Debra Dinnocenzo discusses how the unique application of leadership skills in the hybrid/remote workplace ensure the effectiveness and excellence of leaders of teams that work in the evolving hybrid workplace. Key leader competency areas and critical skills – applied through intentional connections using technology tools – enable remote/hybrid leader success. Knowing these skills and meeting the challenges of applying them in the hybrid work environment is key to leader success in the here-to-stay hybrid/remote workplace.

About the Host:

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.

Debra A. Dinnocenzo is president and founder of VirtualWorks!, a consulting, coaching, and training firm that specializes in virtual work issues. Debra is a dynamic keynote speaker, innovative educator, impactful coach, seasoned executive, and successful author. 

Debra 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.

Schedule a call with Debra HERE

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Debra Dinnocenzo:

Hello, and welcome to this episode of the remote leadership Podcast. I'm Debra Dinnocenzo. And I want to talk a little bit more and in a little bit more detail about the skills that are essential for today's leaders in the remote and hybrid workplace. As the hybrid workplace continues to represent the most common workplace design into our next normal, and important issue that leaders must address is the impact that remote work and more dispersed team members has on leadership skills, or traditional leadership skills, approaches and techniques applicable in our new world of work, and if not, what has or what must change. I addressed this issue in a recent research project that focused on identifying skills and behaviors that are critical to success in leading in hybrid work environment. So well, some of the skills and behaviors identified are essential for remote and hybrid leaders, most of the skills and behaviors are not really unique to the hybrid work environment. Rather, the skills and behaviors are applicable to leaders in any environment. However, the differentiators identified relate to how the skills and behaviors are applied, in how they are deployed, and the frequency in which they must be used, and the tools used in the exercise of leadership skills and behaviors in a remote environment. Now, it's not uncommon for leaders to also work with remote team members who are geographically dispersed, whether leaders are working with hybrid or remote team members. The reality is that the historic workplace with everyone on site every day is far less common, and less likely to return to the way it was. So let me share the key competencies, and some of the skills and behaviors that my research identified as essential, or today's leaders. Most of whom are leading teams, in some variation of hybrid, there isn't certainly a one size fits all. And no one's doing it the same way as everyone else. We're really still trying to figure this out. And while we're figuring it out, we still need to have leaders doing the right things in the right ways at the right time. The major competency areas included in the research, we're leading others self leadership or self management, organizational leadership, and results leadership. For the competency of leading others, the key skills that were explored included communication, relationship building, trust, and collaboration. Not surprisingly, communication remains a vitally important skill for remote and hybrid leaders. Notably, the research demonstrated the importance of intentionality. And I've mentioned this before, but it's also very important, the intentionality and the frequency of communication with dispersed team members, as well as the effective use of a wide array of technology tools to both manage and enable leader communication. Closely related to communication is the importance of connectedness and engagement as requirements for success in leading remotely. Both of the top noted skills in this competency area, communication and connection engagement are integral to the key skill of relationship building, also identified as critical. Again, however, the how in the application of these critical Hills is what remote and hybrid leaders must understand and learn how to apply. And while trust is often identified as a primary ingredient in the skill mix for distance leaders, and we've talked about the importance of trust for many years, rust was really not reported as critical. Although it's possible, that trust may be perceived as an inherent outcome of the other skills most frequently identified in the research. Collaboration is frequently cited by leaders as a critical potential loss in the evolving remote workplace, along with concerns regarding the impact, that remote working, has on innovation. We hear a lot about this and hear and read about are not as good at innovation. We're not as good at lab ERATION when we're not together. These concerns are not typically based on data that support the assertions. And interestingly, collaboration did not really show up as a critical skill in the leading others competency area. It's not to say that collaboration is unimportant, certainly, and innovation is certainly not unimportant. But it wasn't these weren't top of mind and didn't really rank very high at all in terms of the skills that were identified as really critical of for remote and hybrid leaders. Though not identified with the same frequency. Other skills identified in the leading others competency, included skills such as building a strong community, actively listening to ensure understanding, fostering empathy, conveying openness and approachability, and the importance of scheduling time to meet with team members. Now, one could suggest that all of those skills are important even when people are working together on site. But again, how one actively listens, how one goes about fostering and conveying empathy, and how a leader demonstrates approachability when someone can't just wander by their office or wander into their cubicle or bump into them in the coffee room. So these things are or have a different angle, if you will, and certainly a level of real importance for remote and hybrid leaders in the competency of self leadership or self management. This this competency area produced some interesting results in the research. While the focus was on skills, the initial focus was on skills such as problem solving and innovation. The results identified as a critical for self leadership skills included adaptability and comfort with new remote communication tools. organization planning and coordination, time management, which is really as oldest time as a challenge for leaders, and the final area is adaptability, flexibility, and leadership style adapting leadership style. Relative to leadership of remote and hybrid teams. The research results produced strong emphasis on the necessity of change on the part of leaders, both in terms of attitudes and specific skills. Effective distance leaders are perceived to be adaptable to the changes inherent and leading remotely. These changes mandate that leaders gained comfort, confidence and competence in leading through technology to communicate and connect so leaders need to adapt. They need to adapt their style and their approach and their way of doing things through these technology tools that we now need to use. There is also a perceived need for leaders to adapt their leadership style and become comfortable with all kinds of new communication tools.

