Facilitating the Spread of Knowledge and Innovation in Professional Software Development

Write for InfoQ


Choose your language

InfoQ Homepage Presentations Successful Leadership in Hybrid Environments: Powerful Principles, Practical Steps, and Poignant Examples

Successful Leadership in Hybrid Environments: Powerful Principles, Practical Steps, and Poignant Examples



Lena Reinhard discusses practical tips to start implementing the next workday in order to lead more effectively in a hybrid environment with examples from leaders, and lessons to learn from them.


Lena Reinhard has dedicated her career to building successful, high-performing globally distributed engineering organizations, and helping teams thrive in times of high change like hypergrowth. She now offers transformational leadership coaching and consulting for leaders. Previously, Lena served as VP Engineering with CircleCI and Travis CI.

About the conference

QCon Plus is a virtual conference for senior software engineers and architects that covers the trends, best practices, and solutions leveraged by the world's most innovative software organizations.



Lena Reinhard: I'm here to share with you a tale of six worlds, and how to create space for teams to shine, as a hybrid environment leader. I want to clarify one thing before we start. When I talk about leaders and leadership, I believe in leadership at all levels. Everyone can be a leader, and everyone should be a leader. The practices that I'm going to outline in this talk are for all of you, no matter if you're a people manager, a tech lead, or don't have a lead title or role.

You can practice these to build a positive culture on your hybrid team. Let's actually get started with the biggest takeaway that I want you to take from this talk, which is, hybrid leadership is fundamentally an issue of equity inclusion. It is our duty as hybrid leaders to promote equity and adapt quickly with our teams. If there's one thing you take away from this talk, I want it to be this. The great news is that this, again, is work that everyone can do, and I will tell you how to do it.

Introduction to Hybrid Models

Let's actually start with some basics. What is hybrid and hybrid work anyway? Hybrid contains multitudes. I generally define hybrid work as models that do not require employees to have a full-time presence in an office. Gallup says it's basically if you're working remotely 10% to 100% of the time. There are many other definitions around, but I generally use the one around just not being in the office full time. The thing with hybrid is, the human presence is singular, so no one exists in an office and in a remote space at the same time.

Hybrid only exists as the sum of remote and in-person experiences. I've tried to map this out a little bit in this chart. We're facing at least six different worlds or modes that we're working in. Between working alone and together and working in-office or remotely, there are many different modes of operating. There are also some overlaps, for example, being in an office and together, like having meetings in the office, but also being in-office and remote and alone, like sitting in an office but working asynchronously with your team, but again, they're not present. You see, there are many different mixed modes, and things like being in-person for meetings with your whole team when you're doing off-sites, or all-company meetings, those are even adding to that. Hybrid is a highly complex environment and amalgamation of experiences.

Despite this complexity, hybrid models are quite attractive for companies. First of all, they can be a big factor in talent attraction and retention. Many employers choose hybrid because they believe it enhances their ability to attract and retain top talent, and also increase their candidate pools. Another factor is employee happiness. Many workers identify a hybrid model as ideal, 63% actually wanted according to latest studies. Based on some other research conducted by Catalyst, access to remote work increases engagement by 75% and organizational engagement by 68%. There are also results.

Many organizations choose it because they hope it will increase productivity. Studies show access to remote work increases innovation by 63%. Some organizations are hoping for lower cost compared to fully on-site model. Organizational needs are a third factor here, because hybrid work can bridge the needs of different departments. Historically, organizations like sales and revenue are relying heavily on being colocated in-person, whereas many engineering teams have already been working remotely for quite some time. In addition, fully remote setups just aren't possible for everyone. Some healthcare, retail, smaller, or more localized businesses, for example, still need in-person presence as well, while some remote work may actually be possible.

From an employee perspective, both in-office and remote work have some tradeoffs. The advantages of one are usually the disadvantages of the other. The office space for example, offers a lot of access, and that's a huge benefit. It can help with building relationships, with having some unstructured social time with people and interactions with them. You can also have access to a good office setup, maybe it's ergonomic. In addition, access to development and career progression opportunities is often easier in an office, as well as learning from peers.

