Remote or hybrid work has become the norm at CID. While some organizations were interested in bringing in-person work back as soon as possible, we chose to embrace hybrid teams. Three-ish years later we’re still at it. So how — and why — are we continuing to make it work? Here’s what members of our leadership had to say about successfully leading CID’s hybrid workforce.
When you started leading your first hybrid or fully remote team, what were some things you thought would be most challenging?
Jim Taugher, CEO and Executive Creative Director: In the highly creative work we do, sharing and shaping concepts often takes on tactile forms: drawings, folded paper mockups, other materials and textures to touch and feel the weight, etc. Without the physical proximity to share and shape the concept with my team, would I still be able to share and collaborate? So, I’ve modified my approach to sharing concepts. I’ll verbally describe them more than I would in person, or take an extra step to import sketches to share. It’s much less spontaneous and requires more preparation and planning. I do use an iPad now to sketch for easier digital sharing. This applies not only to my role as ECD, but to the CEO side of my position, too. I work closely with my directors throughout the week and often communicate through diagrams and flowcharts, which are now essential to my communication delivery.
Scott Hill, COO: Every leader wondered about availability and productivity. Particularly in light of COVID school closings and dynamic changes in the collective team's time allocation and pressures throughout the day. We were not concerned whether our team could work remotely as we had been doing work-from-home Fridays in winter for a few years. We enjoyed that, and it gave us confidence that the infrastructure and tools were in place for continuity. Of course, at first, with COVID everyone thought it would be just a few weeks.
Heather Vaughn, Executive Director, Marketing & Strategy: I thought it'd be harder to keep up with spontaneous moments of connection. Especially the points in the day that just happen, like having a quick chat with someone while you're getting a cup of coffee or refilling your water bottle. For the most part, I think these still happen; they just happen in different ways.
Dylan Taugher, Director of Client Services: The biggest challenge was losing face time with clients. Getting our work done remotely never posed a challenge for me, but there is so much magic that comes from the time we get to spend with our clients and partners. I'm speaking on behalf of my team here, but I think they would all agree that some of our mutually favorite and most potent client relationships of late have started in a fully remote capacity. I can think of some that I wasn't even able to meet with in person during more than two years of working together. We all had to adapt together, clients and our teams here at CID alike.
Wes Lamb, CFO: Accounting & Finance has traditionally required some level of physical storage and controls but this has been a great excuse to modernize the departmental practices. Acknowledging that we wouldn't be in earshot of one another proved to be the obvious challenge right away. All the bits of nuance that were embedded into our daily operations and the way we worked had to be refigured. Old habits, be gone! We had to formalize in certain areas but not over-engineer what should remain simple activities. We had to formulate best practices around most everything, even regular communications to ensure nothing was getting missed or double touched in our already high message environment.
Rachel Weitendorf, Director of Production Operations: As someone who leads multiple resourcing and traffic meetings daily and weekly with various teams throughout the agency, my first big challenge was how to bring all of those meetings successfully into a virtual space. Before we had big whiteboards, color-coded magnets, post-its, face-to-face interaction with the team, you name it. Now I had a spreadsheet and a screen share! Communication, at the very least, was a necessity for collaboration. We got creative with messages and symbols on Slack and calendars to indicate when it was an open door and when people needed some concentrated time to move something forward.
Terry Westfahl, Director of Human Resources: I had concerns about career growth and clarity as well as knowledge transfer. Our culture and unique relationship with our employees allowed us to find rhythm around connection. This extended to new hires where additional pre-boarding and onboarding touchpoints were added. As for well-being, our various team meetings became even more central to CID. This allowed managers to be more on alert for stress and burnout. Career growth and development continue to be a focus, and we have made a number of strides in our processes.
What has been most surprising about leading a hybrid/remote team?
JT: The most surprising thing about leading a hybrid team is that I can lead from home. I spent many years being onsite snow or shine because of habit and a feeling that if someone needed me in either of my roles I should be there. So I have been able to disrupt my own pattern of many years to occasionally go heads down and enjoy some freedom myself.
SH: Number one would be how tight the team and relationships continued to be. Despite the lack of in-person contact or off-the-cuff conversations in the halls, people gelled and supported one another in new and really genuine ways.
HV: One of the coolest parts that's been enjoyable for me is seeing people in their "natural habitats" and with their families. Sure, we always knew the parents on our team had awesome kids and pets. But now we've gotten to see them more than we probably would have during normal "in-office" times. We've seen Halloween costumes, changing smiles as they lose teeth, and other quirks (looking at you, Simone). We've always wanted to ensure people can bring their whole selves to work, which means different things to everyone and is sometimes easier said than done. But through video conferencing, some of that's been foisted upon all of us in a really fun way.
