Remote and hybrid working require new leadership skills. So just what changes should leaders be making to ensure their organisations thrive in this new world of work? Liz Oseland has some suggestions.
There is no doubt at all that remote or hybrid working is here to stay. A Gallup survey in March this year suggests that 42% of our employees are now working in a hybrid way – with 39% of those working remotely on an exclusive basis. That still means that 19% will continue to be onsite in some capacity. We do have to accept that not all industries or organisations can work with the hybrid model. Indeed, the most recent term I’ve seen – ‘remote capable’ – seems a far better way to describe those businesses which are most likely to find themselves having to respond to this trend in one way or another.
Right now there is a real mix in terms of responses to the post-pandemic world. Some are, it seems, determined to return to the ‘old ways’ – and I use that term deliberately. It’s as if they’ve forgotten just what we’ve been through in the last two years and wiped it from their memory. At the other extreme are those who have decided to rewrite the rules, abandoned their offices and embraced the life of the digital nomad – with the mantra that it doesn’t matter where you work so long as the work gets done.
But for most organisations there is a mix of the two. They are in the middle, not quite sure which way to go. They know that returning to the ‘old ways’ isn’t necessarily the right thing to do but they are still struggling to work out just what this hybrid-remote working means for the way they and their employees operate now and into the future. There are clear pros and cons on both sides but right now is a fantastic opportunity to re-write the rules of both face-to-face and remote working practices, to examine what works well and what doesn’t work so well, and ask some clear and searching questions about when we need to come into the office, when it is a good time to work remotely and how the future will look for both the individual and the team.
The Leadership Challenge
Leaders have a critical role to play in shaping this new world of work. Now is the time for them to be asking some deep and searching questions, to step up to the plate and be really brave in the questions they need to be asking. There are those who still want to cling to the nine to five, Monday to Friday mindset. They might well be seen by many to be dinosaurs. But it takes a strong leader to challenge these assumptions: to ask if this is the right way forward, and argue for the alternatives.
At this point, leadership is about calling these things out. It’s about saying – look, we’ve tried this and it’s just not working, so what else can we be doing? It’s about facilitating, listening to others, and understanding just what they are saying. Even if they appear to be dinosaurs.
So what are my key tips to enable leaders to really be able to be in a position to do that, and to find the best ways forward for themselves and their teams?
Remote Leadership – some top tips to make it work for you
Know your skills – and exaggerate them
To lead well you need to understand just what your skills and qualities are, amplify them and exaggerate the best of them. You’ve very likely got a challenging mix of face-to-face and remote working practices. Some will resent the change, others can’t wait to embrace it. Others can’t wait to rip up the old rule book and put some new ones in their place. So as a leader you need to be prepared to engage your emotional intelligence, to know how to listen and lead with empathy. That starts with yourself, and being able to look in the mirror and ask just what am I projecting to my team right now? Is it right? Is it honest?
Know your team
This means both knowing them personally but above all at work. What are their strengths? What gave you the confidence to employ them in their role? You know they have the best qualifications and can get things done, but what are their natural and behavioural strengths? Are they good communicators? Do they work well alone? Above all, what motivates them? Just what gets them out of bed in the morning, to work for this company and the team?
When you know what these strengths are, you can really start to shape your team and get the best out of them, both at an emotional and productive level. And while you may think you know them, be prepared to revisit these strengths. They may well have changed, especially in the last few years. Their lives and priorities may be different. So find out what they are now – and use them to build consensus – and help you get the best from them and the business.
Invest in Technology
We are lucky to live in a world which is rich in technical solutions for all manner of challenges. If you’re a technophobe, find someone to help you or even do it for you. It can feel overwhelming, so if you’re not sure who to ask, get help. Many technical solutions are free or not particularly expensive anymore. But above all there are plenty of ways in which technology can make things like working collaboratively much easier – allowing hybrid ways of working to thrive – wherever your employees are based.
Create the right mindset
Leaders need to support both themselves and their teams to achieve a forward looking and proactive mindset. It’s about focusing on the future and looking ahead, rather than being reactive. It’s about being reflective and accepting that the first response might not be the best one. You need to ask what worked well, what didn’t and what could you do differently next time? Your responses also need to be fast. It should be happening in weeks, not in months. This also feeds back into allowing vulnerability to show. It’s hard for anyone at the top to allow themselves to look vulnerable, but things change and change quickly. That means having the mindset to make that happen – and flexibility is going to be far more productive than inflexibility.
Above all, it all starts with you. As a leader you need to question your own assumptions. Get the model right and you’re far more likely to get your team on-board. Accept too that everyone is unique with their own set of circumstances. Get that balance right and you’re far more likely to succeed in this rapidly changing – and challenging – world of hybrid working.
Executive coach and facilitator