's important to point out that the size of the organization does appear to factor into a person's desire to work remotely. Our research indicated that smaller organizations those with less than, say 1000 employees were more likely to have full time remote workers than larger organizations, while larger organizations were more likely to have full time office bound workers. This may be due in part to differences in organizational culture, or financial constraints where smaller organizations may be more inclined to encourage remote working with the objective to reduce real estate costs. However, employees from large and small organizations alike have an almost equal desire for more remote work in the post COVID-19 era. So what does the future hold for the workplace? It's likely that we're Places will evolve into one of 14 models. The first two models are familiar, but they will be increasingly uncommon in the future. The onsite model was one we all know it's the traditional work model, where all employees are co located, meaning they're located together at one site. This model also encompasses when employees are co located within different locations of the same organization. Leaders generally have direct line of sight to their team members. This model may be preferred or necessary in some cases, based on the nature of work. For example, if employees handle sensitive information that can't be accessed remotely, or must do hands on work, such as manufacturing or construction, the onsite model will prevail. This remains true in the case of many service industry jobs as well, such as those in hospitality and healthcare. However, for knowledge base work, it's unlikely that we will see continued use of this team model to the extent that it's been used in the past. At the opposite end of the spectrum is the full remote model, where all work is done remotely, and there's no actual co located workspace. Startups and smaller companies may more readily choose this model to reduce operating expenses and real estate costs. But the full remote model isn't likely to be embraced on a large scale in the near future. If the onsite and for remote models will not be the norm, then what can we expect in the workplace of the very near future? Most organizations will leverage and transform into hybrid teams. So what are hybrid teams and how will work from anywhere actually work? Our understanding and implementation of hybrid work models is still and will continue to be an evolving dynamic. Due to a number of factors, we're seeing an acceleration of the trend that shifts work to where people are, rather than moving people to the physical workplace.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Now, while not all jobs can be accomplished remotely, we've seen that an increasing number of jobs can successfully be done from a distance, and there's growing demand by workers to work from locations that are removed from the physical workplace. In many cases, there's a blending of remote work with occasional work in the traditional workplace. For a number of reasons, the group of team members on site at any particular time may vary with an alternating mix of onsite and remote team members. This produces the hybrid team effect, where shifting groups of team members revolve through physical and distant iterations of the workday. That brings us to the other two team models that Jason and I discuss in our book on remote leadership. In our model of hybrid teams, the static hybrid team design has become common, those still an occasional one off or special arrangement, often to accommodate the needs of a handful of team members. In this model, a critical mass of team members may be co located on site, while some individuals are permanently remote. Examples of this include sales organizations, with sales representatives working from home offices, and service organizations with service technicians located in the field, closer to customers and often using home as their base of operation. Face to face interactions with remote team members in the static hybrid model may be infrequent if at all. This model benefits those with special needs or accommodates those with desired skills or talents that can't relocate to the company or team location. Multinational and global companies may embrace the static hybrid model, so they can strategically position teams or team members in countries where business is conducted. This model also describes organizations that take advantage of a wider national or global talent pool through distributed teams that are spread across geographic areas and time zones. Despite the fact that some members are co located. Everyone works remotely to some degree as they interact with off site team members. Most likely our fourth team model, fluid hybrid teams will be increasingly common in a growing number of organizations. The physical work location will still exist, but leaders and team members will have the flexibility to use the workplace as needed. With remote work as the default mode. Organizations may benefit from higher Our employees satisfaction and engagement and therefore higher retention as well as reduction in overhead and real estate costs. As I mentioned earlier, our survey of leaders and team members highlighted the desire to work remotely. Some of the time. approximately a quarter of respondents said they wanted to work remotely full time, but two thirds indicated that they want to work remotely only part time. Additionally, leaders cited the lack of personal interactions as the biggest challenge to working remotely. Team members identified this as one of their top challenges, while concerns about staying motivated and maintaining productivity ranked slightly higher. Most people are social creatures and want in