Ep. 153: Heather Polivka - Leading Hybrid & Remote Teams

Heather Polivka, Owner of HeatherP Solutions, is a trusted advisor, change agent, and speaker focused on working with progressive leaders of small and mid-sized businesses to accelerate revenue growth by creating work environments where people thrive. With the changing work environment over the last year and a half, remote and hybrid teams have proven to be very beneficial for many businesses, teams, and individuals. In this episode, Heather discusses what those benefits are and addresses the necessary changes leaders need to make in order to adapt their styles and overcome any lingering challenges associate with a dispersed workforce. Download and listen now!
Design your hybrid/remote work experience:  https://www.heatherpsolutions.com/
Train your new/first-time managers to lead hybrid and remote teams:  https://www.awesomepeopleleaders.com/

Mitch: (00:05)
 Welcome back to Count Me In. Here with you again is your host Mitch Roshong and this is episode 153 of IMA's podcast series. In today's conversation. You'll hear about leadership needs that relate to hybrid or remote teams as you listen to my co-host Adam, speak with CEO advisor and speaker Heather Polivka. Heather founded Heather P solutions to work with progressive leaders of small and mid-sized businesses to accelerate revenue growth by creating work environments where people thrive. Keep listening to hear her discuss the evolution of business leadership styles and how to overcome the challenges associated with each.
 Adam: (00:50)
 We're talking about remote work today, and it's been something, a topic that everybody's been talking about, especially with the commencing of COVID-19 and every that, how that shook the modern world as far as the work world and everything else. So we're going to focus really on a remote and hybrid work, as people are coming back to offices. And so let's start with this question. How is remote and or hybrid work benefiting teams or businesses now?
 Heather: (01:17)
 There was a lot of benefits. I obviously, I think people know the benefits from an individual employee perspective in terms of flexibility, maybe saving on that commute. And you give some of the time back to the company and some of the time back to your, your personal life. But that also that, that benefits teams a lot, first of all, teams and business now have a broader access to talent. You're no longer stuck within your particular geography in terms of, you know, who has the skills or the experience that you're looking for. So it allows you to build the team with the skills and capabilities and experience needed to forward your business strategy. The other thing is retention of talent. You know, an employee moves away, goes to school for whatever reason gets married here, relocates, you don't have to actually lose that talent. You can keep them wherever they go. And I think that's particularly when I've worked for employers that really like to employ military veterans and their families. And so that is a whole host of talent that you get to retain even as they, as they move around. And there has been some productivity, at least maintenance and in many cases gains. And I think it's because the number of people are doing what I said at the beginning. I used to do this. Like if my commute time was an hour, I would give a half hour back to me for sleep or working out or whatever, and I'd give a half hour back to the company. and so that has helped with some productivity. And then the last thing I'd highlight is it's broken down some of the barriers between work and life. And I know that, millennials in that have not necessarily had those strict walls between work and their real life, but I know maybe for those of us a little bit older, we kind of had that separation going on. But when you've got kids hopping in the zooms and dogs barking in the background, it makes everyone more human. So while we've had less one-on-one interaction, it's also, I think, broken down some of those barriers that we used to maintain between work and life and a good way.
 Adam: (03:27)
 It's almost like you can still be professional and then have a dog barking in the background and under, and everybody's been there and seen that, and it's no longer this taboo thing, you know, like that businessman who was talking on the phone in the news and his wife came in and the kid came in, his wife came in to just get the kid out and nowadays people are like, oh, there's your child. And they would just keep moving on, you know?
 Heather: (03:48)
 Exactly, exactly. And I think that's, that's, I think that's healthy and that's really good. And I think it's particularly healthy for leaders to kind of shed a bit of that and make themselves a bit more human and vulnerable in the workplace.
 Adam: (04:05)
 Speaking of leaders, how do you think they need to evolve their style to work with remote teams? And then, you know, on the other side of that, what types of leaders should companies be looking for in this type of environment?
