Leading Effectively in the Hybrid Work Environment

by Ritu Bhasin

The hybrid workplace will be experienced differently by each team member and this new way of working may not be thrilling for everyone.

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As organizations increasingly realize that hybrid work is here to stay, at minimum for a very long time or maybe forever, many leaders are feeling unsettled. This isn’t surprising given that the dynamic nature of hybrid work gives rise to a range of leadership challenges. But it also opens the door to a number of prospects and opportunities for change within workplace cultures.

We know from extensive research that people want to work virtually for at least a few days a week rather than being fully in-person in the office. From introverts who dread having to “be on” all day, to women who feel the pressure of managing child care, to People of Color who anticipate experiencing heightened racial micro-inequities, many of the reasons for why people want the flexibility of hybrid work connect to the need for authenticity,  belonging, and inclusion at work. And, given that burnout and “The Great Resignation” are huge forces in the workplace at this difficult time, leaders must tune into their team members’ needs in order to retain top talent.

Having written a book on the importance of living, working, and leading authentically, I can tell you that one of the huge gains from the shift to working virtually over the pandemic is that it’s opened the door to being more authentic and transparent at work. Virtual work has helped to alleviate the pressure so many people feel to mask aspects of who they really are and perform a curated image at work instead. We’ve even seen renowned leaders from across sectors open up publicly about their life and work challenges, including their journeys with diminished mental health. In a nutshell, it’s become more comfortable to talk about our difficulties and challenges while at work.

And this is exactly why leaders must pause to reflect on how to adjust their leadership approach in this new environment, so that they’re cultivating a safe, inclusive, and supportive environment for all team members. In particular, here are three things leaders can be doing to ensure that their hybrid work environments are setting everyone up for success regardless of where they’re working:

Focus on Authentic Leadership

Authenticity is the key building block for creating a hybrid workplace where everyone feels that they can bring their whole self to work and, in particular, what makes them different, whether they’re working virtually or in-person. In difficult moments especially, leaders who are authentic in how they behave – who share the difficulties they too may be facing with the transition to hybrid work – are more likely to create inclusive, empowered, and innovative teams. To work and lead more authentically, leaders will want to courageously share their own challenges both personally and professionally with their team members – whether it’s about experiencing mental health challenges, worrying about the possible global recession, or struggling with parenting.

Cultivate Psychological Safety

Psychological safety refers to an individual’s ability to speak up in the workplace about matters of personal and professional importance without fear of reprisal. It’s about trusting your leaders, knowing that opportunities and rewards are being given out transparently, and being accepted despite having dissenting views or personal challenges. Creating a culture of psychological safety also helps to foster trust, collaboration, feelings of belonging, and team connection, all of which are critical for attracting and retaining top talent in a hybrid environment. To make this happen, leaders will want to focus on: asking open-ended questions to collect meaningful information from individual team members, practicing active listening, using affirming non-verbal cues during interactions, and addressing biased and disrespectful workplace behavior.

Double Down on Your Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Efforts

The sudden shift to virtual work in early 2020 led to a range of unforeseen DEI challenges that many leaders weren’t prepared for. This may also occur in the hybrid world if leaders don’t apply a DEI lens to adjust how they’re managing and leading in this new environment. In order to ensure that every individual on a team feels seen, valued, and respected, organizations will want to: offer targeted training on how to work inclusively in the hybrid work environment; develop formal systems to manage the quality of mentorship and work assignments, especially for those who mostly work virtually; ensure that information and resources are broadly distributed and, again, for those who are mostly virtual; and create channels for profile development and relationship-building, particularly for professionals from equity-seeking communities.

All of these efforts will help to create successful hybrid work environments. It’s important that leaders understand that the hybrid workplace will be experienced differently by each team member and this new way of working may not be thrilling for everyone. And this is why, by leading with authenticity, transparency, psychological safety, and empathy, leaders can ensure that each of their team members feels supported throughout this demanding moment.

Ritu Bhasin is an authenticity advocate, inclusion expert, and social justice activist.