The pandemic might be edging closer to an end, but its hybrid workforce legacy is here to stay.
- A recent global Work Trend Index revealed that 50 per cent of companies expect their employees to continue, or return to performing full-time in-person work in 2022-2023. Yet according to the same index, employees don’t feel the same urgency to return, with roughly half of all remote working employees considering hybrid work, and half of hybrid workers considering remote roles.
- Meanwhile, a YouGov survey highlights similar employee sentiment in America, with 86% of the country’s remote workforce keen to continue working remotely beyond the pandemic.
“These and other figures tell us that while some businesses favour traditional in-office operations, equally as many employees feel very differently about what they want from their work environment,” explains James Allen, a Partner for Gerard Daniels in London.
“As people come to value different things and search for more flexible and fulfilling employment, what began as the Great Resignation has become the Great Reshuffle,” he continues. “We expect that this appetite for flexibility will drive many businesses to focus their post-pandemic workplace strategies on leading and building high performing hybrid workforces.”
Supporting the changing needs of the hybrid workforce has also accelerated the need for businesses to address many critical leadership challenges. “To attract and retain talent in a strong labour market, leaders must up-skill in areas like digital fluency and change management,” says James. “They must also develop some important soft leadership skills too.”
Here James explores five focus areas for successfully leading hybrid workforces in 2022.
1. Lead with empathy
Prior to the pandemic there was already growing focus on the human side of leadership, but supporting hybrid workforces has made it even more critical to lead with empathy and compassion, and to be proactive in supporting employee wellbeing.
“Leading with empathy means advocating for mental health and wellbeing, demonstrating positive work-life balance and opting to work remotely when you can,” says James. “We know that employees value health and wellbeing, and setting this example from the top creates a culture that makes it OK for others in the organisation to prioritise this too.”
2. Be flexible and fair
As hybrid workforces have grown, the stigma associated with working remotely has diminished. However, it is still important for leaders to stay focused on creating workplaces that equally support and reward both in-office and hybrid workers.
“Today’s leaders must ensure there is no proximity bias at play, where opportunities are only made available to employees that return to the office,” says James. “Obviously that has to be tempered with the need for visibility and day to day interpersonal engagement, but all internal processes must be flexible, fair and equally available to all employees.”
3. Help employees grow
A recent LinkedIn Learning survey describes on-the-job learning as increasingly important to employees, making professional development and up-skilling another key factor in leading and retaining talent in the hybrid workforce. Yet despite the employee value of learning and development (L&D), a UK YouGov report reveals that nearly a third of British employees (29%) receive no professional training at all.
“The lack of face-to-face contact in hybrid environments can hinder people’s ability to learn, and makes it more challenging to implement L&D programs. But if you’re not supporting people in all work environments to grow and progress then you will undoubtedly lose talent,” says James. “To address this issue business leaders must foster a culture of continual learning, and find the ways and means to develop employees in the hybrid environment.”
4. Build networks
“During the pandemic network building declined as these activities weren’t considered business critical. And as Zoom fatigue set in the shine also very quickly wore off many attempts at formal and informal remote networking too,” James observes. “This decline had the most profound impact on employees just starting out in the workforce, without the access to senior staff that they would normally have had.”
“To address this issue in future hybrid workforces, leaders must ensure that network-building opportunities are integrated into workforce strategies with the hybrid working model in mind,” he continues.
5. Maintain connectivity
Communication has always been a critical part of good leadership, but hybrid work environments exacerbate the need for this focus and skill. “Leaders have had to shift their communication strategies and tactics in a hybrid workplace to balance real time communication and active engagement, with more flexible communication that’s open to the availability of the receiver,” says James.
Leaders must also avoid overloading the hybrid workforce, and set the tone for what is acceptable and expected around communication.
“I recently came across a great example from a FTSE 100 client, of an email signature acknowledging that responses are not expected outside of the recipients normal working hours,” says James. “This acknowledgement represents the start of a phenomenal cultural shift around communication and connectivity in today’s hybrid environment.”
“From a leadership perspective we are no longer in a period of transition or change,” James reflects. “Hybrid is here to stay, and to thrive leaders must accept this and very quickly adapt and evolve too.”
“From a leadership perspective it’s important to understand that we are no longer in a period of transition or change. Hybrid is here to stay, and to thrive leaders must accept this andquickly adapt and evolve too.”