Feb 2021 – Top tips to become a better leader

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After twelve months of lockdowns, home schooling and working remotely, 2021 will be the year of the great transition back to the workplace.

But it is unlikely we will snap back to pre-COVID ways.

Instead, the habits and skills picked up during the pandemic are going to create a new hybrid model – mixing in-office, at-home and on-site working.

This new model will pose challenges for managers.

How can companies measure staff satisfaction or productivity in a world where only a third of people are in the office on any given day? Will the nature of the workplace change? How best can managers deal with this change?

And what will a “good boss” look like in 2021?

These were the questions answered by our expert panel in the first Great Place to Work® webinar of 2021 which examined the future of flexible working.

“Managers are really important in terms of implementing change,” said Anne Bardoel, a professor in the management and marketing department of Swinburne University of Technology.

“Eighty per cent of managers expected to be managing a hybrid workforce” in 2021, according to a Swinburne study.

The panel experts – Bardoel, Cisco’s Australian HR director James Comer and Interactive’s director of people and culture, Merylee Crockett – laid out four top skills that managers need to develop to cope in 2021.

Creating a culture of trust

Number one on the list was developing the ability to create and maintain a culture of trust.

Trust is the core of a great workplace. Organisations that trust their workers are proven to deliver better financial results.

In terms of the return to office in 2021, trust means allowing people and teams to get the outcomes they need in the way that serves them best.

“And that trust will need to go both ways,” said Comer.

“Teams internally need to trust their leaders that they’re going to be there to help them take those experiments, take those risks, back them and stand up for them.”

Building a culture of trust means managers need to step up their transparency.

“Teams need to be sure they’re absolutely clear about what expectations and outcomes they’re on the hook for,” said Comer.

Adapt performance management

Performance and outcomes remain critical in a hybrid working model, but managers need to adapt the practices of the past and come up with better measurements.

“Don’t apologise for having high standards of performance,” said Crockett.

“But we need to really make sure that we’re shifting to measuring people on outcomes, not inputs.

Crockett said Interactive was highly focused on people genuinely understanding the impact they were having.

“If I understand the impact I’m having, and I’m measured on outcomes, it doesn’t matter where I do my work or when I do my work as long as I’m delivering.”

Learn to communicate effectively

Communication can be more difficult when people work remotely. In particular, those informal communications that people rely on can be tricky, or non-existent.

During the pandemic, many people reported feeling isolated from their employer but closer to their teams, so managers need to learn to rely more heavily on team leaders to get messages out.

“Communication is the one thing that people are looking for more of,” said Crockett.

“When people are much more dispersed as a workforce, those moments of communication where you can share something on the floor intentionally so that everyone around hears can get lost.

“So, we rely on our leaders now to be much more intentional about their communication, and to ensure that they reach their people regularly.”

We need to think about “how we connect to people, how we communicate to each other, how we use the technology to encourage informal communication,” said Bardoel.

“I’m not sure that just trying to replicate Friday drinks by seeing a panel of everybody’s faces on a Zoom meeting is right the way to do it.”

Treat people as individuals

Swinburne’s Bardoel said a survey sponsored by tech giant Atlassian identified three key factors influencing people’s ability to adapt to a hybrid style of working.

Household complexity was one factor. Some people simply did not have a home environment conducive to operating effectively away from the office. This might be because of household responsibilities like caring for children,

“Not surprisingly, caregivers did not think that they worked as effectively as those that didn’t have those responsibilities.”

The second factor was role complexity. Some job roles are not suited to a hybrid model due to requiring a high degree of interaction.

And finally, the quality of a person’s professional and personal network was a key factor in their success.

“Your network can give you a sense of belonging and support. People are looking for companies to provide better systems” to help with this.

“What this sort of research underscores is how nuanced the future of work is. It’s not about going fully remote or getting some particular flexibility target.

“It’s about thinking about the different personalities and complexities of those who work in an organisation.”

Create a culture of trust, adapt performance management, learn to communicate effectively, and treat people as individuals – excellent advice for managers who want to be a ‘good boss’ in 2021.