Hybrid's Here to Stay: Leaders Matter

July 21, 2022

DDI Philippines

Learn why it's important to focus on leadership in the hybrid workplace.

illustration of a leader, half dressed in professional clothes, half dressed in more casual clothes, with half the illustration next to things you'd see in an office (an office chair, etc.) and the other half of the illustration is things you see while working at home, i.e., your plants and your pets, to show this blog is about why it's important to upskill leaders to work in the hybrid world

Multiple Threats and Demands

Global recession, inflation, and struggling economies loom large just over the horizon. At the same time, many organizations, working doubly hard to achieve full pre-pandemic strength, are facing difficult choices to get the right mix between RTO (return to office) and WFH (work from home).   

Multiple competing demands, such as expanded employee choices, need to meet varying job requirements, achievement of productivity levels, and cultural integration need to be addressed simultaneously. As such hybrid work, a mix of RTO and WFH days, has become the most common operative mode—much like skillfully navigating between Scylla and Charybdis—two mythical Greek menaces from opposite ends that threatened ships navigating stormy water straits.

Leaders Matter

Much has already been said about the mechanics of how best to implement hybrid work. The journey for each organization is going to be different. One thing is clear—leaders matter most!

Firstly, having a top leadership team sets the tone, standards, and example. A senior executive who publicly advocates work from home during Zoom meetings but privately complains to his managers that he does not see people becoming productive will certainly send mixed messages as to what behaviors are acceptable. 

Secondly, such leaders should use this time as an opportunity to break away from the current way of work and create new norms of work, e.g., where work in the recent past had to get done at the office, now the nature of work dictates where it is done.

Thirdly, leaders at the top need to personally engage daily and always seek to balance the practical needs vs. the personal needs not only for their direct reports, but whenever they can with employees at all levels throughout the organization.

Leaders at the Frontline

Leaders at the frontline determine what happens and what needs to happen on a day-to-day basis. As such many frontline leaders excel in day-to-day engagement. However, those who excel in person do not always succeed in a hybrid environment and will need to acquire and hone new critical skills, such as:

1. Build trust and inclusion.

This requires the ability to build strong, trusting relationships that promote teamwork and commitment to shared goals among dispersed team members who may come from different cultures and backgrounds. To build and maintain trust, you and your virtual team members should:

    • Practice sharing and empathy (refer to DDI’s Key Principles).
    • Understand and tap people’s personal and cultural differences.
    • Demonstrate competence and reliability by being consistent in what you say and do, performing your day-to-day responsibilities effectively, and making commitments you can keep.

2. Communicate, communicate, communicate. 

This is about interacting with and relating to remote team members through technology, in a clear, understandable way, which involves determining the method you’ll use and what you’ll say. This requires:

    • Consistently checking for understanding and suggesting practical steps to ensure messages are understood and that discussions are on track.
    • Maintaining attention most especially with remote team members. Instead of the usual PowerPoint presentation, start off with a compelling story to move people to action. Also, speak at a slightly slower speed and add occasional pauses instead of a monotone delivery. Alternatively, use more inflection and feeling words (“I’m frustrated by…” or "I’m excited to share…”).

3. Drive visibility, accountability, and work standards. 

This refers to helping team members “see” one another, their progress, and their value to the team and organization so that they are more committed and focused on achieving shared goals. This can be done by providing, creating, and maintaining clear lines of sight between:

    • Your organization and the team. Practice doing this by consistently highlighting organizational news, promoting messages from senior team leaders, and discussing team scorecards and accomplishments.  
    • You and your team members. This can be achieved by breaking down annual goals into quarterly, monthly, and weekly targets and conducting regular progress checks on these targets. Also make sure to reward, recognize, and celebrate real team achievements!
    • Each team member. Organize an e-group using common social media communication apps, e.g., WhatsApp, Viber, Signal, messenger, etc., where all team members are instantly updated/notified of what’s going on. 

It's About Sustained Behavior Change

Establishing a new way of work in a hybrid environment requires not only acquiring and applying focused critical skills. This requires persistent use and ultimately sustained change in behavior at a different moment of leadership—one which is more likely achieved over several months or quarters. To achieve sustained behavior change DDI is providing a subscription offering to leadership development: https://www.ddiworld.com/solutions/leadership-development-subscription. Go for it!

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