by Charlotte Gurney
A new era of hybrid working was ushered in by the pandemic and this has caused a seismic shift when it comes to perceptions about leadership. There are many challenges to continuing to inspire, motivate and monitor employees who are working under a hybrid structure - but there are opportunities too. Embracing the hybrid approach is a vital strategic focus for leaders today and adapting to lead with all tools available, from social learning to hybrid communication, is going to be key. So, where do you start with hybrid working from a leadership point of view?
Hybrid working is the dominant choice
There are many surveys on this topic and most produce the same data as the recent Ernst & Young Work Reimagined survey where 90% of employees said they wanted flexible working options. Over half of those who responded to the survey said they would consider leaving a current employer if this wasn't on the cards. So, avoiding hybrid structures is not an option for any business today. Leading a hybrid team may well have felt distant and fractured during the pandemic - in fact three quarters of leaders felt that leadership was lacking during this time - but now is the time to step up. This will mean different things in different businesses but there is a clear emphasis on soft skills and support when it comes to maximizing how leaders can positively make an impact. These are some of the key factors for strategic focus going forward in a new hybrid working world.
Wellbeing & humanistic leadership models - Wellbeing is no longer an issue that can be squared away for HR to deal with. 41% of employees want to have honest and transparent conversations with their managers about their mental health and there is plenty of research that shows how beneficial it is for organizations to be open about this at a leadership level. More humanistic models of leadership focus on integrating a more compassionate approach that prioritizes the wellbeing of the people you’re leading. Chronic stress is one of the strongest predictors of employee burnout and this is something that increased substantially during the pandemic. Lack of access to services, isolation and ongoing uncertainty have all created high levels of stress that more compassionate leadership can help to alleviate.
Prioritizing upskilling, learning & development - There is huge enthusiasm right now for learning and development, as employees look to find new ways to embrace this very different way of working. Hybrid working created plenty of skills gaps, from those relating to technology to new roles that were created purely in response to the pandemic. The focus for leaders today must be, in part, on how to help employees acquire the skills and experience that is necessary for career development - and also how to leverage what they learn. All the evidence suggests that this will also be a key factor in how to attract, and retain, the best talent, as independent learning and the opportunity to upskill are increasingly a priority for ambitious people. That’s especially so where a business is keen to attract more Millennials and Gen Z staff.
A more inclusive & balanced culture - Leadership has a big influence on business culture and this is something that took a hit during the pandemic. The hybrid working infrastructure offers a way to build in flexibility, fairness and an approach that alleviates the biases and prejudices that may have defined leadership styles in the past. There is no stigma today around flexible working, thanks to the impact of the pandemic, and this has opened up a wave of opportunities for leadership to be more inclusive and to ensure that teams of all combinations have access to the inspiration and resources that they need to be able to perform at their best.
Networking -. During the pandemic, many businesses pivoted to focus purely on ensuring that KPIs were being achieved so that the enterprise could stay afloat. Traditional networks became rusty, as face-to-face contact was minimized and - for many - the appeal of virtual socializing was low. As a result, as we emerge from that challenging period, there is a pressing need to focus on creating and nurturing new networks that are appropriate for a more hybrid working environment. That includes internal networks that may have been interrupted by COVID-19, such as the connections that would usually be made between new starters and more senior members of the business. Rebuilding old networks and ensuring that they are fit-for-purpose in the current hybrid working environment is inevitably going to be the responsibility of leaders. And it will be vital to do this to ensure that certain people or departments don’t become siloed from the rest of the organization.
Establishing new communication norms - Communication is a key skill for leaders but even those with proven experience as great communicators were pushed and challenged during the pandemic. Hybrid working continues to present challenges when it comes to communication. Key to establishing a new communication approach that works in the hybrid world is achieving a balance when it comes to what needs to be done in real time (e.g., decision making) and what can be structured in a more flexible way (e.g., projects that require individual thinking). Real time communication is crucial for dynamic and engaged interaction and fast-paced decision making - but it’s not always appropriate. A more flexible approach can enable 360-degree contribution, not subject to time zones and availability, and also allows more time for individual reflection and creativity. A balance of both of these needs to be demonstrated by leaders in the new hybrid world. It is also essential to be able to streamline information so that it is concise and focused on key messages.
For leaders today, switching strategic focus to hybrid working is going to be an essential part of adapting to, and optimizing the opportunities of the way the workplace operates today. To find out about the services Volt can provide your business when it comes to facilitating new working styles and sourcing the right team, please visit our ‘Services & Solutions’ page on our website for more information.