An effective hybrid workforce demands the right leadership skills to support it

Hybrid workforce
Editor's Note

This article is sponsored by EY Canada.

With the need for a distributed workforce waning, Canadian professionals across industries are showing they expect the same flexibility in terms of when and where they work to continue post-pandemic. And employers that fail to deliver on the promise may push their employees to start looking elsewhere.

While organizations recognize a hybrid workforce is the way of the future – with many already taking steps to deploy new models – few are prepared to effectively implement and enforce it. Processes, technology and policies are one aspect, but having the appropriate leadership skills to bring these changes to life and enable new ways of working make it a completely different ball game.

The pandemic has pushed leaders to prioritize a whole new set of competencies to help create that enhanced and engaging experience employees have come to expect. Skills such as empathy, adaptability, connectivity and curiosity have climbed their way to the top as employees look to leaders to demonstrate greater transparency and understanding.

As the return to physical workspaces looms, this is a critical and transformational moment for collaboration among leaders to reimagine the future of work and develop the skill sets needed to deliver on planned objectives. But for today’s leaders to be fit for the future, there are a handful of considerations organizations must keep in mind. 

Align teams on expectations and focus on engagement: When building out new models, leaders should place people first by positioning their interests front and centre. By ensuring programs and policies are aligned with employee expectations, leaders can actively bring people along on the journey and help teams collaboratively understand objectives, tasks and expectations, while supporting them in working towards and achieving those outcomes. 

Balance generational differences: There are now up to five generational groups in the workforce – Traditionalist, Boomer, Gen X, Millennial and Gen Z – and each group has different preferences of working, communicating and integrating. While hybrid work models can help to accommodate these differing needs by providing more choice and possibility, how you support and enable these groups will be quite different. Leaders must consider each individual’s preference on how, when and where to work to ensure expectations are met so that work and productivity can be maximized.

Make technology an enabler: Technology can be a key enabler to breaking down barriers between top-line leadership, management and employees. With more frequent appearances on video, quick check-ins and continuous alignment to purpose, leadership teams can sustain positive culture gains. But with the influx of new technology tools filling the workspace, leaders need to take a step back and assess which are adding value and which may be causing unnecessary roadblocks to communication or culture.

Address limitations to coaching and mentoring: The jury is still out on the long-term effect of working remotely – including uncertainty around what’s been lost with the disappearance of in-person coaching and mentoring. Leaders will need to increase levels of communication and connection to allow teams and individuals to continue to work in flexible ways, while providing proactive feedback and growth opportunities for employees.

Ensure wellness, health and safety: People across industries are reporting varying levels of distress with respect to managing remote work, from concerns around lack of boundaries to feelings of loneliness and isolation. Addressing employee fears around health and safety is important, but so is understanding how remote work can influence employee wellness, mental health and happiness. At EY, we’ve pivoted to provide virtual, ongoing learning and listening sessions, in addition to our $5,000 mental health benefit for employees and their families.

As the next normal starts to roll forward, leaders looking to rebound stronger than ever before and mobilize purpose within their organizations will need to leverage recent insights to close the gap between intention and action. Arming leadership with the skills and competencies they need to deploy new strategies will be crucial not just while in transition, but over the long-term to build a purposeful culture that drives productivity and attracts and retains the brightest talent. 

Juliet Nicol is a partner in the people advisory services practice at EY Canada, based in Ottawa. For more work reimagined insights, visit www.ey.com/en_ca/workforce