The three essential skills managers need in a hybrid workforce

In a survey released at the beginning of this year, only 20 percent of managers felt like they were up to the job of leading a hybrid team i.e. one that isn’t located in the same space, writes Colin D. Ellis.

Another survey, from Microsoft, found that one in five respondents said that their employer doesn’t care about their work/life balance and that 41 percent will be actively looking to leave their existing employer within the next 12 months.

Managers themselves have recognised that continual reinvention of skill sets is necessary for the evolution of their organisations over the next three years, yet only 16 percent expect the investment to do so.

The numbers are stark and an indication that many organisations are yet to catch up with the change in attitudes towards where work takes place and how to ensure employees are motivated to do it.

With limited discretionary spend available – thanks to continuing lockdowns – there are three crucial skills that should be prioritised by organisations to ensure that employees feel cared for by managers and are supported to succeed in a hybrid working world.


A survey of over 5000 workers conducted by Paper Giant in April 2021 found that almost half of the respondents had an increased need for empathy.

There has been a definitive shift from technical to emotional leadership over the course of the last two years. Skills such as empathy, vulnerability and resilience, previously described as ‘soft skills’ are now considered to be essential in supporting employees, maintaining trust and connection and ultimately, delivering results to shareholders and/or the general public.

Empathy is also critical in ensuring that employees aren’t working longer hours than is required and exposing themselves to burnout. A report at the beginning of 2021 found that staff are burning out at record rates, with approximately 60 percent of people reporting that they feel ‘used up’ by the end of the workday, which is a strong indicator of feeling burned out.

Excellent managers take the time to build relationships with employees so that they understand how to motivate and inspire them, whilst also being able to spot when they’re not performing at their best.


When it comes to ensuring that messages are understood fully, the research says that nothing beats doing it in-person, with almost 95 percent preferring it above other forms of communication.

However, this has not been possible for many for the past 15 months and so managers need to enhance their communication skills so that messages are similarly well understood, regardless of which medium is being used to convey them or where an employee may be based.

In December 2020, Gallup found that the teams that maintained and improved productivity in a shift to hybrid working were ones where the manager communicated more often and more purposefully and left people in no doubt about their expectations.

Where employees are in different locations, managers need to give deliberate thought to not only ‘how’ messages will be disseminated, but also ‘when’ to ensure that consistency is maintained.

Culture Building

Culture, or the ‘way we do things around here’ is – and always has been – the biggest determinant of team and organisational success. When managers prioritise activity to define and continually evolve their team culture they see increases in psychological and physical safety, productivity, engagement, sales, profitability, customer satisfaction and quality. Yet, most managers continue to pay lip service to it, choosing instead to place it in the ‘too hard to do’ basket.

The 2021 O.C. Tanner Global Culture report found that stagnant cultures were 10 times more likely to be negatively affected in a crisis and many organisations are still suffering the effects that the pandemic wrought on the way they operate.

The way that people work together has fundamentally changed, which means that managers need to spend time to bring people together to agree this new dynamic and reset expectations around behaviour and collaboration (specifically) so that everyone feels that they can bring their best selves to work every day. Regardless of where they are working.

No-one could have predicted the impact that the pandemic would have on the world of work, however, it’s not good enough for managers and the organisations that support them, not to have developed the skills to lead a hybrid workforce.

 Productivity, engagement, safety and wellbeing must be maintained, and managers need to develop the skills to ensure that they are.

Colin D Ellis is best-selling author of The Hybrid Handbook: How to Set Yourself Up for the Future of Work and helps organisations around the world to transform their working cultures. See


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