Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Presentations How to Lead Effectively in Hybrid and Remote Environments

How to Lead Effectively in Hybrid and Remote Environments



Erica Farmer reviews what’s being done well in remote and hybrid environments, and takes away what could be even better in the new world.


Erica Farmer is a successful female founder and consultant, with over 20 years’ experience delivering high impact learning and development solutions in some of the UKs largest brands, such as LV=, British Gas, Specsavers and Virgin. She works with leaders and managers in all sectors to build a modern skills toolkit to support hybrid and remote working practices.

About the conference

Software is changing the world. QCon empowers software development by facilitating the spread of knowledge and innovation in the developer community. A practitioner-driven conference, QCon is designed for technical team leads, architects, engineering directors, and project managers who influence innovation in their teams.


Farmer: I want to start by asking you, who was the best leader you ever worked with, and why? I want you to have a think about what that means. For me, the best leader I ever worked with was an operations director at a financial services company who gave me the right balance of guidance and support, as well as opportunity and autonomy. I felt trusted, respected. I could spread my wings. I could achieve. I had some stabilizers in place when I needed to. We lived at different parts of the country, and we got to see each other face-to-face maybe every quarter. I was doing a lot of traveling, she was doing a lot of traveling, but we spoke quite often. That trust that we had in place was the core vehicle for me to feel confident in my role and what I could achieve. Who was the best leader you've ever worked with and why? I bet it's something to do with how they behaved, their morals, and their values, and the relationship that you had with that person.


My name is Erica Farmer. I'm a leadership and management expert. I am the co-founder and business director from Quantum Rise Talent Group. We work with organizations to support digital and hybrid remote working for leaders and managers. I've got over 20 years' experience with some of the UK's largest brands, such as Centrica British Gas, LV, Specsavers, and Virgin. Some of the roles that I've held is head of leadership development, head of apprenticeships, head of learning development. My expertise spans with working with a very large number of leaders and managers across various sectors. Long-term partnerships at Quantum Rise are clients like Fujitsu, the NHS, Bostik, and various apprenticeship providers. We work very much in that remote hybrid digital tech and data space. I'm also a TEDx speaker.


Let's think about why. The why is so important. Why are we thinking about leadership and management in this hybrid remote setting post-pandemic, more importantly. According to Forbes, following the pandemic, 97% of employees did not want to return to the office full-time. That might include you as a leader or a manager in a technical role. This means that it's critical for employees to adopt a hybrid working model to retain talent in the future. That's critical for managers and leaders, but also for employers, so the organizations who you're working with, because we know that's what people are looking for now. This transition has had an impact on the skills and mindsets that leaders and managers have to have to manage productivity and performance. For you as a leader or a manager of people, that might be a direct leader. You might have people directly hardlined into you, or you might be a project manager where you've got a matrix organization or a dotted line into you. Any leadership and management role where you are influencing people and managing performance, these are the things that we need to start thinking about. This skill set and mindset from a leadership perspective, that's what we're going to be focusing on.

Employee Retention

Let's look at a little bit of context. According to the 2023 Workplace Learning Report from LinkedIn, 92% of organizations in the UK are concerned about employee retention. We know that people are interested in portfolio careers. There's more interest in setting up businesses, side hustles, doing multiple career jobs or career portfolio as it were. No longer is it the case where generations are coming into the workforce and looking for an employer for 20, 30, 40, 50 years. That's changed. Why has it changed? Because people's expectations have changed. People want a better work-life balance. People want to be able to pick up the kids, or work in the evenings, or have a four-day week. People want to measure their employer value proposition and their experience that they have as an employee through their morals and their values. We know a lot of that is to do with an expectation of development, and skills, and career, and portfolio. As a technical leader in this space, you have an opportunity to revolutionize the digital and future skills as a hybrid and remote leader. You have that opportunity. This is exactly a core part of your role as a people manager or a people leader, to understand what people need and build that digital capability. Let me ask you, have you started yet? Have you started thinking about what that means for you and your teams, your team's career? What they're looking for, what's important to them.

