Transcript- How to Lead a Hybrid Team

Excuse our typo’s, this episode was transcribed by

Mitch Simon 0:10
Welcome to another episode of team anywhere where CEOs, leaders and experts at building teams, companies, organizations, and amazing cultures

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 0:22
share how to lead from anywhere in the world. I’m your co host on the east coast. juden Bianca Mathis, and

Mitch Simon 0:28
I’m your co host on the West Coast, Mitch Simon. And we invite you to join us team anywhere.

Today on Team anywhere we interview Rebecca Knight, a freelance journalist who is a best practices columnist at Harvard Business Review. Her articles are featured in The New York Times The Los Angeles Times, The Financial Times, The Economist, and many, many more. Rebecca urges leaders to be more authentic, more empathetic, and much more real. She shares that now is the time to demonstrate the authenticity that our team members have always wanted at work, and that bringing your authentic self to work is good for business.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 1:21
Hello, everyone, and welcome to another episode of team anywhere. And I am Jenny Bianco Mathis here on the East Coast with my partner Mitch Simon on the west coast. And we are excited today to have Rebecca Knight. And some of you may know of her because of her prolific writings in the Harvard Business Review and other online avenues and podcasts and videos. She is a journalist who has some incredible insights for us, especially during the times we all are going through. Hello, Rebecca.

Rebecca Knight 1:57
Hello, Ginni. I’m thrilled to be here. Oh, well, thank

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 2:01
you so much. So to start off, just tell us a little bit about yourself and, and your journey of how you got to where you are?

Rebecca Knight 2:09
Absolutely. I have been a journalist for more than 20 years, I worked for the FT for a good chunk of my career, I worked for the ft in New York, then London. And then I was Boston correspondent for many years, I went freelance about almost 10 years ago, which is, which is kind of crazy. And I do a lot of different things a lot some broadcast journalism, but I also write this column for Harvard Business Review called best practices. And and that’s what we’re gonna be talking about today.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 2:38
Oh, that’s fabulous. And maybe in a separate discussion, you, you can share with me how you made that decision to go freelance, but because I’m sure there was a lot of interesting stuff. And, indeed, so as a journalist, you talk to a lot of different people from different segments of the population and industry. And journalist has a very specific role, I think, in our society, how do you see your role? How do you see that role? What does a journalist bring?

Rebecca Knight 3:12
Well, it’s so funny because I talk about my job that I get paid to talk to people all day long, and ask them questions and find out what they think about things and then write it down. And they pay me for that, I feel like I have this great job. But you’re right, it is a an important role in society, particularly now at a time where the press and the validity of the press is being challenged by people in power. But I as a journalist, view my role as to talk to the people who know a lot about a subject. Who are the the thought leaders who are making waves in our society, who are who who’ve studied things who really have a deep expertise. And two, as I said, ask them questions, find out about what they think about things where they predict the future will go, what they’re seeing in terms of trends in th eir industry and in society, and then try to translate what they say into accessible and engaging prose that that readers can understand and identify with and and learn from,

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 4:25
oh, wow, there’s so many little nuggets in there. I’m glad it’s being recorded, because I got to go back and write those down. Definitely the making it accessible for others. And something I’ve also noticed in your work, is, as you said, you interview people, you translate that you base it on their expertise and that kind of fact finding, which is very refreshing. Needless to say, yes during our times right now. So before we Get into some specifics. I am sure you’ve been on your own journey of growth and look and reflection over the past 12 months, can you share with us a little bit about that as certainly you know, a leader, a thought leader in in our society,

Rebecca Knight 5:21
You are too kind of I would say that like most people, I have been working from home, I have been working from home for a long time we before the covid 19 pandemic, I should say, but I’ve been working from home with now my husband and children along with me. And that has been the biggest change to my daily life, we have all remained healthy, knock on wood. And I’m grateful for that. But I think that, you know, look, we are a pandemic weary nation, we’ve just endured an exhausting election, we have seen a great deal of social upheaval that has taken place in over the past eight months. And, and I think in terms of my growth, it has to be understanding, understanding society a little bit more, I mean, we’re all just watching these these events unfold in the comfort of our homes and on our screens on our laptops, in our in our hands, because we’re watching them on our phones. And I think that I’ve definitely had some some realizations and some understandings of how things work a little bit more. In terms of my own growth.

