Recently, I interviewed Joseph, a very well-regarded senior HR leader in the public service. During our LYLTalk podcast prep, I asked him what he thought about the move to a hybrid model as we move toward establishing post-pandemic workplaces. Joseph was quick to exclaim,
"There's Nothing New!"
Joseph is right, there is nothing new. In fact, back when I worked as a senior management consultant at PwC in the mid-1990's, we had already moved to a distributive workplace model. We were each given a laptop and assigned a shelf to use as a desk for the days we came into the office. We were instructed to work at the client site (preferred) or work from home (permitted), whenever possible. We would meet in person at the Ottawa office for team building, networking, brainstorming sessions, and whenever we felt we wanted to reconnect with colleagues in person (this was way before video conferencing was even a thing).
Other examples of hybrid models that have been in existence for a long time include sales forces who spend their days on the road, flight crews who spend their days in the air, tradespeople on the construction job sites, and research teams collecting data during the course of field studies. In addition, many multinational corporations have been running virtual international teams for decades.
None of these scenarios involve leaders co-located with their entire staff complement under one roof, day in, day out. Even before the technology supported it, there were teams where members could touch base with their managers by phone or in person, and then out to perform their duties they went.
So, then, what is all the fuss about?
What is new, is the sheer magnitude of the move to hybrid workplaces in a post-pandemic world. Rather than just a few employers adopting this approach as part of their preferred business model, it is now being instituted across the board, on a much larger scale. We find ourselves in an unprecedented time and there is no going back. We are breaking new ground in a world and global market that is chock-full of uncertainty. This has left many leaders across industries scratching their heads as they try to figure out what is the right fit model for their businesses to thrive in a post-pandemic world.
Traditional organizations that resisted progressive programs like telework, work-from-home, flexible work schedules, etc. for decades, are finding it particularly challenging. Even organizations that had instituted telework programs to look good on paper had a very low uptake, likely due to the lack of management support and workers' concerns that teleworking would be a career limiting move. This might be part of the reason why there is such a stark contrast pre-pandemic (when telework was considered nice-to-have) and post-pandemic (when telework was mandated to stem the spread of the Coronavirus). In a study published by the Pew Research Centre, only 20% of workers who reported that their jobs could be carried out from home, teleworked most or all of the time, compared to 71% that are now teleworking during the pandemic. (1)
At the heart of the matter
In addition to the resistance that typically accompanies corporate transformation, there are key issues that feed the resistance and are preventing certain leaders from fully embracing hybrid workplaces. Two that I'd like to delve deeper into include:
Managers at all levels are promoted to people leadership roles because they are good at their craft. Typically, promotions are not accompanied by proper leadership development and mentorship. Left to figure it out on their own, too often, newly promoted managers and executives become frustrated and resort to the 'command and control' tactics to get people to fall into step. In other words, they use approaches that they learned in their youth from parents and schoolteachers who 'told' them what to do. These are non-effective behaviours that lead to disengaged workers and toxic workplaces.
2. Fear and Lack of Trust
Due to an intense fear of looking bad with senior management and failing to meet results, plus the fear of talking with their employees that affects 70% of managers (2), many worry about giving more freedom and authority to employees so that they could complete work more independently. They don't know how to delegate and feel the need to be involved in every aspect of the work. They may also lack the human skills and know-how necessary to build trust and properly train employees, so that they can trust that work will get done without their scrutiny. The struggle is real, and many managers are at a loss on what to do about it-- even while their employees also suffer the consequences or resign from the organization.
Many of my coaching clients start off that way. "I am burnt-out and want to delegate but I don't know how." Moving to a hybrid workplace where a portion of your employees work virtually, and others may come in only on certain days of the week, raises the bar on the ability to empower, equip, and to delegate. It requires a new level of skill, and trust in oneself and in others.
Listen-in to a LYLTalk and be inspired by Joseph, a senior HR leader in the public sector, who has figured it out
During our LYLTalk, Joseph and I discussed different ways to address some of what is holding leaders back. We agreed that at the heart of it is the need to focus on developing advanced human skills. These boost the ability of managers to connect with employees and all other colleagues, whether it be in person or through the screen, and to build solid, inclusive, and respectful relationships.
Listen-in on your favourite platform to LYLTalks Podcast Episode S3:E2: "There's Nothing New!" Leadership & The Hybrid Workplace, with Joseph, Senior HR Leader in Public Sector
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1. Parker, K., Horowitz, J. M., & Minkin, R. (2021, May 25). How coronavirus has changed the way Americans work. Pew Research Center's Social & Demographic Trends Project. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://www.pewresearch.org/social-trends/2020/12/09/how-the-coronavirus-outbreak-has-and-hasnt-changed-the-way-americans-work/.
2. Purtill, C. (n.d.). Almost 70% of US managers are scared to talk to their employees. Quartz. Retrieved November 29, 2021, from https://qz.com/work/1171890/almost-70-of-us-managers-are-scared-to-talk-to-their-employees/.