Debra Dinnocenzo:

So it's clear that successful remote and hybrid leaders must be extraordinarily organized and must manage their time very well. This was identified as essential to both manage the intentional reaching out to connect with remote team members, as well as the need to manage skillfully the plethora of communications streaming to the remote leader at an accelerated pace. So leaders are dealing with the need to proactively reach out to communicate, and to process all the communication that's coming their way. So leaders who easily become overwhelmed by the vast level of communication necessary in the digital work environment, Wolf's really struggle to communicate effectively with and support their remote team members. Other skills and behaviors noted with regard to self leadership for remote and hybrid leaders include being available and responsive. Having a commitment to again, intentional interactions with team members, as opposed to just be these interactions just happen, they're unplanned, they really need to be intentional and leaders need to be much more planful. Now, also self understanding of the leaders deficits, and being proactive in addressing them. So it's all part of self management and self leadership, and having the ability to work in a disciplined and independent manner. So this is a different reality where leaders are not subject to as much supervision and oversight, because many of them are not working on site anymore, or not on site as often. In the competency area of organizational leadership, skills, such as strategic leadership and change leadership, were not identified as most critical when compared to the interpersonal skills that I've already discussed. However, inter team and intra team communication was identified as having potential for negative organizational impact the research on Earth, lingering concerns about the risk of increased silos in organizations, though we've been working for a number of years to eradicate silos, there's a growing sense that while we work more remotely, and we have more hybrid teams, and teams in from different functional areas don't inter interact as regularly with coworkers from other teams, that we will see more silos forming not consciously but unconscious, inherently perhaps, although the increased use of matrix project team structures might offset the risk of silo expansions somewhat matrixed project teams are not really perceived as an ideal solution because of the transitory nature of these kinds of structures. So moving on are not surprisingly results, leadership remains a critical area for leaders in remote and hybrid environments. Although a variety of language is used, and terminology is used to describe this competency area, and its terminology such as achieving results, having clear goals and expectations, measuring results, key performance indicators and accountability are these are all terms that really mean getting results. It's irrefutable that achieving results hitting targets managing the bottom line, all of these objectives remain a critical aspect of leadership, regardless of where team members work, or how often leaders see them. A few other key skills and leadership practices for remote and hybrid leaders were identified through the research. These included onboarding initiative and And proactivity having cameras on and replicating informal communication. The increased importance of effective onboarding practices for leaders of dispersed teams is seen as very important. Leaders who excel in the remote hybrid workplace are perceived to take initiative, and to be proactive. And leaders of remote meetings that utilize video tools are seen as more committed to effective team building when they encourage all meeting participants to be present with their web cameras on and those of you who have been listening to other episodes know I've talked about this a lot. And I consider it a best practice to have cameras on because that most simulates and replicates how we would be if we were on site together. And it's more effective for hybrid meetings as well. The challenges of replicating the casual informal interactions that previously occurred in the onsite workplace and occurred more naturally, was an interesting issue identified in the research. And I do hear this a lot as well outside of the research the challenges of finding ways to do this authentically and with credibility, and naturally, this seems to provide significant consternation for people, leaders and team members alike. Although there really are few solutions so far to meet this challenge. And solutions that people accept as our feel are comfortable solutions that are authentic. And it's, it's hard for people to feel authentic in the way that we connect with each other through technology that is not perceived as innately connecting, even though we can connect so much better than we previously connected before we had all of these great tools, the related challenges of fostering relationships from a distance, and the lack of human connections, real human connections that I mean, let's face it, we feel like human connections really happen when we are together, we are face to face on site face to face. These challenges continue to cause concerns and frustration both for leaders and teams in the hybrid workplace. Other challenges that we continue to face in the new workplace include mastering technology, and mastering it leads to greater comfort, which is really important because that leads to greater competence. And onboarding from a distance continues to be a challenge, managing digital overload, both for leaders and team members, ensuring the effectiveness of online training, and balancing work life demands in the digital work environment. These are all challenges that that collectively, are not allowing leaders or team members to feel like this is that we've reached a point where we really feel like we've mastered the remote hybrid workplace. So the research provided for our turnover rank ordered list of skills for effective remote and hybrid leaders. And I'd like to share these because I think they represent accurately represent the other aspects of the research. The first of course, is communication, that's really not a surprise of communication is really key. It's pivotal to so many other skills and competencies that are critical. And there's so many different ways that we're leaders and teams are communicating now. And

