Leadership in hybrid working
Hybrid working, where some employees work from the office and others are at home, is becoming the new workplace norm in line with employee expectations in this post-pandemic era. As organisations grapple with the logistics of hybrid working, they need also to consider the impact on leadership.
Managers and team leaders are the single greatest source of influence on employee engagement, which in turn effects workplace productivity and wellbeing.
Whilst 97% of managers feel they are doing a good job of managing their people, 69% of employees consider their managers to be deficient in their way of managing.
The professional body CIPD recognises that hybrid working brings new challenges for people managers that are different from predominantly remote and predominantly office-based working and recommends that they are given developmental support to enhance their skills in these new ways of leading.
Without deliberate attention to how hybrid working changes team dynamics, those employees who are in the office less often or at a different time than their manager might be severely disadvantaged, for example, missing out on those informal conversations about ‘what’s going on round here’ that often lead to people connecting the dots and generating new ideas. Leaders need to guard against the possibility of ‘proximity bias’ during performance reviews and as they consider team members for new opportunities or promotions.
New team working practices need to be established for hybrid working. Leaders must allow dedicated time for open and honest discussion and it’s unlikely that a one-off conversation will suffice. In doing so, all team members need to be heard, avoiding the natural tendency for those in the same room to dominate the conversation whilst those attending remotely listen in.
Exploration of the following in a team meeting may be a good place to start:
- How has the team has been working in the past few months? What is working well and what are the pain points?
- What are the spoken and unspoken ways of working in the team? What are the challenges of hybrid working for this team?
- What needs to change to support effective hybrid working? What new ways of working does the team want to try out?
- How will the team continue to learn and adapt as they experiment with hybrid working? How will they create an environment in which all team members can openly share what’s working or not for them?
It will take time to settle into a new rhythm of hybrid working that enables effective team working. Within the boundaries of the team agreements, individuals will need to work out their own hybrid working arrangements, taking into account their unique personal circumstances and preferences. These early stages will be a period of individual and team experimentation, during which time it becomes essential that leaders help the team to reflect on what they’re learning, to integrate this into ways of working or adapt further. The ability to be dynamic and agile as they navigate these changing times will be key to the success of the team.
As they do so, leaders would do well to consider how they build and maintain trust.
Research shows that when trust is present, people align around the purpose of their team, embrace goals and objectives, willingly collaborate, and are empowered to do their best work. In hybrid teams where there is less opportunity for connection and conflict, it may be easier to avoid issues. Trust therefore needs to be considered more deliberately.
As a complex concept, it may help the team to talk about the specific behaviours that affect trust, which in turn can create stronger bonds between leaders and employees.
Hybrid working is new territory for many leaders and having a development partner, such as a coach, mentor or peer to think through new approaches may support the leader as they experiment with new ways of leading.