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Finding the right balance in the hybrid world of work

Most job ads now include the ‘hybrid working available’ enticement to ensure they’re attracting all the right candidates, whatever their working preference. Research backs that up. But, as many people have experienced, remote/hybrid working isn’t without its challenges. Here are some top leadership tips for achieving the right balance and building new-world team cultures at work.

We have all experienced unprecedented levels of change over the past three years. Finally, things have settled, but the global pandemic has cast a long shadow. Pre-pandemic, most people were office based. Research by Warwick University found that remote work increased by 300 per cent because of the pandemic. Elsewhere, research by Cardiff University found that nine out of 10 employees who worked at home during the pandemic wanted that to continue. Most job ads now include the ‘hybrid working available’ enticement to ensure they’re attracting all the right candidates, whatever their working preference.

But, as many people have experienced, remote/hybrid teams are not without their challenges. Leaders aren’t always sufficiently well equipped to manage the myriad challenges of successfully leading a remote/hybrid team. Employees who have only ever experienced remote working, especially early career professionals and recent graduates, are missing out on numerous workplace benefits. Organisations are struggling to balance the homework/office-based dichotomy, resulting in low levels of trust and poor workplace culture. And now, shareholders are demanding a return to pre-pandemic levels of profitability.

All too often, the impact is leaders in crisis, high employee turnover, and low productivity. With this in mind, I have outlined some top leadership tips that could help manages lead more effectively, improve relationships at all levels across an organisation, and achieve identified business outcomes.

Start with awareness
Awareness of self helps you understand your strengths and weaknesses; where and how you can add most value; how to challenge appropriately when working arrangements and business objectives aren’t aligned; and how to turn your ideas into new realities. Awareness of others – their strengths and weaknesses, likes and dislikes – helps you become more understanding and accepting of others’ needs, able to adapt and connect, and collaborate more effectively to achieve better business outcomes, however and wherever they are working from.

Greater awareness among your leadership community will result in stronger more authentic relationships at all levels across an organisation, better equipping everyone to manage the physical distance that comes with hybrid team cultures.

Develop emotional intelligence
Leaders often feel the need to take on everything themselves and work extended hours, but this can lead to burnout and increased stress levels. Developing emotional intelligence can help leaders better understand and manage their own emotional approaches to important conversations, while supporting their team members. It can also help improve decision-making, like empowering and trusting colleagues to take on certain tasks.

This can help leaders manage their workload while still performing at their best and create a more collaborative and supportive work environment. And, by sharing tasks and exhibiting positive behaviours to support success, leaders are setting a powerful example for others.

Focus on self-care
In a remote/hybrid world, it is not uncommon for leaders to feel they have to ‘prove their worth’ and be as visible as possible. Often, this results in taking on extra work and working longer, which can increase stress levels and feelings of overwork. Focusing on self-care is essential for good health and wellbeing and ensuring optimal workplace performance. This could be anything from understanding your own trigger points and responses to stress, to lunchbreaks spent outdoors. It could also involve actively seeking out initiatives – either individually or as a team – that support physical and/mental health, fitness, and wellbeing.

Perhaps most importantly, however, self-care includes setting and maintaining positive boundaries – like switching off the computer at the end of each day to spend time with loved ones, or doing what you love.

Encourage authenticity
Being able to speak up without the risk of humiliation or retribution is a critical driver for healthy group dynamics and being able to make quality decisions as a manager. As leaders, encourage managers to be advocates of consistent psychological safety for everyone and genuinely live and breathe it every day.

As leaders, encourage more openness and candour from your people, reward reliability and positively acknowledge authenticity. Create space for your team to talk regularly and openly about how they are feeling. Be an active listener and ensure they feel heard. Be a servant leader and do your best to ensure their concerns are addressed.

Find the language to acknowledge and share your concerns, what you need support with, and what that looks like so the team can truly understand and get behind you. This will create a climate of mutual respect, understanding, and belonging within your teams. And celebrate those successes!

Be agile
There are many challenges facing business leaders in today’s VUCA world of work. As a leader, be agile and give people – and yourself – the space and time to the right balance. And remember that the first approach may not be the final one you settle on. Workloads and family circumstances can vary throughout the year and building in flexibility will help people identify what is best for them.

Don’t forget to make time for fun
Pre-pandemic, those watercooler moments and unexpected human interactions were often the best part of the day. And while you cannot always replicate that in a hybrid team, you can still make time for fun. One of the best ways to ensure this is to come together regularly as a team – whether that’s for ideation purposes, collaborative working, or for team building. Regular connection lets your people get to know each other, share different perspectives and experiences, and build strong relationships. Give them genuine value and reason, beyond their everyday work, for travelling to the monthly meeting or the quarterly team get-together.

It is also a key enabler of culture. If the people in your team come together regularly, enjoy interacting and partnering together, feel safe to speak up and have challenging or ‘needed’ conversations, then chances are you’ll have a solid workplace culture – and hold onto your talent for longer.

Remote/hybrid working is not without its challenges but have no doubt, it is here to stay. Follow these leadership tips to ensure the right balance and that you and your teams can build new-world team cultures and thrive in the hybrid world of work.

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