RW: It was very strange at first for me to virtually onboard new hires onto my team. During the height of the pandemic, I had one team member start their first day of work on the exact day we all were sent home indefinitely for the shutdown. To connect with this person, evaluate their work, and teach them the CID way virtually was a different experience. The first time I saw them each in person was a little surreal. Since then I have had three additional Project Managers join my team. Now, I have some fully remote team members who live in other states, some who come into the office a couple of days a week, and some who prefer to work remotely most of the time but come to the office in person occasionally.
TW: It's truly surprising to me that even though I personally have worked with this group only remotely, I feel closer and more connected to them than any traditional workplace team.
What leadership skills have you relied on most to successfully lead your team from a distance?
JT: Being clear on expectations for team and individual participation both online and in person. Empowering the individual to offer to come in when it makes sense for them and the project or client. We’ve carefully crafted our team and know it is a team of people who care about each other. CID wants to have a culture and produce client work that is second to none. To us, culture isn’t just internal. Part of that is ensuring good use of meetings. Standing meetings (hybrid or in-person) are a great forum to exchange ideas and support each other. Check-in type of meetings with a manager or co-worker connect us, too.
SH: I have had to learn a lot about myself and leadership during this transition. It is not a given that a career of experience will translate as our company and workplace evolves. It's really very exciting — particularly the transactional components of being in leadership. Things like the status of projects and quick updates in passing that served both to inform as well as make personal connections; to share a laugh and learn what is going on in people's lives. The skills I most needed to depend on were more attributes: Trust, intentionality, and attention.
HV: It sounds incredibly cliché, but the same principles that I've always tried to lead with: leading with empathy, having an "open door" policy, ensuring I'm accessible, and approachable, keeping the lines of communication flowing, etc. We're incredibly lucky at CID that our team members are very motivated, and once a scope or task is known, largely self-directed. So my role as a manager or leader (there is a difference!) has always been one that's more supportive than directive. I'm here to help others grow and succeed, and remove any obstacles that get in their way.
DT: Availability and consistency. I keep my calendar meticulously up to date and make sure my team has access to it so they can know definitively when I will be able to answer a question or help out with something. I start each day of the week by meeting with one of four account teams. This allows us to remain in consistent contact, not constant contact. That has provided a good blend of teamwork and autonomy for my team; it's all about finding the right cadence and sticking to it.
TW: Communication, specifically being as transparent as possible. Empathy. Curiosity.
What advice or tips do you have for other leaders who may still feel uncertain about leading hybrid teams?
JT: Be clear and continue to engage in a variety of ways. Look for your champions of culture and ask them to help you foster interactions and a spirit of willingness to have the best communications with each other. This goes for virtual as well as in-person meetings. Start jam sessions with inspirations and context for the importance of the job.
SH: Hybrid can't work for all types of businesses and teams. Make the right decision for your situation. If you have built the talented, collaborative team of experts you think you have, and a culture everyone believes in, they will continue to exceed your expectations. Hopefully we as leaders can also exceed theirs. Hybrid/remote work has been a topic for many, many years. COVID "ripped the band-aid™" off so to speak, forcing a mass experiment that has changed forever the way businesses operate and the employer/employee relationship functions. Keep asking questions and poking at your business. Has what was once a benefit become an expectation? Are your tried and true processes and systems still performing or are they clumsy in the new context?
We are only at the beginning. Be prepared and open to trying new things, make a few mistakes (be honest about them), and ultimately break the mold to best fit your company goals and people.
DT: Hybrid/remote work is here to stay. I remember seeing a stat last year that job searches on search engines and employment websites that included the word remote in the search were up 460%. If your business can sustain hybrid/remote work and your industry peers are embracing it, you will miss out on a huge portion of the available talent pool and therefore prevent your business from accessing top talent. For me, that's the only reason I need as a leader to not only embrace but recommend it. Businesses have been through far bigger changes than working hybrid/remote. Heck, CID is turning 30 which means we have been around longer than the public use of the internet, and look at us now, designing and developing enterprise-level websites. Hybrid/remote work is just another evolution of the world and I can attest CID has thrived by embracing it!
WL: Now having the privilege of hindsight, I view it as just another chapter in an unending story about technology, culture, and professional capabilities. The leap to hybrid certainly wasn't as daunting as I figured it might be initially. It's just a matter of managing tradeoffs, which I believe skew far into positive territory. Some companies will need to invest in tech solutions to maintain productivity levels but I'm fairly certain that most already utilize the necessary platforms to do it right.
TW: Challenge your perception of what works and what doesn't. Trust your people, or you don't have the right ones. Identify what you need from your people and make sure they know what you expect. Hybrid and remote work will give you a competitive advantage...embrace it as such. Ultimately, it will be an expected term of employment. In order to expand your workforce applicant pool, you'll need to incorporate this as an option for individuals. Organizations that have are being rewarded with access to top talent, retention of key employees, improved diversity, cost savings, increased productivity and profits, reduced absenteeism, improved morale and well-being as well as better customer service.
Want to chat about making our hybrid team an extension of your hybrid team? We’re here (or at least online) for it!