Just a little exercise for you right now. On the screen, there's a spectrum with the 1 being, at the moment, right now, we haven't thought about as a leader in a hybrid or remote environment, what do our digital skills strategy mean right now? What do I need to do as a hybrid or remote leader? On the opposite side, you've got a 10, which is we're all over this. As a leader, I've been working in a hybrid and remote environment. I've been working on my skills, and I'm thinking about what our future digital skills strategy means for our organization, particularly in these new ways of working. I just want you to think about where would you score you or your organization on that right now. Just do a little bit of thinking, a little bit of self-analysis. Give yourself a score. Then I want you to think about, if you score yourself a 6 or a 7, for example, what would it take to make that an 8 or a 9? As a hybrid or remote leader or manager, what would you need to do to support your team, support your workforce, and build that new future skill strategy? Because it's not an HR responsibility, it's not an L&D responsibility, it's everybody's. As leaders and managers, it's our accountability to develop our people in this space.

Challenges of Remote and Hybrid Working

We know we've all had challenges when it comes to hybrid and remote working. Some of that has been tech. Some of that has been trust. Some of that has been, how do we manage if we're not looking over the shoulder of our teams? How are they going to be productive if I'm not seeing them every day in the office? We've seen a lot of micromanagement from managers. People might think there's less productivity happening because people aren't sat in the office. Workers think they might have to be present, even if they're not productive, or they're not feeling well. There's challenges around sickness, well-being, for example. We also need to think about, is someone sat at their desk at home being productive, or they're just wiggling a mouse and why is that? Often, it's because people aren't feeling motivated or psychologically safe. There can be an increased risk of isolation when it comes to hybrid and remote working, we know that. Let's start thinking about what are the things that we need to do as hybrid and remote leaders to reduce that, to make sure everybody feels included and not isolated?

Initially, at the beginning of the pandemic, with people working at home, people thought they had to be online more. People were getting burnout of being in front of screens constantly. We know more now. We know better. We know that we need breaks. We need to be flexible. People's autonomy with remote and hybrid working is motivational. People making their own decisions on how and where they work and when they work. I appreciate there's often a need for a client to have contact with employees. There's a balance to be struck, but thinking about people's motivation, and that's what drives productivity and engagement. You could perceive there might be a reduction in opportunities. Again, what can we do to make sure as leaders and managers that that's not the case, and any internal politics that might sit around hybrid and remote working. As a manager, you might have a preference for being on-site and therefore have an expectation, or a favoritism for people on-site, or the same with remote. How does your proximity bias play into this? Is everybody getting the same opportunities or are you favoriting people in different areas? All of this can play into our leadership and management capability.

Top 5 Reasons in EMEA to Seek a New Job

Let's have a look at a little bit more context, again, coming from the LinkedIn 2023 Workplace Learning Report. The top five reasons in Europe and Middle East, Asia, people have said that they want to seek a new job. Number one, flexibility to work when and where I want. Hybrid working isn't two days at home, three days on-site, being told where and when. Pure hybrid working is the employee making those decisions. A little bit later on, we'll talk about a little framework that's going to help you make those decisions. Number two, compensation and benefits. That's important for all of us. Notice that isn't number one. Number three, challenging and impactful work. No surprises there. What challenging and impactful to you though, it might not be to your team members, so have you had that conversation? What does that mean? What does purpose mean to your team? Opportunities for career growth within the company comes in at point four, important to everybody. That doesn't necessarily mean promotion. That could be secondments, leading on different types of projects, stepping sideways. Squiggly careers that you might have heard it called, it's a mindset. Opportunities to learn and develop new skills. Again, no surprises there. People love development that's particularly relevant to them, and where they want to go. How as a hybrid and remote leader or manager are you facilitating these things? Because that is your role as a manager, in your job.

