Senior learning consultant James Eynon is the host of ‘The Big Questions: A Capita Learning Podcast’. In the first of two articles, James highlights the skills needed to be an effective hybrid leader, drawing insights from his podcast guests.

“Hybrid working is a form of flexible working where workers spend some of their time working remotely (usually, but not necessarily, from home) and some in the employer's workspace.” - CIPD (2024).

The HR Research Institute has reported that 77% of employees may leave their organisations due to leadership issues or a lack of flexible working options. This growing concern underscores the urgent need to explore hybrid leadership to identify the essential qualities of effective leaders in today’s evolving workplace.

Discovering the truth

The search for truth in hybrid leadership began through conversations with leaders, where the single biggest question was: “How do I do hybrid leadership well?” It’s a question at the heart of leadership generally, reflecting the sense that we’re missing something to unlock greater performance. The uncomfortable reality is that hybrid leadership cannot be solved, as it’s a complex web of both objective factors such as location, working patterns and technology, and subjective factors, such as personalities and preferences, both our own and those of our teams. Unfortunately, there are no silver bullets.

Decoding success: The PIN code

However, success in hybrid leadership is still achievable. Let’s consider an analogy: a four-digit code has 10,000 possible combinations. Leading teams is all about finding the best possible combinations of those objective and subjective factors, resulting in a unique leadership style for every individual, just as we don’t all use the same PIN code. The more we understand ourselves and our teams, the closer we get to a winning combination. That’s why guessing a code set by a friend is easier than one set by a stranger - you have more reference points for an educated guess. The challenge with hybrid working is not that it changes the combination, but that it adds another digit to it. So, how do we find the code that works best for us? Through my podcast discussions, let’s explore the skills hybrid leaders need to develop.

Event organisers: Bridging hybrid workspaces

In a traditional office setting, the opportunity to connect and collaborate comes naturally. However, in a hybrid environment, these moments must be actively organised and orchestrated. This is crucial, because as humans, we have an innate need for social connection. Steph Bright, who analyses Capita’s People Survey, shared that people who split their work time between their home and the office report higher levels of engagement, wellbeing, and inclusion, compared to their fully remote counterparts.

Effectively managing this hybrid interaction is key. During our podcast discussion, Clare Kelliher, Professor of Work & Organisation at Cranfield University, emphasised the importance of choice in the workplace. Her research indicates that ‘informal’ choices – those made through dialogue rather than dictated by policy – have a significant impact on retention and performance.

Building mutual trust

When we talk about informal choice, we are talking about trusting relationships - and as leaders we need to be mutual trust builders.

Michaela Beauchamp of Openreach highlighted how some leaders resort to micromanagement when their teams are remote, often due to a perceived lack of control or insecurity. This trend is not isolated - Deloitte’s 2024 Capital Trends Report indicates that trust is being impacted across industries due to the “disappearance of traditional boundaries.” As we no longer share the same office space or work hours, building and maintaining trust has become even more challenging.

The perils of productivity and knee-jerk reactions

In response to trust issues, some leaders have unilaterally enforced in-office days, but this approach has not been entirely effective. The perils of this approach are shown, not just in Clare Kelliher’s research suggesting that forced decisions can undermine trust and motivation, but also in industry surveys:

  • A survey by Monster revealed that 40% of employees would consider quitting if they were forced to work in the office for part of the week.
  • Clarify Capital reported that 67% of employees would prefer to seek a new job, rather than return to the office.

These figures highlight the significant level of disconnect in the workplace. This is further compounded by Microsoft’s research showing that while 87% of hybrid employees feel productive working remotely, 85% of their leaders struggle to believe it.

Cultivating trust through small gestures

Guests on the podcast have emphasised that its often the small things that significantly reduce the disconnects in hybrid environments. Michaela Beauchamp from Openreach, explained that their senior leaders regularly make personal calls to individual engineers, focusing solely on building relationships rather discussing work tasks.

Caroline Freeman, Head of Learning Experience and Content at Capita, highlighted the importance of carving out time at the beginning and end of meetings to engage in non-work-related conversations. This practice is common in physical settings – on the way to the meeting room or during a coffee break – but is frequently overlooked in virtual environments.

Ultimately, the key to building trust lies in consistent and proactive communication. For more insights on effective and inclusive communication strategies in hybrid leaderships, stay tuned for the next article in this series.

Tune into the podcast

Dive deeper into the conversation by tuning into 'The Big Questions: A Capita Learning Podcast.' Hear perspectives and practical tips from L&D practitioners across industries and sectors as they discuss the big questions in learning.

Written by

James Eynon

James Eynon

Senior learning consultant & leadership coach

Since 2015, James has led various L&D initiatives, focusing on practical solutions for learning cultures, data impact, reskilling, and leadership. James’ pragmatic approach to both consultancy and facilitation has resulted in the creation of a new workplace culture model, in which hybrid working is an integral part.

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