How hybrid work can end the top-down approach to business

How hybrid work can end the top-down approach to business

Hybrid working has done more than shaking up the spaces where people work; it’s shaken up the whole way in which businesses are managed. It’s increasingly clear that for hybrid to work, there needs to be a dialogue between leadership and employees rather than the former dictating to the latter. So is the top-down approach to management a thing of the past?

Different perspectives

An article by Colm Sparks-Austin for Forbes makes the point that leaders and employees often view things differently when it comes to the transition to hybrid and remote work.

He illustrates this with some interesting stats: “69% of leaders believe that the transition to hybrid work was well managed by their organisation”, while “less than half (49%) of employees would say the same”. 

Revealingly, the Forbes Re-Learning Leadership report also found that less than 50% of employees in non-supervisory roles feel heard and included within their organisation. So what does this apparent disconnect mean for making the move to hybrid? 

Giving employees agency

Research suggests that for hybrid to work, those in leadership positions need to listen to workers and adapt to their needs. To explore this in more detail, a November 2022 survey by Gallup looked at how best to coordinate employees’ schedules when employees divide their time between home and office. 

It found that hybrid employees report being engaged at work when their team collectively determines their hybrid work policy – aspects such as the balance of office versus off-site days, which days are office-based, and so on. However, only 13% of employees say that their team determines their approach to hybrid work. Employee input is demonstrably effective in everything from determining work schedules to collaborative goal setting. 2021 research by Gallup revealed that asking team members to collaboratively design their company’s hybrid policy is one of the most effective tools in engaging a workforce that is returning to the office when they need to. 

At the same time, having a set number of office days mandated by the employer was linked with lower employee engagement. Those whose managers don’t require them to be in the office – that is, who make it a choice – are more engaged and are “more likely to believe their organisation cares about their wellbeing”. The truth is that there are no one-size-fits-all solutions and the beauty of the hybrid model is that it empowers companies to experiment, test and learn, making tweaks to their working models in collaboration with employees. 

With lower burnout and higher loyalty when employees set their own office days, it’s clear that giving hybrid teams a choice over the form their hybrid working takes is better for everyone.

Changing the top-down approach

The upshot, then, is that organisations must shift from the traditional top-down approach to management, enabling their employees to build company culture at all levels and giving employees responsibility. One way to do this might be for leadership to provide “broad but flexible guidelines for the whole company” on hybrid working, but that flexibility is key – it’s about empowering teams to decide what works best for them.

Sparks-Austin advocates taking a “human-centric approach”, focusing on employee wellbeing and building a company culture that suits a hybrid model. He suggests, for instance, investing in “Actively building company culture outside of the office by coordinating mentorship opportunities, book clubs or recognition initiatives for company milestones with hybrid-friendly programming” as a way for businesses to “sustain company culture, even when employees are far apart.”

When it comes to hybrid work, a collaborative and dialectic managerial approach is as important as location. This is  discussed in more detail in an IWG white paper. It quotes creativity consultant Chris Barez-Brown, who comments that employees need energising at all levels and should not be dictated to by seniors. He says: “It’s about getting people into the right state mentally and emotionally wherever they happen to be. And that takes management and leadership.”

Of course, there’s no ‘one size fits all’ when it comes to hybrid, and what works for one company may not work for another. Beta testing is one way to find the best approach for your business, and it may not happen overnight; a gradual transition can help you figure out what works and what doesn’t.

What is key, however, is that hybrid systems and the employees within them work better when everyone has a say. A top-down approach that ignores the needs of the worker can potentially damage the very things hybrid gives the workforce, that in turn boost company performance: more flexibility, greater autonomy and a better work-life balance. 

Discover how IWG can help your company make the successful transition to hybrid, with advice on your workplace strategy and access to 3,500 flexible workspaces worldwide.