I mean, I’m obviously spending a lot more time with my children, which is mostly good. And and I think that watching them be resilient and watching them have to learn how to navigate a brand new school environment. And watching them thrive and sort of have to practice resilience day in day out has been inspiring to me. And so many kids around the country, around the world, frankly, are having to do this. It’s not always perfect. But but but I but gives me hope it gives me hope that things can get better.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 7:10
Yeah, yeah. That is a really good point about the youth. And and Alright, I can’t do it this way. And then you say you have to do it that way. And I, I even saw some videos of very young children, you know, being told to stand in this spot, now move to that spot. And and to them, it’s almost like a game and that they really get into. Yes, exactly. I can see it through their eyes. And he said, there’s hope and there’s resilience. That’s Yeah, yes. Now after you

Mitch Simon 7:42
Want to ask question, have you seen, have you seen Rebecca the same resilience in the workforce? As I know, you do a lot of articles on the workforce? Have you seen? Have you seen workers, leaders? team members?

Rebecca Knight 7:55
Yes, I think I think I have I think that, um, I think that we saw in the immediate during the immediate lockdown in the spring, I think there were so many leaders who were initially very skeptical that remote work would in fact, be okay, and that their workers would be productive, engaged, interested, be willing to collaborate over platforms like zoom, and in sort of still get their work done and still be productive members of a team? And I think that, yes, obviously, as I said before, we are we are wary of this. We we’ve been at this for quite a long time now. And the the pandemic is only getting worse right now. And that is discouraging on so many levels. But I do think that the workforce has shown tremendous resilience really.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 8:49
What are some good examples of the organizations that you have seen? I’m embracing this. And I have seen both the good ones, what do they seem to be doing in this, this new remote moving to hybrid kind of environment?

Rebecca Knight 9:10
I think that one of the most important things is managers who are regularly checking in on their employees and offering support, offering encouragement, finding out how they’re doing, how they’re coping, what specific challenges they’re facing, in their day to day because everyone is different. Some people are really suffering because they’re so isolated, they live in they live alone, they’re not seeing many people. Other people are scared witless that they’re going to get sick or or they have they’re living with someone who is high risk. And so they’re very, they’re very worried about that. Other people are stressed because they’re they’re having to homeschool their children in addition to their jobs and they’re worried about maintaining their jobs. They’re there they feel guilty that they’re not maybe contributing to their job in the way that they would want to but they have but they’re being toward in so many different directions. So I think that’s one of the first things that I would say, the leaders who are doing this right, are regularly checking in and making sure that they are embracing the humanity of the situation and not just saying, what is that report? Do we need a deck done? And I think that they’re, they’re embracing sort of this new normal, which is anything but normal, and understanding that things are going to be different. Let’s therefore think about what are the most important things that we need to get done? So they’re prioritizing in the sense of, Okay, look, here, here’s what we need to do this week. And here’s what we’d like to do this week. But what’s on what we need to do to make sure that that stuff gets done, that stuff we accomplish, and then the nice to have, we can we can focus on if we have the time if we have the bandwidth if we have the capacity. So they are understanding that there is that there needs to be a lot of flexibility.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 11:05
Right, right. We heard from some folks that they’re breaking down meetings to be micro meetings, Mom, so that they can visit with the folks more frequently, which then supports what you’re saying. I’m checking in more. Yeah. And we’re breaking up the work. So we almost are tracking work in a much more efficient way. Right. We have had heard that from some leaders that are embracing this. Now, what about the leaders who are struggling? Obviously, you can just say to me, Well, the opposite of what I just said. But in particular, you know, what, what advice? Where do you see them struggling? And what advice would you have for them?

