Who leaders are can be determined in a variety of ways. King Arthur made his special powers known when he pulled Excalibur from a stone. When George VI was put into his job unexpectedly, he overcame his anxiety-induced stammer to become one of the most beloved rulers. What is expected from a leader is constantly changing.
While expecting emotional intelligence from a leader in the 1970s was completely unheard of, now, having a leader empathize with the team is absolutely normal. And today, with the new normal, there’s a need for a new evolution in leadership with the rise of hybrid leadership.
The rise of the hybrid workplace and facts about the new normal
With many countries going in and out of lockdowns due to the pandemic, HR managers came up with a new work arrangement that includes a combination of remote and on-site work, giving rise to the hybrid workplace.
In the hybrid setup, employees occasionally visit the office for collaboration but complete tasks mostly from home. While this way of providing a hybrid work environment started as a precautionary measure during the pandemic, employees soon realized they could now balance their work and personal lives more efficiently.
According to a survey by Sungard AS, 56 percent of the 2000 American respondents said they would take less money for the ability to work from any location. Also, when Gallup directly asked workers if they would look for a new job if their employer stopped offering hybrid work options, 38% of hybrid workers said they would.
The hybrid workplace is here to stay and to make this transition successfully, leaders will have to adopt arrangements that they have not had before and to which they are not accustomed. They will need to evolve from being traditional leaders to being hybrid leaders.
Challenges in the evolution of hybrid leadership
Having a team in which some employees are co-located in an office while others do their jobs remotely presents several challenges for hybrid leaders.
1. Finding the right assets, logistics, technology, and policies to ensure employee well-being, regardless of location
2. Ensuring communication, team engagement, and coordination between in-person and remote employees
3. Lack of visibility making it difficult to determine which team members might be struggling, thriving, or ready for a new assignment
4. Creating a psychologically safe work environment to create drive, passion, and purpose
With these challenges ahead, it’s time for leaders to leave behind their Prozac leadership style, or the narrative that everything is going well. The hybrid workplace calls for new expectations from the hybrid leader.
What is expected from a hybrid leader?
Below, we explore ten insights into how hybrid leaders can create a hybrid working world that enables their team members to succeed.
Lead by example
With team members working in remote locations and not physically present in the same space to observe the leader’s action, people’s perceptions of how much you care are perhaps more important than ever. Leaders need to earn credibility by creating and following through with every business decision so their teams too can understand it and act on it.
For example, if a leader comes to work at flexible times, they should respect the work timing of the rest of the team. They shouldn’t expect all team members to always be available to match their own timing.
Respect employee feedback
“The leader of the past was a person who knew how to tell. The leader of the future will be a person who knows how to ask.” – Peter Drucker
Setting up a hybrid workplace is something leaders did not have to do before. It’s only natural that they don’t have the answers to all the challenges it brings. Leaders must be honest to admit when they don’t have all the answers. A brilliant way to achieve employees’ respect is to regularly ask for feedback and consider the advice.
The faster leaders understand that they need people with skills they lack, the better off they’ll be. Collecting employee feedback through surveys or interviews while implementing hybrid work policies or procedures will only lead to company growth. An employee could have a more beneficial answer to a problem than a leader due to knowledge and experience in a certain field that the leader doesn’t have.
Embrace a collaborative leadership style
Research by Scalable found that 42 percent of respondents say hybrid working has led to a better work-life balance, and 33 percent say it has made them more productive.
Besides, remote employees save a stack of money and time by not commuting to work every day and being able to complete all given tasks. Employees will outright refuse a leader who simply states that they’re in charge and hence would like all employees to move back to the office.
Leaders must drive collaboration throughout the team and explain the value of presence at the workplace (if need be) in the execution of the team’s and the organization’s strategies.
Today’s workforce rejects ego-driven leadership.
Excellent communication skills
The majority of communication is based on what people see (gestures, body language, and so on) and on the tone of voice. A hybrid workplace poses the challenge of team communication through online tools. It leads to a lack of immediate interaction or face-to-face collaboration with employees in different locations.
To meet this challenge, leaders must be excellent communicators. Also, they should select communication tools and channels so everyone in the company stays connected. For example, it makes sense to use tools with scheduled message posting to keep in touch with team members in different time zones.