On the flip side, though, an office can also be a challenging environment for some people. Offices were not necessarily designed with neurodiverse groups in mind, so the noise, light can bring distractions that can be hard to manage and impact productivity. Many offices aren't accessible for people with disabilities. Many people are facing microaggressions like sexism and racism as well. On the flip side, remote work also has some benefits. For example, when it comes to cost. There's no travel involved, which means people have more time.

They're a bit more flexible in their scheduling, oftentimes. On the flip side, though, many remote workers are concerned about being discriminated against specifically because they're working remotely, for example, not having as much access to career development opportunities. In remote work, the work-life boundaries can be a bit more blurry when there's more distractions, or when your desk space is directly located in your living room, and you don't necessarily have the space for a separate office. In addition, many remote workers report higher productivity guilt compared to in-office workers, because they don't have to commute or because they have more flexibility.

Specifically, the aspect of remote work versus in-office work when it comes to members of underrepresented groups in our industry was outlined by Angelica Leigh, a professor of management and organizations at Duke University. Angelica Leigh said, "Dealing with racism, sexism, and other forms of oppression is exhausting, and sometimes employees do need a break from just pushing through.

Remote work can provide employees with that time and space to escape." Both in-office and remote work have benefits and also come with tradeoffs. In the meantime, though, organizations haven't necessarily caught up to the hybrid model, especially when it comes to how the reward systems work. Typically, in most organizations, the setup is still that the more visible your work is, the more it's being recognized. The closer you are to certain people, certain projects, the more your work is being recognized. A 2015 study, for example, showed that remote workers at a Chinese travel agency were 15% more productive than their peers in the office. When it came to performance-based promotions, in-house staff would be favored. That's called proximity bias.

Proximity in this case refers to physical proximity to influential people, in particular. I'll give you a couple examples to illustrate this. For example, offering in-person employees more exciting projects or professional development opportunities, like setting up networking events that only take place in person. Or if your boss is in the office, and they have something to delegate and think through themselves. "I'll just delegate this to Michael, because Michael's in the office today, so I don't have to hop on a Slack or a Zoom and explain this to someone else now." It's proximity bias. Another example is if you're leaving remote stakeholders out of decision making, or important decisions, like, "We just decided this over lunch now, just to let you know this happened." That, again, is proximity bias.

In a hybrid world in particular, these skewed reward systems have consequences. Because the risk of proximity bias is exacerbated by the different preferences and needs specifically of executives who are often the ones making these kinds of decisions about promotions, bigger projects, versus the needs of employees. Forty-two percent of the executives report they work from the office 3 to 4 days a week, compared to just 30% of non-executives.

The other main groups that are favoring in-office work are white employees and men, as studies show, who historically, both groups are the groups that office spaces were designed for. This means that hybrid isn't the same hybrid for everyone, because not everyone has seen real choices that this model implies. Hybrid isn't an equalizer, but it exacerbates existing inequalities. If underrepresented groups are spending the least amount of time in the office, it could limit their access to professional opportunities, from FaceTime with the boss to promotions and career mobility.

This means that hybrid models bring challenges for leaders. There's the potential to reveal and exacerbate inequity that we've just talked about, and more variables to manage in terms of the employee experience. In addition, most organizations are not designed for this and are still learning how to do hybrid. This learning curve is going to take a while because figuring out work practices and doing them well at an organizational scale takes time. This also means that companies will likely get this wrong, and they will likely do some of this learning at the disadvantage of their employees.

In addition, policies, benefits, and frameworks were often designed for on-site by default, so they have to be adapted and changed for hybrid and remote models. Many organizations are highly political, so there's a lot of things to figure out in the background in terms of networks and relationships. Those kinds of environments can be much harder to navigate in a hybrid mode because it's much harder to spot these kinds of dynamics and to address them. In addition, the employee experience varies much more greatly.

A Gallup study showed that 74% of employees have the feeling that they're missing out on company news in any environment. That, again, is exacerbated in a hybrid state, where the FOMO or fear of missing out can be much greater.

In a previous company, I worked with employees who would regularly travel to the office voluntarily, because even though the company had a hybrid setup, these employees felt that they could only get a picture of what was really going on at the company when they went to the office. This also means that leaders need to turn an amalgamation of very different employee experiences into a somewhat cohesive and unified experience. Instead of just optimizing for a good office environment or for a good remote experience, there's the mix to deal with. In addition, communication complexity increases drastically.

