How to lead through the hybrid working transition
Sally Earnshaw, Managing Director, Culture Change Practice, Gallagher shares her best practices for helping your team through the hybrid working transition.
The global pandemic has posed many challenges for leadership, and they are not over. To begin with the challenges lay in adapting quickly to an unknown threat, having to be flexible and adaptable as events unfolded, keeping employees safe and engaged. A year and a half later, we need to focus on settling into a new style of leadership that carves out a path that can take full advantage of the new opportunities hybrid working provides.
This new type of leadership will still engage, inspire, and motivate people to get the best out of them. The challenge is, how do you know your approach is the most effective, the most efficient?
Remote working is here to stay. Both employees and companies have lived the benefit hybrid working provides in performance and productivity, and perhaps surprisingly, profitability.
It is team bonding and connection that has suffered. Collaboration, development, oversight, and performance leadership are all significantly harder with the new way of working. That does not mean there have not been some successes. Access to leaders has increased, and there has been a shift to ensure the whole team feels connected.
It would be easy to blame the pandemic for all the challenges facing leadership today. I think that would be wrong and a little bit too easy. Before the pandemic there were challenges with effective leadership, they have simply been amplified.
The need to change
There is no doubt that hybrid working is the single biggest shift leadership have faced since the dawn of the office.
In order to make the transition you have to begin with WHY. Why have you chosen this approach? You have to give employees context. Where is your organisation at currently, and where do you want to go?
Then you can go to the WHAT. What is the goal? What are you tyring to achieve and what does hybrid look like in that? What support, tools, and guidance will you provide? Finally, how are you going to enable your teams to make hybrid a success?
Leadership should at this stage define the intent. Begin with a set of principals that everyone in the company can adopt and refer to. This shows clear direction, without prescribing exactly how people should be working and thinking. There needs to be a company wide ethos, not individuals grappling in the dark.
Finally, there needs to be a transition from reactive to proactive leadership. Hybrid cannot be left to work itself out. It needs to be thoughtfully designed with leaders at the helm. Questions need to be asked. How do you nurture connections within teams? What will your work structure look like? How will you collaborate with each other? What is the best way to communicate with each other?
Finally, what will be your rules of engagement? These should not stringent rules for the whole organisation, but should be for teams to work through and decide for themselves what works best. This takes us to the three key enablers that will make the difference in enacting the principals and practices at your organisation.
As you can see, letting teams decide their own rules of engagement requires trust. In order for leaders to be agile, you need to let go. Smaller organisations are typically better at this. As organisations grow leaders can resist letting go some of their control. This is not sustainable with hybrid working. There is not a blueprint that will work for everyone. Trust your managers, trust your employees, to make the best decisions for themselves. With the right principals and practices in place this will make the most of hybrid working.
The structure of a team has changed. Gone are the days you can rely on everyone to be physically in the same place to set the tone. Leaders need to provide each team with the tools to design their own way of working. Proactively. Ambivalence will not succeed in the hybrid era. Leadership still needs to inspire great work, create a climate of collaboration, coach and support behaviours that make a difference. Only now, the new channels that you’re doing this through are a bit more complex.
Undoubtedly we have all learnt so much about the technology available to us throughout the pandemic. Gone are the days where it took half an hour to set up an online meeting. As leaders, we need to embrace all of the tools available to us, and technology is at the heart of them. Indeed the chat function in an online meeting can give you so much more data than an in person meeting ever could. Even post-its and flip chats – there’s an app for that!
Successful teams are those who are fully committed to this new way of working. Who are taking this as the opportunity it is. Successful leadership will be proactive, engaging, empowering. That will give people the intent and the tools, and then trust that people are smart and will find a way that works. As leaders it will be all too easy to fall into old habits and try to control too much. Let go! And trust in your team and the tools you have given them.