In Part 1 of this article, we reviewed two of the most challenging aspects to hybrid work – communication and culture. In this article, we continue by addressing the next two areas – creativity and team health. Similar to communication and culture, both creativity and team health are required for a successful organization. However, by its nature, hybrid work has a potential to hinder both of these areas – making it essential for leaders to be aware of how to work through the complexities that likely will arise from this new working arrangement. 

Creativity and Innovation

Staying Creative

Coming up with new ideas and solutions to problems is critical for any organization. However, innovation is most often thought of as a result of in-person collaboration. One famous example is the “back to the office” order from Marissa Mayer at Yahoo! in 2013. Mayer abolished the previous work from home policy and required everyone to return to in-office roles (and several hundred staffers to relocate), saying, “people are more collaborative and innovative when they’re together face to face.” And today, many leaders and executives feel the same way – missing the collaboration of being in the office. 

There is significant debate on whether remote work actually hinders creativity. Many studies have shown that there is little (if any) additional creative value to in-person vs. remote work. However, when polled, most individuals also feel that in-person meetings are more creative than those held virtually. Combining these findings, it seems to point to the fact that remaining creative in a remote environment is possible – and maybe just as good as in-person – but it’s certainly awkward. 

This means it will take new leadership skills to retain creativity with a hybrid team. How is a leader supposed to keep the ideas flowing if everyone can’t be together? Like most hybrid work challenges, the answer comes down to formalization. In this case, formalizing the creative process. There are many sources of creativity – the most common of which being: formal creative sessions, spontaneous (“water cooler”) creativity, and holistic “Organizational Intelligence.”

Formal Creative (“Brainstorming”) Sessions

Formal creative sessions are somewhat “easier” hybrid innovation sources, as they are planned in advance. It’s easier to solve a problem as a team if you have the idea of the scope beforehand. This can be done just as well virtually as in person. But these sessions still need to be scheduled and delivered successfully to provide value. Don’t expect your weekly team meeting to randomly turn into a valuable brainstorming session. Schedule dedicated times for these meetings and have everyone prepare in advance. 

“Water Cooler Creativity”

One step away from “formal creativity sessions” are the coveted “a ha!” moments that come from random conversations – i.e. at the “water cooler”. More hoped for than planned, these moments of people being face-to-face in a relaxed environment can trigger great ideas or solutions. In hybrid models, leaders must actively work to make these moments happen. Having dedicated times for just “chatting” and encouraging informal get togethers are a few such methods.

Organizational Intelligence

Then one step even further away from “a ha!” creativity is Organizational Intelligence (“OI”). OI can be thought of as thinking together in conversation. In its highest form, it is when people are so connected that they act as a collective “brain” of sorts – with all synapses firing together around a single topic. The result being ultrafast and productive creative thought. Sadly, anything that prevents the “back and forth” of conversation will hinder OI – such as the inability to overlap conversations on a virtual call. But steps can be made towards this goal, even in hybrid environments. To flourish, OI requires that everyone feels their ideas are valued, that they have full trust of others, and feel respect and appreciation shown for their contributions. Setting this groundwork is a big step toward successful OI.

Team Health

Team health is just like the health of an individual. If you get sick, your performance and ability to function is reduced. The same with a team. And it’s the leader’s role to look after their team’s health. If one person on the team isn’t doing well (overloaded, disconnected, etc.), they can’t engage all their energies towards work. Plus, if a team is not working well together (for any host of interpersonal reasons) team performance is limited even more. Leaders must be constantly monitoring for these issues.

Hybrid Work Can Hinder Team Health

Team Health is affected by numerous factors, many of which are exacerbated by a hybrid environment. Things such as increased stress, reduced social interactions, less connection to others, and mistrust will all hinder your team.

Worse, a leader’s “toolkit” to measure team health is limited by hybrid work. For instance, keeping track of team morale by saying a quick “good morning” is even difficult. “Good morning” can be said a thousand different ways in-person, giving you an instant gauge of how someone is doing. It can only be said one way on Slack. Once again, extra care needs to be taken when leading hybrid environments to ensure morale is being monitored closely and health is maintained.

Team Cohesion

Your team is only a “team” if they are “for” one another. But there are many reasons why team cohesion can collapse – and almost all of them are aggravated by hybrid work. Trust is one such critical factor to a cohesive and functioning team. As a leader, you must trust that your team is working – and your team members must trust that others are working. Setting the example that you value and support those who are remote just as much as those who are in-person will go a long way.

Remote Equality

A new challenge that comes from this new world of work is remote equality. This equates to ensuring that individuals who are on-site, remote, or hybrid have the same chances, and that favoritism isn’t shown to any particular group.

It can be easy to ignore or forget about what’s not top of mind. And if you’re a leader who’s in the office, the other people in the office will be more obvious than those who aren’t. Be aware of this and aim to limit any bias you may have. Likewise, make sure those who are remote have the tools and resources they need. Especially as they aren’t using valuable overhead. 

Remember – metrics are often the best leveler. Individual performance shouldn’t depend on working location (assuming the work can be done anywhere, and everyone has the resources they need). Make sure to track performance even more closely than before and reward and appreciate those who do well. This will ensure that those who are doing good work are recognized, which will create incentives for hard work and performance – and will help reduce any inequity shown based on location.

Hybrid leaders have their work cut out for them. But thankfully, the benefits of a successful hybrid environment more than make up for the additional effort. Future articles will dive deeper into each area – communication, culture, creativity, and team health – to detail how leaders can work through challenge areas and maximize their hybrid team’s performance and success.