Reasons Leaders and Managers May Avoid Remote and Hybrid Working

Let's put this back now to hybrid and remote leading and managing in particular. I want you to have a think about what are the reasons that leaders and managers may avoid remote and hybrid working. What's going on for managers sometimes? What are some of the challenges do you think managers and leaders might face? What's really going on? Sometimes it's matters, productivity. Sometimes it's matters, people perhaps not doing what they should be doing, or not being at their desk, not getting stuff done, not being available. Actually, when we come down to it, when we really look at it, and what the research tells us, is it is trust and fear, from a manager's perspective. Does the manager trust their team to get on with the outputs that are being delivered? What's the fear that sits behind that if they're not doing that, if the manager isn't present with the team constantly. This is what we see it comes down to.

If we want to break that down just a little bit further, trust, again, comes at number one. The one thing that you have to hugely dial up is trust. Something that's perhaps built organically in a face-to-face office space, you have to prescribe and work hard at, because you don't have those corridor conversations, or those quips, or those personal, how did the weekend type conversations go in the tea and coffee area. You have to prescribe it. We have to make sure that the length of time online for people isn't excessive because this is how we start to drive burnout and start to lose psychological safety, so if people don't feel like they can challenge, or innovate, or question. Flexibility is absolutely key that we've seen from the LinkedIn stuff as well, so how do you enable a flexible working environment where people feel that they can balance their home life and their work life? How do you drive engagement in your team, making sure that people feel engaged and they want to turn up to work wherever that might be, every day.

This next one is super important, outcome driven. If people are set outcomes, so what the end result is for that project, for that client, for that piece of software build, whatever that might be, that's what you should be managing on. You shouldn't be checking in every single day asking for progress reports. That's what we call micromanagement. Agree with your team, what works for them? What are the key milestones? What needs to happen? What do they do if they do need help or support to get there? Manage on outcome, not on day-to-day. That doesn't mean that you can't interact with people. Interaction is absolutely key. If you're not asking people how they're feeling today, or what they did at the weekend, or what's important to them, that's what great interaction looks like. Getting to know people as people, and not just as employees all the time. Again, just a little bit of a checklist there to audit yourself against to think, what am I doing? Do I really trust my team? Am I really providing flexibility as a hybrid or remote leader, or manager? Am I really managing on outcomes, or am I micromanaging? We all do these things, and we all pull back and forth based on how we're feeling about things. We might feel under pressure and start to micromanage a little bit more potentially.

The Growth Mindset

We know that no matter the context or the environment, great leaders put their people first. If you've ever seen anything from Simon Sinek, he has a great talk called, Leaders Eat Last. I would definitely go and watch that, because it's about enabling, facilitating, creating the opportunities for your people to deliver. That's quite tricky in terms of a shift, particularly if you've been a technical manager, you've been a technical expert for a long period of time, you've been a teacher, you've been the SME as it were. Actually, a step into leadership and management is very different in regards to the capabilities and requirements and the skill set, and the mindset that we need to deliver through others, because that's what we're doing. What I'm talking about here is a growth mindset.

The work of Carol Dweck, who's a psychologist and a lecturer at Stanford in the States, she noticed that people who had a growth mindset, so people who approach challenges and solutions with the, I can achieve, or I can learn to do something and my intelligence isn't fixed, but I can go away and develop and try and fail, and fail fast, and pick up and learn. You might know it is an agile mindset in the sector. These are people who are generally more successful in life, whether in an educational setting or a workplace setting. If you've got people in the team who automatically go to problem rather than solution, a more fixed mindset, this is where your coaching and support as leaders and managers, particularly in a hybrid and remote environment, kicks in. It's understanding what's going on for that person, but you need to check in with your own mindset first. What do you need to do to make sure that you can be solution focused? What do you need to do to know that you can grow and develop and learn? A fixed mindset might be, "I'm not very good at math," or, "I'm not very good at singing," or, "I'm not very creative." We've all heard phrases like this, but if you put the word yet, on the end of that, it completely changes the meaning of that sentence. I'm not very good at math yet. I can learn. I can develop. It's not fixed. It's not stuck in terms of my intelligence, but I can learn and grow. This growth mindset particularly in the hybrid and remote environment is fundamental.

