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The future of hybrid leadership

A recent report by the Boston Consulting Group revealed that in the near future, 65% of people will be working in hybrid mode, a reconfiguration of work methods that will extend beyond Covid-19. As an emergency response, in fact, the pandemic forced organizations to rethink their processes and compelled leaders to abandon their customary approach to resource management.

The data emerging in recent months from several studies underscore the fact that most companies are actioning policies to support hybrid work and to reconfigure their organizational processes in a more stable, long-term way. This organizational intervention is fundamental, but it must go hand in hand with a rethinking of the leadership playbook, with particular focus on people’s competences, motivations and emotions.

As far as competences, hybrid work methods call for a bigger push toward “teaming.” In other words, managers and organizations have to adopt a more flexible, agile attitude when creating teams. In this sense, they need to hone their ability to build competence networks they can tap as need be, regardless of the physical location of these competences. A teaming approach makes it possible to speed up adaptability, resilience and continuous learning processes that enable a rapid and effective shock response by groups and organizations. For an example of this, we can look to companies that have implemented “flexible marketplaces” that serve to scout the right people with the right competence inside the organization, wherever they may be.

As for motivations, with hybrid work people have less of a chance to grow a sense of collective identity and a shared team spirit, because they miss out on informal interactions and occasions when the entire team can meet. To deal with this kind of issue, leaders can encourage one-to-one relationships to solidify a sense of purpose in each individual, to call attention to the role they play in realizing a common goal. People need to be aware of their own purpose in the organization, and have the determination they need to achieve that purpose. For instance, during the pandemic, people at the Tesla and Ford factories and at other car manufacturers worked to repurpose some of the components of their vehicles to build ventilators for hospitals. Each person contributed their unique competences to achieve a common purpose.

Last, doing better in handling emotions is essential. Hybrid work contexts may give rise to situations where there is isolation or ruptures in the team. If divisions do occur in the group, it’s highly likely that different sub-groups will emerge, each with its own identity and work methods. This will eventually intensify the emotional pressure caused by internal conflicts in the group. The risk of isolation situations, instead, is that they may lead to one or more individuals having a hard time actively participating in group processes, which in turn gives rise to a sense of exclusion and detachment. The leader must be able to, read the writing on the wall, and see the signs of these changes in the team configuration so as to react promptly - on one hand, by trying to work to build team spirit, and on the other proactively taking on the role of coach.

As an example, during the months-long lockdown, at Ericsson virtual conversations were set up to stay in touch with people and to engage them in discussions on key issues pertaining to the impacts of the new forms of work being implemented. Taking part in these conversations were more than 17,000 people from 132 countries, who generated more than 28,000 comments and suggestions to deal with the challenges of hybrid work. This initiative helped avert isolation and keep the conversation on the corporate culture alive thanks to the participation of the entire Ericsson population.