Leadership Development for a Hybrid Workplace
A recent Accenture study on the Future of Work that covered 9000 employees around the world threw up some interesting results. Most workers (83%) prefer a hybrid work model, but a variety of factors influence their ability to thrive, whether they’re onsite or off.
However, in terms of their attitude towards the future of work, a large percentage have a negative view of the future with 46% of employees feeling fatigued or pessimistic, and 54% being optimistic and energized. Interestingly, there is no direct correlation between the WFH high-performers and their outlook, with many of the best and most productive employees also feeling disgruntled and fatigued!
Clearly, the new hybrid working model is causing employees to reevaluate their relationships with their employers. Without leadership adapting to this new reality, there will be a high probability of trust breakdown and attrition.
Responsible leaders must move beyond physical location to shape the future of work by giving people resources tailored to their needs and it’s worth exploring why. It also throws in sharp relief exactly how much of a challenge it is going to be to provide effective as well as compassionate leadership in the post-pandemic hybrid working universe.
First, leaders must remember that a hybrid workplace model is much more complex to implement than a fully remote one. The pandemic may have forced leaders to work in new environments, but it did not necessarily give them any magical powers to manage better or more effectively. Many adapted on the fly, and while some succeeded in areas of productivity, many are still floundering. There was no precedence for the pandemic, and there is still no precedence for the kind of hybrid workplaces we are going to experience going forward.
Let’s take some examples of the kind of decisions leaders will have to make:
- How many days a week should employees work from home vs. office?
- What kind of work is better done in person than virtually?
- How will we evaluate a two-tier team structure and avoid bias towards teams working from office?
- How will we effectively communicate equitably with teams/employees working onsite vs. remotely?
- How will leaders ensure that everyone employee feels equally valued?
- How can we make sure that we are taking care of employees’ mental health so that they are in the right frame to work?
These are not easy questions to answer. Leaders will need to be trained to be able to handle hybrid teams so that they can lead with alacrity and effectiveness.
What does leadership in the post-pandemic hybrid workplace look like? What skills should effective leaders have to succeed?
Listen and communicate openly
This sounds kind of obvious but is critical in engendering employee trust and performance. Listening will have to combine traditional modes like surveys with the newer intra-organizational spaces to allow sharing. Of course, all these matter only if the employee feels heard as well – which implies that leadership needs to be empathetic, understanding, and quickly responsive to employee sentiment.
Leaders will also need to take some overt actions – lead town halls, have regular communication sessions and AMAs with employees and teams, share their stories, and get more personal with and show a human face to employees.
Develop higher level management skills
While leaders will always need to remain business-focused, a hybrid environment will also demand far more people management skills from them. One of the paradoxes of remote work has been that as the people connection becomes less, the importance of people management becomes greater. Leaders must do the following:
- Show genuine empathy with individuals
- Give much more time to coaching and conversation – both team and 1-0-1
- Decentralize and empower employees
- Be approachable, open to consultation, and answer doubts at any time
- Build a culture of continuous collaboration
Build an equitable platform for all roles and tasks
In the real world, not all tasks are equal, and neither are roles. However, that does not mean that leaders should give special treatment to only those employees performing critical roles in the system. One of the ways these biases manifest themselves, for example, is equipment. Do all your employees have good laptops, high-quality cameras, fast connectivity, ergonomic furniture? Or are some given ‘special’ privileges?
Give everyone access to skill upgrades and training
A common theme in the pandemic and post-pandemic world has been the unstoppable rise of automation. Unsurprisingly this has led to a lot of uncertainty and fear among employees as to the relevancy of their jobs in the hybrid workplace.
It is critical the leadership put in place rubrics to assess skills as part of performance management and provide training, coaching, and developmental opportunities to all employees. This will enable employees to learn and upskill themselves and even transition to new roles that the organization might require.
Set strong processes centrally
Leaders must remember that this might not be the last pandemic or disaster they face. The hybrid workplace, therefore, will have to be built keeping worst-case scenarios in mind. We know that leadership has had to really wing this time, and it has taken a tremendous toll on resources, resilience, and mental wellbeing.
Leaders must now make sure that their hybrid workplace has strong crisis-proof processes and guidelines on performance management, measurement and data analytics, and follow-up protocols. Only then will the hybrid workplace lead to better efficiencies and not unravel into an uncontrollable free-for-all.