Skills & Behaviors Needed as a Leader in a Hybrid or Remote Environment

I want you to think about now, what are the skills and behaviors you need as a leader in a hybrid or remote environment? We've talked about trust. We've talked about coaching. We've talked about growth mindset. What other? What would be your six skills and behaviors that you would say is imperative for a manager or a leader in a remote or hybrid working environment? We know great leaders embrace agility. The ability to pick stuff up, put it down, turn left, turn right, apply things quickly, fail fast, learn from mistakes, all ties into that growth mindset piece that we talked about earlier. Great leaders are compassionate. They really understand the needs of their people, and they spend time understanding what those are, rather than just moving on to the task constantly. Great leaders have empathy. You can put yourself in the shoes of others. We all have a challenging year ahead of us. We've all had quite a few challenging years behind us, whether that's the pandemic, whether that's the cost-of-living crisis, whether that's anything else: health, wealth, family, whatever it might be. We're all people first, at the end of the day. Empathy is one of the number one requirements of a great leader.

Autonomy, allowing people to make decisions through purposeful work. Allowing people to feel that they've got autonomy. Allowing people to feel that they're not being controlled or commanded. That ties into the micromanagement stuff we talked about earlier. Flexibility, we talked about this a little bit so far, and growth mindset. Enabling people within a structure or within a set of boundaries, to be able to make mistakes, to achieve, to do things their way, rather than your way, because who knows, your way might not always be the best way for that person. Think about those skills and behaviors. Again, I just want you to do a bit of a self-audit against these. Where are you right now? If you want to score the 0 to 10, again, go ahead and do that. Again, if you sit at about a 5 or a 6, what does it take to get to a 7 or an 8? If you set a score to a 9 or a 10, that's fabulous. What can you do to support other people and other leaders, or people that you might be mentoring perhaps in that space? I want us to think about what we've learned again, over the last couple of years, as well. Keep thinking about that great leader, the best leader that you've worked with. Keep thinking about the experiences that you've had growing up in your career and working with different leaders and managers.

Personalization (Post-Pandemic)

I'm just going to introduce you now to some data from Dave Ulrich. Dave Ulrich is a HR thought leader, pretty much invented the HR business partner structure. The question that he put to the HR practice worldwide, post-pandemic, was, what do you think or hope will be the intended and lasting legacy of the 2021 people organizational crises? He means the pandemic, but everything else that happened around that, that just won't fade. What do we think is the one thing that we can really hold on to as leaders and managers and HR that people really embraced, and that changed from a working conditions and environment, which felt very different compared to anything before? He goes on to say, advancing the digital revolution, redefining work boundaries to include virtual work, increasing social citizenship with an emphasis on diversity, harnessing uncertainty through agility, renewing relationships with family and friends, managing emotional resilience. For me, I hope their lasting legacy is personalization. What he's saying there is he hopes organizations, and managers, and leaders all take what our teams need, whether that's the home work-life balance, whether that's a way of working, whether that's diversity, whether that's special needs, whether that's being neurodivergent, whether that's anything else in between, being able to bring your whole self to work in your different preferences, and for organizations to be able to offer that up and provide that personalization. That's easy to say in itself. That can just almost start with a conversation with each of your team members to understand what does personalization mean to them? What can you do as a leader or a manager to support that?