Debra Dinnocenzo:

so there are different methods to communicate, and the pace of communication. All of that rolls up to communication being vitally important of the second in the rank order was planning, organizing and time management. And I found this kind of interesting because obviously, planning and organizing and effective time management has been an important thing for leaders for as long as we can all remember, but it's how leaders need to plan and how they need to organize and the critical The role of planning and organizing and time management have in enabling the more proactive and plan for reaching out connecting with people having meetings with people who are not really on site as often as they used to be. The third area is technology acumen. So again, the technology enables all of these things, much of our planning and organizing and time management is done on technology tools. And certainly communication. If people are not on site together, then communication happens through technology. The fourth area is interpersonal skills and relationships, sort of an undercurrent. But as it was identified, also as really an important area for leaders to be conscious of building and strengthening relationships, relationships between leaders and team members, and relationships within the team as well. A challenge for leaders is when a new person joins the team, and how to inculcate that person into the culture that has an impact on onboarding, and building those relationships and getting people up to speed as we say, on so many different aspects of the job, the organization, the department, the function, and, and the team itself and the relationships within the team. The fifth category or area or skill area is that was reported is openness, transparency, and availability. And so these are important against much of this is done through technology, and how responsive a leader is and being available, which impacts the perception of the leader as being open. And how a leader conveys transparency through authentic sharing and disclosure and reflective listening. And really building the kinds of relationship where people can feel free to ask questions and leaders can share honestly, responses and their viewpoints and their opinions. And you know, transparency, in many ways relates to what people perceive as realness and authenticity. The sixth area was discipline to manage accountability. And so that gets back to results leadership, and the discipline that it takes to manage results. Because we're not just assuming that people are getting the results by seeing them in, in the workplace. And assuming that they're working and working on the right things. It is now managing accountability, managing results, again, through monitoring and measurement systems, again, through technology. And the the seventh area was initiative, and self starter. And so this, this came through in the research and it was kind of interesting to me, the the perception that really effective remote leaders are self starters, because again, many of them work remotely. And they don't necessarily have the discipline or the structure of the office environment on a daily basis. And so, they have to have that self initiative in the self starter skills and mindset to do the reach outs and the connections and to build the relationships. So in summary, the key competency areas for highly effective hybrid remote leaders involves skills and behaviors, most directly related to communication, engagement in the building of strong relationships, by leaders with their remote teams. Also critical is the ability of leaders to adapt to the changing work environment. This was this was clear in the research that leaders who are continuing to resist the changes or continue to yearn for the way things used to be are not getting on board and are not as engaged. Therefore they cannot have Have their teams be as engaged, and they're not going to be as successful. They're not perceived as, as effective. So we also hear about the skillful use of the different communication tools essential to leader effectiveness in the digital workplace. And so leaders need to demonstrate that they're comfortable with and competent with using the tools, and managing what can feel like a lot of over overload and overwhelm from all of these different tools, both kind of the outbound communication tools, and all of the inflow, all the information and all the connections and all the communication and all the requests for help and connectivity and responsiveness, it's a lot flowing in and out. I think a takeaway from the research was that if there's so much coming in, that leaders aren't managing well, they're not doing the outgoing, reaching out intentional connections, plan for relationship building, and management of performance of results, if they're overwhelmed with, with all of the realities of of working in this kind of environment. So as I mentioned earlier, these are not leadership skills, fully unique to hybrid and remote leaders, but applying these skills from a distance through technology, and with limited on sight, times together. These are the unique challenges for remote and hybrid leaders. And this requires great attention to the intentional application of the skills, the skillful use of technology, and leader commitment to building relationships in new ways. To ensure that team members are committed, team members are satisfied that they're achieving performance, and that leaders achieve retention with their team. So I will be sharing in future pet podcasts, more insights from leaders who participated in the research that I've highlighted today, as well as more information about how to build the new skills that leaders deem and how to coach leaders to be excellent in their roles as leaders of hybrid and remote teams. And I encourage you to check back for more of that information, as well as an upcoming episode on the tools and techniques for identifying and developing excellence in remote and hybrid leadership.