How we work and live has changed in unprecedented ways over the last few years. We have experienced both the benefits and the challenges of remote, hybrid, and return-to-office work models, and most have strong opinions and preferences on the subject.
The Power of Hybrid Work
Hybrid work is not just a temporary trend but a lasting transformation. According to a recent report from Accenture, 83% of the workers surveyed prefer a hybrid model, where they can work remotely 25% to 75% of the time because it boosts productivity and engagement while reducing costs. The Engaged 2023 Culture Report echoed this and showed that 82% of managers believe their company will stick to a hybrid work model in the future.
Although popular, the hybrid work model does not come without its challenges. Without a strategic plan, leaders can struggle to create and maintain a strong culture, foster collaboration and effective communication between people and departments, and create strong employee engagement.
As people managers, you may wonder how to lead your teams in this new reality effectively.
Focus on Culture
Culture is the glue of any organization, binding individuals with a shared mission and core values and shaping how people work and interact with each other. A strong culture can inspire loyalty, motivation, and performance among employees and attract and retain customers.
However, culture can also be fragile and easily disrupted by environmental changes. In a hybrid work model, where employees are not physically together in an office daily, leaders risk losing the sense of connection and alignment. Without frequent face-to-face interactions, employees may feel isolated, disengaged, or misunderstood.
To prevent this from happening, leaders need to be intentional and proactive about building and sustaining a strong culture. Here are some strategies you can use:
- Define and communicate your vision, mission, and values clearly and consistently so people feel as though they are a part of something bigger than themselves. Make sure everyone understands the organization’s reason for being and feels a personal sense of purpose in the work they do. Use storytelling, company rituals, and recognition to reinforce your culture and celebrate achievements.
- Clearly define your expectations for the future. Vague visions are dangerous these days; it is increasingly important that you are crystal clear about your expectations for the future. Schedule time to share your vision vision with your employees and discuss where you expect to be in the next 1, 3, or 5 years. Make sure you paint the picture in a way that allows them to envision their role in that future.
- Recognize that each person you manage is wired differently. This means they will have different preferences for work models and coaching needs. Understand how each of your people works best and make sure you are clear on the kind of support they need from you. For example, although most one-on-one meetings happen weekly, you may need to adjust that schedule depending on the person you are coaching. Some people will thrive with shorter meetings that are more frequent. Others could use a longer meeting less often.
- Don’t bring employees into the office to do the same thing they could be doing from a remote location just as effectively. They will feel as though their time is being wasted. Instead, use your in-office time for conversations and activities that could not be done as well virtually. Invite a client to come speak, run an active brainstorming session, provide top-notch training, group people up to collaborate on something of value, do some team building, and celebrate success.
- Involve your employees in shaping your culture. Ask for their feedback, ideas, and opinions on how to improve your culture and work practices. Empower them to take ownership of their work and make decisions that align with your values. Encourage them to share their experiences, challenges, and successes with their colleagues.
- Create opportunities for social interaction and bonding. Organize regular virtual or in-person events where your team can get to know each other better and do some team building. You can also use these events to recognize and appreciate your employees for their contributions.
- Foster a culture of learning and development. Provide your employees with the resources, tools, and support they need to grow their skills and careers. Offer them coaching, mentoring, feedback, training, or cross-functional projects. Encourage them to learn from each other and share their knowledge and best practices.
- Also, when recruiting, make sure to share the benefits of your current model and focus heavily on the quality of your culture. People want to do meaningful work in an engaging environment. Show job candidates what that looks like using video and employee comments.
Communication is Key
You probably noticed how important strong communication is in building a culture of engagement. Communication is the lifeblood of any organization, and it is essential for sharing information, solving problems, coordinating tasks, building relationships, and influencing others. In a hybrid work model, where communication channels are more diverse and complex, leaders need to be more mindful and intentional about how they communicate with their team.
Here are some tips on how to communicate effectively in a hybrid work environment:
Choose the right medium for the right message
Depending on the purpose, urgency, and complexity of your communication, you may need to use different mediums, such as email, phone, video call, chat, or face-to-face meetings. For example, email is good for sharing information or updates, phone or video call is better for discussing issues or giving feedback, and a face-to-face meeting is ideal for brainstorming or building rapport.
Adapt your communication style to your audience
Different people may have different preferences and needs for communication, depending on their personality, culture, or situation. For example, some may prefer more frequent or detailed communication, while others may value more autonomy or brevity. As a leader, you need to understand and respect these differences and tailor your communication accordingly.
Be clear and concise
In a hybrid work environment, where there may be more distractions or misunderstandings, it is important to communicate your message clearly and concisely. Avoid jargon, ambiguity, or unnecessary details that may confuse or bore your audience. Use simple and direct language that conveys your main point and call to action.
Listen actively and empathetically
Communication is not just about talking but also about listening. As a leader, you must listen to your team members attentively and empathetically, showing that you care about their opinions, feelings, and concerns. Ask open-ended questions, paraphrase what they say, and give feedback to ensure understanding and alignment.
Be transparent and authentic
In a hybrid work environment, where trust and credibility may be harder to establish and maintain, it is vital to be transparent and authentic in your communication. Share relevant information openly and honestly, explain the rationale behind your decisions or actions, and admit your mistakes or limitations. Be yourself and show your personality and humor when appropriate.
Successful leadership requires intentional efforts in the dynamic world of hybrid work, where we're toggling between virtual and real-life interactions. Leaders should focus not on keeping up but on constructing a culture where their people want to show up, roll up their sleeves, and bring their very best to their work – regardless of where they physically sit.