The Choice Framework

Here's a little framework that I'm offering up to you called the choice framework. It's about having a conversation with your team members and enabling them to make choice around how and where and when they work. Going back to hybrid and remote, particularly hybrid, there might be times where, from a customer need or an employee need perspective, you might need to be together on site, you might need to be face-to-face. It might be a customer needs an on-site meeting. It might be one of your employees needs you face-to-face. That is a core reason why you would spend the time and effort perhaps being face-to-face in the office. Same with coaching and feedback sessions. You might choose to make the effort to spend some time in a room together building that relationship and trust in-person. That's not to say that you can't do coaching and feedback over Zoom, or Teams, or digitally, because you can absolutely do that. Let's think about trust, connection, and body language with that stuff. If you're co-creating or curating perhaps a piece of software, or the outcomes for a project, or kicking off a new project, for example, you might want to be in a room together collaborating and connecting. That could also be networking or having development sessions. Actually, your colleagues and your team from a preference or well-being perspective might want to be in a room with you as their manager, needing that connection and that face-to-face. There's just some ideas to think about. There's a prompt, use these words, use this framework as a conversation with your team members. Use this as a prompt. You could score it. You could use it as an opportunity just to prompt conversation. Think about what that means. It gives you some specifics to be able to hook that conversation on to. I hope that helps.

Technology, and Digital Collaboration

How does all this show up? Let's get specific. Let's think about hybrid meetings. Let's think about when you need to connect the team, you might have some people in different parts of the country, different parts of the world on different time zones. You might have some people in the office. You might have some people in a different office together. Thinking about things like development and hybrid meetings, connecting, having those conversations and using the technology that we have right now to be able to do that. It's not just a case of us all getting on Teams and having a conversation. Let's get back to the why. According to a global report from a leading software company, more than half of respondents describe digital collaboration as useful, but rarely engaging, impactful, or crucial, which indicates that the technology used now is far from helping teams reach their full potential. We think some of this is because it's a different skill set and mindset for managers to be able to use technology in a way which speaks to everybody. Before we go into the detail of that, I just want to ask you to ask yourself three questions when it comes to your online meetings or hybrid meetings with your team or with your customers. Question number one, how do you know this meeting is engaging for everyone, for the people who like to talk, the people who don't like to talk? How do you know? Question number two, what impact will this meeting have? Is it just switching people off when they're doing their emails in the background, or are you genuinely inspiring the change in the message that you're looking to land? Question three, how crucial is it that you can use the technology as part of the meeting. We're going to deep dive that a little bit now.

As a leader or a manager, you've got an opportunity to be able to speak to all of your people through great digital technology. We know that tech can offer less dominant people and more reflective people, opportunities. We know that those who don't like to just take up the air time by opening up their mics and answering all your verbal questions, there's other opportunities to perhaps engage more introverted team members. What can we do in this space when it comes to meetings and technology? I love this quote, empowering the quieter half of our teams, "One of the most unremarked advances of the online revolution," so that's hybrid working, remote working, "is that we now hear loudly from the quieter half of the population." I think that's fantastic, because you know what it's like. We've been in rooms where it's the extroverts who like to take up the air time, are the people that answer all the questions and perhaps contribute the most. The introverts need to go away and reflect a little bit more, and perhaps we don't always follow up with them. We miss 50% of the thinking, and the engagement, and the contribution sometimes if we're not conscious about our practice. What digital tools can do is start to support us as a hybrid and remote leader and manager in this space. What digital tools can you use, or do you use to collaborate effectively online as a leader and a manager? Have a think about it. How do you use those tools, for example?

Here's a couple of examples that you might use. We've got lots coming around the metaverse. We've got already lots of practice in Microsoft Teams, in Zoom, Google, Oculus, Miro, Mentimeter, Poll Everywhere, Slack channels, there's a huge amount of technology. A lot of this is free to be able to engage people and interact with our teams, because that's what we talked about, engagement and interaction. That's what you need to dial up in terms of your remote leadership and your hybrid management, that communication, that checking in with people, making sure people are ok. I'm not talking about micromanagement. I'm talking about people skills here. A really easy example that you could use for perhaps some of your team's meetings if you use Microsoft Teams, for example, and the other platforms, Zoom, for example, Google also have this opportunity, is just online polling. You can set up polls to ask any question that you want. Here's just a couple of examples on the slides right now. Rather than just having verbal conversations with your teams over online platforms, make it interactive. Enable the quieter half of your team to think about their contribution, and submit that in a different way, that nonverbal contribution. Again, word clouds, emojis, yes or no questions, open questions, list your ideas. These are already available in Microsoft Teams, in websites like Poll Everywhere. You could use whiteboards, Jamboards. Google Jamboard is absolutely free, for example. Mentimeter, you can put questions in Slido. There are so many different pieces of software we can now use. This isn't just learning and development stuff, this is great stuff for your team to engage with, and for it to feel different and interactive and new. This is what's going to drive energy and motivation and productivity in your teams.

