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The 2023 Workplace, Part 2: Leadership in a Hybrid World

People showing post-pandemic leadership

(In case you missed it, check out part one of Bold’s analysis of the 2023 workplace, which digs into how the diversity, equity and inclusion movement needs a healthy dose of “belonging”.)

When the COVID-19 pandemic struck, business leaders had to adjust quickly. New policies and procedures had to be devised for employees working from home. Likewise, leadership styles had to be altered to accommodate the related stresses and to maintain productivity. In many instances, they adopted a remote or hybrid leadership model that made them more endearing. Videoconferences from their homes invited employees and staff to see leaders in a new way. But in today’s post-pandemic world, such an approach no longer works, especially with businesses wanting staff back in the office. Reverting back to old leadership styles aren’t well tolerated. And the strategies used during the crisis aren’t likely to result in high productivity.

a post-it outlining post-pandemic leadership evironments
Post-pandemic leadership requires far more agility and flexibility than before.

(What did Bold forecast for the post-pandemic world of business? Check it out here.)

Understanding this, it’s essential that business leaders step back and critically examine how to lead in this dynamic environment. Post-pandemic leadership will need to take a fresh approach if businesses wish to survive and excel. Employee expectations have changed greatly, and effective leaders must roll with these changes. With the hybrid work model still the most popular, a new hybrid leadership model must be pursued. This model requires different perspectives and strategies from leadership styles of old. Fortunately, there are some specific steps leaders can take to move them in the right direction.

“Leaders who want to keep authority will need to be good at having their finger on the pulse. They will need to be great at enabling and anticipating — more a coach at the side rather than a player on the pitch — and fabulous storytellers to create culture and loyalty.” – Eve Poole, Writer and Leadership Expert

A Change in Employee Value Propositions

Notably, one of the things driving a new hybrid leadership model involves changes in work schedules. But this change resulted in a paradigm shift where workers feel less like subordinates and more like team members. Videoconferencing and seeing CEOs and managers informally in their homes helped cultivate this change. Along with this came a shift in employee attitudes. They no longer wished to be seen as working for someone but instead working with them. Given this, post-pandemic leaders must establish a new value proposition for the workplace where staff feel they belong. Whether remote or in-the-office, workers expect to feel a valued part of a team with a decent amount of autonomy. In other words, mandates and hierarchies aren’t likely to be tolerated.

Post-pandemic leaders can better achieve these strategies with a couple of changes in their mindset. Rather than seeing employees as subordinates to be led or managed, they should be seen as valued resources. As a steward of these employee resources, a hybrid leadership model strives to help them reach their full potential. By taking a customer-first perspective and applying to employees as well, such an approach becomes more natural. Identifying their needs that aid them in being productive and satisfied is a first step. And by fulfilling these needs, greater value is created for all staff. This strategy is much more effective than demands and deadlines when it comes to post-pandemic leadership.

a drawing of the hybrid leadership model
It’s easy to supervise employees when you stand over them. What about when half of them are on Zoom, though?

“Colleagues have enjoyed a taste of independence, if not of freedom. We have been effective in isolation. We are not automatically going to accept authority as we may have done before.”-Laura Empson, Professor of the Management of Professional Service Firms, Bayes Business School, London

Focusing on Meaning and Purpose

According to recent employee polls, roughly 70% required purposeful work today. Instead of having productivity targets, they prefer to invest in activities that have a deeper meaning. Shareholder value and stock prices of the company are less likely to motivate employees as a result. Such a focus may also be less likely to maintain their interest in working for a company. Because of this, new hybrid leadership models place greater emphasis on purpose and meaning of projects and goals over revenues and profits. Naturally the latter is important, but a failure to appreciate the need for meaning could undermine both productivity and retention.

To support this style of post-pandemic leadership, a few statistics may help. Did you know that purpose-driven employees are 6.5 times more likely to be resilient? Likewise, purposeful work boost retention 6-fold while increasing employee effort by 1.5 times. Adopting this type of hybrid leadership model requires that leaders assess social values related to tasks and projects. This perspective has always been beneficial from a when pursuing environmental, social and governance factors. But such a focus has become essential for post-pandemic leadership. Without attention to purpose and meaning, companies are much less likely to excel.

“Great work is a team effort. If someone is looking to have authority, they’ve got a problem. You can’t impose it: People choose to follow you — or not. Talented people will vote with their feet and leave.” – Roger Steare, Corporate Executive Advisor

Dealing with Hybrid Versus In-Office Needs

the hybrid leadership model in action
The hybrid leadership model means being agile enough to manage up close and from afar.

One of the most challenging issues for post-pandemic leadership involves dealing with hybrid work preferences. Surveys continue to show that most employees prefer hybrid schedules. Meanwhile, many executives believe creativity, innovation and productivity could be enhanced if in-office hours increased. One thing is clear, however. Mandating employees back to the office or requiring set hours each week at a desk isn’t highly effective. Workers may show up, but their level of engagement and productivity may be lacking. Instead, the best approach is one where workers have greater autonomy in choosing their in-office participation. Guidelines still need to be in place, but flexibility is important as well.

Overall, there are a few key strategies that should be a part of a hybrid leadership model. First, post-pandemic leadership should be less authoritarian in nature and be more of a coach and mentor. Likewise, servant-style leadership may also go a long way. Secondly, post-pandemic leadership should still try to cultivate positive relationships and a positive culture. This can best be achieved through storytelling and through individual collaborations with workers. Finally, rather than mandates, guiderails should be provided within which employees can make their own choices. This allows for autonomy and independence while still providing structure and performance criteria. This is what hybrid leadership models of 2023 look like. And companies that embrace this style of leadership will be better poised for success.


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