Welcome to a new era of leadership, where the boundaries of the traditional office have been transcended, and remote and hybrid work environments have become the norm. As a business leader, you understand that the landscape has shifted, and your role must adapt to successfully navigate these uncharted waters. Hybrid leadership styles brings forth unique challenges and opportunities that require a fresh perspective and innovative approaches.
In this compelling blog, we explore the transformative changes to leadership styles that leaders must embrace in remote and hybrid environments. We uncover the impact of this paradigm shift on communication, collaboration, and employee well-being, backed by empirical evidence and real-world insights. Then, we will provide you with actionable strategies to mitigate the challenges and cultivate a thriving, engaged workforce that transcends physical limitations.
Communication and Connection
When adopting hybrid leadership styles, communication is arguably the most significant dynamics change. In a traditional office setting, face-to-face interactions allow for nuanced communication and quick feedback. However, remote work requires leaders to rely more on digital communication channels, which can present challenges in maintaining effective communication and connection. According to a study published in the Journal of Business & Psychology, effective communication plays a critical role in remote team performance. The study found that teams with high-quality communication experienced higher levels of trust, cohesion, and satisfaction. On the other hand, poor communication led to decreased performance and satisfaction among team members.
Now the bi-directional nature of the relationship between communication and performance has been established, understanding why this has an impact is important. A survey conducted by YouGov in the UK revealed that 52% of remote workers reported feeling lonely due to a lack of communication and social interaction. This highlights the importance of maintaining regular communication channels to combat feelings of isolation and enhance employee well-being in remote work environments. Loneliness can increase the likelihood of mental and physical health issues as well as general disengagement from the role – all of which adversely impact productivity and overall firm performance. Moreover, there is a higher chance of miscommunications due to non-verbal cues being limited by digital communication.
Trust and Autonomy
Trust and autonomy are both critical aspects of a functional and effective hybrid team and therefore also an essential element of hybrid leadership styles. This style requires leaders to establish trust and promote autonomy as it’s impossible to physically oversee the work team members are doing. Without constant physical oversight, leaders must trust their team members to work independently and deliver results. This shift calls for a focus on outcome-based management and empowering employees. A study within the Journal of Vocational Behavior found that remote employees who perceived higher levels of trust from their supervisors reported increased job satisfaction and engagement. Trust is crucial for fostering a positive work environment and promoting employee autonomy. Building upon this, a research study from the University of Exeter Business School found that higher levels of trust in their supervisors experienced lower levels of stress. The impact of trust is even more widespread than that. ILM revealed that employees who felt trusted and empowered by remote leaders were more likely to:
- Show initiative,
- Be innovative,
- Contribute positively to the organisation.
Wellbeing and Work-Life Balance
Well-being and work-life balance can both be improved and decreased by remote/hybrid working depending on the effectiveness of the leader in question. Leading this type of workforce requires leaders to prioritise employee well-being and work-life balance. The blurred lines between work and personal life in remote work environments can lead to burnout and decreased well-being. However, the additional time employees have in their lives due to the removal of the commute can increase sleep, exercise or healthy eating.
Understanding the context and risk factors associated with remote working is essential. Research published in the Journal of Applied Psychology highlights the importance of employee well-being in remote work. The study found that employees who experienced higher levels of work-family balance and perceived support from their supervisors reported higher job satisfaction and lower levels of stress and burnout. The Covid-19 pandemic moved remote/hybrid working into the commonplace which allowed researchers to gain broader conclusions from studies. For example, the UK Mental Health Foundations conducted a survey on the impact of remote work on mental health during the Covid-19 pandemic. The study found that 65% of respondents reported higher levels of stress due to difficulty separating work and personal life, leading to decreased well-being. This highlights the need for leaders to address work-life balance concerns in remote work settings.
In a hybrid work environment, where some employees are in the office while others work remotely, leaders will need to take on the role of a ‘culture cultivator’ to foster a strong and cohesive organisational culture across both physical and virtual spaces. Culture is undoubtably crucial within organsiations, with a study published in the Harvard Business Review finding that strong organisational culture positively impacts employee satisfaction, productivity, and overall business performance. This is further supported by evidence from Deloitte which revealed that organisations with a strong and positive culture have a competitive advantage in attracting and retaining top talent. The study found that 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe that a distinct culture is crucial for business success.
Traditionally, leaders have relied on in-person interactions and shared physical spaces to shape and reinforce the organisational culture. However, in a hybrid context, leaders must proactively bridge the gap between the remote and office-based employees to create a unified culture and sense of belonging. Gartner highlighted that hybrid and remote work models can pose challenges to maintaining a strong organisational culture. The study found that without intentional efforts to bridge the physical and virtual divide, there is a risk of culture fragmentation and decreased employee connectedness. Moreover, Owl Labs found that 58% of remote employees struggle to stay connected with their co-workers and feel disconnected from the company culture. Clearly, leaders should be taking deliberate actions to foster a strong organisational culture especially in these settings.
It’s unsurprising then that leaders who are perceived as effectively communicating the company’s mission and values, generally have teams who feel more connected to the culture according to Gallup. It’s important to remember that these values may very well be the reason employees choose to work for the organisations so actively reinforcing them is essential. Building upon this further, McKinsey highlighted the importance of promoting collaboration and inclusivity across virtual channels ensuring that cultural rituals and traditions are adapted to the remote or hybrid context.
In the ever-evolving landscape of remote and hybrid work, leadership holds the key to unlocking the full potential of your organisation. By recognising the importance of culture, adapting communication styles and implementing strategies to support well-being, leaders can create a cohesive and engaged workforce that transcends physical boundaries. The challenges may be unique, but with forward-thinking mindset and a commitment to continuous learning and improvement, leaders can navigate this new territory with confidence, driving success and growth for their teams and organisations.
Want to find out more about the complexities of hybrid/remote working? Read our other blog that outlines the good, the bad and the ugly.