Director's Cut | Summer 2022
Making the Jump From Hybrid-Ready to Hybrid-Enhanced
Corporate boards have a responsibility to ensure company leaders are prepared to effectively lead in hybrid work environments.
Kristie P. Paskvan, CPA, MBA
Board Director and Leadership Fellow
Strategies for Today's Corporate Finance Leaders
Talent. It’s always been a boardroom topic, as succession planning, risk, and culture are all
key components of a board’s work. Among the boards I’m involved with, the conversations
around talent have only intensified as COVID-19 continues to challenge our ideas of the
ideal workspace, the adoption of hybrid and remote work environments, and the ways that
we manage and lead our teams moving forward.
If we look back at May 2020, approximately 61% of workers surveyed for the Working From
Home Research Project were then, indeed, working from home. According to Nick Bloom,
a Stanford professor and cofounder of the project, currently just 25% to 35% of workers are
still working from home full-time, with the rest of the population starting back into the office
either full-time or on a hybrid, rotational basis. As CDC and local COVID-19 guidelines have
become more relaxed, companies have increasingly requested their employees to start
returning to the office. But what can employees expect to return to?
I suspect most office spaces have been updated for more collaboration, enhanced with new
technology, and may include hoteling space for the first time. There has been a renewed
push by most companies to purposefully create environments that encourage interactions.
Although, I still hear of managers staying behind closed doors to Zoom or Teams with staff
if they have a question—not a successful in-person model, even before COVID-19.
As I attend board meetings and discuss what’s working and what’s not in seeking a new
normal, I’ve been struck by the apparent need to build a new playbook specifically for
preparing and equipping managers to lead better in increasingly hybrid work environments.
The managers at your company are key in this playbook. They’re the influencers. They’re
the gateway for developing future talent. So, assisting your managers in understanding and
solving hybrid work challenges isn’t just key to their advancement but also to your
organization’s growth and success.
Coming back into the office certainly offers opportunities to foster collaboration, celebration,
connection, and coaching as people gather in person, but it’s just as important to be more
intentional about managing and developing remote and hybrid staff. We can’t discount the
impact that two-plus years of avoiding the office has had on all our leadership skills.
Enter the manager summit, a development concept that I think is going to be key to
navigating the varying hybrid work environments companies are implementing. To simplify the roadmap to equipping your managers to lead a growing mix of remote, hybrid, and in-person teams effectively, we can split the concept into three phases to explore during manager summits: Awareness and Information, Individual and Team Application, and Advocate and Champion.
AWARENESS AND INFORMATION
Microsoft’s recent report, “Great Expectations: Making Hybrid Work Work,” emphasizes that employees now have an evolved view of work and its place among their priorities. And while they’re generally willing to come back to the office, they want to know how it’ll be different and whether it’s “worth it,” as health, family, time, purpose, and well-being are increasingly being prioritized over work—especially by Gen Z and millennials (i.e., future managers and business leaders).
A Gartner briefing on leading and managing a hybrid workforce stresses that our new hybrid work environments require more flexibility, shared purpose, and deeper connections. Equipping your managers with skills of empathy, adaptability, effective communication, and relationship building—while embracing new and sometimes multiple technologies—will help create “hybrid-ready” managers.
One company that I follow has established successful manager summits for this exact leadership development purpose. They’ve invested in an outside expert with both the data and collective experience to share knowledge about hybrid work and employee motivation. In making similar investments, companies can establish their responsiveness to feedback and reinforce the important roles that their managers play. Consider this finding from the 2021 Gartner Hybrid Work Employee Survey: “When employees have high empathy-based management, they are 2.77x more likely to have high levels of organizational trust, resulting in higher levels of engagement and productivity.”
At an effective manager summit, one of the goals is to establish a forum for discussion and idea sharing, particularly about what struggles exist within the manager ranks. The collective input of the management team will create employee ownership of the action plans that result from these sessions. At the same time, managers learn what other leaders and companies are also challenged by, and what data tells us is working to create team cohesiveness in this new hybrid state.
INDIVIDUAL AND TEAM APPLICATION
While an initial manager summit could encourage common issue gathering, future sessions can further action plans surrounding hybrid work practices. For example, managers can work together to identify ways to ensure that any employee’s contribution is recognized regardless of whether they’re present in the office. Managers should also be prepared to resolve misunderstandings due to conflicting schedules and expectations. Receiving and giving effective feedback will become even more important skills for managers, as empathy, flexibility, and communication must become forefront in their daily roles.
For all new hires, employee onboarding will require all the collective efforts of the organization to teach and promote company culture across multiple working environments and locations. Companies are revising onboarding procedures to ensure remote and hybrid employees receive not just the same training opportunities but also the same opportunities to establish personal relationships, whether that be through scheduled coffee chats, virtual social events, or retreats that bring everyone together.
ADVOCATE AND CHAMPION
Supporting managers is going to be critical to the success of your hybrid work environment; that means supporting their ideas and allowing ownership of the action plans they establish to enhance development and create psychological safety throughout the organization.
According to Microsoft’s 2022 Work Trend Index, 28% of companies have established team agreements to create team norms around hybrid work. Investments in space and technology are necessary to support managers and their teams, yet 74% of managers indicate that they “don’t have the influence or resources they need to make changes on behalf of their team.”
This is a clear indication that company leadership needs to step up and provide managers with the mental, intellectual, social, and technological skills, support, and resources needed for them to successfully make the jump from being hybrid-ready (having action plans and ideas for managing hybrid teams) to being hybrid-enhanced (armed with everything needed to implement an effective hybrid work environment that leverages the team’s talents).
Board directors are perfectly positioned to support and encourage the shifts needed to ensure management is ready to lead people and companies into the future. If you’re on a corporate board, it’s time to shift the talent talk toward what’s needed to be a hybrid-enhanced organization instead of just a hybrid-ready organization—a distinction that I think is going to become critical to talent recruitment and retention and long-term company growth.