Rebecca Knight 11:51
I think that the leaders who are struggling are the ones who are maybe, maybe they were maybe even struggling before the pandemic hit in the sense that they didn’t necessarily have the good relationships with their teams, they hadn’t built trust, they they didn’t have they didn’t understand their employees to be human beings, rather than just robots who show up at their desks and get the job done. So I think those are the ones who are who are having a harder time trusting their employees to get their jobs done. And also just understanding the extraordinary stress and pressure that so many people are under right now. In terms of other other ways in which leaders are struggling. I mean, I think that they are maybe not they’re failing to see the big picture in all of this, too. I think that’s another another way that they’re struggling.

Mitch Simon 12:54
And when you when you say the big picture, here are journalists, and you’ve reported around the world. So what is Rebecca, what is the big picture?

Rebecca Knight 13:02
Oh, my gosh, we only I knew. But I mean, I think that I think that they are not seeing that. It’s sort of the problem that the corporations have had for a very long time. Now. It’s this short termism. It’s this, we’ve got to get to the end of this quarter we’ve got we’ve got to be planning for next year. And it’s rather than understanding, we’re in this for the long haul, and how can we think creatively think innovatively about problems that we need to solve rather than getting, you know, making it quarter to quarter? So I think that that’s that’s just it’s a struggle that was there before the pandemic hit. And I think that those who tended to have a short term outlook, are struggling in particular during this pandemic?

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 13:52
Yeah, they are. leaders need to hold both in their hand, the short and long term. And I believe, see, what you have seen is that a lot of leaders have been one or the other. The best leaders have been both. A lot of leaders have been one or the other. And they’re struggling right now. Because as you said, they struggled before. But now this new environment is requiring all of them all parts of their brain. A lot of it is well, you need to be more empathetic. You need to be more authentic union need to show that piece to your people. Well, you know what, I don’t like to do that. Well, that’s what’s necessary now.

Rebecca Knight 14:43
Yeah, yes. Yes. And I think that those who can’t sort of project a vision forward, people are scared, they’re stressed. They don’t know what’s coming down the pike. No one knows what’s coming down the pike. But that is why we need leadership. We need someone to say Say, this is the direction we’re going in, and to bring people along that way. And I understand that leaders are thinking to themselves, well, geez, I wish I knew. But at the same time, you need to form a point of view, have a vision, and then and then try to bring people along. And I understand that that vision needs to be flexible too. Because if things could change, but there needs to be some, some for some, some positive force that people can rally behind right now.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 15:30
Exactly. Great. Well, you wrote one article that really tickles our fancy since it touches upon our particular podcast here. And it was how to manage during this hybrid environment. And you did highlight four or five very key things there from talking to some experts. Can you share that with us?

Rebecca Knight 15:53
Sure. I mean, I think that I hope I’ve already touched on a few of them in terms of the best managers or the best practices in terms of managing a team where some people are working in the office, and other people are working from home. And maybe even that is also changing too. Or you have sometimes someone who works from home is then coming into the office every other week or every other day. So I mean, I think that fluidity is the name of the game in this in this very challenging time. Right now, one of the things that really struck me in when I was interviewing experts with this is thinking about inclusion and making sure that everyone is on the same playing field, because there could be people who are not willing to come to the office right now, for whatever reason, either they live with someone who’s high risk, or they just are not comfortable being indoors with people who are not in their households. So I think that this idea that even though you have some people in the office, and even though we all recognize that face to face collaboration, and and and communication is superior to zoom, let’s face it, I think that you still need to make sure that meetings are done, virtually. And that can be painful, in some ways to think well, then why am I even here. But if you start to have some people who are meeting in a room, without a certain another member of their team, because he or she is working from home, you start to create this unlevel playing field and you start to then the folks who are in the office have these ideas and the other person is left behind. And that really is is not the kind of work environment that you want, you need to make sure that everyone is on the same playing field, because it’s hard to, it’s hard to really be part of something if if some of your team is working on issues and working on ideas, that you’re not a part of that you’re that you’re trying. So I think that’s one of the most important best practices. And I also this idea to another thing that was really fascinating. In talking to Leon Davey, and I know you’ve had her on your podcast before she’s terrific, is this idea that when you are when you have this hybrid office, it will exacerbate your own baggage and biases about particular employees. So you have you have a notion in your head, oh, I really like this person, this one’s my star. She’s fantastic. Everything I asked her to do, she does amazingly well. And then, and then in this environment, maybe this person is working from home. And so you just give her the benefit of the doubt if she’s if she’s falling behind you think oh, well, she’s really she’s got a really hard time right now. And then the person you have already said is your mediocre team member, that person is just never going to live up to your expectations. And so the idea being that it really does, you need to make sure that you are constantly asking yourself, are there people on this team that I’ve not given a fair shake to? And what would it look like? If I did? Oh, that’s wonderful, sure that you are not just reinforcing your own biases and predispositions about particular employees? Because Because Because this hybrid office, if you really have a tendency to do that,

