As the pandemic gradually eases, the impact it has left on the working world is anything but temporary. Many findings point to the fact that expectations regarding in-office work have drastically changed.
In the pre-pandemic times, virtually all executives shared the perspective of having their workforce work in-office 80% of the time. In this new normal, only a few still share that now unrealistic view. 90% of participants in the EY Work Reimagined Survey are resolute on having flexible working, while 54% will consider leaving their current post should their organisations deny them such options.
However, leaders managing in a hybrid environment must be prepared to face ambiguity as they deal with limited visibility on processes and workloads, fewer opportunities for spontaneous conversations, and the feeling of losing control when tracking progress towards goals. Furthermore, they will undoubtedly struggle in recreating the collaboration, camaraderie, and cohesiveness of the workplace as they encourage the flexibility and freedom their employees want. This results in their leadership effectiveness being at risk.
Hence, they must learn, adapt, and rise to the challenge of effectively managing hybrid work. Below, we cover the key management shifts that are proving beneficial for leaders and employees in the future of work.
Manage Performance via Impact, Outcomes, and Ownership
Managers in successful hybrid environments have all transitioned to a stronger impact and outcome orientation while giving their employees free rein to determine how they achieve and take ownership of outcomes. Requirements include establishing distinct roles and tangible milestones followed by daily or weekly check-ins to learn about any roadblocks, provide support on clearing them, and ensure that the workload is manageable. Lastly, employees are held accountable for achieving outcomes.
Act with Equity and Flexibility
Leading in a hybrid environment comes with many challenges that involve ensuring teams, regardless of remote or co-located, have the support and resources necessary to perform at their best. There was a stigma surrounding remote and flexible working before the pandemic, with many primarily concerned about visibility and its impact on aspects like career opportunities. In this case, there may be a proximity bias wherein they may be disproportionately given to those in senior roles or those co-located with leaders. Hence, managing a hybrid team entails dispelling these biases and fears and ensuring that such processes will be fair to all regardless of location to maintain a balanced work dynamic.
A key takeaway for managers is to assess their biases when making decisions. Visibility is not equivalent to high performance or productivity. For instance, take time to evaluate employees on their skills, interests, and delivery of goals as opposed to depending on biased opinions stemming from the informal networking that takes place when members are co-located.
Facilitate and Engage with Teams
Various kinds of behaviours can weaken team engagement in hybrid environments, such as failing to be emotionally or mentally present during meetings, turning off one’s camera when video conferencing, or checking emails. Apart from avoiding such pitfalls, leaders should ideally keep meetings brief and leverage interactive tools like polls and chat to their maximum potential. More broadly, they should empower teams and delegate decision-making to develop a common vision and milestones.
Revive Upskilling and Social and Informal Learning
Social and informal learning between employees has diminished, given the loss of face-to-face contact during the pandemic. Studies have discovered that despite this, the appetite for learning and gaining the knowledge and skills necessary for career development remains.
For instance, a LinkedIn Learning report showed that millennials and Gen Z are dedicating 50% more time to independent learning and that opportunities to be upskilled play a key role in retaining talent pools, turnover intentions, and recruiting fresh talent. As the hybrid work model continues to evolve and mature, leaders must dedicate enough time to support their hybrid teams to learn and grow as well as empower them to make the most of their newly acquired skill sets.
Adopt Hybrid Communication
Although communicating effectively is already a challenge in and of itself, remote exacerbates its difficulty as many organisations have realised. Hybrid working furthers this as it carries the issues of on-site and remote working. Thus, becoming a good hybrid communicator requires managers to be clear and intentional when establishing new norms for themselves and the people they interact with.
A fundamental tool to achieve this goal is balancing synchronous and asynchronous communication. The former is real-time communication that works best for active engagement, dynamic interactions, and fast-paced decision-making. This is in contrast to the latter, which relies more on the flexible availability of the recipient. It is an essential component of phenomenal communication as it allows everyone to contribute no matter where they are located and provides hybrid teams with the opportunity to collaborate with no constraints posed by someone’s availability.
In short, exceptional hybrid communication entails leaders and managers establishing what can be done synchronously or in real-time, such as decision-making, and what can be done more asynchronously, like projects requiring individual output and thinking. Another key communication tool for effective hybrid communication is the use of bite-sized information; reducing messages down to their core is vital to fast-paced delivery and performance. In hybrid working, where teams are scattered with less synchronous communication opportunities and visibility, people must impart all the necessary information and clear, actionable tasks after every interaction.
The pandemic has made it clear that to thrive today and, in the future, leaders must be swift in adapting to the unprecedented changes in the working world. The transition to hybrid working should be seen as an opportunity to leave current bad practices behind and encourage new best practices. Furthermore, it is time for leaders to stop anticipating what the ‘new normal’ is as it is already here. Now is the time to make the most of the learnings from the pandemic to best navigate and improve employee experience in the new world of hybrid working.
Learn how to become a better leader in the new hybrid workplace today with StrengthsAsia, where our commitment to helping organisations reach their goals drives us to transform their workplace and people for the better. Remote companies and teams can still look forward to carrying out leadership development training in Singapore with our range of online corporate training programs. Whether you are interested in our CliftonStrengths (StrengthsFinder) courses or LEGO® Serious Play®, our workshops can successfully develop leaders and managers to become the best version of themselves. To find out more about our programs and workshops, don’t hesitate to contact us today.