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Are leaders equipped to manage a hybrid workforce?





In this brave new hybrid world, do we need to completely rethink our approach to leadership development, and the skills needed to be a great remote leader? 

As I talk to clients about their HR landscape, I’m sensing a feeling of unease about a potential attrition cliff – are employees secretly getting ready to jump when things start to settle back into a steadier rhythm? At the heart of this unease often lurks a nagging question – are our leaders equipped to manage more distributed teams? 

I was asked by a client recently to develop some training on ‘How to be a great remote leader’. As I pulled the content together, I kept coming back to the same point - leadership is fundamentally the same in both traditional and hybrid/remote worlds – the leadership of people. There are certainly some differences, but there are many similarities too.

What skills from traditional, face-to-face leadership are transferable, and what needs to be different?

Leadership for a hybrid workforce:

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Home truths: adapting to the new world of work


Managing self

All effective leadership starts with self-awareness - noticing our impact on others, noticing when we are at our best (and not), and playing to our strengths. If the leader is not in a good place, emotionally or physically, it will influence the team.

Leadership programmes that deepen a leader‘s awareness of their management style, impact, most commonly accessed strengths, and derailing behaviours are just as relevant in the remote world.

It might be that a new lens is all that‘s needed here:

  • How are you showing up when leading remotely? Has your approach changed?
  • How do you (as a leader) feel about leading remotely? Do you love it? Hate it?
  • In the spirit of ‘putting your own gas mask on first‘, what do you need in place to support your own wellbeing, before looking to the needs of your team?


Managing others

Armed with this self-awareness, we then look at how we manage others to get their best performance. There’s an old saying – ‘treat others how we would want to be treated’. While well-intended, it doesn’t quite hit the mark for me. A better approach is to consider how others want to be treated, and adapt our approach to meet them, where possible. This is no different in the remote world. 

One area to focus on is trust. In the remote world, trust is key.

Trust has long been a critical foundation to effective management.  We know that employees who trust each other have higher engagement, productivity and wellbeing.

There is a natural human tendency to want to take more control of situations that feel ambiguous, so don’t be surprised if managers who previously took quite a coaching or affiliative approach to leadership (to coin Goleman’s styles), might revert instead to a more command and control approach.  

Now more than ever, it’s critical to give managers the skills to value, notice and recognise achievements over activity.

It might be time to dust off any profiles undertaken prior to the pandemic, and encourage some self-reflection on what still holds true and what feels a bit different in light of the last year.


Managing outcomes

Whether face to face or remote, it has always been important to set clear expectations - what work is expected from the team, deadlines & deliverables, guidance on how that work is to be done, and why is the work they are doing important?

In a more hybrid/remote environment, that clarity is even more critical. When in the office it’s easy to quickly check in, clarify a question and ensure the team have what they need. In the remote world, almost every interaction is pre-organised. 

Leaders need to consider how accessible they are for the more impromptu conversations – how much did their team rely on this to check on their own progress, and how much did leaders themselves rely on these interactions to feel comfortable the work is on track?

My advice?

Don’t throw out what you’ve been doing with leadership development and feel you need to start from scratch – review what you have and identify what is no longer relevant (stop), what is new that needs a new approach (start) and what remains relevant (continue).  You might be pleasantly surprised how much belongs in the last category.


Gemma Bullivant is an HR consultant and coach