Two and a half years on from the start of the Covid-19 pandemic, it’s clear there’s been a profound, permanent change in how people want to work. This period has proved that companies can adopt hybrid working policies without affecting their productivity - and this model is now the preferred option for millions of people and businesses around the world.
As Chief Commercial Officer at IWG, I see the difference that hybrid working makes to companies and their employees and, as a mother, I experience these same benefits every day.
As head of a global sales team across 120 markets, I’ve learned that leadership in a hybrid world is different to traditional people management. Hybrid leadership is a skill to be honed - and one that can boost employees’ job performance, as well as their happiness at home.
Consider human relations, not ‘human resources’
People brought more of themselves to work than ever during the pandemic. Living through national lockdowns and long periods of forced remote working inspired a new level of honesty about our physical, mental and emotional health, and this kind of authenticity is powerful. It allows for the building of strong, nurturing relationships between leaders and their teams.
Leadership is about looking for what I can bring out in someone and becoming a mother undoubtedly helped shape my perspective.
I realised that when a child is learning to read, you don’t worry about what they can do today - you think forward to what they’ll be able to do tomorrow, next week, next year, if you support them now.
Our teams are based in a huge variety of locations, so I’m acutely aware of how different cultures and norms affect attitudes to work. As a leader, I’ve had to cultivate an appreciation for the different cultures of the individuals I’m working with that extends beyond recognising an array of different time zones. It’s the difference between simply translating our training materials and policies into lots of different languages and shifting them as necessary to suit the markets we’re working in. This is the kind of situational, people-centred leadership that’s needed in a hybrid world.
A leadership style that’s fundamentally open, that’s built around kindness, honesty and encouragement, is also a shield against the phenomenon of ‘quiet quitting’ that’s been hitting headlines lately. By valuing people’s contributions and investing in them, you keep them motivated and engaged. Businesses keen to build strong, committed teams need to think about their people not as ‘resources’, but as individuals they have to get to know, value and appreciate.
Encourage a healthy work-life balance
There’s been a fundamental shift in attitudes to work-life balance in the wake of Covid-19. People’s focus on well-being has tightened, and they want to fit work around life - not the other way around.
Business leaders who don’t focus on the well-being of their employees do so at their peril. They should realise it really is a case of enlightened self-interest. A better work-life balance makes for happier, more engaged and productive employees who will stay with a company for longer and perform at much higher levels.
IWG’s latest research shows that 88% of employees regard hybrid working as a key benefit they’d expect in a new job role, while more than 50% wouldn’t even consider applying for a position that didn’t offer it.
Building a hybrid working policy that enables people to draw clear lines between their home and professional lives is now vital. Combining opportunities for home working with access to local, flexible workspace is key, as is a continued emphasis on regular ‘face time’ at the company HQ.
In my own life, everything from co-parenting my daughter to eating well and exercising regularly is made easier by the hybrid model. It also allows me to do the job I love at a level of seniority that - without the flexibility hybrid offers - would be impossible.
Our team is happier and healthier working in the hybrid model, and so are those in many other companies. Research from Accenture shows 63% of high growth firms have embraced ‘productivity anywhere’ models of working, underlining the relationship between employees’ wellbeing and commercial success.
Build trust, but keep employees accountable
Hybrid working requires a huge amount of trust. There’s arguably a re-balancing of responsibility, which means individuals are more accountable for their job performance than they might have been five or ten years ago.
Great leadership in this new world of work is about loosening the reins while still finding ways to make sure targets are met and the business performs.
In my team, this has meant establishing clear KPIs and finding new ways to stay connected. When it comes to training and coaching sessions, we now operate a ‘little and often’ approach, as opposed to holding long workshops a couple of times per quarter.
Yet trust cuts both ways. To be a great hybrid leader, you have to inspire trust as well as offer it. I’m very committed to what I call ‘active listening’: giving people my undivided attention when they need it, looking for feedback from all levels of the business and always following up on those ‘grass-roots’ insights, wherever and whoever they come from.
Foster a culture of learning
There are hundreds of flavours of hybrid working - and it takes time, as well as learning from mistakes, to define the model that works best for you and your team. IWG has been a hybrid organisation for decades, but we’re still adapting and evolving.
One major adjustment we’ve made is in how we train our staff. We’ve created a new induction programme that combines the best of face-to-face and virtual interactions. Likewise, the six-step sales process we used for years has been overhauled so that it’s now a three-step process - a change that was shaped by input from employees around the world.
Keep bringing people together
While remote working has many benefits and disparate teams can do brilliant work, it’s vital to keep bringing people together. Regular, quality interactions are invigorating for teams: they fire creativity, strengthen bonds and inspire people to learn from one another.
With so many people working in so many markets, it isn’t always possible for me to bring my teams together physically - but when people are able to spend time face-to-face, we make sure those moments really count.
We hold curated meetings and workshops, get together in local flexspaces and hold regional and global sales conferences.
In a hybrid world, offering clear incentives for great work is another key way to maintain your teams’ momentum. I make sure that monthly and annual awards, as well as prizes such as dinners out and team-building days, celebrate success. We also offer what we call ‘WOW!’ prizes for truly outstanding work, such as trips to Château de Berne in France.
Lead by example
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, it’s become clear to me over the past five years that leaders have to be at the centre of whatever cultural shift their business is trying to achieve.
You can’t expect middle managers and the people who report to them to master driving performance in a hybrid environment if you, as a senior leader, are not lighting the way.
Becoming a great hybrid leader isn’t an optional extra for those at the top of business – increasingly, it’s now an essential skill that must be mastered if you want to achieve success. More than this, it's an incredible opportunity to rehumanise the workplace, moving away from presenteeism and micro-management into a modern era where employees’ productivity, professional development and personal happiness are paramount.