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!

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.

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?

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.

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?

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


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


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.

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?

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.

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.

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


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.

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.

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



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.

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.

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.

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