Thought Leadership

Leadership for the Hybrid Workplace

Opinion by Dr Eric Albertini, Future Fit Academy

Today’s world of work is a hybrid of in-office and remote work. As we move into a post-pandemic future, companies are re-evaluating their workplace structure and seeking to implement a work model that fits the needs of diverse employee groups.

The hybrid workforce is a blended workforce comprising of employees who work from home part-time (or another non-employer location), and work at an employer location part of the time. A hybrid work environment allows a mixture of in-office and remote employees. Companies that adopt this type of work structure give their employees the ability to decide when, how, and where they work optimally on any given day.

McKinsey, in an article – What executives are saying about the future of hybrid work – state that in the post pandemic future of work, nine out of ten organisations will be combining remote and on-site working. The same survey also confirms that both productivity and customer satisfaction increased during the pandemic.

Yet, despite the embrace of the hybrid model, most organisations have only now begun to think through and articulate the specifics of how to carry out a more permanent mix of remote and on-site working for all roles that aren’t essential to perform on-site.

There are however, some challenges with hybrid work:

  • Hybrid workers who prefer to work remotely may suffer unconscious bias. Not being visible to management could risk them feeling less valued than those in the office, due to potentially getting less facetime and fewer benefits than those in the office.
  • It is harder to build, maintain and nurture a company culture when not all staff are co-located.
  • Working remotely can negatively affect the mental well-being of some employees – the enmeshment of work-personal life is difficult for some to deal with.
  • Communication, connectivity and creativity (innovation) has been a challenge in most hybrid work models.

In Gartner for HR: Evolve culture and leadership for the hybrid workplace, it states that, in accepting hybrid as a permanent feature of the future workplace, organisations must focus on two key areas:

  • Reshaping Culture – leaders must work intentionally to align and connect employees to the culture.
  • Equipping Leaders – Effective hybrid leaders are human leaders who must lead with authenticity, empathy, and adaptability.

With regard to Reshaping Culture and instilling a corporate culture, there are two critical aspects:

  • Alignment – knowing what the culture is, believing in the culture, and demonstrating the behaviours and,
  • Connectedness – identifying with the culture, caring about the culture, and subscribing to belong to the culture.

It is ‘culture connectedness’ that is in a crisis and must be accounted for in the hybrid workplace.

When it comes to Equipping Leaders:

  • Human leadership is made up of
    • Authenticity – acting with purpose and true self-expression,
    • Empathy – showing genuine care, respect, and concern for employee’s well-being, and
    • Adaptability – being flexible and supporting team member’s unique needs.

For both Reshaping Culture and Equipping Leaders, leaders must be skilled in virtual collaboration, use the right hybrid tools, and be able to build trust and psychological safety in a hybrid workforce. This entails reorientating and reskilling the workforce.

Simply put, Hybrid Skills are a combination of both technical and non-technical skills. The specific hybrid skills may vary from job to job and from company to company. Examples include administrative and support staff who will have to learn about social media, updating websites and being comfortable interfacing with a range of automation, robotics and technology.

Workers in traditionally specialised technology jobs will have to develop what we may know as “soft skills” such as EQ, change resiliency, dealing with uncertainty and the ability to connect to others.  It can be argued that the top skill for a company’s future workforce is being human, as we will always need people to weigh their morals, ethics, context and experience against decisions made by machines.

A survey by BetterUp of more than 54,000 performance assessments found gaps in skill sets between in-office and remote workers. Those gaps were most pronounced in areas such as network leadership, executive presence, alignment, relationship building, authenticity, inspiring others, and empowerment. According to BetterUp, the largest gaps identified tended to be in so-called ‘soft skills” that aren’t as easily identifiable in remote working situations as compared to in-person offices. The findings suggest that as more workplaces shift to remote or hybrid environments, they’ll need to focus on increasing skills that are most valuable in these dispersed settings. Those skills may be different than the ones employers used to value most—in particular, workers will need excellent soft skills to succeed in the changing work landscape.

In the future world of work, collaboration and co-creating through leveraging differences will be more important than ever before. Organisations will need talent that is able to think beyond their immediate job role to promote fluidity across a wider team. There has been an increased need for soft skills in key areas to facilitate this integration in a team with different skill sets and strengths. These are the interpersonal traits that enable your employees to interact with each other and with their work.

While AI is able to analyse and calculate, it cannot be empathetic or compassionate, which is key to employee and customer retention. With companies evolving and pivoting so regularly with the growing and fluctuating markets, employees should be prepared for their job descriptions to grow and pivot, too.

Organisations will be forced to view learning, not as a bonus or perk, but rather as a vital tool to develop the workforce and benefit corporate and employee growth. Employers will be looking for employees who not only possess skills that suite the job role, but who have a hunger to learn, upskill, develop and grow with the company.

This realisation of the future skills landscape poses the question of whether companies should be reskilling or upskilling employees. There is no black-and-white answer, because each industry and business has its own requirements for growth. Whether organisations find the need to teach new skills, or update and improve overall skills, the concept of continued learning is what will make the difference. Employers need to understand the importance of continued training and development, instead of once-off courses or programmes to really see and realise the potential in their workforce.

It’s clear that companies must act quickly to build critical workforce capabilities. The COVID-19 pandemic has accelerated trends in workplace skills that were already underway through the digital economy, shifting marketplaces and changing employee roles. In order to successfully respond, business leaders must look to create a reskilling programme that develops employees in both the short and long term.