Leadership strategies to build a resilient, hybrid workforce
5 minutes | Posted 14 April, 2021

With changing market conditions, the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic and increased competition, many leaders are concerned about their team members feeling disengaged and disconnected. Cultivating resilience is the key to facing these challenges and continuing to adapt. But it’s not a quick fix.

Stuart Taylor, CEO and co-founder of resilience training organization, Springfox, teaches leaders how to build resilient workforces. An expert in resilience and workplace wellbeing, Taylor promotes the link between workplace culture and productivity, explaining how organizational resilience is integral for rebuilding staff motivation and what leaders can do to keep remote staff engaged and excited about their work.

From adversity comes resilience  

Taylor cut his teeth in a high-intensity Big Four accounting firm. As a young, motivated and hardworking professional with an enormous workload, he was on the fast track to partnership. But this lifestyle had serious consequences.

“I was diagnosed with a grade 3 brain tumour and was given two and a half years to live,” said Taylor. “I was only 32 years old, a family man with three kids. Going from a pathway to leadership to facing a death sentence was a shock for me. I decided it was time to change my contribution in my career. I wanted to help leaders, organizations and staff better approach the way they engage in their work.”

In completely overhauling his lifestyle, life’s mission and purpose, Taylor miraculously overcame his prognosis, co-founding Springfox – which has now been in operation for 19 years. The organization provides critical training for organizations about leadership trust, psychological safety and agility.

“My career is closely tied to my recovery. I teach leaders and staff how to operate better, instead of constantly living on the edge of burnout (which many people do). What could have been an extremely negative experience, transformed into a positive outcome. We’ve gone from strength to strength, working with many large organizations, including government.”

Building resilience through trust 

In steady times, it’s easy for organizations to operate business as usual. However, tough times (such as pandemics), require leadership to rise to the challenge, affecting meaningful change, instilling trust and being there for their people when they need them most.

“2020 was a tough year for everyone, including leaders,” said Taylor. “People had to turn on the bilge pumps to get the water out of the boat. Now, we’re seeing the effect of operating in a state of reacting and responding for so long. While we all had to do our best, and it was appropriate and necessary at the time, it was a state of neglect. Now, it’s time to facilitate a successful return to work and motivate staff about their roles and contribution. Leaders must intentionally work to rebuild trust. This doesn’t just mean speaking the truth, but operating with integrity, purpose and connection. ”

But trust and psychological safety are at risk. Springfox’s COVID-19 People Survey revealed leaders believed a small number (16.5%) of their staff’s level of trust in others decreased. However, double the number (32%) of staff assessed their level of trust in others decreased due to COVID-19.

What does this mean? Leaders enter the danger zone when underestimating these gaps. Lack of trust results in low respect, high conflict and loss of discretionary effort, particularly when teams work remotely. This highlights the additional work required by leaders to move forward.

“Lack of trust is dangerous. It’s our permission to lead. Without it, we can’t. The extent to which employees feel unsafe and disconnected destroys motivation, performance and productivity. Trust and psychological safety isn’t something you establish directly. Rather, you work on it indirectly through your behaviour. Now is the time to rebuild trust if it has been lost. Trust and psychological safety are the foundation of workplace resilience, giving you the ability to establish better ways of working.”

Trust and psychological safety are the foundation of workplace resilience, giving you the ability to establish better ways of working.” 

Hybrid working environments

One better way of working includes hybrid working environments – where employees can work in both the office and from home. Springfox’s survey revealed a hesitation to return to work – not from fear, but from the fact we’ve proven working from home is possible.

“As such, many organizations are realizing hybrid work solutions are the answer. It’s a happy medium where people can work from home and in the office. It’s been a long time coming and last year was simply the tipping point. Now, organizations have the opportunity to operate in far more compassionate ways. There’s an elevated sense of caring for people in how, when and where they choose to work. Cost savings is just a bonus.”

Benefits such as increased trust levels and cost savings are complemented by increased engagement and an organization’s ability to attract more diverse talent – such as people living with disabilities and working parents.

But virtual teams will continue to challenge leaders. Taylor believes resilience, trust and psychological safety can’t exist in a 100% remote environment, as connection and social gatherings are essential components of the human experience. To lose these things is to destroy culture.

“It’s not sustainable. As humans, we need connection. You can’t replace that with a Zoom call. They tend to be so work-focused you lose that element. Connection, trust and relationships are built through non-work interactions.”

So, how can leaders make hybrid working environments work effectively?

Taylor recommends determining your organization’s hybrid working style, setting clear goals, and intentionally building in social encounters.

1. Strike the balance 

There are many ways to give team members the provision to work from the office and home that are both practical and acceptable. Determine when and how, and strike the right balance. PwC research found that 68 percent of executives believe employees should be in the office at least three days a week to maintain company culture, but over half (55 percent) of workers prefer to continue working remotely at least three days a week.

This will look different depending on your organization’s needs, goals and people. For example, a law firm Taylor consults for opens their office once per week, encouraging team members to catch up with each other and schedule client meetings. On other days, it supports team members to work from home.

2. Set clear goals

To make hybrid work solutions effective, leaders must establish clear goals. Clarity is key to preventing dysfunctional behaviour and reducing fear. It helps people avoid confusion and retain their sense of contribution.

Taylor recommends establishing a mix of KPIs, personal, team and cultural goals. Ensure your team members understand how their everyday projects, activities and goals align with others in the team and the wider organization. Tie goals to outcomes to measure performance.

3. Intentionally build social encounters 

Taylor’s final recommendation is intentionally creating opportunities for social encounters. With face-to-face contact comes humour, respectful touching and sharing – the foundations of meaningful human relationships.

“Social encounters took a dip in 2020. Rebuilding these encounters forms the fabric of your workplace culture. It gives people an opportunity to reconnect and get to know each other on a deeper, rather than transactional, level.”

Establishing hybrid working solutions, setting clear goals and intentionally building social encounters for people to deepen relationships will set leaders on the right path to a great 2021.

Prior to 2020, leaders were driven by performance and productivity. Now, Taylor recognizes priorities have shifted to facilitating flow.

In positive psychology, a flow state (being “in the zone”) is a mental state where people are fully immersed, energized and focused on the enjoyment of an activity. This complete absorption can transform one’s subjective experience of time.

“When people exist in a fear-based culture, there is no flow and no peak performance. We’re seeing people rebuild their organizations in flow, creating psychologically safe environments where their team members are engaged to reach their full potential. This is a powerful opportunity for us to stretch goals and engage our people. This allows us to maintain a sense of calm and composure, instead of operating in a state of constant hypervigilance.”

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