Will hybrid working change how we manage?

With recent surveys showing that large numbers of office workers don’t plan to return to the office five days a week once the pandemic is over, the future of leadership and management is likely to look very different too.

As the UK went into lockdown in March, many employees had their first experience of homeworking. Six months into the pandemic it looks like this is a change to the working world that’s here to stay. A recent survey by the British Council for Offices showed that more than half of employees surveyed would prefer to divide their time between home and the workplace even after the pandemic is over, with only 30% saying they were considering returning to the office five days a week. Homeworking has many benefits for both employers and employees, but it can also bring with it challenges – particularly for managers who will need to adapt to manage their teams effectively at distance. Here, we share our predictions for the future of leadership and management in a hybrid working world.

Outcome-based management

Line-of-sight management has usually been cited as the biggest barrier for companies looking to introduce flexible working practices in the past – but during the pandemic it just hasn’t been possible to manage in this way. Companies have had to react – and react quickly. A growing trend is businesses choosing to measure productivity on outcomes rather than presence.

Outcome-based managers work with their teams to define the end goals but then largely leave it up to the individual contributors to decide how they get to that goal, supporting them along the way as needed. This style of management lends itself well to a remote or hybrid working environment where employees can’t be supervised at all times. This style of management was already growing in popularity pre-pandemic but COVID-19 has catapulted it even further into the limelight. As such, we predict a continuing rise in managers adopting outcome-based strategies, with line-of-sight management becoming obsolete in many industries.

Company culture and leadership

Hybrid working and outcome-based management requires trust – managers can’t always see the work being done and need to trust that their teams have the skills, resources and motivation to complete the work without ongoing direction. Consequently, we anticipate many companies will focus much more on company culture, building an environment with open and honest communication and employee empowerment its heart.

Transparency will be key here. Leaders will need to communicate with employees more than ever before to help staff feel connected to the business and foster an environment of trust and sharing. Training for leaders and managers to help them to help their teams will be critical. HR departments also have an important role to play in ensuring policies and procedures provide structure for staff without limiting innovation and ownership.

Workplace design

A hybrid working environment means that the role of the office or company HQ continues to be important, however traditional workplace design will need to adapt to support new ways of working. We predict workplaces will become a much more collaborative space than ever before. People will ‘come into work’ to meet with colleagues, work together on projects or engage with their team, with other more solitary or desk-based tasks being performed at home. As a result, expect fewer static desks, more collaborative working areas and dynamic creative spaces that encourage innovation. Hierarchical office structures, such as offices for senior staff members, could also become a thing of the past.

We also anticipate company HQs will shrink in size over time, potentially with smaller regional bases popping up as well. This will take time for many businesses to implement though as existing lease commitments will need to be seen out, so this is one just to keep an eye on for now.

While it’s hard to say for sure for the future holds, one thing is for certain when it comes to the working world – change is the new normal. If you’d to talk to us about how to prepare your leaders and managers for changes ahead we’d love to hear from you.