Mitch Simon 19:11
and he also said, Rebecca, in your article about offering support, and I’d love for you to talk about that as well. It because really, in the in the it’s it’s a comparison with contrast, which is we you know, I love the fact that you’re saying that you know, not only were we were we did we have hidden biases for you know, race and gender and upbringing, now we have hidden biases about I’m in the office, you’re not in the office, you’re in the office, sometimes you’re in the office sometimes. And and then at the same time. We’re saying in this in this time of restlessness and fear and anxiety we as as team members, and as team leaders need to offer support. So how do you how do you balance offering support with offering you know, treating each person equally?

Rebecca Knight 19:58
I mean, and I and I think that it’s, it’s Equally, it’s you’re treating everyone fairly, you know, and sometimes people need more from you. I mean, if you think about it just, it’s almost like parenting, you know, some one, sometimes one child will just need a little bit more from you, and another child can can occupy herself or do whatever she needs to do. And that will change an ebb and flow. And then there are some children who are just going to be needier no matter what. So it’s just making sure that as the manager, you’re being fair, and and not devoting more of your time or devoting more of your giving, giving the benefit of the doubt to certain employees versus other employees. And I think that in terms of the support, there’s the pandemic, but then there also is the social upheaval that we’ve talked about. And I think that that is affected employees very deeply and, and to make sure that as a manager, you are checking in with your employees to say, particularly your employees of color, who you need to make sure that they know you care about them, you’re thinking about them. You are You, you you’ve seen the videos yourself, and you’re and you’re horrified, and you want to make sure that you they understand that, that you get it. I mean, I think that’s the most important thing here.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 21:18
Yeah, by by always just checking in, you are dealing with what might that particular person is, is dealing with at least about creating a space for that to come forward. In a way I was saying to someone else, in a way, it’s almost better than seeing a person face to face. You know, you have all these faces in front of you. In a meeting on zoom. You can see them all right, and you can really cute. Well, wait a minute, Paul, you look puzzled. Right. Right. You can be on, you really see the cues. And yeah, so fairly, is is is the key word. Yeah. Yeah. Not equally. That’s a whole other discussion.

Rebecca Knight 22:08
Right? Exactly. Very.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 22:10
That was a phase, along the phases of looking at differences, of treating folks equally, we’re past that now in the literature. And it’s more about individualize in a fair way.

Rebecca Knight 22:26
Right, right. And then going back to, to Mitch, the idea of offering support, and that’s really where you’re going to see signs of burnout. And I think that that’s another thing that managers really need to be attuned to right now, because we’ve now been doing this for a long time now since March, and in a lot of us are really, we’re kind of at the end of our rope here. And so if you’re not checking in, if you’re not regularly, talking to your employees, allow giving them the space and the time to talk about what’s going on in their lives, then you aren’t going to find out who’s really struggling maybe until it’s too late. And I think that in my in my piece. It’s watching for signs of people who are behaving differently, the person who was usually talkative and energetic, and then all of a sudden seems very reticent, and quiet and the person who, you know, someone who was calm and composed now has this much shorter fuse, and is quick to anger. So it sort of seeing changes in people and being attuned to them.

