There is a lot of overlap between what’s required to be a successful leader and what’s required to be a successful parent. Qualities like patience, determination, empathy and humility all go a long way in both facets of life. It’s for those reasons I often use parenting examples in my keynotes because a majority of people can relate to those experiences – and if you’re not a parent, it’s very easy to relate being that you were once a child yourself.
That’s also why these few months have been very eye-opening. Where I live in Texas, schools are back open in a variety of capacities. The district next door has students back on campus. Our school district is adopting a hybrid model. A little farther south, the school district has chosen to remain virtual for a longer period of time.
What does that mean for you? Organizations are facing the same dilemma. Does the workforce return to the office or remain work-from-home? How long? Is there an option to allow people back in the office while recognizing some employees will not be comfortable yet? I don’t have those answers, but depending on which statistics you look at, it’s most likely organizations will deploy a hybrid approach where some employees are in office while others remain home for an unknown period of time.
If that’s the case for your organization, welcome to the world of leading both virtual and in-person teams simultaneously! It’s like a fun rollercoaster nobody wants to be on, but they got stuck in line and couldn’t get out in time. Luckily for you, we can take a lesson from parenting and what many people have had to experience with virtual/hybrid/in-person school. Here are some observations from my own family’s experience and how it applies to leading teams in this new normal:
Set different (and appropriate) expectations
Luckily (or unluckily) for me, my daughters are in first grade. I can still help them with math and not spending 4 hours re-learning algebraic equations. But that also means my daughters need help with the technology and logging into different classes and meetings. I can’t expect them to do it as effortlessly as a teenager. The same applies in business. When you have in-person teams and a virtual team, you cannot assume complete symmetry in expectations. You may have to adopt different protocols or handle situations differently than if everyone were together in the same room. Allow yourself to explore those possibilities with your team and with their input.
Prioritize the platform against the message
How you deliver messages matter. That hasn’t changed during COVID. What has changed is you may not have the same luxuries you had previously. If a message is urgent and needs to get out to the team, you may not be able to call a meeting and ask everyone to join you in the conference room in 5 minutes. Also, some messages don’t project well virtually in a group setting. Case in point – 6-year-olds have a tough time focusing on a teacher’s message when 30 other kids and their pictures are up on the Zoom call screen. It’s like giving kids 12 pieces of cake before bedtime; it’s a recipe for disaster. As a leader, you will have to think longer and harder about the appropriate platform to share messages, news, celebrations, and coaching. It is more critical now than ever.
“Zoom Fatigue” is real
It was real before the pandemic, but now we’ve upped the number of virtual conference calls and it’s gotten a new name. People can only handle so many conference calls before multi-tasking, doodling, and pure boredom take over. Leaders have to recognize being online virtually is not the same as being in person in a group setting, so don’t try. Instead, recognize when your virtual team might need a break and a chance to walk away from the screen. Be willing to adapt on the fly and switch up the agenda for the day if those breaks are more needed than other days. We’ve tried practicing this with our daughters on the days school seems to be more difficult. It’s been a game-changer to then revisit the same lesson plan after 30 minutes of distraction or play time.
These tips should help make your job as a hybrid leader a little easier. As for helping you become a better hybrid elementary school parent-teacher, we’ll have to wait and see. I’m off to start studying for compound fractions and a refresher on the solar system. Wish me luck!