Seven ways leaders can develop their hybrid skills
Working where and when you want is a dream that is now starting to become the new reality. However, while the increased flexibility and reduced commute times are certainly positive for most employees, many organizations are still getting used to a hybrid working model. There are many variations in the extent to which people alternate between the office and working from home. How do you ensure employees feel supported by management to make their own choices, while ensuring effective collaboration and desired outcomes?
Now that employees and employers are benefiting from (partial) remote work, many organizations are implementing a structured hybrid work environment. In order to take full advantage of all the opportunities offered by hybrid working, it is important to establish suitable frameworks and guidelines for employees.
To function optimally in a hybrid work environment, it takes more than good WiFi and an ergonomic office chair at home. As a manager, the extent to which you help your employees make choices is equally important. After all, hybrid working requires different skills and mutual agreements from employees and managers.
However, although hybrid working largely focuses on employees, managers still struggle with this way of working, and it has arguably made it harder to be a manager. So how can managers further develop their hybrid management models and ensure they get the most out of their teams?
Through research and our own expertise, we’ve identified seven ways leaders can develop their hybrid skills and ensure they manage successfully in this format.
Increase your ability to connect
Empathy is key to connecting with employees and empowering them to perform at their best. An expert leader who shows little empathy evokes envy and fear. A warm and compassionate leader with little expertise evokes pity and disrespect. Try to find a good balance between the two factors.
Non-verbal attitudes are particularly important. Eye contact, an understanding nod, a smile—it literally shows you’re paying attention. If you’re in a hybrid meeting, you’ll need to be extra careful about bridging the distance. During the meeting, consciously look at the camera. Make it clear that you’re really listening by repeating information occasionally, asking questions, or nodding your head in agreement.
Managers must also give employees the space to make their own decisions and plan their own agenda (appreciative leadership). This increases employee development, creativity and job satisfaction and benefits the organization.
It’s also good for a manager to release power, but don’t be stubborn. Sometimes it’s better to sit back and count to 10 instead of reacting emotionally. Try not to get bogged down in unrealistic goals, lack of attention to detail, or hasty decisions. This is especially important when working remotely, as it’s harder to nuance an emotional statement due to a lack of non-verbal information.
Work on your listening
Not listening well is one of the most heard complaints about managers. In order to connect with the team, a manager must have a good understanding of employees and be able to take their feedback into account.
Good communication is always important, but even more so in a hybrid work environment. In online meetings, where the line is often shaky and many nonverbal cues are missed, it helps to respond more slowly. Do not be afraid of silences; they can often be very helpful.
To do this, managers must be clear about the purpose of the meeting, but also about the how and why of certain statements. If there is a difficult situation (such as a crisis or a reorganization), do not dodge it: say what you feel or see in your collaborators.
If the conversation is spiraling out of control, people are getting bogged down in details, or participants are caught in a downward spiral, stop the meeting for a moment and name what you see. Agree on action points and end each meeting with a summary and a clear list of actions.
Have an open mind
Successful hybrid working requires the right mindset within the organization. The fact that many companies’ production skyrocketed when people worked from home may have opened many eyes, but that doesn’t mean that working from home and partly in the office, without any direction, will automatically go smoothly.
Clear guidelines are needed within the organization in order to fully leverage the benefits of hybrid working. Think about how many days a week you’re in the office, what appointments you’d rather not attend virtually, what times you’re available and reachable. However, it makes sense not to make these rules too rigid, so that the task and location can be tailored to personal preferences.
From control to context
The focus on planning rather than results and hierarchy does not match the flexibility of a hybrid work environment. The secret lies in moving from control to context in the organization. Context means making strategic choices, but also a clear division of roles, transparent decision-making and offering more control. One example is Netflix, which has a “no vacation” policy, for example. Employees decide themselves when and for how long they take their leave. This may seem like a very ambitious step, but it works.
Give organizations the space and time to learn
Hybrid working is a new reality that the organization will have to get used to, despite our experiences during the confinement period. The optimal deployment of collaboration tools (such as Teams or Zoom) is a challenge. Give each other space in a respectful way to better adjust to each other in this hybrid form of work.
Making hybrid working physically possible
The physical layout of the hybrid work environment must be well organized in order to optimally support the new way of working.
Fast internet, both at home and in the office, is even more essential than before. Communication tools are useful for virtual meetings, chats or presentations. Additionally, online collaboration platforms play a bigger role as a virtual “gateway” where you can meet colleagues and easily exchange information.
Office meeting rooms should be optimally equipped for hybrid working. Provide ample room for remote participants in the meeting, such as a large screen where callers are clearly visible and audible, or solutions where half of the table is in the office and the other half is a separate screen at eye level so that everyone has a place at the meeting table.
With the advent of hybrid working, the function of many corporate buildings is changing. Where they used to be primarily where you work, they are now primarily where you can meet your colleagues, co-create or brainstorm. Take this into account when designing the building. Fewer desks and fewer screens will be needed, but all the more meeting space.
Hybrid working is here to stay, and it’s definitely a plus for organizations. However, managers need to master this type of leadership to ensure their teams are productive and as efficient as possible.
Karlien Vanderheyden is Associate Professor of Organizational Behavior and Katleen De Stobbeleir is Professor of Leadership, both at Vlerick Business School