How to lead a hybrid workforce

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Georgia Kerr, Director of Workforce Solutions at LHH UK & Ireland, shares her thoughts on the best practices for leading a hybrid workforce.

What makes a good leader? That’s certainly a question that generates a lot of discussion, with differing opinions. Throughout my career I have witnessed an evolution in the qualities that we personally look for in potential leaders, and indeed the qualities that businesses and their employees need in order to thrive. While this has slowly changed and evolved in recent years, usually in line with new generations entering the world of work, the seismic changes brought about by the Covid-19 pandemic have brought this into even sharper focus.

We’re all too aware of the recent disruption to our working lives, and although much of this disruption has been negative in nature, we mustn’t forget about some of the more positive outcomes. For instance, the idea that some organisations will introduce hybrid working. Whilst hybrid working isn’t a new concept, its prevalence has skyrocketed this year, with large organisations such as Microsoft and Spotify sharing the news that they will allow employees to adopt a permanent hybrid working approach moving forward. The concept of the ‘future of work’ is something that has long been discussed and hypothesized – but now we are much experiencing it.

But a hybrid workforce isn’t something that can be achieved overnight. There are several changes that organisations need to make, and a good place to start is by assessing your leaders and whether they’re equipped to manage a hybrid team.

Employees’ wants and needs have changed

Before you can assess your leaders and their abilities, you must first consider the employees on their team. A pre-pandemic employee isn’t the same as a post-pandemic employee. The changes that were thrust upon our working lives caused many of us to re-assess and scrutinize every last detail of our jobs. For instance, the relationships we have with our colleagues and managers, the company culture and our organisation’s ethos. What’s more, the mental health of employees has suffered, with several recent studies showing that huge numbers of employees are feeling closer to burnout and more disconnected from their day-to-day work than ever before. At this crucial time, employees need to be listened to and taken care of. With all of this being said, a pre-pandemic leadership style simply won’t be suitable for a post-pandemic hybrid workforce.

What does a hybrid leader look like?

Several leadership styles already exist; ranging all the way from an autocratic style to a laissez-faire approach. Having leaders with differing styles is what makes an organisation interesting and successful, but a small set of skills that were once considered ‘soft skills’ including empathy, trust and care will be essential to a successful hybrid work set-up.

Empathy: Hybrid leadership means having the ability to understand the needs of those working from a range of locations, and being aware of their feelings. Simple ways that leaders can practice empathy include: checking in with team members on a regular basis (and this doesn’t have to be about work!) and making yourself more relatable by sharing stories of when you’ve found work difficult or made a mistake.

Trust: The pandemic created a challenge for many organisations that didn’t have an established culture where employees were trusted to work wherever or whenever they wanted. Yet, employees everywhere have proven that jobs can still be done on time, and to a good standard from a location that isn’t the office. Therefore, leaders need to trust that their team members are capable of getting their jobs done from any location, and start evaluating them on results, rather than whether they are present in the office.

Care: Leaders should focus on getting to know their team members, and not just from a work perspective. Asking them simple questions about themselves, actively listening to them and remembering what matters to them are easy ways to do this. Openness, concern about others, and supporting those in need of help are some easy ways for leaders to demonstrate care.

Thinking further ahead

As we continue to navigate our way through the tail end of the pandemic, the importance of succession planning has been brought into even sharper focus. We’re likely to see a flurry of changes at leadership level across multiple business sectors as people re-evaluate their career and lifestyle choices moving forward. One study found that 26% of workers are planning to leave their job when the pandemic comes to an end. Changes at leadership level can often shine a spotlight on inclusivity and now any incoming leader will be operating under a hybrid working environment. This means that they will need to be able to make everyone in the organisation, including within their own direct team, feel included. Whether employees are working in the office or from home, leaders require the emotional intelligence to understand employees’ new requirements and expectations in terms of flexibility. As such, leaders must step up to address these whilst ensuring the workforce remains engaged and energised.

It’s important to remember that all employees have been through a huge amount of change since the beginning of the pandemic, and there’s only more change to come. Leaders should do their very best to place themselves in the shoes of their team members, and leave their previous leadership styles behind. We haven’t experienced a shake-up quite like this before, and the leaders who grasp this opportunity with both hands and run with it, will be the ones working alongside happy, healthy and engaged teams in the future.

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