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Defining leadership in a hybrid world

During Covid, we lost our sense of community. We went home; we worked by ourselves. We were even productive. But honestly, it’s not sustainable. We shouldn’t be isolated in our homes working all day – every single day. And conversely, we should have a choice of whether to come into the workplace five days a week.

Last month, I started a new job as Chief People Officer at Envoy. Like many who have made transitions during this pandemic, I have my reasons for taking this leap. I’m a black woman, a widowed mom of two teenage boys, and an ambitious people leader. Personal career development is important to me as is legacy building. I want to provide for my sons so that they can have choices. And it has to be said: It’s more than okay to be ambitious, dream big, and build a legacy for yourself and those you love. My move to Envoy was the next career building step for me. 

I’m also an all-in, hands-on leader who invests in companies that I not only believe in, but that are serious about changing the way people either live, work, or communicate. I’m passionate about a lot – and how I work and where I work are at the top of that list.  

According to Randstad UK, nearly one quarter of employees are planning a job change within three to six months. People leave jobs for many reasons, so retention can be an uphill battle. This is where work flexibility and employee engagement are so very valuable. The workplace experience will influence a person’s time at a company. And the best experience any company can provide starts by gathering people together – two, three, or four times a week. To collaborate, share, and problem solve in-person. To be present for unplanned, impromptu conversations. Being together in a workplace helps us build closer-knit communities and a sense of belonging. It helps develop leaders at every level. When you’re on-site, you have more face-time and thus, greater influence. 

During Covid, we lost our sense of community when we were cut off from extended family, friends, and work life. We went home; we worked by ourselves. We were even productive. But honestly, it’s not sustainable. We shouldn’t be isolated in our homes working all day – every single day. And conversely, we should have a choice of whether to come into the workplace five days a week. 

I’ve been reconsidering what “all-in” leadership should look like at this moment. Always at the top of my list are attributes like truth teller, culture bearer, uplifter, and mentor. But in light of the pandemic and the increasing trend toward hybrid work, I would also add these characteristics:

  • Connector – I don’t want people to forget how important connections are. The importance of being present and seen. Being an “all-in” leader allows me to do a better job, do greater things, and take leaders from good to great. But I can’t do any of this without making connections. And let’s be honest, those connections are by far easier to make spending time in-person. 
  • Defender of work-life blend – ‘Work-life balance’ assumes everything should be equal. It never is. When I was at Facebook, there were days I had a deadline, which meant I might not make dinner with my boys. But I also never missed their soccer games at 3 in the afternoon. Work-life blend is about the in-the-moment trade offs and choices we all have to make everyday – does work come first in this moment or is it family? My job is to help people recognise these choices, the potential trade-offs, and the flexibility they have to make them.  
  • Champion of hybrid work – Do you know why we went from individually assigned offices to cubicles to open space plans? It’s the human connection – we need it. It’s been proven we do better without barriers. When we see each other face-to-face. Coming into the workplace some of the time is better than not at all. Companies that have figured this out and make it a priority will also do well. 

There is no precise playbook for managing what’s to come. We’ll have to write it as we live it.  In 2022, my focus will be on helping those around me thrive, grow, and do their very best work. And part of my challenge will be to strengthen our community and that sense of belonging. I believe hybrid work will help us get there.

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