Mitch Simon 23:35
Yeah, really, really what I got out of this conversation, and in your article is that this, this pandemic is really causing us to be much more authentic, and much more empathetic, and much more real, for the leaders that were struggling before the pandemic, to be able to display these types of behaviors, or to display these types of just a way of being it might be harder for them. It’s also I think, we’re finding leaders I work with a lot of young leaders on a young leaders are really stepping into their own because they’re already bringing in this, this authenticity to that they’ve always wanted at work. And this is really, this is really the place for people to play that out. And almost, you know, your article is an encouragement, I think, for people to be more real, and for people to connect deeper. Yeah. at work. And I don’t know, what’s your thoughts about that, in your experience? In all your interviews,

Rebecca Knight 24:42
I think I think you’re really hitting on something that we could see as a as a positive outcome of this is that you’re right, people are bringing, as Jenny said, their authentic selves to work now and then that’s and that’s a good thing. That’s a good thing because we spend a lot of time at work. To have to pretend you’re someone else to have to act in a certain way that you don’t feel that’s not that’s not the real you that that’s not your skin is hard and it gets old.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 25:13

Rebecca Knight 25:14
Right? Exactly. And you’re not going to be doing your best work if you are have a facade of somebody else. I think that I think that you’re right, I think that people are becoming more not becoming they’re, they’re understanding, oh, I can be who I am at work. I saw today that ups is allowing employees to wear mustaches and dreadlocks and braids and to allowing, it’s in recognition that a lot of these old policies were discriminatory because it allowed disallowing people of color to wear their hair the way they wanted to wear it. But it’s this idea of bringing your authentic self to work, this is good for business. This is this, you know, this pandemic, which has also been a public reckoning on racial inequality and systemic racism. But as we were saying, Mitch, it is this idea of Be who you are, and bring that to work. And that will make you a better worker.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 26:19
I, I love what you said, because we’re now having to reflect on Well, what is my whole self self? Because I used to separate it so much, right? And now here, I’m having this business meeting, and my little girl runs up, sticks her face in. And now I’m having a psychotic breakdown, because who am I now supposed to be? Right? And so now we have to reconcile that. And we all are. However, some are struggling with it more than others, I think. And that goes back to what you even said before, some people aren’t going to go into this hybrid environment and just thrive. And it may not be the people who thrived in the office. And that’s where you have some of the biases. And as long as you keep checking in, right, you have to at one, I remember I was with a group of MBA students sharing this, what do we have to be psychologists now? And my answer is yes.

Rebecca Knight 27:31
And you always should have been to this is the thing you you need to know your employees as humans, not as robots, they, you know, I mean, this idea of the the myth of the ideal worker, they remember when this pandemic first hit, people were saying all Finally, we’re going to know that, that that that stupid, and we’re going to end this absurdity that the ideal worker is just, you know, constantly doing his thing, because it was a man to the ideal worker. But I mean, sadly, I think we’re not necessarily seeing that simple. Well, you

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 28:08
know, what it gets to Rebecca gets to what this one good thing about this whole pandemic, and then working at home and being disruptive, is it’s caused a lot more reflection. And that reflection, then is people having to maybe redefine themselves a little bit. And you also said something else that I think is true. You said, we’ve been doing this for a while a lot of folks are feeling burned out. Now I think is even more even more important time to look at.

Well, now what?

Rebecca Knight 28:43

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 28:44
Now, what am I gonna be? And while I guess I got to redefine myself and my infrastructure once again.

Rebecca Knight 28:51
Mm hmm. And I, you know,

go on.

Mitch Simon 28:55
You know, what I always when I’m seeing here is because with the article that you know, okay, the beginning of this beginning of this, Rebecca, which we were, you know, kind of thinking like, are we all going back? Because the question was, are we all going back to work? Are we all staying home? Because of course, we as humans, it’s always going to be black or white. Right?

Rebecca Knight 29:14
That’s, of course, yes.

Mitch Simon 29:16
Yeah. Now, with your article, Rebecca, you know, your article is you know, how to manage a hybrid team. And for the most part, I would say, without being black or white, I think the majority of us are going to be hybrid teams.

