Leadership are emerging from this global pandemic grappling with major cultural challenges. 2020 was all about pivoting at pace, rapidly adapting strategy, and trying to work out what to do next. By early 2021, the focus shifted to re-setting the direction and tone, re-engaging employees and creating a real sense of the journey ahead. Now, there is a significant shift towards focusing on how we capitalise on the seismic, yet positive, shifts in ways of working.

But how do we also make sure that we’re identifying and delivering efficient and effective leadership approaches so that we continue to engage, motivate, inspire, performance lead and get the best from our people?

There are very few, if any, organisations and employees that want to go back to a pre-pandemic world with the irrefutable benefits in productivity, performance, and profitability. There is no doubt remote working has made, and is making, a big contribution.

Whilst the benefits are clear, there are some grapples. Namely team bonding and connection, collaboration and knowledge sharing and work oversight and performance leadership. There is a propensity for negativity around these challenges. Yet, for some teams, connection has never been better. For team members who were geographically remote and didn’t have as much airtime with leaders, connection and bonding for them is better.

Hybrid working is a challenge and, if you work well with it, it’s an opportunity. I would argue that there were challenges with effective leadership, long before the global pandemic. But let’s not pretend that’s a hybrid working problem; it has simply amplified the problem.

A compelling case for change

Hybrid working is a cultural grapple like any other an organisation has faced before.

You’ve got to start with a clear and compelling argument for WHY your organisation is choosing the approach it’s taking; what’s our context, where are we as an organisation? Then the what?- what are we setting out to achieve here, what does hybrid look like for us, and then how? what will it take, what tools are we going to provide, how are we going to really equip and enable our teams to make this a success.

Defending the intent

So, a compelling narrative provides the case for change. Now you need a set of principles that everybody can adopt. It’s much more about defining the intent, and guiding the ways of working and thinking that you want people to adopt. It’s a whole organisation thing, not every man for himself.

In Practice – shifting from reactive to proactive

Then probably the single most important thing, to set your leaders up to be able to deliver hybrid working in practice. All of our leaders need to understand that you have to make hybrid work, by design, not by default. It requires a massive shift from reactive to proactive.

How will we structure our collective work? How will we communicate and collaborate with each other? What will our rules of engagement be? Finally, how do we make sure as a team that we’re managing connection and belonging?

As a top team, I suggest you will fall foul if you try to create rules of engagement for the whole organisation. This is about letting teams work through what will work for them.

Enablers

There are 3 key enablers underpinning the principles and the practices that will make the difference.

TRUST

Why weren’t we working like this before? One of the biggest blockers to working in a more agile way, is leaders letting go. We mustn’t go back to a world where control dominates. If you look at smaller organisations there is usually an abundance of trust and less propensity for process. As an organisation grows, there is a tendency to want to grip the reins a bit tighter, to make sure people behave in the way we have designed. Typically with hybrid working, there isn’t a one size fits all, so you’ll eventually come unstuck if you try to make too much rigour around it.

TEAMWORK

Teams need to be equipped to design the ways of working for themselves. Hybrid working must be done by design, and not by default. Ambivalence is not an option; you’ve got to be proactive and design it. Pre pandemic we needed leaders to get better about setting the tone, creating the climate, inspiring brilliant mindsets and coaching and supporting and encouraging the behaviours that make a difference. Now we’ve just got to add in that little bit of complexity around the channels that we’re doing it in. So this is about shifting from reactive to proactive.

TOOLS

We’ve come a long way since the days of March 2020 when it took 45 minutes of a 60 minute meeting to get everyone on camera and audible to the rest of the team. It is so important that we embrace the tools and the tech and recognise that technology is an enhancer, not an inhibitor. If you’re using chat function, you get much more data analytics than you ever would in a face-to-face meeting. There are collaboration tools for whiteboarding together so we can replicate the flip chart and the post it notes activities that we all know and love so well.

What we’ve seen emerging from the pandemic are teams who have either fallen foul of victim behaviours or teams who have come out fully accountable. We’re seeing teams emerging, who are grabbing it with both hands and saying right, we’ve got an opportunity here. Let’s get proactive, let’s design it and let’s make it our own, because we are more engaged, and we are more empowered through this very new way of working. If you give people the intent and the tools, largely speaking, people are smart and they find a way. Let them crack on without being overly controlling and trying too much by way of process. Continue down that vein of trust.