Communication just takes more effort, and knowledge and information are much harder to share consistently. In a previous company that I was working with that also had a hybrid setup, it became clear at some point that many employees were learning a lot of critical information only from what we call in German, flurfunk, so literally hallway radio, which is gossip, and joint lunches, for example. Remote workers were feeling left out because they didn't get access to the same information. These are a lot of challenges for leaders.

The biggest takeaway from this is that hybrid leadership is fundamentally an issue of equity and inclusion. I want to actually talk about the difference between equity and equality here. Equality means providing each person with the same resources, regardless of their needs. Equality in a hybrid environment, for example, would mean equipping everyone with the same desk regardless of where they're at, or what their physical needs or limitations are, or, for example, how big their apartment is.

Equity, on the other hand, would mean something like giving employees a budget to get a desk that fits their own need, their own space, and that it's best suited for the job that they're looking to do. Equity is about opportunity. It's about recognizing that everyone has individual needs, and individual needs for tools to succeed and grow. Then empowering employees with these tools that they need to be successful based on their needs. Equity is a constant ongoing effort and will be a big throughline in our talk.

Tenets for Leading in Hybrid Environments

Now that we've looked at the complexities of hybrid environments. We've seen that they're attractive for companies, but they're also still a very new model, and so companies with those leaders, are still figuring out how this works. For employees, there's a lot of different experiences that people have in these more than six different modes, from remote alone to in-office together. It also means that hybrid isn't the same hybrid experience for everyone. Not everyone has the same real choices that the model implies.

For us as leaders, it means that hybrid isn't an equalizer, and we need to be able to address the inequities that it brings and learn quickly because our organizations are also still figuring out how to do this. How do we go about it? The first good news that I have for you is that the traits of a good leader in a hybrid environment are no different than in another environment. We need to adjust our tools and approaches to deliberately promote equity and adapt quickly. If you can lead in a hybrid environment, you can lead anywhere.

Let's look at what these leadership goals actually in a hybrid environment are. Hybrid leadership goals are creating a hybrid environment with our teams. Unleashing your team's potential. Supporting visibility for everyone's work, and changing the organization for the better. Doing all of this while promoting equity and adapting quickly. You may think to yourself, these are all things that a leader should do anyway, what's making this special hybrid leadership talk?

The biggest parts are really that the equity is needed. We need to promote equity at all times. It's uncharted territory. Because while some hybrid organizations have been around for a while, many organizations are still learning how to do this actually well. We need to learn much faster than ever before, together with our teams. I've worked in hybrid environments for the last 9-plus years.

A lot of the examples that I'm sharing with you are from my own experience, but I also brought in experience from 12 other leaders. They have different roles from engineering manager, director, CEO, co-founder, to technical leaders, like principal engineers. They work in a variety of different environments from 50 people Software as a Service startup, over 5000 employees, to global mega corps with over 150,000 employees. I'll also have more examples from them and practical tips in an article that I'm linking. We have goals as hybrid leaders which are actually somewhat similar to the goals of all leaders.

Let's talk about principles. I'm a big fan of using principles to guide the way that I think and act. I also like using them in my presentations, because I want you to know where I'm coming from, and what's driving the things that I'm going to suggest and recommend to you. These principles are based on the values that we hold dear to us. They are rules or beliefs, and they guide our behaviors. Some of these principles may not work for you or for your environment, so adapt them and choose the ones that work for you.

The first principle is, promote equity. This means understanding and leading according to what your team needs, and ensuring equitable access to opportunities and creating an inclusive environment for everyone. The second principle is learning and adapting quickly with your team. Emphasizing cheaper experimentation, short feedback loops, and iterative improvement. Principle number three is managing your biases. You will likely have a preference in a hybrid environment, either because you're working from home, or because you like going to the office, for example, and you need to manage these biases.

The fourth principle is giving your teams autonomy. Give your teams the space to actually show up as leaders themselves, because leadership lies everywhere. Empower people and learn from everyone. Lastly, create clarity. Clarity is the foundation of equitable environments. It's really crucial, especially in these hybrid environments where communication is so much more complex and context is much harder to acquire.

Create a Hybrid Environment with Your Team

We'll use all of these principles in every one of the goals that we talk about. The first goal is, create a hybrid environment with your team. This is important because as we've seen, hybrid contains multitudes. It's not a singular experience. You need to create this environment and experience together with your team. How do you do that?

