Re-modelling manager role for hybrid era amid Great Resignation 

by AGNES KOH

WHEN you think of a manager, you consider an individual responsible for overseeing internal work processes, execution of projects and consequent reporting on the outcomes, while ensuring their team feels taken care of. 

Following a period of instability, organisations worldwide have been forced to adapt to new ways of work, with demands for change extending to managers. The great resignation continues with four out of ten employees wanting to leave their present job despite increments offered.

As their employees ask for autonomy via hybrid working, managers will need to eliminate three key barriers: Social pressures, health concerns and unequal access to tech. If they effectively address these concerns, the hybrid working model will begin to self-pilot.

Employee Autonomy Must Be Nurtured

Jabra’s latest hybrid working research showed that 66% of workers with full autonomy to choose where and when they work chose a hybrid model as their ideal workweek. However, only 57% were actually, currently working a hybrid model. 

Of that 9% gap, 2% work from the office more than they like and 7% work from home more than they wish. This begs a few important questions: If these workers have full autonomy, why are they either working full-time at home or full-time in the office when they could be choosing otherwise? 

Empower, Don’t Punish

One reason employees may be working full-time in the office more than they wish is strong social pressure. Despite an organisation letting employees work wherever they would like, a culture that says, “you need to be visible in the office to progress”, whether explicitly or implicitly, effectively undoes any degree of autonomy. 

Jabra’s new research also found that 55% of employees were concerned their careers would suffer if they didn’t come into the office regularly

The Solution? 

Leaders need to make it clear that employees won’t be unduly punished for not working in the office. A good place to start is with output-based performance evaluation. Although long-discussed, it’s not taken hold enough to make employees feel comfortable working in a way that best suits them. 

Another key step is to train managers in location bias, or the unconscious bias that leads to preferential treatment of those with whom they have the most face time. Employees often reflect the behaviour of their leaders, so one of the best ways to show that it’s okay to work from home is for leaders and managers to lead by example and do it themselves.

Communicate, Update and Reflect Reality

One reason employees may be working full-time from home more than they would like is because, even two years into the pandemic, the virus is still a major health concern. 

Forty percent of all employees globally are reluctant to return to the office because of Covid-19. Similarly, 55% are reluctant to enter a small conference room due to continued anxiety surrounding the virus. Workers understand that a return to the office means increased exposure to the virus, a risk that  many are simply not willing to take.

How do managers resolve this? It’s difficult for employees to return to the office if they fear for their health and wellbeing. To address this, leaders will need to continually update health guidelines reflecting local realities. 

Managers must also advocate for spaces where employees can choose to work alone with limited contact with others. This way, everyone wins; employees feel their concerns are acted upon and managers reap the rewards of a more engaged and productive workforce.

Build An Inclusive Tech Ecosystem

Over the past two years, workers have received help from their employers to thrive in virtual environments. In fact, 83% of remote workers say their organisation provides them with the necessary technology for equal and inclusive collaboration no matter where they work. 

For full-time office workers, this number drops to 57%. In a world where work is increasingly trending towards virtual environments, access to technology will be crucial in ensuring satisfaction, inclusion and success at work.

If leaders want to enable employees to work their ideal, hybrid working arrangement, they need to optimise office spaces for employees working primarily in virtual environments. Similarly, they’ll need to provide employees with personal, flexible technology to access those virtual environments from anywhere.

This includes identifying collaboration technologies that will enable both in-office and remote employees to collaborate on an equal playing field, and which allow employees to seamlessly move between these places without feeling left out. Only then will employees truly be able to work a flexible arrangement on their own terms.

Autonomy Does Not Lead to Redundancy

Although social pressures, health concerns and unequal access to technology all play a role in potentially unbalancing a workforce, there are ways managers can counteract this. 

More than ever, managers must lead by example, demonstrating that working from home will not hinder progression. They must also take safety seriously, putting guidelines into place to reflect local reality. 

Finally, leaders should optimise technology ecosystems to make the most of physical workspaces, providing professional equipment to facilitate effective collaboration. These pillars are fundamental to being a successful manager in the era of hybrid work. 

Agnes Koh is the product marketing manager, Asean, at Jabra, a leader in engineering communications and sound solutions. The Jabra Hybrid Ways of Work 2022 report surveyed 2,800 knowledge workers in six key countries including respondents from Gen Z (ages 18-25), Millennials (26-41), Gen X (42-57) and Baby Boomers (58-65).