By Minna Rosendahl, Hanken & SSE Executive Education
Hybrid work is here to stay. It has become an everyday reality for most of us. The new world of work has shaped the way we perceive our work and relate to our peers. This development is precisely what my colleague Pernilla Gripenberg predicted in her doctoral thesis exploring ICT and human relationships back in 2005. It took a little longer than she probably thought, but we are definitely there now.
People don’t think of their work or work environment the same way they used to. The million-dollar question is: what does good and effective leadership look like now? Should leaders behave differently now? How should leadership styles be adjusted to match how employees perceive work?
What we used to call our workplace has evolved to what we at Hanken & SSE like to call our networkplace. The concept networkplace embraces the different forums that form our daily working environment. It includes physical spaces in the office, at home or in a nearby café. It contains digital channels and communication platforms such as Teams and Yammer, which allow us to communicate effectively, irrespective of where we are. Most importantly, it also contains our psychological or mental space. Are we committed to our organisation and its’ goals? How connected do we feel with the others in our team meetings?
The sense of commitment and relatedness has faded for many during the pandemic. We see people changing employment more lightly than before. We are witnessing phenomena like quiet quitting, where people stay in their jobs but are not engaged or committed. Many seem to rush to the conclusion that this is simply because we work remotely.
A temptation to resort to a quick, easy and very superficial fix of commanding people back to the office seems all too common. But by doing that, aren’t companies directing people back to an old world that doesn’t exist anymore? We all know that being physically somewhere doesn’t automatically mean being committed and psychologically present. It amazes me how quickly promoters of strict office hour rules like Elon Musk seem to have forgotten that organisations faced commitment issues even before the global pandemic. The secret of success in the networkplace is about achieving commitment and psychological presence through engaging leadership practices, not through rules regarding the ratio of remote and physical presence.
Leading people and teams across spaces
Hanken & SSE and Microsoft recently hosted an event to discuss leadership in the new world of work from different angles. We heard captivating keynotes by Emma Nordbäck, assistant professor at Hanken School of Economics and Ville Ojanen, lead psychologist, who has written his doctoral thesis on brain research. Both speakers emphasised the importance of the connection between people. Emma Nordbäck talked about team wellbeing and how well-functioning teams are built on collective identity, psychological safety, and trust. Ville Ojanen brought up fascinating facts about the human brain. The core of the human brain function is to seek sync with ourselves, other people, ideas, beliefs, places, and things.
If you as a leader wish to promote innovativeness and engagement in your organisation, your leadership should be about creating possibilities for people to relate and build bonds. With strong relatedness as a foundation, people will feel psychologically safe. They can thrive and innovate together.
The changing meaning of physical encounters
By now, we must have recognised – and even accepted – that many employees are unwilling to return to the office to the extent leaders might hope. However, people do want to feel related to their peers. Increasing the feeling of relatedness is the main reason employees want to meet their colleagues physically. This is one of the main findings in Microsoft’s recent Work Trend Index Report: Hybrid Work Is Just Work. Are We Doing It Wrong?
So why not build on this? Days in the office need to be cleverly planned out. Increasing the feeling of relatedness should be the primary goal for the time spent physically together. If you do this well, people might start finding meaning in coming to the office more often. However, it’s important to remember that once a strong team bond is established, it can be maintained and nourished with the help of a well-led digital employee experience, irrespective of physical location. A team doesn’t necessarily get more related because of the number of hours they spend physically together. Team bonding occurs through meaningful encounters and the quality of the hours spent together.
“A skilful leader will concentrate on engaging and empowering teams also in a digital setting.”
I’m slightly surprised by how much energy and effort we seem to waste on dead duck attempts to return to what once was. Instead, why not concentrate on making the best of the situation? At best, a well-functioning networkplace can be an environment where innovativeness leads to powerful success stories for those who seize the opportunity.
To excel at leading the networkplace is not impossible. Learn to influence and engage in all three networkplace spaces: physical, digital and psychological. Foster these five principles, and you are far on your journey to good hybrid leadership:
- Have clarity and a purposeful vision which help people prioritise their tasks.
- Communicate the purpose and vision on every platform.
- Engage employees both onsite and online equally.
- Lead and encourage clever teamwork and collaboration in all spaces, physical, digital, and psychological.
- Harness technology.
In the end, it’s all about good leadership, as it always has been. However, leadership must be a bit more conscious than before. Consider ways to create possibilities for commitment, psychological safety, relatedness, and team wellbeing, and you are on a good path.