Step one, deeply understand your team's experience. Your own lived experiences as a leader will greatly differ from those of your teammates. As a leader, you typically likely have much different kinds of access, visibility, and context to what's going on in your organization. You also have more power than your teams do. You need to educate yourself on your teammates' experiences and really get to know what their experience is like. In addition to this, actively manage your biases. You will have a preference for remote or hybrid work, and you need to manage this.

One way that you can actively do that is by planning your week appropriately. At the beginning of the week, when you plan your goals, think about what needs to get done, and who's going to help get it done. Then distribute those kinds of opportunities across remote and in-office workers likely. Over the course of the week, check in with yourself halfway through. Is everyone getting what they need to be successful? Does anyone need more support? Have I not heard from anyone on the team? These kinds of small actions can really make a difference in being more aware of everyone on your team and making sure they're all getting opportunities.

Another thing where you can do this is by utilizing data to understand and address issues, including your own blind spots and shortcomings. This is something I find really important that I always made a habit of. You may be able to get data from your HR department, from your people partner. Review data on, for example, promotion rates, compensation, role distribution, and look at factors like location. Are you promoting people at the same rates, no matter where they're based? Are there differences in compensation across different locations?

Another insight that you can use are team surveys and organizational surveys. Many tools that run these kinds of surveys now have an ability to see location breakdown as well, which can again help you understand the employee experience across your different teammates, and then put measures in place to make it a better experience for everyone. Another way to create a hybrid environment with your team is to build strong relationships. They're the foundation of any strong team and specifically important here.

First of all, get to know your teammates really well as humans, because diverse groups have different needs in terms of work styles, locations, equipment needs, support needs, and more. Understand and recognize those, so you can address and support them appropriately. Also, help your teammates build relationships, and build a habit for people in your team to talk with each other too and not just with yourself. Encourage casual conversations, for example, by starting meetings using an icebreaker question. Set up deep technical discussions for people who want to dive into specific topics, and set those up in a place where everyone can contribute.

When you're onboarding new people, make sure you're dedicating extra space and time for them because onboarding to a hybrid team can be really difficult when the relationship building opportunities are just much more limited. You can help with this by, for example, setting up discussions when a new member joins the team to talk about values, working styles, preferences, and roles across the group. I've also made really good experiences with having onboarding buddies for new joiners. Someone who's meeting with them every day initially, and then probably a bit less frequently, who helps them understand the culture of the team, how the team works, how the team operates, and who's also their first contact person for any questions.

This is going to help the new person form a deep relationship with someone on the team already, and also have someone who they know they can ask questions to in case they don't feel comfortable asking the big group at all times.

Another important factor for creating a hybrid environment is leveling the playing field, in big as well as in small interactions. I've made really positive experiences with creating team level agreements, for example, also called team norms or operating manuals or working agreements. These are a set of expectations that you set up front with all members of your team for how you work with one another.

The goal of this is to inspire trust and create clarity and be upfront about expectations, which also can help team performance. Some examples of team level norms are, for example, everything is in writing. Informal meetings are documented. You probably won't be able to prevent people from running into each other in the office and having a conversation. If there are takeaways and context, those should be documented for everyone else too. You can also define team interactions, like setting team core collaboration hours where everyone is online and expected to be online and that people use for synchronous work together. As part of this, you can also set focus time and define how you're handling notifications as a team.

The fourth thing that I found really important as part of team norms but also at the company level, is to document jargon and internal jokes. In the previous company that I used to work with, we had a lot of acronyms and a really strong internal culture. One thing that I encountered pretty early on in my time there was a specific Slack emoji that showed a face. The way to get to this emoji was to type, thatmotivatesme. There was also an upside-down face that was, thatdemotivatesme.

This was coined as I later found out by a former employee who used to just say, that motivates me, quite a lot, and had become heavily used as something that people would use whenever something was motivating to them. This, like any other internal jargon was documented in the file that was maintained by everyone on the company and was also shared as part of the onboarding. These seemingly small things are really important for people to feel like they belong, like they're part of the group, and like they're not coming in from the outside.

Another big part in creating a hybrid environment is creating meeting equity. The biggest by far over there is if one person dials in, everyone dials in, this will create a huge shift in the experience that people have in your meetings. Similarly, if you're setting up meetings, always send notes with timings with different time zones., for example, helps with this. It makes a huge difference in helping people feel like they're being recognized.