person live human interaction, there will increasingly be an optimal solution for most employees. They will work on site when necessary, but the balance of the time they'll work remotely. Hybrid teams present many challenges and implications for leaders, there may be shifting groups of team members who are present at different times, or a portion of the team might consistently work on site with the leader, while others are primarily remote. These are some of the scenarios that are likely to create new challenges for remote leaders requiring new skills and innovative approaches to working with teams. Therefore, leaders must prepare themselves to meet the needs of the new work environment and the changing demands of their team members. So what was previously an occasional temporary or limited aspect of the workplace, causing limited impact on leaders is now a growing reality of organizational life for the future. Smart leaders will stay ahead of this curve, anticipate ways to adapt and ensure they're prepared to meet the demands of leadership effectiveness in the new world of work, where teams must work well together from wherever they are, and however they engage in teamwork.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Over the past two decades, the benefits of remote work have become clear. And technology has advanced to meet the need for easier and more productive remote work. Intermittent weather, security and infrastructure challenges, as well as growing awareness of the carbon footprint created by commuters have all contributed to the growth in remote work and work from home initiatives. And then the global pandemic of 2020 hit, creating millions of instant telecommuters around the globe. As a result, the virtual workplace is no longer a trend. It's an inevitability that has become our new reality and next normal, creating new challenges and opportunities for leaders. In recent years, leaders have certainly become more adept at leading from a distance. But the evolving dynamics of work, particularly with hybrid work models create shifts in the onsite workplace. This drives the need for change and the ways that leaders manage both on site and remote team members. These dynamics restructure the workplace to include increasingly hybrid work teams. While it seemed challenging in the recent past to manage the occasional telecommuter, the random remote team member or the one off geo dispersed team, hybrid teams add a layer of complexity to the mix. Fortunately, leaders can use fundamental leadership skills to lead hybrid teams effectively. With appropriate adaptation for these new workplace and work teams circumstances will discuss these dynamics and the evolving mandate for effective leadership in more depth in future episodes of remote leadership. To get a jump on accessing these insights, critical remote leadership tools, and free resources, visit remote leadership book.com. So here's our current reality. Leaders must now continually address the shifting needs of team members who are sometimes remote, sometimes in the office, and rarely all together in one place. Leaders need to leverage virtual presence skills and build trust within dispersed teams. They need to communicate without the benefit of in person interaction, share information, collaborate and innovate using digital tools. They need to coach from a distance hire and onboard remotely inculcate cultural values virtually and achieve performance targets in new ways. These skills are essential for the new era of leadership that is required in a wide range of organizations and in shifting circumstances. Understanding how to adapt leadership skills to effectively support remote team members and hybrid teams is essential for leaders now. leaders will also need to forge new territory relative to planning and policies for the growing work from anywhere segment of the workforce challenging as it's been to craft telework programs for a select few team members. Leaders are now faced with greater complexity in designing flexible work arrangements to accommodate a variety of circumstances. This requires formulating policies regarding remote worker selection, performance management, career development, technology, safety and equipment, as well as legal compliance and tax implications. While the traditional workplace will still exist, how it works and how people interact within it has evolved. What is no longer debatable, however, is the permanent shift in response to both the demand and the need for flexibility. We've already seen that the physical workplace, which may not be accessible to significant segments of the workforce, can no longer be the only place where meaningful work is accomplished. Aside from the talent acquisition and retention benefits for employers have a more flexible approach to work. legions of workers will expect expanded work from anywhere options in support of their desire to minimize commute time, and improve their work life balance. More critically, organizations can no longer be unprepared for the next weather security, or national health emergency that renders the traditional workplace unusable. Rather, organizations leaders and teams must be prepared to continue their critical work from wherever it can be done to meet customer needs and market demand. And they must know how to do this well, with the right skills to lead and the necessary team effectiveness to continue delivering required results. And extraordinary global crisis like the COVID 19 pandemic impacts many aspects of remote work.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

