4 Critical Ways Leadership Can Support a Hybrid Workforce

3 min read

Mark Crowley | August 23, 2022

Like an asteroid randomly falling from the sky and crashing onto the earth, the COVID pandemic arrived without warning and created an immediate and massive disruption in our lives.

Millions of people were urgently deployed to their homes to work – an experience few of us imagined would last more than a few weeks, let alone two full years.

And with the aid of video calls and other connecting technologies, we collectively discovered that most employees weren’t any less productive working in their living rooms than they’d historically been in their workplaces.

What’s remarkable about the experience so many of us have had since March 2020 is that employers and employees had very different interpretations of how the pandemic would go on to shape the future of work.

Many leaders and companies envisioned a day when everything would go back to “normal,” and workers would compliantly return to their offices five days a week just as they always had. But after tasting life without a time-wasting, two-way commute every day, workers couldn’t imagine returning to the old ways of working – and found every possible way to say so.

In response, many organizations like Google and Apple chose to bend a little by launching “hybrid” schedules where employees could work from home a few days a week. Others, including JP Morgan Chase, tested employee resolve by insisting workers return to the office full-time. And they quickly relaxed their stance once employees started leaving, or at least threatening to do so.

The leadership takeaway from this summary of the past two years is that once workers experienced greater freedom and control over their lives, they naturally resisted giving it up. And unlike any other time in our lives, workers not only have more employment choices than ever, but millions of people quitting their jobs every month confirm that many are willing to find a new employer when theirs is unwilling to support their needs.

Hybrid is the New Normal

Gallup’s CEO, Jim Clifton, recently said that his organization’s research shows most workers want to come into the office some days to connect and socialize with their colleagues and make critical decisions together. But they want their employers to realize that they have been profoundly changed over the past two years and need a manager who will work with them individually to make their hybrid work schedule align with their personal lives.

Flexibility Is Critical

After talking to several thousand of his own organization’s employees, PwC’s U.S. Chair Tim Ryan said it this way:

“We don’t believe the war for talent is going to decrease. We think we will be in a period for the next 10 years of labor shortage. And, what came through loud and clear is that people want choice in every word. Hybrid is just the tip of the iceberg. The best talent wants choice.

For every manager wondering how best to maneuver their leadership in the post-COVID work era, I offer these four pieces of advice.

Four Ways to Better Support Hybrid Workers

1. Don’t fight change.

If you close your eyes and imagine how all of us will be working five or 10 years from now, you’re unlikely to envision people being in the office more than they are today. As technology improves, it’s logical to assume even more jobs will be accomplished remotely, not fewer. And so, by fully accepting that remote working is indeed the future, you’ll be able to devote greater attention to growing the managerial skills you’ll need to effectively lead a team you don’t get to see together most days.

2. Be very intentional in scheduling and what gets done in the office.

Workers’ biggest complaint about being in the office today is that the work they end up doing matches what they just as quickly could be doing at home. Intentional managers see the significant flaw (often creating resentment) and use time differently. They schedule team meetings and dole out assignments to people in advance, so they’re prepared to present to the team. They encourage employees to socialize and connect, knowing that when people trust one another, they’ll collaborate better when working remotely. Being consistent on what days you want people in the office is also essential to plan– including meetings they want to set up and daycare they need to schedule for their children.

3. Know that every employee is different, listen to them personally, and seek to support them individually.

People want and need to know that their manager cares about them as a person. And one of the best ways you can demonstrate that you care is to listen to how returning to work has affected their lives. Your goal isn’t just to understand the impacts but to make unique accommodations where possible. Giving someone permission to come in a few minutes late so they can take their child to school – or get on the road early to beat traffic on the way home – prove to be minimal concessions that carry huge paybacks.

4. Manage everyone with the same concern.

A recent survey shows that most people (60 percent or more) have jobs that demand they come to a workplace every day. And while people whose jobs can be performed remotely are getting most organizations’ greatest attention right now, wise managers are intensely focused on supporting the people who must commute every day, put their kids in daycare, and never get a chance to work from home. Finding ways to make their work lives more accessible and more fulfilling mustn’t get lost in this moment. Your job as a manager is to be a supportive advocate for every person you lead, no matter where they perform it. “Love your people” is my most essential leadership advice.

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Mark CrowleyLeadership and Sales Management Consultant and Professional Speaker

Mark Crowley has spent 25 years guiding individuals and teams to achieve record-breaking sales and profitability performance, focusing on leadership as the most authentic driver of human engagement— emotional connection. In 2018, he launched the “Lead From The Heart” podcast, which showcases world-class authors, innovators, CEOs, and other top thinkers whose work inherently adds unique support, validation & dimension to his leadership philosophy. He’s a Marshall Goldsmith “100 Coaches” leadership community member.

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