Also, manage the stressors of the hybrid environment. One of the biggest ones probably are chat tools. Chat tools like Teams or Slack are a stress factor. They create a lot of noise and also an implicit or explicit expectation of constant availability. Make it ok for people to not be available. Move conversations to team rooms so that the responsibility is shared instead of private DMs or small groups. You can also help with this by setting manageable defaults.

Slack by default, for example, will notify people of everything that's going on. You can either change this by a policy or you tell people to configure it in the onboarding guide. You also need to manage your energy levels and get thinking time, because thinking time is work. Hybrid work can be exhausting and thinking is part of your job. One engineering leader I spoke with as part of this preparation said, "Personally, I need to monitor and maintain my energy much more actively in a hybrid environment than I needed ever to do before. I don't know if the barista in the local coffee shop knows that they're structural to my ability to feel engaged, but they are."

In addition, another stress factor in a hybrid environment is impact and development opportunities, and making sure that you create those for everyone. One way you can do this is by providing career coaching that team members get paired in with the right mentor, someone with whom they can relate, who has a similar background to them and who they can learn from. You can also function as a connector. If you meet with people in other departments who you think have interesting insight that your team members could benefit from, connect them. Do you hear about an interesting project coming up that your team could get involved in? Connect them.

This connection is much harder to do in a hybrid environment because there's so much less visibility. You can play a really active role in that by being that connector for your teammates. As part of this, you can also help your teammates advocate for themselves and build networks. Brag docs, so documents where people brag or document their progress and work are a really good way to do that. Julia Evans has a fantastic article with how to do that. I've made really positive experiences with this approach. You can also coach people on how to manage up or how to advocate for themselves. You probably won't be around as a leader or manager at all times, and if you help them develop these skills, they will be especially useful in a hybrid environment.

Unleash Your Team's Potential

We've looked at creating a hybrid environment, so helping teams do great work by managing the stressors of the environment and creating an equal footing for everyone. Let's look at how to unleash your team's potential. This is where the clarity as a principle comes in, because our job as leaders is in any case to create context and paint a picture of the organization around us and therefore set context of what's going on for our teams, to again, create clarity and equity. This is important because clear expectations, feedback, and clarity are cornerstones of an equitable environment. They're also a foundation for team autonomy.

First of all, lead with results instead of meetings. Set clear goals that are based on results. This levels the playing field and provides equitable chances to everyone. A couple practical things you can do this is, put development plans in place for everyone on your team. This could be done annually, and then used over the year to track progress. Set quarterly goals both with your teams and individuals. Check in every week during one on ones on how things are going and share feedback. When you evaluate success, review success again based on goals, numbers, and progress.

Adjust your incentives accordingly. Call out people who get to do the right thing. Make sure that you're distributing evenly who gets praise and positive public feedback. Review who gets promotions, new roles, shiny new projects. That's where we're back to the data points that we talked about earlier. Leading with results is a great way again to make work seen that wouldn't always be visible otherwise. It's a great way to build more equity on your teams.

You can also provide clarity by being a dolphin. This is one of my favorite leadership tactics and was coined by David Feeny, Emeritus Professor of Information Management at Oxford. The background is that dolphins can only take in a very small amount of air, and as a result, they have to surface quite frequently to breathe, like every 15 minutes. Whereas whales can take in really large amounts of air and therefore they stay submerged for up to 90 minutes.

The takeaway for hybrid communication is it's much better to be a dolphin and pop your head up frequently to talk about little change than trying to be a whale and making a big splash all at once, and then disappearing back into the depths. One thing that I've found really helpful for this is building a communication cadence. I'll just give you an example of a way that I've used this. In the previous company I worked with, we had monthly companies and big announcements that went out in a meeting. In between, there was an email that would be sent every two weeks. Our department news would be shared every two weeks in a call.

Team news would be sent via weekly email every Friday by the managers even if there was no news so that people wouldn't feel like they were missing on something. This also means, if you have this cadence, you know as a leader when to communicate what, and you have an established channel you can use. It helps for people who are, for example, out and who are coming back, or if they're new to joining the organization, people know exactly where to look.