prior to publishing our remote leadership book, Jason Warwick and I spent decades consulting with organizations and training 1000s of people on the right way to work remotely. Not surprisingly, we were more than a little stunned to watch how many of those guidelines were necessarily abandoned in 2020. As businesses scrambled to accommodate the new unplanned circumstances. Anytime the workforce shifts to remote work in response to an emergency like a hurricane, tornado terrorism, infrastructure failure, flood or fire leaders and teams face unpredictable situations. Effective business continuity planning can mitigate some of the factors that might compromise workflow, but other factors will be difficult to anticipate the worldwide pandemic and resulting lockdown of 2020 is a glaring example of this, who could have imagined dynamic leaders we interviewed and surveyed described problems for which they had no solutions. They had been inadequately prepared for the sudden closure of many traditional work sites. resources were a big issue. Many people were more dependent than they realized on specific equipment, tools and technology resources that didn't go home with them. Some organizations had difficulty hosting virtual meetings, some faced network and data security issues because their technology infrastructure was weak. Many workers also faced overwhelming personal challenges trying to work with children and other family members also working from home. They were fearful of the virus and didn't know how long the lockdown might last. It became nearly impossible to balance work and family demands, focus on work and feel that everything was manageable. So what did we learn from this unplanned and phenomenally intense fast track to remote working? A few key insights became clear as the pandemic dragged on, workplaces remained closed, and schools struggled to open with a safe environment. In contrasting planned remote work with remote work prompted by an emergency, several insights emerged. First, we saw organizations that had previously embraced or at least partially implemented remote work, were better able to adapt. Many leaders were pleasantly surprised by how effectively work could be accomplished.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

During the extended work from home experience, We saw a team members being patient and tolerant for the most part, there was an overall sense of acceptance of children appearing on camera, bad hair days, casual dress, barking dogs and noisy backgrounds. It was sometimes impossible to maintain a standard of decorum that existed pre pandemic, and workers learned to overlook and forgive that comfort levels. With video meetings rapidly increased, the value of connecting by video became more apparent, as people increasingly recognize the risks of isolation, and the value of seeing each other for work and personal connectivity. Those who are already skilled at using video tools adapted more easily. We found that people became creative about ways to replicate and simulate some of the interpersonal experiences they missed by not being together, they found ways to have fun and retain important bonds of communication, sharing and support for each other. We'll highlight some of these creative solutions in future episodes, because they demonstrate some of the key learnings that leaders and teams can take from the pandemic experience to enrich the future remote workplaces. certain tasks, such as sales, prospecting performance reviews and problem solving, were initially deferred. But when it became clear that remote work would continue for longer than originally expected, teams found ways to tackle those tasks, because further delaying them would have hurt business. Teams and leaders who made concerted efforts to reach out to each other in a variety of ways were less frustrated by the impact of the extended remote work time. Those who took the initiative to connect on a personal level, ie on specific work tasks reported feeling more engaged with their team and their leader. Digital overload resulting from so many video meetings became a problem as work from home was extended. People realize that it was difficult to stare at a video screen for the same number of minutes it would take to hold an in person meeting. Video meeting, burnout became an increasing complaint. Leaders felt the stress frustration and exhaustion of team members as the pandemic oran many responded by ramping up coaching, support and additional virtual touchpoints with team members. They tried to foster optimism even as employees were furloughed and departments were shut down, and sometimes businesses folded. Leaders found that openness, transparency and increased communication was vital to helping people survive this process.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

Although the pandemic created extraordinary and unpredicted circumstances, leaders and team members who work together and learn to adapt, created solutions to some of the most vexing problems of the virtual workplace, some leaders gained valuable experience in overcoming or managing remote work obstacles. It's clear that much was learned as a result of the intense ramp up of remote work during the pandemic. And these insights provide a wealth of opportunity for leaders to leverage as we shift to more stable and lasting models of remote work and hybrid work. We will be addressing in future podcasts many of the challenges and learnings that have brought us to a new understanding of the evolving role of leaders in the next normal of remote work. Join me for future episodes of the remote leadership podcast to hear tips, techniques and timely information to accelerate the success of remote leaders and their teams in the expanding hybrid workplace. In the meantime, remember to subscribe and share this podcast with your colleagues. For access to helpful resources for remote leaders. Visit remote leadership podcast.com.