Rebecca Knight 29:28
I could not agree more, I think that that’s going to be another long term trend we’re going to see is that we are going to do more. This, this is the future. because, frankly, we do like working with other people, many of us do. And or even if we don’t like it, we need to and so I think that there’s going to be times where you do need to be with colleagues and you do need to be bouncing ideas around in person, face to face, but you don’t need to do that every day. It’s not good for your mental health. It’s not good. For your productivity is not good for the planet, you don’t need to be there every day. So I think that we are going to see many more hybrid teams in the future. And I think that that will enable a lot of people. Another another trend that we’re going to see is that people will be able to live where they want to live, if they don’t need to be in the office every day, maybe a longer commute on the days they do go into the office, which is once a week or once every other week, or once a month even is more palatable. So I do think we’re going to see many more people living where they want to live. And maybe even the people who are working from home, I was talking to this thought leader at MIT, this idea that you could be, you don’t you want to get out of the house, you don’t necessarily want to work from your own home all the time. And, and you want colleagues, but you might not necessarily have colleagues from your company or your organization. So you might go to sort of a satellite office, maybe a glorified, we work where there’s a bunch of people who do similar things that you do, or not even maybe in completely different fields. But you share a coffee machine and you get that interaction, you get that stimulation of just being with other humans who are doing work, too. But you don’t necessarily it’s not necessarily your organization.

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 31:19
Right, right. I’ve been calling them pods for futurists, I know exactly. Yeah, that’s, that’s absolutely perfect.

Mitch Simon 31:31
And the other the other thing I wanted to ask was, it sounds like as well, as if we would take your article on hybrid teams, you’re almost, or you are deliberately, you’re sketching out the the leader of the future. Right, the leader of the future, you know, you’re basically saying, you, you know, to be if we go back like 3040 years ago, right, which is tell people what to do. And make sure they do it.

Right. It looks like today, especially with hybrid teams, is you must be very good at noticing how people are feeling. Yes, you must be very good at being authentic and vulnerable. And you and you must be good to to have the strength to display it through a screen. I have a final question for you. Because in your article, this is this is really, really important. Your article, you talked about making it fun. And I just thought we should talk about fun. Okay, so I’m just wondering, first, how have you made Rebecca, this new lifestyle? fun for you, I know that you said that you’ve always worked from home. Now you have your husband and your kids at home? So how have you made that fun on your, you know, team night, let’s just say

Rebecca Knight 32:54
all right, that, um, and you know, looking at that, that article, making it fun, because I think we’re all so over zoom cocktails, and we’re all it’s just, I can’t take any more zoom. But I in terms of making it fun for me, it is hard. I’m an extrovert. I really like being around people. And when I work from home, I still need time for friends and colleagues and I would see people for lunch and I would have I would still work with other people. Even though I was so I am I am self employed. And I miss that I really miss it. It’s hard. It’s hard feeling so isolated. So I try to every morning I do a walk and talk with one of my friends and I have a different schedule different friend each morning. We walk it around 730 and so I’ve so by the time I sit down to my desk at 815 I’ve already gotten outside I’ve gotten fresh air I’ve gotten exercise and I’ve connected with a friend. So no matter what it can’t be that bad a day. And I it’s I sort of joke with my friends about all this rich family time that we’re in we’re enjoying with our children. But it is it is it’s really good if I am getting to know my kids better and in in I think that that really. Um I they are their school, they go to Boston Public Schools, their schools have not opened and even though I wish they could be in school, I know that I’m gonna miss them when they go back. I really am

Ginny Bianco-Mathis 34:27
fascinated. Yeah, okay. Well, thank you. So Oh, watch this has been extremely rich. Getting your perspective and ideas and niche and I always end a podcast and then end up talking about certain pieces of it, you know, days later and I know we will with this one. So thank you for your time and your involvement and please continue doing what you do.

Rebecca Knight 34:55
I will thank you for having me, it’s my pleasure.

Mitch Simon 34:59
great in Thank you to our listeners for listening to another episode of team anywhere. And if you like this episode, please share this episode with your friends, your colleagues, your boss, and let them know about Rebecca, Rebecca Knight and all of her articles out there in on the internet. Thank you. We’ll see you next time.

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