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Dear leaders – now what? How to lead and set the course in a hybrid working environment

Author - Per Nordahl. Senior Leadership Consultant

As many companies re-open their offices, most of us will have to develop hybrid approaches to work which enable employees to get work done in a meaningful and efficient way both from home and at the office. This will mean mapping out a great deal with regard to business assets, logistics, guidelines - and in particular management.


The last year has taught us that a hybrid work set-up requires a differentiated approach to management. In short, we need to be able to adapt our management to the different contexts in which work gets done. When taking a hybrid approach, the social functions of the physical office become extremely important, while operations and processes take priority when working from home. As a manager, you need to adapt to the two different contexts and facilitate both types of work for your employees. What does that mean in real terms though?


At the office: Create culture and focus on relationships, planning and giving your employees ‘permission’
Time at the office is best spent focusing on collaborative tasks that are done best in person, providing the opportunity to harness people’s energy and what is ‘present in the room’, e.g. brainstorming and prototyping. It is also important to focus on activities and events that bring people together informally and socially, whether it is training together, celebrations or building competence.

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You should also encourage relationship-building by ensuring that people meet others they would not normally meet, and, most importantly, new employees who may not have met many of their new colleagues in person yet. Create settings where they have opportunities to meet up and get to know one another and explore common interests.

Finally, avoid scheduling back-to-back meetings when people are at the office. Most employees are already drowning in meetings at the home office. Instead, focus on making it easier for informal meetings to take place and have the contact points that people are really craving right now. If necessary, consider blocking time in everyone's calendars to facilitate this. Encourage people to get away from their desks and mingle for some of the day.

The best way to express permission for others to be sociable is by being sociable yourself. Do not hide behind a closed door in an office – make yourself accessible to people. Feel free to sit in communal areas or among others if you have free seating. Participate in social events and activities and start conversations on topics that are not work-related. It is you who sets the standard.

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At home: Focus on making it possible for people to get things done and help to set boundaries between work and personal time and priorities
Make sure everyone has access to the tools and resources they need to be productive when working remotely. This is something most organizations have done well over the last year, but maybe now it's time for a little catch-up to see what works and what, if any, adjustments might be helpful? Research a bit or ask for input on any experiences people have had with the many new communication and collaboration platforms that facilitate asynchronous work among people in different time zones, or that follow different work schedules, or for some other reason work asynchronously with the rest of the team.

You should also set standards for live and one-to-one interactions so that they are relevant, action-orientated and effective, i.e. so your employees don´t drown in meetings without obvious outcomes. This will also help to prevent motivation dropping, while also preventing migraines, headaches etc.

Another key thing is to help your employees sustain their level of commitment. People may have a higher threshold for informing you when they are working from home and may ’ghost’ you and go under the radar if you do not follow them up on a regular basis. Here it is also important to be aware of how self-motivated each employee is.

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It is good to bear in mind that many subtleties are lost through a screen, so focus on developing, and using, active listening skills and ask for input, ask questions and ask for feedback. Your goal should be to be visible and to make employees feel seen and appreciated. Focus on quality over quantity, e.g., small ‘thank-yous’ such as a favorite chocolate or something similar that is unique to the individual, or other personal preferences each individual has, to let them know that you see them as whole beings.

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The last piece of advice when leading the ‘at home’ part of a hybrid set-up is to manage your own visibility by trying to be available when people need help, and to support them with the need in question. It is also important to be honest and transparent about this being new territory that you must explore and figure out together. This will also support ownership of the solutions you end up choosing.

To sum up
Hybrid work comes with challenges and opportunities, and each organization will have to find their own balance between working on-site and working from home. As a manager, you have a unique opportunity to help yourself and your employees to develop a more efficient and rewarding workday. Although we probably did not want this situation in the first place, it is our job as managers to solve this challenge and see the opportunities arising from it – that is when we can show true leadership.

Published June 2021 in Ledernytt. 

Per Nordahl. Senior Leadership Consultant
Author

Per Nordahl. Senior Leadership Consultant

Per works as Senior Leadership Consultant in Leadership & Team Development. He focuses on executive coaching and organizational culture and has solid experience in working with both. At Ennova Per is involved in international projects focusing on leadership and organizational culture in unpredictable environments and transformational change.