The global pandemic has presented the world with a significant change to how we work. Change of this magnitude has not been seen since the adoption of computers and digital technology in the late nineteen eighties and early nineties.
Leading through uncertainty in the hybrid workplace
McKinsey reports that the reality for many business leaders is accepting that we do not know what is coming next. While much of the office based world had a crash course in fully remote working during the pandemic, hybrid working may prove more challenging. Now there is the option of doing some work in person, it raises a lot of questions for business leaders including:
- Which work is better done in person?
- How does strategy and planning work best?
- How will meetings work best?
- How much time [if any] should an employee be mandated to spend in the office?
- How will your business avoid discrepancies between those who are in the office and those who work from home?
Leadership may need to get comfortable with uncertainty and moving away from the predictability we once had around the environment we worked in. There are tactics to help lead in what is a challenging time for everyone:
Lead with transparency: acknowledge it is everyone’s first experience navigating this level of change. Spend as much time as possible listening to the concerns of team members before sharing your own ideas.
Check in regularly: during this period of transition it is easy to get lost in all of the planning and policy development as well as day to day work. Try to be explicit about setting up time to connect with your team. This may be easier with some people than others depending on your situation. It might be easy to catch up with people who are in the office the same days as you are. This may be a slippery slope to a two-tier workplace. Overcome this by actively arranging virtual catch ups with employees who are working remotely.
Communication is key: communicate any changes that are likely to happen regarding hybrid working to the wider business in as timely a manner as possible. It provides time for everyone to adjust or raise any concerns.
Leading for wellbeing in the hybrid workplace
Employee wellbeing is likely to remain an important component of the hybrid workplace. Although there were many benefits to remote working, there were also challenges depending on an individual's situation. Many employees found themselves working for longer, suffered with isolation or found it difficult to differentiate between work and home life. The knock on impact in some cases has been frustration, burnout and loneliness.
The return to the office in a hybrid form may not alleviate these issues and may raise a host of others. Returning to commuting, meeting people face to face once again and pressure to be seen in the office may cause further stress so it is important that leaders prioritise mental health by leading for wellbeing.
As a leader it is important to make a conscious effort to:
Recognise everyone’s contribution:
As the combination of in office and hybrid working becomes more commonplace, employees that choose to work remotely more often have concerns about the impact their choice may have on their career. Research on US employees by Blind an anonymous professional network, found that 53% of employees believed their career progression had been negatively impacted while working from home.
As a leader in a hybrid world it will be important not to develop a bias towards one form of working over another. Instead leaders in the hybrid world should focus on facilitating an employee based on where they do their best work. The most successful hybrid workplace leaders will create the best environment for their teams to collaborate and innovate no matter where they choose to work so they can deliver the best possible business outcomes.
Fostering diversity and inclusion was a key goal for many businesses before the pandemic. However, creating an inclusive workplace is going to be even more complex as employees work from multiple locations.
Many employees found working from home during the pandemic isolating. They did not have contact with colleagues which may leave them feeling excluded from their organisations and teams. This may be more likely to impact young people, new joiners, people from disadvantaged socio-economic backgrounds as well as people with disabilities. Research conducted in the UK in 2020 showed employees with disabilities were 80% more likely to feel excluded in the workplace in comparison to other colleagues.
Leaders focused on wellbeing should take the time to foster connection and, by extension, inclusivity in their teams by deliberately encouraging participation. Leadership teams may need to be more visible, actively engaging with employees at all levels and encouraging them to share the personal challenges they are facing.
Evolution of leadership training and development
In today's ever evolving world, training and development remains key for both leaders and their teams. What may need to flex for the hybrid workplace is how this training is delivered. Pre-pandemic businesses may have conducted much of their training in person. This pivoted to digital learning during the pandemic.
As we move to a mix, a switch may need to be made from full days of training to more regular micro training sessions. There have been changes to topics covered as well. Businesses are focusing on training their leaders in how to communicate effectively in a hybrid environment, including running effective meetings and tools that can be used to avoid unnecessary virtual catch ups.
There is no doubt the hybrid working model will raise challenges for leaders and employees alike. But with the right training, a focus on wellbeing and finding a way through uncertain times as a team it should offer the best of both worlds for businesses.