Practical Tips to Support Hybrid and Remote Teams

As we start to wrap up, I want you to start thinking about what will you do next or differently to support your hybrid and remote teams. We're going to move on to some practical tips and tricks. I want you to think about what we've covered so far, and what are the things that you're going to take away and implement straightaway? Let's look at our practical tips. Make sure everybody feels comfortable using the tech in the situations, and using digital tools to your advantage. It might be you're all in-person, or you're hybrid, or you're all remote, but make sure people have got the time and the investment to use whatever the platforms are that you're using. Coach people, support them, give them training. Don't just assume that people can use this stuff. Because you don't get the benefits realization out of a full system implementation, unless you train them and give them skills. That goes for you as a remote and hybrid leader as well. Make time for social connection, share stories, and keep going with those check-ins. You might have a Monday morning huddle, for example, or a weekly huddle, just make that conversation personal. Don't go into task. Don't go into work. Don't go into the day-to-day. Maybe ask one of your team members to chair, and alternate every Monday. Get them to pose a question that enables you to learn something different about each of your team members. Have that conversation, have laughter, have fun, rather than just going straight into the task that you might do normally.

Challenge yourself around your team dynamic and about staying visible, whether that's virtually or in-person. That could be you have a preference for being on site, or you think that people should spend more time in the office. Or you might think that's more remote, and, actually, you might not always put your camera on, or you might not travel because there's a travel ban in your organization or whatever it might be. Visibility isn't just being in-person or just being on the screen, it's phone calls. It's WhatsApp. It's check-ins. It's making sure people are ok, and asking them what they need from you. That's what we mean by visibility. These check-ins are super important. You need to make sure people feel included. You need to prescribe this. Not just assume the organic is going to happen because we're not having those corridor conversations or those coffee conversations that we used to have. Ask for feedback. What's working well, and what could be even better? That WWW EBI model works really nicely because people can give you a positive slant and then a suggestion for something even better, for something different next time. Maybe ask that what's going well and what could be even better next time, because people might not always feel that they can offer up suggestions and feedback, so actively ask that.

Demystify terminology and make information accessible. Don't just assume that everybody knows exactly what you're talking about all the time. This is core in very technical roles. If we're working with other technical people, we will assume people get it. You just need to check in to make sure people are feeling ok. How do you access information? Is it easy to access? Is it in the right format? Do people have different needs to be able to access information? Are they neurodivergent? How do you know? Have you had the conversation? Again, this is where we talk about getting to know people as people. As a hybrid and remote leader, dialing up that conversation, dialing up that trust and support is even more important. What I'm generally talking about here is a digital-first mindset. When I say that, I'm not saying we're just going technical, we're just going digital technology. What I'm talking about is using digital to support your leadership and management skills, and to support your team's engagement, motivation, and productivity, because that's what you're here to do.


What have we learnt? I want you just to think about, what have you learned? Again, what is it that you're going to be implementing? Let's just summarize. According to Forbes, following the pandemic, 97% of employees didn't want to go back to the office full time. This means it's critical for employers and leaders and managers to dial up that hybrid modern ways of working, to hire and retain talent in the future. This is exactly what we're talking about. Transition has had an impact on skills and mindset for managers and leaders. You need to be thinking about how do you maximize productivity and performance in these working environments. Everything we've talked about, those skills, that mindset, that using technology, trust and fear, micromanagement, support, leading by choice, managing through outcomes, think about all of that. I want you to really assess where you are and what your biggest learn has been. What is the one thing that you've learned that you're going to take away as a hybrid or remote leader or manager and put into place?


See more presentations with transcripts


Recorded at:

Oct 25, 2023