What does employee engagement mean for hybrid leadership?
Keeping employees engaged, completely and consistently, is a big enough challenge when all colleagues are in the same place. The post-pandemic surge in hybrid and flexible working has created new challenges for organisations and people managers, forcing them to address key elements of the employee experience to encourage workers to actively engage with the company, its purpose and its people. It’s time to re-imagine employee engagement, recognising that the new hybrid world of work requires a fresh approach.
Leadership built on trust
In a hybrid world, leaders must adapt their style to become compassionate, collaborative and trusting. Employees are no longer accepting of leaders who exhibit controlling and mistrustful behaviours, perhaps requiring workers to remotely ‘clock in and out’ every day. Such leaders will alienate their teams and create toxic environments.
Hybrid leaders must build a trust-based atmosphere, giving individuals the autonomy to continually evolve their individual work style. Transparency and open communication must also be encouraged so team members feel comfortable asking for help and support when needed. Plus, collaboration should become second-nature so that individuals feel part of a close-knit team that’s working towards a common goal.
As traditional office-based workers demand greater flexibility with where and when they work, leaders need to re-think almost everything they know about leadership and team management. What worked pre-pandemic, may need some adjustment now.
For employees to actively engage with their organisation, particularly when working remotely, a more deliberate strategy and effort is required from HR and business leaders. In fact, engagement in a hybrid world requires a reset of expectations, leadership and company culture, starting with defining and clearly communicating hybrid working guidelines.
Clear hybrid working rules
Although flexible working allows for greater autonomy and an improved work-life balance, there’s always the risk of lines blurring between work life and home life. This can lead to employees working longer hours and feeling they always need to be ‘on’, even at evenings and weekends. Establishing and constantly reinforcing hybrid working rules and expectations for all team members is therefore a necessity. ‘Team rules’ for working practices must include clarity over which communications tools are appropriate to use and when, and when each team member can and can’t be reached. Having clear guidelines will reduce the risk of discontentment and burnout.
In the absence of an office environment bringing everyone together, it’s more important than ever to find ways to build social and emotional connections between colleagues. In fact, according to WorkBuzz’s ‘The State of Employee Engagement 2021’ Report, the greatest hybrid working challenge for HR professionals and business leaders is keeping employees connected to each other and the company on an emotional level, as cited by 66 percent of HR and business professionals. A strong team culture won’t happen without intervention and so creating opportunities for connection are paramount – both in-person and virtually. This could mean inviting colleagues to social events, recognition giving ‘ceremonies’ and networking opportunities.
A culture of listening
With employees working at different locations, workplace culture is no longer tied to a physical place. As such, you can no longer gauge engagement by ‘temperature checking’ the office atmosphere, and having casual chats with employees by the water cooler.
Understanding and then acting on staff engagement must be planned and purposeful, and this means embedding continual listening into everyday culture in which ongoing discussions, one-to-ones and regular ‘pulse’ surveys become commonplace. Only by truly understanding how employees are feeling on an ongoing basis, and using the insights to deliver positive change, will employees feel genuinely valued.
An inclusive employee experience
Research reveals that inclusive cultures create more positive employee experiences which directly impact engagement levels. Unfortunately, hybrid working can all too easily lead to inequalities, with those in the office being given preferential treatment, whether purposefully or inadvertently. This is why leaders must focus on ways to ensure inclusive employee experiences regardless of location, from how meetings are conducted through to career development opportunities.
Finally, supporting employee engagement in a hybrid work is impossible with the right technologies in place. Continual investment in collaboration, communication, engagement and recognition tools is fundamental to ensuring every employee receives a quality, equitable and personalised employee experience.
A final thought
As business and people leaders navigate the new world of hybrid working, the focus must be on ensuring employee engagement is intentional. It can’t be an afterthought, but has to be carefully considered, looking at key factors from hybrid working rules and leadership style through to supportive technologies. By tackling engagement holistically, the employee experience becomes positive, consistent and inclusive for all, regardless of location.