Whenever you communicate, consider your recipients' needs. The first question people will always ask when they hear news is, what does this mean for me? Address that in anything you communicate. Communicate heterogeneously. Use different means of communicating because different means work for different people in different contexts. Maia Grotepass an Android Principal shared the following communication methods that she uses.

First of all, face to face or video for ambiguous decisions with subtle intrinsic knowledge share and differences of opinions. Face to face for fun bonding. Async text based for high detail facts. Another important part is overcommunicating important information. There is a marketing rule of 7, that's what it's called. It's a marketing maxim developed by the movie industry in the 1930s. Some important information that you should always overcommunicate is vision, mission, and strategy, as well as context for changes and events, because those will often feel like they're coming out of the blue.

The marketing rule of 7 is that you should communicate everything 7 times across 7 different channels. I'll give you one example for how easy this is actually to do. We acquired a company in a previous company I was working with, and we announced this in a company meeting, a message from our message managers to their teams, team meetings. Team meetings over the next four weeks after the announcement, one on ones, cross-functional meetings, onboarding materials, and email follow-up. That's actually eight channels. Always assume if you feel tired of saying it, people still want to all have heard it.

In the spirit of creating clarity, another crucial factor is giving timely and regular feedback. One leader that I surveyed said, it's more important than ever to try and overcommunicate. If you don't like how I'm running a meeting, or I don't like how you're always five minutes late, it's even more important to address it earlier in hybrid environments. To steal from Radical Candor, nice is a waste of time, the kind is structurally important. Early, direct, and kind feedback will keep us pulling together longer as a team.

Always keep adjusting. Check, don't assume, because perfect solutions today may be broken tomorrow. Something you can do for feedback that's working really well in hybrid environments is to set up open door policies or office hours. Those are really great for getting timely feedback from your team, but also for having in-depth conversations about what's on people's minds. I used to host those for my department. It was always interesting discussions, and I learned a ton.

As a rule, ask for feedback with everything that you do. Send a document, ask for feedback. Run a meeting, ask for feedback. Make it a habit and mean it, and be really open to what people are telling you. Also, don't wait to give feedback. Hybrid leaders are often much more hesitant to give feedback because they don't feel like they have the full picture or like the only have not a lot of signals. Give feedback early and allow your teammates time to adjust or allow for yourself to understand a bit better what's motivating their behavior.

Close the feedback loop is also really important in hybrid settings. Closing the feedback loops means you don't have to act on every feedback that you're being given. You should always get back to people on your thoughts about the feedback they gave you, and what actions you're going to take, or what you're not going to do, and why. This is going to help people see that you're actually interested in the feedback that they're giving you, which motivate them to give you more feedback. It also shows that you're a reliable leader and that you can be open with your decisions, and the things that you're doing for the team.

The last part about unleashing potential is to create scalable systems that work for you and your team in any location. Emphasize written collaboration. A lot of meetings can be documents, or meetings can be improved by preparing in documents. I used to run strategy meetings with my teams on a quarterly basis. In preparation, I always shared an outline of my thoughts with them and asked for feedback and questions or input from them. Also shared areas that I asked everyone to think about and prepare on.

For example, investment areas or succession planning. This meant that when we went into the meeting, we already had a document with everyone's thoughts, and we're able to build on that together. Create collective knowledge in your hybrid team. Set up knowledge sharing rounds. Those are really important in a hybrid environment because knowledge sharing takes much more intention. I used to run backend and frontend discussion rounds. In the previous team I worked with, we also had a round that was called, Let's Talk Engineering, for all engineering discussions.

Utilize useful metrics. At the individual level, those mean having clear goals and development plans in place. At the team level, have teams own two or three business KPIs. When you're hiring or making promotions, again, use metrics, use clear assessment criteria, and clear goals for making those kinds of decisions.

Ensure Visibility for Everyone's Work

The last part of every leader's work is to making sure that everyone's work is visible. Because now you've put in all this work to create a positive, equitable hybrid environment with your team, and your team knows clearly what to do. Now you need to make sure that not only you know what your team does, but others also know and see your team's impact, which is a special challenge in hybrid because not everyone can be everywhere at all times. People still form the perceptions based on glimpses of work that they're seeing.

