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The traditional corporate setup—including ours at Slack pre-pandemic—was a central headquarters with an executive floor where power and information was concentrated. The farther away from headquarters you were, the more limited your career progression and access felt. If not thought through, this dynamic will be exacerbated with the increase in distributed teams and people. Making distributed and hybrid teams work requires making a deliberate shift away from traditional corporate headquarters and leveling the playing field for everyone.
Distribute your executives
If all your executives sit in the same office and location, you are signaling to people that while you can work from anywhere, career and leadership opportunities only exist in that central location. Instead, executives need to model decentralized work by similarly distributing where and when they work to ensure that everyone, no matter where and when they are working, has access to company leaders.
Hire executives in different cities and stagger executive days in the office. Be sure to make leaders available in-person across all different days of the week. And create executive office hours or “ask me anything” times distributed by hours to maximize employee access to leadership guidance.
“I actually hired our new Chief People Officer, Nadia Rawlinson, out of Chicago and she had no intention of leaving. That was a big symbol internally because people don’t really believe that the company will be distributed in a more significant way unless the exec team is also distributed.”Stewart Butterfield, Slack CEO
One thing is certain, executives need to step up and distribute attention and opportunity equitably. Fortune sums it up well: “As more companies shift to remote work following the coronavirus pandemic, management may have to work harder to ensure that all employees are included and have equal opportunity. It’s a problem most companies grapple with even in a normal in-person office environment, but the issue can quickly intensify with distance.”
Everyone dials in
A similar power dynamic happens between people who can meet in person versus those who need to dial in. Pre-pandemic, our remote employees often struggled with feeling included in large group meetings when they were the only face on screen while conversations (and side conversations) happened in person. Conversely, when entire teams shifted to remote work, previously remote employees felt higher engagement and stronger belonging because they were finally “part of the room.”
As some companies settle back into a hybrid model of remote and office work, teams can still lean into these formats that help to level the playing field for everyone. Instill a policy of “everybody dials-in” if at least one person needs to dial-in to make sure no one feels left out.
Set the expectation that meetings should be held virtual-first, and reserve in-person time for team building or brainstorming where advance planning can help ensure that everyone can attend in person.
Make it transparent whenever possible
Information is the lifeblood of an organization (See: How to Make Digital your HQ), and transparency is key to ensuring that information flows freely across teams. Transparency not only builds trust, but also enables faster decision making by keeping everyone in the loop. Companies can foster transparency by making sure employees understand how the business works, sharing big announcements or business updates in advance, addressing potentially controversial topics proactively, and being upfront about things you can’t publicly share but know people will ask about. Demonstrating that transparency is important by taking concrete actions is a critical first step to democratizing information. For more, see our Modern Leader’s guide to organizational transparency.
Pro tip: Don’t shy away from telling your team that you have to miss a meeting because you have kid duty this afternoon, or set your status to “Caregiving.” Modeling vulnerability can happen in those micro moments—and trust us, people notice.
Executives must be vulnerable and embrace experimentation
Executives are accustomed to displaying confidence, certainty, and command. That’s precisely the wrong posture for this time of change and uncertainty. Be open with your team that you don’t have all the answers. Accept the need for trial and error to find solutions that are right for your organization. Acknowledge that it’s hard work, and that you’re deep in the trenches alongside the entire company. And open up to the fact that we’re all now in each other’s homes—bringing our whole selves to work.