The past year has been challenging for leaders everywhere, even surpassing the 2008 financial crisis. It has forced executives to adapt to professional and societal change at record speed. Waves of change altered the modus operandi, and the way customers and clients behave, requiring a new mindset, changed behaviours and in some cases, innovative operating models.
Some leaders responded by casting aside pride, bureaucracy and tradition to enable new positive behaviours that drove rapid change and helped their organisation stay competitive. This period proved to be a true ‘trial by fire’ lesson in digital transformation, consumer behaviour, and compassionate leadership. As a result, some of the most effective leaders were those who adapted swiftly to become more agile, decisive, innovative, digital and data savvy, collaborative, customer-centric and empathetic.
While some elements of our professional lives may return to the way they were before COVID-19, many aspects have changed permanently. If the Government’s plans are successful and truly irreversible, we will have no choice but to address them sooner rather than later. What lessons can be learned from the workforce to lock in the best practices developed during the pandemic, and how can they successfully combine with the ways we worked pre-COVID? How do we do this successfully when teams are split between remote locations and the shared office? Here are our top tips for successful leadership in a hybrid working environment.
What really constitutes ‘best practice’? Is it what works best for the most amount of organisations, creates the most profit, or causes the least friction? Normally what becomes considered ‘best practice’ involves a combination of these factors, but it can also vary on a case-by-case basis. Government and trade bodies give us regulations that serve as macro benchmarks, and there are a few that have become engrained in overall working life and were very prevalent pre-pandemic. For example, working from an office was the standard for most organisations.
But then during the pandemic, certain things became best practice out of necessity. Working remotely or from home is a prime example. When nonessential businesses were given no choice but to close their doors due to lockdown and the stay-at-home orders mandated working from home wherever possible, having the ability to log in remotely and continue to get work done was a saving grace that allowed staff to continue on with the essential activities of the business. But what happens now that these restrictions have lifted? Organisations and their leaders will need to assess the benefits and determine the best course of action. Was working from home successful simply because it was a necessity, or were there notable changes in morale, efficiency, and productivity?
This transition period requires leaders to take stock and be honest about what best serves the organisation’s objectives, its customers, and its staff. This may require letting go of preconceived notions and long held biases or beliefs about what best practice truly means.
One of the most valuable resources a leader has is the team. Open up a dialogue with staff to discuss what is and is not working. What elements of remote work do they like, and what benefits have they seen? Have they found a better way of doing things this past year? Do they even want to go back to the way things were? With their feet on the ground, your team’s feedback and performance will give you the best idea of what should or should not be considered best practice.
What you learn from your staff and what you have observed over the past year can be weighed against what you have traditionally done in order to determine the true best practices for your organisation. However, the only way for this to be successful is to be honest and to leave your own biases behind. Embrace agility and new ideas, whilst keeping your focus fixed on the future and the evolving needs of your core stakeholders and customers.
Many major organisations have already announced their intention to allow staff to continue working remotely at least some of the time. Many others are poised to follow suit. If you have determined this to be the best course of action for your business, your challenge is now to embed your new best practices into a hybrid work environment.
When all staff work from the office it is perceived to be easier to monitor performance and impact, and it enables easier collaboration between teammates. When staff were working from home, they all had no choice but to rely on email, video conferencing, and collaboration platforms to communicate with no in-person elements. A return to the office with a hybrid model will split the workforce between locations and may cause communication hurdles or confusion. Not only that, but how can you monitor impact and individual contribution this way?
In our consulting work with organisations, we at The Rialto Consultancy have found that the issues that most organisations have with mindset, impact, and performance stem from poor or ineffective communication and lack of alignment. Overcoming barriers to clear communication will be an essential first step for implementing hybrid working models effectively and creating much-needed alignment across the entire organisation.
You cannot have everyone on the same page and aligned if no one knows what the business’s goals are or what is needed to achieve them. Now that you have hopefully identified what is to become best practice in your organisation’s new normal, you need to be sure that all members of the team have a full understanding of what will be expected of them. Set standards for behaviour and benchmarks for performance, making time and putting systems in place to monitor whether or not these are being met both when the employee is in the office and at home.
It may require extra effort to level the playing field to make sure that communication is consistent across locations. When hosting a meeting in the office with the staff who are physically present, determine how remote staff can participate and ‘be present’ in a similar way. Will you require additional facilitation and means of sharing communication. Likewise, if hosting a meeting virtually, encourage in-office staff to gather and dial in together. Make sure that all parties are granted an equal opportunity to speak and share perspectives and ideas and foster an environment where they feel encouraged to do so. If an in-person conversation lends some valuable insights, recap and share on the Slack or Teams platform as routine to keep remote staff looped in. It may take reinforcement and frequent check-ins to ensure everyone is clear and nothing is missed.
This might seem difficult to accomplish and may take some getting used to. But once this in-depth level of communication has become standard behaviour, it will be much easier to keep the team on track and monitor progress. Thankfully, the technology we are fortunate enough to have access to can smooth out the transition and make hybrid working more seamless overall.
Technology has undoubtedly played a critical role over the last year, and it will continue to be essential in order for hybrid models to be both feasible and successful. But even after a year of relying on it, technology can still cause friction, annoyance, and discomfort. Is your staff ready and willing to work this way? Are they willing to potentially adapt their own communication styles in order to make sure all members of the team stay in the loop?
Of course, communications will be crucial to success here as well. Ask staff about their concerns and hesitations with the new model, and work with them to ease their concerns. Clearly communicate why the organisation is choosing to implement a hybrid work model, how it is expected to work, what communication channels will be needed, and what outcomes are expected to be achieved. Making staff feel included and heard as part of the process will go a long way to creating a culture that supports and embraces change and innovation.
There will undoubtedly be some grey areas and ambiguity throughout the transition period. By following the advice above, leaders will be better armed to help their team settle comfortably into a hybrid working model as a part of the culture.
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