 Heather: (04:19)
 Yeah, that is such a great question. I think one that a lot of companies are struggling with, particularly I tend to work with more small and mid-sized businesses. And, but my background obviously is in fortune 100, many times, especially when you're talking executive leaders, regardless of the size of the organization, there is a way that we have all learned how to be successful. I pulled this lever, I do this thing and it creates those results, right? So we're now asking a whole host, a generation really of executive leaders to no longer really use the formula that they know, and that has been successful for them. And guess what, they're human and that scares them very much. And that's led to some of the defaults thinking of, we've got to get everyone back in the office and because that's the way they know how to lead. And so when we asked, like, what do we need from leaders to lead in this environment? You know, one is the old command and control model of leadership doesn't work well in hybrid and virtual work, right? Because even if you're in a hybrid work, you can see how people, when they're in the office are going to be doing more of the kinds of work that it involves interacting with other people. So a leader could walk through an area and just see a bunch of employees sort of sitting and talking in the lounge area, which quote, unquote, doesn't look like work. And yet that's the kind of work they're going to focus in on when they're in the office, because their intense focus, productivity work is the work that they can do at home. So that command and control of if you monitor and you manage employees that doesn't work well in hybrid or virtual work, instead leaders have to shift to managing the outcomes and the objectives and supporting people in whatever they need, whether it's what resources do you need, or what roadblocks do I need to break down? You know, what is it I can do as a leader to support you, to deliver on that outcome? And that's very, very different than managing people.
 Adam: (06:34)
 For sure. So what are some of the challenges that come up when you're, when you're, when you, so let's say you've gotten that style, you're getting that style down. What are some of the challenges that you are going to start facing as you work with remote and hybrid teams?
 Heather: (06:46)
 Yeah, there's, there's four buckets that I see most of the challenges come into and it has to do with communication, performance management, relationships and project or task management. Those are the four buckets and some kind of bleed over into, into one another, communication. What's interesting. And a couple of things with communication. The first is the thing we miss with remote work is that sort of fly by interaction or that incidental, you know, I used to catch people in the coffee line and go, oh my gosh, I was going to set up a meeting with you, but I'll just handle it right here in the coffee line. You don't get that necessarily when you're working with remote work. So it requires a little more either it requires more technology, it requires more intentionality. But there are ways to do it. You can, I've seen groups set up collaboration sessions where we're all going to log on and think about this problem and brainstorm. And it's just a, it's just a working kind of collaboration session. I've seen very successively used. What's called co-working sessions where you set up like a two hour block for whole team. And at the beginning, you kind of all say you're high in your creatings. Then after five minutes, everyone is heads down work, but you still got your zoom going on. And that way is you come up with a question or a yabba, or how about I can go out of this, this thing, do you know where that is? And you can give me that quick update and we can do that. And so we're still getting work done, but we're allowing for some of that more informal, quick touch base. And then another thing to kind of take us all back to our college days is the professor's office hours. The whole team could have office hours. It could be an hour a day, each day. And that's a time that, you know, you can informally grab anyone, you know, real quick on, you know, texts or phone or zoom or whatever, to get a question answered. So that's another way to bring more of that informal communication into remote and virtual virtual environments. So that, that would be, that'd be one I can dive into the other four, the other three, if you want Adam.
 Adam: (09:03)
 Well, I mean, if you want to start addressing, you know, ways that they can help each of those challenges, you covered communication. Let's, you know, let's look at some of those other ones because I think it is a real problem, you know, unless I know that our company, you know, gave us all Teams, Microsoft Teams. So now we can chat with each other a lot easier because you do miss that, like, especially people who aren't necessarily in your department, people in your department, you're talking with more often, but somebody else, you may walk past their office and have that informal conversation that kind of getting to know, because you don't greet with them every day, but that's a little harder in a virtual environment.
