There is no doubt that the way we work has changed dramatically in the last few years. Technological improvements laid the foundations for increased remote working, but the real catalyst was the Covid-19 pandemic. Now, three years on from the UK’s first lockdown, 16% of workers report working from home full-time and 28% report working in a hybrid arrangement i.e. a mix of in-office and remote work.
During this time, there has been much speculation on how working from home affects productivity and employee satisfaction. However, another important question is whether hybrid working has impacted the ability to lead from C-Suite and board level executives.
To answer this question, we will consider the benefits and the challenges that hybrid working presents to leadership efficacy, before discussing strategies that can help C-Suite and board level executives adapt to this new age of working conditions.
The Benefits of Hybrid Working for C-Suite Executives
Possibly the biggest benefit of hybrid working, for workers at any level, is the ability to overcome geographical distance. Remote workers can be anywhere in the country, or the world, and still participate in business activities.
For C-Suite and board level executives, this means the ability to communicate with teams without having to be there in-person. The use of video conference software may have been available in the past, but shunned simply because it was not the norm, and workers expected in-person meetings. Now, digital communication channels are much more common, opening up a world of flexibility for leadership roles.
Executives with a wide-spread team, possibly with multiple branch locations, will quickly feel the benefit. Executives with a single worker hub will still save time from travelling to external meetings with important business partners. This change means that C-Suite executives can dedicate more time to planning and other critical tasks.
The Challenges of Hybrid Working for C-Suite Executives
While arranging meetings over large distances has become easier, one could argue that day-to-day communication has suffered. Working in separate locations means that employees have lost the opportunity for impromptu conversations.
These small interactions may have felt insignificant before, but now teams are learning how important they were for fostering positive connections and creativity, which in turn leads to better collaboration. Moreover, managers might use these bonds to build trust with their employees and to better understand how to motivate their team.
Leaders must fight the feeling that, by losing these ‘watercooler moments’, they are also losing visibility on the team’s progress. It can be tempting to schedule a number of virtual meetings and touchpoints in order to try and replicate the contact available in an office. However, these attempts can come across as inauthentic to employees, or worse as a sign of distrust.
So, how can executives adapt to overcome these challenges?
Strategies for Leading Effectively in a Hybrid Work Environment
Given that remote and hybrid working arrangements seem here to stay, it is perhaps not helpful to ask whether C-Suite and board level executives are able to lead as effectively as before. Rather, we should be asking how executives can adapt to face these new challenges.
1. Lead with confidence and professionalism.
During times of change, stress levels are heightened, and people look to their leaders more for guidance. Instead of reacting negatively to changes and focusing on how things used to be, confident leaders embrace the cultural shift and role model the right behaviours for the new environment.
2. Lead with empathy.
In hybrid working environments, with limited inter-departmental contact, concern for employee welfare can no longer be a role restricted to HR. Demonstrating authentic care and a willingness to listen to employee issues will go a long way to building trust, even without those ‘watercooler moments’ from the past.
3. Lead with clarity and expectation setting.
Communication skills have never been more important. Without the ability to casually check in on employees, leaders must ensure their team leave meetings with precisely the information they need to carry out work independently. By setting clear expectations, leaders can avoid virtual micromanagement, which will only work to damage any trust they have with their team.
4. Lead with employee feedback.
Following on from the previous point, communication is a two-way process. Employees will be able to tell you what works for them and what doesn’t. Leaving space for workers to give their feedback – and actually acting upon that information – means leaders are better equipped to support their team. Providing the right support, in the right way, is another important factor in building trust and bridging the virtual disconnect.
In conclusion, a shift towards hybrid and remote working need not impair C-Suite and board level executives’ ability to lead effectively. By adopting new strategies which prioritise employee engagement and well-being, and remaining flexible and adaptable, executives can lead just as effectively in hybrid working arrangements.
Learn more about the importance of having the right executive leaders in challenging times in our previous blog post.
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If you’re looking to make a leadership change in your company, please contact our Managing Partner, Lee Bhandal, on 07590 529 274 or email@example.com