But the solution doesn’t end there. To remedy the communication issues that crop up in a hybrid work environment in the long term, it makes sense to assess metrics like employee sentiment to track employees’ moods (how they feel about work) and engagement.
Harness the power of emotional intelligence
Emotional intelligence is a powerful concept for hybrid leaders. It includes leaders building emotional connections to drive change. Employees experience different emotions while dealing with hybrid workplaces, as some may find it challenging to stay engaged in a home office, while others may have to change personal routines to return to the corporate office.
As employees head back to hybrid work, they will sense a divide between their professional and personal selves. During this transition, empathy will be the paramount responsibility of the leader.
Step away from the routine
With the hybrid workplace splitting employee life between the office and home, boosting employee motivation is critical. A well-structured gamification program can introduce a fun way to boost employee engagement and drive employees towards desired corporate objectives.
To successfully implement gamification elements, set clear KPIs, make the program time-bound, and make sure the rewards incentivize employees.
Consider employees’ work preferences
While designing a hybrid work policy, consider the preferences of your employees and enable others to understand and accommodate those preferences. This helps you improve the workforce capacity to operate at peak productivity and vary performance according to personal employee preferences.
Hybrid leaders can make use of tools like feedback surveys and one-on-one meetings to better understand their teams’ personal preferences, work contexts, and key tasks.
Commit to assisting with work–life balance
“Balance is not better time management, but better boundary management.” — Betsy Jacobson, Author and Businesswoman
Modern workers do not view their profession as a dominant aspect of life. In the 70s and 80s, when a company asked employees to move in order to advance their careers, there was no hesitation. Today’s employees do not share that same mentality. They want to go back to the basics: a sense of professional success, but not at the cost of everything else in their lives.
When leaders understand employees’ need for work-life balance, they will gain trust. Employee performance will improve, as employees will be calmer knowing that their professional and personal growth is taken care of.
Boost the use of technology
Reconsider how you can make sure both in-office and remote employees get the work done. One way to do that is to significantly boost the use of technology to coordinate employee workflows, balance individual and team workloads, and analyze remote working conditions.
Here are some examples of tools for efficient hybrid workforce management:
- Secure cloud-based onboarding applications help newcomers on-board quickly with the company culture.
- Wellness applications ensure that employees are maintaining a healthy work-life schedule.
- Knowledge management software allows all employees to access the information needed to perform their work efficiently.
- Collaborative digital boards enable employees to share ideas, brainstorm and manage projects from a single platform.
When thinking about adopting technology to lead a hybrid workforce, consider how key productivity drivers — energy, focus, coordination, and cooperation — will be affected by changes in hybrid work arrangements.
Integrate a hybrid workplace ecosystem
The challenge in leading hybrid work arrangements is not simply to optimize the benefits but also to minimize the downsides and understand the trade-offs. For some employees, working from home can help them be more productive, while others may have feelings of isolation. According to a Zippia survey, 50 percent of employees feel isolated in remote work.
Below, we show examples of how some companies have taken steps to improve the mental health of their employees.
- Akami Technologies hired a corporate wellness program manager to craft events like a sleep improvement workshop, pet therapy, outdoor scavenger hunts, and speaker series on topics such as burnout.
- Ernst & Young LLP and Starbucks offer free counseling sessions for their employees to help them better manage stress and training. These sessions are not only free for employees but extend to their family members too.
- Juniper networks offer paid-time-off benefits as well as on-site gym access to help employees recharge, look after their physical fitness, or even spend time with a loved one who is sick.
- At various companies like Culligan Water, leaders have broken the stigma by talking about their own mental health issues and thereby encouraged their employees to feel comfortable talking about the same.
The future for hybrid leaders
In the data-driven world, organizations are already monitoring and measuring customers’ user experiences. They are also investing in digital initiatives to create intuitive and seamless customer interactions. Yet most do not place equal emphasis on the experiences of their employees. This situation must change.
Workforce analytics solutions can provide insights to enhance the collaboration styles and workplace needs of locations, departments, and teams. Contact our consultants to learn more about workforce analytic solutions that can help hybrid leaders overcome tomorrow’s challenges!