 Heather: (09:37)
 It really is. And that's where it does take, you know, some, it takes more intentionality there to make that happen. And I think Adam, that's an excellent point, especially for those groups outside of your team or department, but who, you know, you partner and you need each other. That's great, call-out. Performance management, we already talked on, it talked about it a little bit. I mean, first of all, most, most businesses are, we should be should quote unquote, be using smart goals, specific, measurable outcomes for, for people. And I think managing it by objective and then showing up as leader to say, what support do you need is really critical for being able to manage performance? And if you managed by your outcomes or your objectives, I mean, certainly in a performance review, that's an annual, so you have to break it down to what does a monthly or quarterly look like? What does a weekly look like depending upon what kind of team that you have, there's some way that you can measure your outcomes or your output. So then you can see where things aren't happening at the pace that they could or should or need to, and then start getting into root cause. so that's how you can approach performance management without having to keep your eyeballs on everybody, sitting at their desk for relationships. I, I think it's also about setting up time with each other where you don't talk about work. And I know that sounds a little, little crazy, but that's also that informal stuff that we miss, like when I was sharing about catching up with people in the coffee line, right. And it could be that it's a Friday morning virtual coffee, but you all agree, you're not talking about work instead. You're sharing what you're doing over the weekend, because that's also an opportunity to learn more about each other, like, oh, you're going to Comicon. I didn't know you're into that. Who's was your favorite, you know, that, that sort of stuff. I also like to encourage leaders particularly to log in early to meetings and, take those one or two minutes for chit chat to get to know employees and relate to them and find out what they're up to, what they're dealing with or questions before you, before everyone jobs jumps on the call. It has a great way to capture those little informal tidbits. And, and to your point, Adam, I would say that that's almost like critical to do when you're interacting with departments outside of your own, that you don't get to interact with as much. That would be a way to kind of capture a little bit of what you were pointing at.
 Adam: (12:07)
 I've I found, I found that, I've had to reach out to people that I used to talk to when I was walking past their offices and like, Hey, let's have coffee, let's have virtual coffee and like we'll have tea or coffee in the afternoon and just catch up for a half hour. And that's just, a great way to connect with people.
 Heather: (12:23)
 It is that's that intentionality, you know, we gotta be more thoughtful about it and about the, even recognizing the fact that we miss those interactions, you know, cause it wasn't like they were necessarily planned or on our calendars before. And then I think the other thing is when we were talking earlier about the zoom and the kid pops in and the dog pops in, I think there's a opportunity just, there's been more shared humanity and vulnerability during this time. And that's important to continue no matter where people are working. So I think there's something, again, particularly for leaders to share some of the more of those tidbits, like what were some of the mistakes you made? Like if you're talking about a major, let's say a tech implementation, you can use that moment to say, you know what, early in my career, I made a really big mistake. I didn't ask X, Y, Z questions. So I learned, and I'm not going to do that again. So what, what would be the answers to those questions here? So you're using an opportunity to actually forward the implementation call, right? Cause we're going to ask the three questions, you know, to ask, but you access it in a way that like shares something about yourself and makes a little more human and more approachable. It's amazing how those little pieces go a long way towards building trust, towards creating the kind of environment where people know like, oh, I I'm going to share too. And it doesn't mean the end of my career. And I can learn from you. Like you just, you just shared a mistake. So I'm going to write this down to make sure I don't make that same mistake. So it serves a lot of purposes, but it's just amazing how those little tidbits can go a long way towards building relationship.
 Adam: (14:06)
 So as we've been talking about this, like remote hybrid stuff, it made me think of, there's gotta be these misconceptions that are hanging over all of this. You know, a lot of those misconceptions were broken down when everybody was forced into remote work. But as offices opened back up, a lot of places are just opening as hybrid. They're not going back to full-time cause I don't think people want to go back full-time into the office. And so what are some misconceptions that maybe we can break down for our audience?
