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Leadership communication in a hybrid workplace

Work is not just about productivity; it creates opportunities to have meaningful connections with others. This is also one of the main reasons why many people miss the office - the desire to regain some of the lost magic that makes work more human.

According to a recent McKinsey survey of 100 executives across industries and geographies, productivity and customer satisfaction have increased during the pandemic. However, sustaining the pandemic-style productivity gains depends on how leaders address the employees concerns about returning to the workplace.

Accuracy, openness, and timeliness

Effective leadership communication is built on three core pillars: accuracy, openness and timeliness. Studies suggest that employees who work in an environment where communication is open, timely and accurate are more engaged and demonstrate a greater intent to stay with the organization. The pandemic created a leadership path of a whole new level of transparency, timeliness and empathy and those are great traits in a communicator. One of the most important types of leadership communication, however, is about what's expected of employees – and the best way to communicate expectations is through frequent manager/employee conversations.

The return to a hybrid workplace offers an opportunity to define the workplace value proposition, represented by the organisational culture, benefits and interactions employees experience when working on-site. It's the "why we come to the workplace." While leaders have many decisions and challenges to juggle in preparation for a return to the workplace, selecting a standard approach when creating a hybrid strategy is unlikely to work - an experimental and adaptive approach is required instead. Workplaces may not know for many months what "returning to work" looks like or means - and leaders should commit to learn and evolve to meet employers' needs. Leaders who communicate an honest message and are dedicated to transparency, prove that they are looking out for employees' best interests and wellbeing. Those who learn how to conduct the conversations that matter are also very likely to improve engagement.

Bring back the watercooler

Research from Gartner suggests that among the challenges of managing a hybrid workforce, one-third of leaders are most concerned about maintaining the organisational culture. And the impromptu watercooler moments are incredibly important to workplace culture. A study conducted at the University of California found that the reciprocity that comes with making small talk can create a meaningful connection between people and result in increased task enjoyment. Recreating these moments in a hybrid environment will require regular communication—with frequent meetings, check-ins on team members working from home, and even calendaring watercooler breaks, both for those in the office and those working remotely.

The shift to hybrid working means that companies have the opportunity to reset the workplace culture in many ways. As demonstrated by many organisations, people don't need to physically be together to communicate well. They can learn from and influence others from a distance. Multiple surveys show that most employees don’t want to return to an office full time, which presents a significant challenge for many organisations and leaders. And hybrid work models are mostly new territory for leaders.

At Acumen, we pride ourselves in offering development that gives managers practical tools to help solve real-life challenges. We offer an extensive menu of courses, workshops and coaching programmes, ranging from communication skills through to executive leadership development. In most cases, we design the interventions specifically for each client, but we also offer a wide range of off-the-shelf programmes for those who prefer this approach. For more information about our programmes please contact Simon at


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