Senior learning consultant James Eynon is the host of ‘The Big Questions: A Capita Learning Podcast’. In his first article, James touched upon the specific skills required to be an effective hybrid leader such as being an Event organiser, building mutual trust. In his latest instalment, James delves into the essential skills of proactive communication and inclusive facilitation for hybrid leaders.

Proactive communication

Communication is a real issue in the vacuum of remote working. When you’re not physically together, it’s easy to underestimate the amount of communication that’s needed. If you share a message with your team in a shared working space, that message can be discussed in passing by various people, allowing the group to assimilate and interact with the information naturally. Similarly, if you hear something that doesn’t sound quite right or notice that a team member is struggling, as a leader you can clarify things at the source.

A culture of no surprises

The silence of working remotely, compared to the communication outlined above is why we must work hard to create a culture of no surprises.

For instance, Yasar Ahmed, Global VP for People at HelloFresh, highlighted an issue where employees in his organisation felt blindsided by their performance scores during annual reviews. The scores often diverged significantly from their personal perceptions. To combat this, leaders were instructed to be ready and able to share a well-reasoned performance score whenever an employee inquired. This approach mitigated the tension surrounding annual reviews by keeping employees informed about their performance throughout the year.

This is what proactive communication is about: communicating repeatedly and regularly to ensure clarity. Leadership, as described by fellow senior learning consultant, Justice Onwuka, on the podcast, is a “contact sport.” It’s easy to think that we are initiating contact when we are not. Take the phrase “my door is always open”; it sounds good, but it’s being critiqued by more and more people for being too passive. It suggests waiting for others to make the first move rather than actively seeking them out, which can lead to missed opportunities for engagement, as evidenced by feedback from the Openreach People survey (as discussed on the podcast).

Being an inclusive facilitator

To communicate effectively, you need to be an inclusive facilitator. During our podcast discussions, many guests praised whiteboarding tools such as Miro and Mural for enhancing remote collaboration. Steph Bright suggested that whiteboarding can “bring a level of inclusivity, we didn’t see before.”

In face-to-face settings, it’s common for the loudest voices to dominate discussions. However, online platforms provide alternative engagement methods, such as virtual post-it notes and text chat, which can help diversify inputs and enrich the diversity of thought.

Nevertheless, it’s important to be cautious of overusing technology. One study found that people worked 30% more remotely, primarily due to online meetings. Online meetings are fatiguing, and not only from trying to read visual cues - something vital for human connection - but also due to the sheer volume and pace of digital interactions.

Rethinking your approach to online meetings
During online meetings, how often do you look at yourself, asking questions such as:

  • “Am I looking engaged?”
  • “What’s that in my background?”
  • “Why is my hair looking like that?”

This level of self-awareness can be exhausting. That’s why one organisation we collaborate with has started to encourage mobile phone calls over video calls. It’s important to recognise that online meetings are not a ‘one size fits all’ solution for connecting with each other.

The skills to find a code that works

The need for variety in what we do is apparent across the four skills that have been highlighted in this series:

  • event organiser
  • mutual trust builder
  • proactive communicator
  • inclusive facilitator

It’s interesting how none of these are particularly new, yet hybrid working has forced us to dial up how we enact them. Hybrid is the extra digit on that PIN code, not a new code entirely.

Helping leaders to develop

How can leaders develop these skills? According to my podcast guests, the answer lies in ‘exposure’.

One innovative approach is ‘mutual mentoring.’ This method pairs junior colleagues from Black, Asian or minority ethnic backgrounds with senior leaders, fostering empathy and a deeper understanding. It’s an effective way to broaden perspectives and confront personal biases and behaviours - not only on race and gender but also nuances such as hybrid working.

Additionally, creating support networks can give leaders the space to understand themselves, learn from others and identify the skills needed for improvement. These networks do not have to be formal ‘action learning’ sessions; often, the most valuable learning has come from informally spending 30 minutes together in a room, sharing ideas, successes, and challenges.

A crucial reminder for hybrid leadership

If there’s one thing to remember, it’s the poignant observation by Clare Kelliher of Cranfield University: “We can be in danger of reducing work to a set of tasks.” While tasks and projects are essential aspects of our professional lives, they do not encapsulate the entirety of our work. As long as organisations are full of people - interaction and relationship building will be integral to its success.

People are the “glue that holds an organisation together,” a sentiment echoed by Kelliher. It’s vital to continually nurture this adhesive by making time for non-work related conversations or sharing a laugh and a joke – all the things that strengthen relationships.

Moreover, because leadership and organisational dynamics are innately subjective, there is no single way of leading hybrid teams well. Finding the code that works best for you and your team requires a lot of introspection and experimentation, along with an understanding that not everything is going to work.

So, although the perfect code may be elusive, we can all strive to develop skills that give us the confidence to press some numbers.

Tune into the podcast

Dive deeper into the conversation by tuning into The Big Questions: A Capita Learning Podcast. Hear perspectives and practical tips from L&D practitioners across industries and sectors as they discuss the big questions in learning.

Written by

James Eynon

James Eynon

Senior Learning Consultant & Leadership Coach

Since 2015, James has led various L&D initiatives, focusing on practical solutions for learning cultures, data impact, reskilling, and leadership. James’ pragmatic approach to both consultancy and facilitation has resulted in the creation of a new workplace culture model, in which hybrid working is an integral part.

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