Council Post: How CEOs Can Bring Out Their Human Side In A Hybrid World
Group Chief Executive at Kin + Carta Europe, delivering end-to-end digital services for the world’s leading businesses.
What are CEOs for? For me, our main role is to feed, drive and energize a team. This is often best done in person and in small doses, although it can be almost as effective remotely. It’s a question of how you can be ‘with the people’ when and wherever they need you.
CEOs are experienced hybrid workers. In most organizations, whether they’re global or have a few offices in one country, the CEO cannot be in the same place as their entire team at the same time. In many ways, our working lives haven’t necessarily changed that much post-pandemic.
At a time when teams are often split between home and office, we need to make the most of every interaction we have with our colleagues. This has meant dialing up the need to be more considerate and open to listening—whatever the conversation, occasion or location—to get the most from the hybrid moments that matter. This doesn’t come without challenges.
Be with your team.
A modern/hybrid CEO needs to be deliberate about where they are, when they’re there and the purpose of being there. It’s no longer about being “in the office.” It’s about being with the people when and wherever they need you.
To benefit from hybrid working, there are two things a CEO must consider. First, bringing a highly distributed team together in person comes at a cost—both financial and CO2—so it needs to be worthwhile. Set a high bar and expectation for face-to-face creativity, innovation and team-building.
Sometimes you are going to bring in those who are working remotely into a meeting. This is your second consideration. When you’re running a hybrid leadership team meeting, you need to make a conscious effort to be very aware of non-verbal cues.
In simpler terms, remember to be human. That might mean taking less of the floor and observing those on camera. Don’t let those around the conference room desk dominate conversations. Bring those digital attendees into the conversation, whatever their level may be.
There are also simple ways to combat any perceived impact on leadership effectiveness, and at the crux of it is visibility.
For example, you could make it so anyone in the business can schedule a 15-minute call/meeting with you to talk about anything they want. It doesn’t matter what the subject matter is or their level within the business, because a CEO needs to have time to listen.
Ask that person to recommend two other team members to do the same. It gets the word out there while also promoting a culture of transparency and trust as well as helping with morale.
CEOs need to be visible on those larger calls, even when not leading. Use that chat function to your advantage and talk to your team as equals. Don’t interrupt or talk down to them, and ensure that you are reading those aforementioned cues.
And yes, share more informal things too. We may be CEOs, but we’re also normal people who watch The White Lotus, Peaky Blinders and Succession. We have a life outside of work.
Spend a couple of minutes on those calls talking to your team about non-work-related topics. Got a new puppy? Share it with the team! Nothing will raise morale quite like a cute dog picture.
If the CEO is at home and others are at the office, modeling the right behaviors becomes increasingly important. My calendar is visible for everyone in Kin + Carta to access, for example, so they can see which location I’m in that day and who I’m meeting.
While I don’t have a typical week, I’m in one of our offices most days with half a day working from home, often on strategic initiatives or prepping for board meetings. This also means that when I join a call where everyone is distributed worldwide, there is a level playing field rather than the traditional view of a company HQ and satellite offices. There isn’t a hierarchical structure where some offices are considered tier one and others are secondary.
Ultimately, it’s important to create a culture that is built on trust, one in which everyone can be themselves and feel a strong sense of belonging.
Be there physically when it matters.
Many companies have physical offices across their home country or continent as well as a distributed workforce around the globe. At Kin + Carta, we’re no exception.
Because of this, travel is part of the job. When I’m in one of our offices, I limit the number of Zoom meetings to focus on face-to-face and in-person activities. I want my attention to be on the people I am with at that moment in time, getting the most value possible from the trip. We need to justify the carbon footprint that air travel brings.
Being physically present very much still has its place. Remember that hybrid working should embrace the upside of time in the office. There’s a cognitive overload from being on back-to-back video meetings, especially as people are often multitasking while doing it and can therefore end up feeling drained. That goes for the CEO as well as the rest of the team.
With an in-person meeting or workshop, by comparison, you’re present and fully focused.
The debate continues to rage about hybrid working. For me, CEOs have almost always been hybrid, and that shouldn’t be seen as a negative.
But until cloning technology advances, it’s up to us to give people the best possible experience, whether we’re talking to them in the office or online. Only by embracing your human side are we going to be able to get the best from every hybrid interaction.
So when deciding whether a moment calls for you to be human or CEO, the answer should always be that both elements need to shine through.
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