Talent Management

Embracing the New Norm With New Leadership Styles: Hybrid Work

Organizational managers must adapt their leadership styles to take advantage of the unique opportunities presented by hybrid work while developing strategies to overcome the challenges. - By DONNA CHAN

Pre-pandemic, the hybrid work model existed, but it was not popular. During the pandemic, remote work became the primary strategy. Post-pandemic, there was a shakeout in that some organizations wanted their employees to return full-time to the workplace, but employee resistance was intense. As a result, hybrid work systems are on the rise.

Hybrid models have become increasingly popular due to their potential to offer employees flexibility while maintaining elements of in-person collaboration and connection. So, leadership styles must adapt. Talent management in organizations with a hybrid work model requires a nuanced approach that acknowledges the challenges and opportunities inherent in this arrangement.

Opportunities for Employees Equals Opportunities for Organizational Success

Gallup surveys show more than half of employees who can work remotely expect and prefer hybrid work. In fact, five of every ten remote-capable workers work a hybrid schedule, and three of every ten work exclusively remotely. Gallup has also found that employees allowed to work from their preferred location are more engaged, experience less burnout, and are less likely to quit. These are opportunities related to hybrid work, but only if leaders can communicate a clear hybrid strategy to employees and coordinate work requirements within the context of a workforce that is a mix of hybrid, remote, and onsite employees. It is also crucial for leaders to communicate things like the “why” of schedules, such as why people must work in the office two or three days a week.

The hybrid work model offers opportunities for inclusivity, too. For example, an employer becomes an employer of choice for talent not interested in working full-time in the office or people with disabilities that are limited in their ability to leave home. Dr. Gleb Tsipursky, CEO of the consultancy Disaster Avoidance Experts, names other benefits, such as studies showing remote workers may be more productive and the possibility of reduced costs if office space, utilities, and other expenses can be reduced.

Balancing Act: Leaders Must Navigate the Challenges

Managing hybrid work schedules requires a balancing act. The hybrid work model is designed to offer employees flexibility, so setting schedules without employee input can lead to dissatisfaction. Employees' circumstances are different, but they all must balance work and personal lives. Talent management should allow employees to choose when and where they work, within reasonable constraints. The reasonable constraints may mean not everyone can take Monday and Friday for remote work days, or that employees must be available at home workstations during designated hours.

In general, most management practices likely need updating, and communication skills need to adapt. It is quite different managing employees via a screen versus face-to-face. Some recommended practices include regular check-ins, even if the employee is in the office several days a week. Encouraging regular check-ins and setting clear expectations for communication channels and response times can help mitigate the challenges of remote work. Just because someone works at home does not mean they should miss meetings or brainstorming sessions, or skip participation in collaborative projects. Another challenge is ensuring all employees have equal opportunities for advancement and development. This might involve implementing policies to mitigate biases in performance evaluations, providing equitable access to training and development opportunities, and fostering a culture of inclusivity and belonging across virtual and physical space. One risk is that hybrid employees do not get the recognition they deserve, which can affect their careers.

Updating Leadership Skills

In Sensible Leaders and Hybrid Working: Challenges for Talent Management, academics at universities in Brazil and Spain discussed the challenges leaders face in attracting, maintaining, developing, and retaining employees in the hybrid context. They supports the idea that people working remotely should not lose their sense of engagement with the organization during that time. Every leadership skill needs evaluation through the hybrid and remote work model lens – trust building, team engagement, inclusive practices, knowledge management, and organizational culture building, to name a few.

It is easy for a manager to think engagement or trust-building practices can wait until the employee is onsite. This means the employee is at risk of experiencing less engagement two-fifths of the work time. In the academic research paper, the disadvantages of hybrid working mentioned included social isolation and lack of socialization, especially among younger people, lack of job visibility, and misunderstandings in online interaction, among others. The challenge for leaders is recognizing these employee issues and developing the skills to prevent them. Undoubtedly, a hybrid-remote-onsite workforce model is more challenging to lead. Leadership styles must be multi-faceted and adaptable because a one-size-fits-all style no longer works. Organizational leaders must know how to effectively use communication tools. It is also essential that managers ensure employees have access to the right resources, know how to use them, and regularly use them to work together regardless of location.

It should be noted that the question of whether hybrid workers are more productive than full-time in-office workers has never been settled. Stanford Professor and a scholar of remote and hybrid work, Nick Bloom, has published studies that report leadership tends to undervalue hybrid and remote work, which leads to companies reneging on their flexible work policies. That is how employers lose some of their most talented employees. Consultant Gleb Tsipursky supports Bloom’s research with his own studies. He says this about managers not trained to manage a hybrid workforce: “Manager training is the biggest obstacle to effective hybrid work performance for organizations–and a major driver of the continual ratcheting up of days in the office.” Managing talent in a hybrid work model requires a proactive approach. By prioritizing flexibility, technology, communication, performance management, employee engagement, inclusivity, and continuous improvement, organizations can effectively navigate the complexities and support the success and well-being of their employees. The failures of hybrid workforces are often due to leaders who do not adapt their leadership styles to fit the hybrid work model. Success requires a well-designed strategy and specific leadership training.