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Leadership and Communication in the Hybrid World

Like every other company and Federal agency, my company is working in a hybrid model — we go into the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays and work Mondays, Wednesdays, and Fridays remotely. After three years of mostly remote work, I adjusted to commuting to an office and not wearing sweatpants every day! Now I’ve found that I enjoy getting back into an office environment again part-time.

Returning to the office got me thinking about the different challenges that come with in-person and remote work environments, and what it means for leadership to run teams and organizations in the hybrid world we live in today.  

A little bit of background about me — I’ve been in public sector professional services consulting for about 27 years and have been fortunate enough to serve in leadership roles for all kinds of teams and people — from one-person to teams of several hundred. I’m a new addition to Centennial; earlier in my career I worked in the U.S. Senate, spent about 17 years at Booz Allen Hamilton, and most recently spent four years at another company, helping them grow from small to mid-size.  

Over time, I’ve learned a bit about leadership: People want to hear from their leaders and want their leaders to communicate a vision and plan for where the organization is going.  And people want to see a path for themselves — what might my career progression look like? As a leader, I’ve been lucky enough to create a sense of “followership” in different organizations I’ve been part of, where people want to be part of my team. Hopefully, that means I’m doing something right.   

I’ve always been a big proponent of more leadership communication. People are always looking to connect and communicate with leaders, and it can have so many benefits to the organization, such as greater connections within the team and to the firm.  In many cases, I have seen resistance to transparently communicating when a leader doesn’t have all the answers. Leaders may fear saying, “I don’t know” or they might prefer not to communicate at all instead of saying something that makes them appear vulnerable. 

Last week, I attended a government/industry event, and I heard a Federal leader, new to his role, talk about industry external communications. He laughed as he shared that he asked his new team how they engage with private industry, and their response was, “oh, we don’t do that here.” They were going to be in for a shock as he changed things.

A couple of recommendations about communications: 

  • In-person communication is most effective. I’ve seen a chart that shows effectiveness on the Y axis and the richness or temperature of the communication on the X axis. Written communication or email is the coldest, with in-person being the hottest. And the curve is a diagonal line going up and to the right. If you are part of a meaningful or significant conversation, try to have that conversation face-to-face. 
  • Non-verbal communication accounts for 55-65% of communication. A lot is “said” by things other than the words coming out of your mouth. From your body language, your facial expression, to the tone of your voice, your words account for very little of what is really communicated. Be attentive to these non-verbal cues, whether you are sending or receiving the communication. 

While both workers and technology have greatly adapted and improved to fit a remote work environment, there is nothing that can replace in-person interactions! Leaders can have better engagement with their teams, be more effective and efficient in their work, and better help build the team and culture of their organization. 

Similarly, staff within the organization can make stronger connections with their leaders, which results in better understanding of their leaders and of the organization’s goals. Every organization chooses the best work model for them, but I can already see the benefits of my organization’s two in-office days per week. The free lunch is just icing on the cake!  

As most organizations work in a hybrid model, I’ve also seen the value of conferences and other in-person collaborative government/industry events rise. With limited opportunities to have on-site interactions in the office, conference events have become more important, and I’ve also seen the relevance of in-person events with vendors and government clients.  

In conclusion, I want to encourage both leaders and team members to take advantage of every opportunity to engage in person with their teams. I promise you’ll get more out of it than you’d expect. 

Ben Marglin has 25+ years of experience in public sector management and technology consulting. He leads Strategic Growth at Centennial Technologies, an 8(a)/HUBZone small business. He spent 17 years with Booz Allen Hamilton, and also worked at Karsun Solutions and AMS. His areas of expertise include digital strategy and transformation, acquisition, and IT program management. He has a master’s degree in public policy from Duke University and a bachelor’s degree from Colby College. Ben lives in Northern Virginia with his wife, son, and goldendoodle Sophie. You can connect with him on LinkedIn or Twitter.  

Image by Austen Distel on Unsplash

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