Leading, Not Managing July 6, 2021

Hybrid workforces require a new type of leadership

As we emerge from the pandemic, one thing is clear: we’ll never work in the same way as before. While some people prefer to continue working remotely, others are keen to get back to the workplace, leading many businesses to adopt a hybrid workforce model.

Allowing employees to work in a flexible way - one which suits their particular circumstances and personality type - has obvious benefits such as employee happiness, improved productivity and better retention.

However, leading a hybrid workforce presents a clear range of challenges for business leaders. According to a recent survey by Adecco ‘empathy, trust and a new focus on wellbeing and culture building are the most important leadership skills in the new era of work.’

Senior Associate Solicitor at Irwin Mitchell, Helen Dyke, believes this new era of hybrid working is much more than a logistical change, rather a complete shift of culture for businesses.

So, how do you adapt and lead a change of this magnitude? Here’s how to lead a hybrid workforce…

Be visible

As a leader, visibility is key. Not only is it vital that your employees see you, but also that you see them. Of course, this was easy in the past when everyone inhabited the same space. Now, you need to ensure you’re visible and accessible to both your workplace employees and your remote employees.

This is a key factor in creating an equitable hybrid workforce. Visibility is crucial for transparency, recognition, and empathy.

For those working remotely, it might seem that the employees working in the office receive more recognition for their work - or that they receive more direct guidance or are more likely to be chosen for certain projects.

The easiest way to ensure you’re visible and accessible as a leader, is to run regular check-ins. Frequent contact via video technology is an effective way to maintain your visibility as a leader. This will give your employees the opportunity to ask questions and keep the lines of communication open and transparent.

How flexible should your workforce be? Find out how to prepare for the new world of work with our new guide.

Consult with staff

One of the most important factors in leading a successful hybrid workforce is staff feedback. If you’re not measuring employee engagement and wellbeing, how do you know if it’s gone up or down? How will you know if communication is better or worse now? How will you know if your employees are happy?

Helen Dyke believes that frequently consulting staff for feedback is key in this new era of hybrid working. In Helen’s experience as an employment specialist, many people who work from home can feel isolated, lonely and disconnected, which ultimately leads to issues with staff retention.

She explains that people could easily feel left out or overlooked - and that this could also become an issue of gender division. If more women decide to work from home, could that lead to a boys’ club workplace culture? Would it potentially lead to remote workers feeling they’re overlooked in terms of progression and promotion?

When you consult with your staff and offer them regular feedback surveys, you can find out about what they think and how they’re feeling. Most importantly, you can do something about it.

For example, if you know people are feeling isolated, you can build this into your management training. Developing the communication skills of your management team will have a direct impact on employee engagement and welfare.

However, you can only make these types of positive changes when you know what the problem is, which is why it’s crucial to regularly ask for staff feedback.

Train managers to look after remote teams

One of the biggest positives of the pandemic has been the emergence of a culture of trust. With employees having to work from home, managers have had no choice but to trust them. In the vast majority of cases, this trust has paid off - it’s clear that productivity doesn’t depend on being physically presided over by a manager.

Helen explains that while this is positive, it does highlight the need for management culture to adapt to this new way of working. If you can’t see somebody working, how do you monitor their performance? How do you ensure they feel included and engaged?

This is where management training comes in. The way in which managers monitor performance, engage their team, and approach mental wellbeing are all areas which need to be developed for hybrid working. How you train your managers to look after remote teams will largely depend on the specifics of your sector and your business.

Are you preparing your office for hybrid working? Watch Helen’s recent Vistage webinar for more information and advice.

Lead by example when it comes to wellbeing

With remote or hybrid working, wellbeing is paramount. When people are working remotely, they’re instinctively less likely to take breaks or to stop working at a set time. This is having a detrimental impact on wellbeing and mental health. Helen is clear that burnout has definitely increased since we’ve been working from home.

When we all worked in a workspace, the delineation was clear: we began work at a certain time, we had breaks, we had lunch, and we left at a set time. But what happens when your workspace is your home?

A recent EU survey found that a third of remote workers are using their free time to complete work, exceeding the 48 hour limit on working hours. And a recent Personnel Today survey found that 93% of UK employees faced new wellbeing challenges in 2020.

As we transition into hybrid working, leaders need to be aware of the dangers of facilitating or ignoring an ‘always on’ culture. While this has been a risk to wellbeing throughout the pandemic, there’s now the added potential for division and unfairness.

One of the big challenges of hybrid working is creating an equitable workforce. If your office employees are working within clearly defined hours and taking breaks, it’s crucial that you strive to achieve the same for your remote workers. The best way to combat this is to set clear parameters and to lead by example.

Reinforce the message that people should take breaks, and should not be working past a certain time. If someone is on a break or having their lunch, they should be given time and space to do that without being bombarded.

You could also introduce email timers. Using an email timer means that if someone decides to send an email at 10pm or on the weekend, your employee won’t actually receive it at that time. This removes the pressure for people to respond outside of work hours.

Whatever boundaries you introduce, it’s vital that you yourself follow them. If employees see you switching off at 6pm and taking regular breaks, they’re much more likely to follow suit.

As a leader, empathy, trust, and setting the culture are always paramount. Now, as we move into this new way of working, these leadership skills have become more important than ever before. At its core, it all comes down to listening, observing, and responding. By listening to the needs of your employees and adapting to them in an agile way, you can create a productive, equitable hybrid workforce.

Connect with other like-minded executives by becoming a Vistage member today.

Image: By fizkes via Adobe Stock

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