Two years since the world shut down and companies and employees scrambled to set up work-from-home, we are once again in a transition period as the world opens up a little and organisations grapple with how they will organise their workforce.
As an executive search and talent advisory firm, we are well-positioned to both research and observe the trends in the human capital space, and have noted Prof Lynda Gratton’s key considerations emerging as companies and leaders have to navigate a very changed working environment. The question they are having to ask is how to collaborate, lead and create a high-performance working environment that best suits their company, culture and – crucially – their employees.
Candidates approached for opportunities prefer to continue to work from home or hybrid model. Or prefer a chosen location, rather than being expected to report to the office and be with the team daily. They are now used to the hybrid model and the use of technology to connect with the team when required.
Globally, trends are that people are expected in the office two to three days a week; South Africa seems to have settled on three to four. But many candidates feel that working remotely provides them with the flexibility to do their best, work when they are most productive, and collaborate when necessary.
Giving people the autonomy to own both their work and their working hours and location means they can drive their own performance, and arises naturally out of giving them the flexibility described above.
If people feel seen and heard, and feel trusted to deliver the outcomes required, they will be more invested in their roles and their contribution to the company as a whole.
3. Navigating tension
When the work force is distributed – whether in totality, or just on certain days of the week, it’s vital to support managers and give them the tools to ensure they treat and see everyone equally.
Leading in a hybrid space, where people are off-site, can lead to inequities, so it’s vital that managers are consciously creating equal opportunities, fostering collaboration and communication, and driving high performance, while still respecting employees’ work-life boundaries, and embracing diversity.
4. Driving human connection
While many have enjoyed working from home, they have also missed the connection with other people – the casual collaboration that happens in an office where you can just pop your head around someone’s office door for instance, of have a quick coffee with them.
Virtual meeting platforms takes away the human connection and the ability to build trust or build relationships with new employees. New employees also tend to struggle in assimilating into a new environment quickly. Both employers and candidates are hungry to return to some measure of in-person human connection, so it’s vital to think about how to provide that as you design the return to the office.
It’s vital that as managers prepare to lead in this new shift, they are reskilled in how to unlock productivity and manage output under very different conditions. We need to empower them with those softer skills such as communication, listening, empathy and emotional intelligence.
This is an important factor for many of the candidates we see – they want to know who the leaders are that they will be working with and for, and understand their leadership style.
Whether we like it or not, the fact is that hybrid work is here to stay, and it’s vital that organisations find ways to make the most of it – and possibly to make it work in their favour.
Hybrid work done right can provide both the flexibility and the human connection employees crave, and possibly even mitigate the effects of the Great Resignation – and address the talent skills gap. But it will take some careful thought and design.
It will also take leaders who are prepared to treat their teams like the adults they are, if they want to hold onto their top performers. Now is the time to cultivate trust and deepen engagement – and then allow the talent you’ve hired to do what they do best.