Bridging the gap: Hybrid leadership and hybrid learning

Hybrid working is here to stay. Indeed, the CIPD recently found that 40% of firms are already operating a model which includes co-located work in a central workplace as well as remote operations; whilst firms such as Apple, Uber and Google have either recently ramped up, or already put in place, long-term hybrid plans. It’s also what the workforce wants: Accenture recently found that over eight in ten employees are pro hybrid work.

Considering the demand for this way of working, and not forgetting the current tightness in the talent marketplace, businesses are sensible to opt for hybrid. Yet, to access the individual and organisational benefits this way of working can provide - better productivity, flexibility and inclusivity, as well as better work-life balance for employees - hybrid organisations will need to be supported by intentional learning strategies and led by leaders who understand the benefits of this structure of work. In essence, creating a good hybrid learning strategy, with hybrid leadership skills and roles being central to this.

Successful hybrid leadership

In fact, when it comes to hybrid leadership and learning the challenge is twofold. Those leading hybrid teams will have to learn new skills and behaviours to set themselves, their teams and the organisation up for success. They will also have to be a champion, model student, and enabler of learning, in both its hybrid form and as something that can drive good individual, team and organisational outcomes. In effect, bridging the gap for the workforce between legacy skills and learning structures and this new hybrid way of working and development.

Successful leaders in this area will focus on being able to hold the tension between seemingly contradictory skillsets and mindsets, such as being able to work at pace and iterate whilst also promoting sustainable growth. Done well, this will be mindful of the impact hybrid can have. Multiple studies have correlated remote and hybrid work with an increased propensity, or actual cases, of burnout, therefore good leaders will need to evolve from managing inputs and time - the traditional ways of working - to focusing on outcomes and energy. 

This will be tricky Leaders will need to get to grips with management of individual and team performance, communication, productivity and development in a world that is increasingly distributed and asynchronous, and has different levels of employee-leader proximity.

Modelling and expectations

Successful leadership in this area will therefore focus on modelling an evolved approach to work-life balance which is cognisant of new expectations around flexibility and personalised approaches to the experience of work. Here, proactive hybrid leaders will include all reports - be it organisational or at the team level - in the creation of new work structures, which account for individuals' different life responsibilities and requirements, expectations around meetings and communication, and more asynchronous ways of working. 

These expectations will clearly chart what outcomes and goals are as well as what mindful communication and response times look like. Outstanding leaders will be upfront about their own struggles during this shift, making transparency and inclusivity top priorities, understanding how a distributed setting can shift fairness and equity whilst implementing ways to manage proximity bias, experience sharing, and good work outcomes.

Part of this will include fostering a better understanding of how connection changes in a hybrid world. What once was in-person and serendipitous, now has to be proactively managed. Brilliant hybrid leaders will not be interested in micro-managing, or worse still surveilling, employees but will want to check in regularly, in both a one-to-one way and as a team, creating psychologically safe places in which clear structures around meeting norms, check-ins and progress measurement are in place so that they are able to support their reports with mentoring, feedback and skills development as well as the sharing of opportunities. 

It won’t just be guidance and structuring that good hybrid leaders will be interested in: they will also want to celebrate the growth and success of their team, too, ensuring they do this at the right time and in the right way (early and, often, in a face-to-face or cameras-on manner) understanding the positive impact this drives.

Balancing learning and leading

Perhaps, most difficult, will be the need for leaders to work in tandem with development professionals to ensure that all of these new leadership and working norms are embedded in a development programme and learning is an organisational, team and individual priority. They will need to work hard to ensure that best practice hybrid learning structures are understood, align with working structures and business goals and that they promote learning and knowledge sharing in a way that suits them and their organisation. 

Usually, successful leaders of learning focus on three core considerations. Firstly, they will understand what their business needs from its learning programme in order to support future hybrid success: is it new knowledge, new mindsets, identities, capabilities, or skills? Those that get it right will also provide tools that grow the new hybrid-essential behaviours and capabilities that leaders will now focus on (laid out earlier in this article).

Secondly, successful hybrid learning organisations will understand how to best align learning delivery options with the structure of hybrid work in a way that encourages individuals to develop. This will be done by promoting associated learning benefits such as the potential for career growth, whilst avoiding pitfalls, such as disengagement or fatigue. This will require a deep understanding of how to get the right blend of virtual, digital and face-to-face into a learning programme, as well as understanding how time pressures, leadership champions, social networks, learning sizing, content design and the delivery platform - with employees now spending up to 14 hours a day looking at screens, digital fatigue is a real issue - can encourage or discourage learning.

Organisations that do this well also understand that hybrid learning is not just blended learning - a mixture of self-directed asynchronous and synchronous, completed both in-person as well as remotely - but actively designs and makes intentional use of new structures to utilise time, space and personal needs for good learning outcomes.

Embedding hybrid learning

Lastly, successful hybrid learning organisations understand that this style of learning is a different side of the same coin to hybrid working, and what benefits hybrid learning will also benefit hybrid working, and vice versa. In fact, done well, they can perpetuate each other’s positives. Yet, this will require fronting up to the challenges hybrid creates. If you get it right though - and leaders are creating good hybrid structures of work, as noted above - the learner experience can be a good one, as a result of well-modelled behaviours, good feedback and seamless connection.

Of course, many won’t get this perfect immediately - the last two years have taught us that - and hybrid working, leadership and learning will evolve past this current understanding. However, for organisations that are prepared to go on that journey and become a best practice hybrid learning organisation, led by individuals who believe, practice and understand the structure, the benefits are clear. 

According to Harvard Business Review findings, these are the organisations that are better at problem-solving and experimentation, taking learning from failures, and quickly transferring knowledge through their organisation. All in all, the best hybrid outcome.