Leadership Strategies for the Hybrid Workforce
How to manage complexity and maintain effectiveness using the CAARE framework to support hybrid workers.
Leading teams of hybrid workers can be a double-edged sword because managers must satisfy employees’ desire for flexibility without compromising overall group effectiveness. On the one hand, combining onsite and remote work provides employees with flexibility while allowing them to spend some of their time in the office with coworkers. On the other hand, though, these arrangements may result in significant variability between team members’ work schedules, given that employee work arrangements are often driven by personal demands and preferences and may change over time. The shifting work environment this creates may harm group dynamics and hinder organizational alignment and agility.
The CAARE framework combines four interconnected elements — configuration, autonomy-alignment, relationships, and equity — to help leaders balance individual flexibility with group effectiveness. Drawn from my own and others’ research on virtual and remote leadership, this framework provides integrated, interdependent strategies for leading hybrid work.1 Two of its components — configuration and autonomy-alignment — aim to create a hybrid work structure that takes into account both the flexibility employees desire and the team’s strategic needs. The relationships and equity components focus on building a solid relational foundation to support collective confidence that the hybrid work structure can work well for everyone.
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An Integrative Framework for Leading Hybrid Work
Managers within businesses and government organizations report that they find the following CAARE framework strategies helpful for leading groups of employees who alternate between in-office and remote work.
The leader must keep the bigger picture in mind when working with each employee to agree on a hybrid work configuration that balances individuals’ personal and job demands with those of their team. While an overemphasis on satisfying individual needs may result in inefficiencies that harm overall group effectiveness, a more rigid structure may undermine the benefits of hybrid work that give organizations a competitive advantage in recruiting and retaining employees. An effective configuration, therefore, requires careful consideration of which tasks the employee can perform remotely, such as independent work and routine information sharing, versus those that call for in-person interaction, such as collaborative tasks or the navigation of complicated interpersonal or task-related differences.
For example, team members in one organization I worked with were reluctant to come into the office because they mainly worked on independent tasks, but their manager recognized the need to come together periodically to maintain group cohesion.
1. My colleagues and I conducted comprehensive reviews to synthesize almost three decades of literature on virtual leadership in order to identify behaviors shown to be more effective for leading remotely than in traditional in-person settings. See B.S. Bell, K.L. McAlpine, and N.S. Hill, “Leading Virtually,” Annual Review of Organizational Psychology and Organizational Behavior 10 (2023): 339-362; and S.G. Brown, N.S. Hill, and N.M. Lorinkova, “Leadership and Virtual Team Performance: A Meta-Analytic Investigation,” European Journal of Work and Organizational Psychology 30, no. 5 (October 2021): 672-685.
2. N.S. Hill and K.M. Bartol, “Empowering Leadership and Effective Collaboration in Geographically Dispersed Teams,” Personnel Psychology 69, no. 1 (spring 2016): 159-198.