One critical part and strategy to fix that is to push communication. For example, I used to send weekly updates to my boss every Monday via email. This included progress on goals, risks, team well-being, what I was focusing on for the week. It was really useful to create visibility but also advocate on my team's behalf and support alignment between my boss and myself. Do the same. Push communication to your boss, either in weekly updates or in what you share with them one-on-one, whatever works best for you. In addition, make sure that your team is seen and heard. Let your team represent themselves and their good work. For example, in department meetings, company meetings, let them talk about the great things they've accomplished. As a leader, stay out of the spotlight. They've done the work. They should get the visibility and credit for it.

On the flip side, though, if things go wrong, you should be the one that's coming forth to take responsibility. You can also ensure visibility by finding high visibility work for your team. For example, bigger impact projects, something that really moves the needle, like big features to launch, big reliability improvements, or work with key stakeholders, like your head of finance who's really keen on seeing developer productivity improve. Praise people in public.

Kim Scott, who wrote Radical Candor, wrote, "Whenever I praised in public, I would explain that I wasn't doing so because the person wanted public praise, but so that everybody could learn from what had happened." Something like, not because I want to embarrass Jane, but to make sure all of you learn from what she did, I'm going to tell you what she just accomplished and how she did it. This kind of public praise can be really helpful for setting an example and also showing people what work gets recognized in your company.

Change Your Organization for the Better

I mentioned a few times that hybrid is still new, and a lot of our hybrid growth today is a result of happenstance. So far, we've talked a lot about tactics to navigate this world as-is, and create an equitable environment within it to help our teams thrive and succeed in it. Our job as leaders is to also change the organizational systems around us for the better. Use your impact to improve the organization around you. One of the biggest goals in there should be to do our part to uncouple proximity and recognition for more equity.

Depending on your organizational size, you may be able to directly control this, impact it, or only influence. Shifting from proximity and visibility of work being recognized to impact of work is what we should all be striving for. There are a couple ways for you to do that. One big part can be supporting employee resource groups and advocating for themselves. Many organizations have those in place now. Sixty-five percent of respondents to a recent survey reported that these employee resource groups have been helpful in a hybrid environment.

These ERGs, employee resource groups, they help diverse groups of employees build their networks and support systems. Figure out what your ERGs need and support them. You can also advocate for equity in your organization, for example, by focusing on impact. When you write performance reviews, or when you give praise for people and the work that they did, focus on the impact that they've had on the organization or on teams. You can also reward and give visibility to less visible work, for example, sharing and promotion packets, the work that people did on collaboration or improving communication on your team.

You can also push for better policies. For example, clarity on guidelines in your organization, as well as some principles around remote work. Some companies have decided to make it a company policy to limit how many days per week executives get to spend in the office. Other companies have actually made it a global policy that in a meeting if one person dials in, all dial in. You can also support your organization changing and improving by supporting the organization's learning. As you learn how to be a better hybrid leader, share your lessons with other leaders and teams.

Share your team's experiences as feedback with your boss, either in aggregate, or if it's more direct, with consent from your employees. Also, speak up for people to be considered. This is something that I used to do as a practice very regularly. When we redesigned our team website, we checked, how are we representing our remote employees? In meetings, can we change the timing of this meeting to be accessible for everyone?

We ended up changing the time of our company all-hands meeting to three different times so that different groups of people could be involved. Or, in hiring, design an interview process that reduces assessments for culturally specific traits like being a bit more bubbly in communication. Some of these are really small things that everyone can do, and they will make do a part in changing your organization for the better.


Successful leaders in hybrid environments promote equity and adapt quickly. We've looked at guiding principles for hybrid leadership: managing your biases, promoting equity, giving your teams autonomy, creating clarity, and learning and adapting quickly with your teams.

Hybrid leadership, as we've seen, is fundamentally an issue of equity and inclusion. It is our duty as hybrid leaders to promote equity and adapt quickly with our teams, when we pursue any of our goals, like unleashing our team's potential, creating a hybrid environment, but also, when we change our organizations for the better. It's our duty to create equitable hybrid spaces where truly everyone can shine. Use the goals and principles that we've gone through, adapt them to where you're at in your hybrid organization. Become a leader that promotes equity and adapts quickly as you learn with your hybrid team. My name is Lena Reinhard.

Handling a Fully Remote Team Spread Across Different Time Zones

James Stanier: How do you deal with having a fully remote team that is spread across seven time zones, taking into account everything that you've covered?

