React to Crisis: Switch to Remote and Hybrid Work

Ultimate Guide to Leadership Development

Your Leaders Are Blindsided, Too

In a crisis, people immediately look to their leaders for answers. But often, leaders are just as blindsided as everyone else. It’s up to them to react to crises quickly and—more importantly—appropriately.

Crises can come in many shapes and forms, such as:

  • Crisis specific to the team, such as the loss of a team member
  • Crisis specific to the company, such as a product recall or a data breach
  • External crisis, which includes major events in the industry or world at large

Regardless of the source of the crisis, leaders need to address the situation right away. And how they do it will likely shape their leadership legacy—for better or worse—for a long time to come.

In these moments, HR is often wondering what they can do to support their leaders as quickly as possible. In this piece, we’ll share an example of supporting leaders in an external crisis: the shift to remote work that occurred at the onset of the pandemic in 2020.

The Sudden Change to Leading Hybrid Teams

According to DDI’s Global Leadership Forecast 2021, few leaders were ready for the shift to virtual and hybrid work. In fact, just 20% of leaders rated themselves as “very effective” at leading virtual teams.

icon of a person working under a roof of their home beside another person icon sitting in a desk chair watching a clock in a professional office, written to the right: Hybrid Workplace: Definition -  A flexible work structure where some employees work remotely and other team members work from a central location or office, or employees do a mix of both.

But when the pandemic hit in early 2020, many companies switched to a virtual workplace literally overnight. Leaders suddenly had to figure out how their teams could stay productive under such difficult and dramatically different circumstances. In addition to figuring out practical needs (Does everyone have the equipment they need? Can everyone jump on Zoom?), leaders had to find ways to help their teams feel connected in a remote environment.

According to DDI research, leaders needed to focus immediately on five best practices for leading hybrid teams. They are:

  • Build trust and inclusion.
  • Communicate well and often.
  • Drive focus and accountability.
  • Create a strong team culture.
  • Avoid burnout with empathy.

Here are some ways that HR and learning teams can quickly deploy resources so leaders can support a rapid shift:

Sample Learning Journey: Leading Hybrid Teams

In this sample learning journey, we share a complete picture of what it could look like to rapidly build skills that help leaders adjust to a remote or hybrid workplace. But keep in mind that this can be flexible, depending on the timeline of the crisis and the baseline skills of your leaders. Download the details of this sample program.

Sample Learning Journey Elements written up top, and below it four relevant icons showing the four elements: Self-Insight Tools, Courses to Build Skills, Microcourses to Boost Learning, and On-Demand Development Tools

Start with a Self-Insight Tool

Self-insight tools are a powerful way to help leaders quickly align their focus around their biggest challenges. In this example, we’d start with a Team Effectiveness tool, which analyzes the following six factors:

  • Shared Purpose
  • Role Clarity
  • Enabling Processes
  • Emotional Security
  • Collaborative Spirit
  • Growth Orientation

The first three factors address the practical side of teams. Team members need to understand team purpose, roles, and processes. The last three factors address their personal needs. They ensure team members feel safe and valued, work well together, and are challenged to learn and grow.

Once leaders have a sense of where their teams are struggling, they can focus on building and practicing the skills that will help their teams adjust.

Use Courses to Build Skills

In a crisis, you may or may not have time to have your leaders join courses. In the situation of the pandemic and switch to remote work, some companies had little time for learning and chose to focus more on microcourses and on-demand tools.

But other companies found that people initially had some time on their hands and, more importantly, craved learning. They especially wanted to learn in groups (virtually, of course) to maintain a sense of connection as they weathered the crisis together.

Based on the five best practices for leading hybrid teams, here are some courses that helped leaders build key skills for remote work. Offered in-person or through virtual classroom, these group experiences gave leaders a chance to share challenges, triumphs, and lessons they learned in a difficult time.

  • Communication: Connect Through Conversations: The ability to connect and engage employees through effective communication and conversation skills is crucial. While these skills have always been important, they become even more important in a hybrid work environment where employees can sometimes feel disconnected.
  • Leading Teams: Achieve More Together: Leaders are often engaging with team members remotely where it can be more difficult to gauge and respond to nonverbal cues. This course helps leaders boost team performance.
  • Executing Strategy at the Front Line: Leaders are also the custodians of the strategy at the frontline. They need to mobilize their team members with clear goals and plans. Additionally, they need to manage the dynamics of a team environment. In a hybrid workplace, they may not always have line of sight to how team members are working together.
person working on a laptop on their couch, a cat up on the top part of the couch, written beside it to the right:

Microcourses to Boost Learning

For a quick boost of learning, microcourses offer fast opportunities to deepen skills. As people rapidly switched to remote work, we saw leaders using microcourses on building trust, leading a virtual meeting, helping team members to avoid burnout, finding control during change, and leading hybrid teams.

On-Demand Development Tools

Leaders can practice, reinforce, and apply their skills using a series of on-demand tools. For example, a team charter worksheet can be used by the leader to quickly establish team protocols and expectations with team members operating in a hybrid working environment.

Or, as the pandemic required leaders to show more empathy than ever, we saw an uptick in our “Empathy Is Boss” microgame, which helped leaders quickly practice the empathy skills that are so important in a hybrid work context.

In a crisis, these tools can help leaders slow down for just a few minutes and re-focus their energy on key skills that help them engage their teams.

Back to the Future

The shift to hybrid is just one example of a crisis that leaders may face. By supporting leaders through changes and crises like this with the right mix of development, you can ensure that leaders are better equipped to drive engagement and productivity across their teams. In doing so, you bring the focus back to the future.