 Heather: (14:33)
 Yeah. Well I think the first one that I see in here a lot is that we all need to be together for our culture. That is a, that is a huge misconception. It's an understandable one though. And in that most workplaces that were in person before, how they work, how they make decisions, how they go about getting things done and share information, was all designed around an in-person experience. And just like if we design a desktop website experience and you go to your, your phone and it's not responsive and it's all kind of wonky, the information is still kind of data or, but it's not showing up in like the easiest way because it wasn't designed to be mobile. Well guess what? Most of our cultures and ways of working were not designed to be mobile. And that's why it has seemed wonky these last 18 months. But that does not mean, you know, your choices. You only use your desktop experience or you design a mobile friendly one and that's the same choice with culture. You can either review, you know, go back to the office if you're talented and your employees are willing to do that and stay with you. And in a sense, I would say, try to turn the clock back to 2019, not the path that I recommend, or you can design a mobile first experience that can also work when you're in person. And that's, that's, I think one of the mistakes too, not that you asked for mistakes, but with that misconception, one of the mistakes people are making is thinking that they can just go back, go to hybrid or stay virtual. And somehow it's going to become unwonky over time by itself. And it will, but that's sort of the painful way, like peeling the band-aid off one hair at a time. You know, you can do it. I'm not gonna, but there's, there's a less painful way to go about it. Or I will say it's more kind of ripping it off very quickly. And that is pausing and doing some intentional thought about what is summit, what are the ways that we have worked in the past? How have we shared information in the past and how do we redesign that for a hybrid or virtual experience? In fact, I just realized, Adam, I didn't share with you project and task management. Aha. My bad. Two things I love that I recommend: One is stealing from our agile tech world and doing daily standup meetings, the little 15 minute mini things that has everyone, like, what are your roadblocks? What are you going to do? Like easy peasy. But the other thing, and it's amazing how many teams don't have this is a single source of truth for what work is happening. Who's accountable for it. When is it due, but also like what decisions have been made? Why were those decisions made? What's some of the context, if that's not someplace that all team members can access, I mean, given some appropriate for all team members to access, then you miss some of that, that context. But that makes a huge difference when you're talking about designing a work experience where people might be hybrid, they might be virtual or they might be in office, is you think about having that single source of truth that you could get away with not having that when you were in person, you really can't get away within effectively and remote and hybrid work. So it's doing that work. And then the other thing I'd say about that is values. What does compassion look like in email? What does integrity look like on zoom calls? What does innovation look like with slack channels? And I, those sort of like, huh, I hadn't thought about it that way, but if businesses have defined their values and their behaviors that they want to perpetuate in their organization, they have to do what work to think about how those values show up in the channels and the ways that we're going to work in a remote and hybrid work. Cause that'll make it much easier. Like maybe it's okay to have short little messages and slack and you don't have to say good morning or hope you had a nice weekend and you say, we're not going to consider that root cause in this channel, you get to talk in shorthand. It's amazing how much little nuance and drama you could save by just saying that like, you don't have to do the little warm greetings. We're going to use this as a, you know, almost like text messages I'm running late, be there in five. Got it.
 Adam: (19:03)
 It goes back to how important communication is and good communication with the whole organization. Because if you're not communicating people won't understand this new culture, all these different things you're trying to do. If, if you can't communicate that, then it just all kind of falls apart.
 Heather: (19:22)
 Yeah, it really, it really does. And I would say the other, and I don't know that it's a misconception or even a mistake, but I think a struggle that we kind of pointed towards earlier and that we're going to ask a lot of leaders and especially executive leaders who their success and how they've produced, amazing results has not been in this way of working. And they just, as they've been asking your team members to demonstrate growth mindsets, you know, to continue to evolve and innovate the business well now it's time for leaders to demonstrate growth mindset and be willing to embrace a new way of leading. And I think as just as a human, we never want to look silly. We don't want to make mistakes. We don't want to do it wrong. And especially when you kind of feel like eyes are on you like, like executive leaders feel. And I just think it would alleviate a lot of pressure and expectation for everyone, for executive leaders to say, Hey, I've asked you to demonstrate growth mindset. Now I'm going to do that. I'm going to take on a new way of leading, cause I've not led in this environment before and guess what I'm not going to get it right. And we're not all going to get it right as we figure it out together. But what we ask is that we all have the same intention and outcome and we have a lot of grace for one another and then we'll, we'll make it through. I mean, cause if you think about it, that was a lot of the messaging at the start of the pandemic. There was a sort of, we're all in this together and we're all figuring it out. And that is the first time in decades that we've actually seen a marked increase in employee engagement was April, May, June, July of 2020. And it's because employees, they were communicated to which you just pointed to Adam, like there was a ton of communication going on. They felt their employers cared about them being safe, but there's a lot of messaging because it was the truth. Everyone was just figuring things out together. Like, I don't know, we haven't done this tech off site before, but we're going to try it in the next 24 hours. You know? And there's something about that as spree decor of that brings us all together that we'll figure it out and we can use that right now. We can use that to our benefit. And a lot of companies and leaders can use that to their benefit and it'll, it will, it will make everyone better and more cohesive as we move forward.
 Closing: (21:41)
 This has been Count Me In, IMA's podcast providing you with the latest perspectives of thought leaders from the accounting and finance profession. If you like, what you heard and you'd like to be counted in for more relevant accounting and finance education, visit IMA's website at www.imanet.org.

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