Every member of a team has unique goals and preferences. The most effective strategies for developing talent take this into consideration by balancing leadership support with employee agency.
Developing talent is more challenging in hybrid work environments. Without seeing team members in-person regularly, leaders may struggle to understand employees as deeply as they have in the past. Communication styles, career trajectories, and other employee preferences are harder to sense and adapt to when team members are face-to-face less often.
Nonetheless, employees’ desire for development and growth opportunities persists, and may even be stronger than before the pandemic.
We’ve curated five tips for developing talent in a hybrid work environment. From addressing proximity bias to creating support networks, leaders around the world can use these approaches to create more supportive, equitable development opportunities for all parties.
Supporting Employees in a Hybrid Work Environment
Employees have a role in their own development, and your actions as their manager can support their agency.
Proximity bias is the tendency to focus on those in the same location as you. As you evaluate opportunities for your team, consider who you have been developing. Are you consistently providing more opportunities to people who are in office often?
A manager experiencing proximity bias may provide spontaneous coaching opportunities to in-office team members after meetings or as thoughts occur to her. To the manager, this is a matter of convenience. To the hybrid employees, though, they may feel they are not being given opportunities to grow when they are not in the office. In a hybrid work environment, developing remote employees calls for intentional systems to support it.
When you’re aware of proximity bias, you are more mindful of its role in your decision-making process and work to be more equitable in your attention and support. In this case, equitable development means meeting employees where they are and adjusting to their needs, instead of providing identical treatment to all team members. Other actions that can reduce your proximity bias as it relates to talent development are planning one-on-ones ahead of time and using a virtual meeting platform to meet with all your employees.
Part of effective collaboration is understanding employee preferences and goals. As a leader, you will provide equitable development opportunities when you understand your employees. Ask individuals how they prefer to receive coaching or feedback, what their hoped-for career trajectory is, and where they’d like to grow their skills. Gain a better understanding of what you can offer them to make their development most effective.
Inequitable development could be a result of proximity bias or lack of understanding, among other things. For example, if a manager does not ask an employee where they would like to grow, he may not offer opportunities that align with that trajectory. He may offer a team member an opportunity to learn more about management styles, but she may prefer to remain a subject matter expert (SME). Instead, if the two have a conversation about her career goals, he knows to look for opportunities that align with those.
As a leader, the development you offer employees should align with their interests, goals, and needs. These opportunities may look different for each employee, especially in a hybrid work environment. That is normal. Rather than focusing on being equal, work to be equitable and support team members based on their unique circumstances.
Commitment bias is the tendency to stick with previous actions or behaviors, even when circumstances change. In this case, informal discussions before or after meetings used to be good opportunities to wrap up conversations or share additional ideas. In a hybrid work environment, though, employees who are remote are unable to participate in those conversations.
For example, a manager was taught to linger after a meeting to make sure she heard any last-minute ideas from her own manager. In turn, she adopted that behavior, and would share next steps or advice after meetings. When her company adopted a hybrid work model, she continued sharing this information after the meeting was over, even if remote team members had left the call and would no longer be included in the information sharing. She realized she was not preparing her team for success, and committed to trying a new way of wrapping up meetings.
Rather than stay committed to the “meeting after the meeting,” share these thoughts or ideas in a public forum. For example, write up notes on the meeting and post them in Slack or send a follow-up email to the attendees. This way, everyone is included, understands next steps, and is more equipped to fulfill their job responsibilities. Take advantage of the technology your team already uses to replace previous behaviors with ones more suited to remote work.
No one likes to be excluded. More importantly, excluding remote employees from celebrations, activities, or projects can lower morale and lead to less positive outcomes over time. Even if the events and projects are small, including as many people as possible (even making the effort to do so) helps your whole team feel appreciated for their contributions.
Verbal praise may be easier to share in the moment, especially when working on challenging projects or finishing tasks. However, verbal praise in a hybrid work environment is not always translated to written praise for virtual employees. Remote team members may not receive any recognition, despite contributing to the same projects.
To make sure everyone feels appreciated and included in the larger team dynamic, save time in each meeting to build rapport for better relationships, work culture, and outcomes.
Team members have ample opportunities to learn from each other, as well as from you as their leader. By encouraging support networks — including Employee Resource Groups, peer communities, or affinity groups — and guiding your team as they develop and implement these networks, you help them create encouraging spaces to learn from one another.
Employee support networks are particularly important in a hybrid work environment. Individuals who are in the office regularly may informally learn from their peers through passing conversations, working lunches, or over the water cooler. Remote employees, though, miss out on those opportunities, and learn only from their managers. While managers can be a wealth of knowledge, peer learning is equally important. By formalizing these groups and conversations, managers encourage their teams to participate in and learn from each other.
Once your team has established these support networks, use them in your hybrid work environment to discuss challenges, create solutions, and share learnings. This creates a more collaborative environment, which benefits everyone.
Embrace the Hybrid Work Environment
The transition to more hybrid work environments created more challenges for developing talent — and more opportunities. Instead of begrudging the change, embrace it and use the hybrid work environment as an opportunity to guide those around you and ensure they thrive.
No matter what environment you face, accepting your current reality is vital. Today, hybrid work environments. Tomorrow, who knows what new workplace changes will be necessary? By adapting to these changes, you can ensure your work as a leader is more impactful long-term. At Proteus, our expertise is in understanding problems and finding solutions, regardless of the context. Our Leadership Development practice offers timeless, widely applicable skills and knowledge for any leadership scenario, in any industry.