Lena Reinhard: I do honestly commend any company that does this, because I think it's a huge challenge. Obviously, it's not always the decision, but it just grows organically into this mode. One is, of course, make the most use of synchronous time, and of the very little synchronous time that you have, probably an hour maybe even a bit less. I would suggest work as much asynchronously as possible, which means any documentation, but even potentially, collaboration practices may have to be much more async than you normally would. Implement them.

Utilizing ping pong programming instead of pair programming as a way to level up people. Focusing much more on written communication and equipping people with the tools and the processes that they need to actually make asynchronous work really well, so that you can use the synchronous time that you have for what's not really possible to do asynchronously. Specifically, relationship building, team interactions, getting people to talk about how they work together. Basically, focusing on bonding and gelling as a team instead of focusing on, "Getting work done."

My guideline at this point for building teams is usually that like four hours or four time zones across are optimal. Fewer than that, of course, is also great. If you really need to span, for example, the Atlantic Ocean, or span across Europe and APAC time zones, six time zones are workable, not great, but work. Basically, with seven time zones, I would also suggest considering basically, is this actually the long-term structure and setup that we want and that's feasible and sustainable for everyone on the team?

If you have a team that's largely made up of people who love that asynchronous work, it may work. It's really hard to sustain that for a longer period. It may also be worth just looking at, how can we actually make this a more sustainable setup, and potentially splitting the team or having two swim lanes within the team? Just seeing like, is this actually a way that we can really work as a team? Because that ability is really limited in this case.

Stanier: Certainly, I've seen personally lots of teams that are spread across different time zones, as they're hiring more just unwinding that situation just because it's just easier to be online.

Reinhard: It gets lonely.

Stanier: It really does.

The Most Pressing Challenges, and Solutions

In your work, you get to work with lots of different clients, lots of different companies. Your slide deck was full of a huge amount of different challenges and solutions. What do you think is the most pressing one that people come to you about today?

Reinhard: I think the biggest one is probably getting the basics right. In the sense that hybrid work, and even just before hybrid, but doing things like clear goal setting, expectation management, giving feedback, making sure people understand how they're doing, having visibility, and all that. Those things are already hard. Then, making them work in a hybrid setup is even harder. I got recently asked about what I think about the metaverse as an opportunity in hybrid work.

I think philosophically, those are interesting conversations, but get your basics right. Make sure that your managers are trained. Make sure that there's good investment in developing your employees. Having clear career growth plans in place, development plans, and making sure that, again, people are getting feedback on a regular basis. Do those things well, and bake hybrid into your company's DNA in the sense of your processes, your practices, the guidelines, any requirements for how people work.

Also, make sure that the hybrid mode that you have and the reality that your employees are living in, that that's actually reflected. Then take it from there, because doing those foundations, again, like it's really hard to do them well and consistently at all times. It's also going to lay the foundation for then operating well and efficiently. Especially in the current climate, of course, it's a big concern. Also, to make sure that you actually are able to sustain this mode as a company, because you'll have hiccups along the way. You'll have things that will go wrong. The better those foundations work, the more you'll be able to react to them and adapt swiftly, and learn as an organization in this new board of working that we're all in.

Office Space

Stanier: If you started a company today, would you consider having an office?

Reinhard: No. I don't think I would. I did just found a company a year ago. This is actually something I've been thinking about a lot. I instead optimize for building good relationships, having good async collaboration practices, and basically doing remote work well. Instead, using the budget that that leaves to do in-person gatherings every once in a while, maybe three or four times a year. I think if you're a small team, that frequency makes sense. If you're larger, maybe twice a year is more workable. I do believe having a remote-first mindset, at least, will also mean that if in the end, for example, I or any other founder decided to get an office at some point, you will already have everything in place you need to make that work.

Whereas if you start from an office-first culture and mindset, it's infinitely harder to then adopt to a hybrid or to even a remote-first model. I think a lot of companies saw that during COVID, which, of course, was also very exceptional time. If you're able to do remote or hybrid well, you'll be able to excel in any environment. Whereas if your practices and everything else relies on in-person presence, it's a very different way of working and it's very difficult with that. Yes, no office for me.


See more presentations with transcripts


Recorded at:

Aug 10, 2023