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Developing leaders for a new generation of hybrid workers

When the first lockdown took place, most organisations were caught off guard, having to react fast.  Many employees were forgiving, understanding this was new territory. And with office-based employees working from home, it was arguably easer to lead. With clear priorities, leaders had to focus on how to equip their teams for remote working, focus on making their communications clear, and ensure their businesses were resilient enough to survive.

But as remote and hybrid working become the norm, things have moved on. With some employees in the office (between lockdowns!) and others choosing to spend more time working remotely. The best leaders have changed their styles to lead a hybrid workforce, and quickly! This means figuring out how to nurture connection, collaboration, and organisational culture both face-to-face and remotely. To thrive in a hybrid workplace, leaders and managers need different skills, as Steven Frost, Founder and CEO of employee engagement expert, WorkBuzz, explains.

What the new hybrid landscape means for leaders

While there are huge benefits of hybrid working, like better work-life balance and access to a wider talent pool, it creates new challenges such as how to keep everyone connected to each other and the company on an emotional level (WorkBuzz’s State of Employee Engagement report 2021). Two thirds of the HR professionals and leaders surveyed stated that this was their top priority right now. Identifying and supporting wellbeing needs, as well as nurturing the right culture and enabling collaboration, were also identified as key challenges for today’s leaders. The fact is that leaders can no longer simply ‘walk the floor’ and have friendly chats with colleagues during coffee breaks, to nurture connection and a positive workplace culture. They must learn how to lead both face-to-face and at a distance and be equally brilliant at both. This ability should not be underestimated and demands more skills and learned behaviours than ever before.

The key skills leaders need

Covid-19 has changed the goal posts and leaders can no longer get away with being an average manager. Employees expect them to be mentors, collaborators, and advocates and as well as compassionate and inspirational role models. To succeed, a leader of a hybrid workforce needs the following:

  • Empathy – This ensures teams see leaders as accessible, approachable, and caring for their needs. If employees don’t feel considered and valued, then their relationship with their leader will fracture and business outcomes will be impacted. Empathy is especially important at a distance when employees don’t have the security and comfort of physically sitting within a team. In fact, empathy can contribute to positive experiences for both individuals and teams with research by Catalyst finding that empathy is a force for productivity, life-work integration, and positive work experiences. It also fosters inclusion and reduces intent to leave.
  • Higher emotional intelligence – Leaders tuned into the emotions of others are better able to respond to their needs and are more likely to build strong connections with their teams. This is especially important when developing relations remotely. Having high emotional intelligence also means the leader displays authenticity, is quick to give appreciation, and is better able to manage their own emotions effectively, including stress.
  • Better time management – Managing a hybrid workforce puts extra pressure on a leader’s time as they can’t simply call a meeting in the boardroom to deliver information and seek a reaction. They must split their time even further to ensure everyone is interacted with, heard, and feels valued. This is in addition to the other ever-increasing demands on their time.
  • An understanding of business systems and processes – Leaders need an understanding of how technology and processes can support them to ensure efficiency, collaboration, and emotional connection. After all, with today’s methods of working, we can no longer rely on people sitting beside each other, every single day. Collaboration tools and employee listening platforms are just some of the necessary solutions for an effective hybrid working world.

Developing leaders for the new world

Organisations must be quick to train and nurture the leaders we need for both now and the future. Gone are the days when controlling leaders were the norm. Today’s leaders must be able to connect with their teams on an emotional level and ensure they feel valued and a sense of belonging. This means HR professionals must recruit with empathy and emotional intelligence in mind and teach key skills such as time and process management. Leaders without these skills and characteristics, will simply struggle in the new hybrid workplace.

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