Remote but not distant: CEO’s in the hybrid age

02 Dec 2022

Remote but not distant: CEO’s in the hybrid age

Just like everyone, CEOs have to adjust to hybrid working, but such a key role requires a blend of old and new behaviours.

Hybrid working is most definitely here to stay. And Germany is judged the top country for the remote working that forms part of that hybrid set-up.

Yes, there are some variations across the country. For example, a YouGov study shows there is more hybrid work in Northern and Western Germany, medium and large companies offer more flexibility, and the more you are educated, the more likely you’ll be working in a hybrid model.

But variation aside, what does the hybrid working reality mean for senior leaders, in particular the CEO?

There has been plenty of time to learn what works and what doesn’t. This is a moment to consider how to draw on the best parts of what the pandemic taught us and combine it with the best aspects of the face-to-face management style CEOs were so used to before 2020. A hybrid approach for a hybrid world, you might say.

Time for face-to-face meetings

As HBR reminds us, managing their time is task number one for the CEO. “……the job of the CEO is multi-faceted and involves myriad functions, for which there is never enough time.

Despite the time pressure, efficiency shouldn’t be the top consideration. “

Why do they say that? “Well, the CEO relies almost completely on others in order to get their job done. And this means spending an inordinate amount of time building the right type of high-quality, high-trust relationships with those who will ultimately get things done” states Klaus Hansen, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

Which brings us to the first point of the CEO in the hybrid situation: building those relationships is still best done by proper in-person, face-to-face interaction.

CEO Magazine makes the point in some considerable detail: “High-quality relationships involve aligning mutual expectations (each person knows what they expect of each other), increasing mutual understanding (each knows the other’s strengths, weaknesses, leadership styles), and developing mutual trust (each has confidence in the other’s motives and intentions). Such relationship-building benefits from the give-and-take and full co-presence that face-to-face interactions enable better than electronic interactions.”

To video or not to video?

From a CEO’s point of view, how best do you decide how your ratio of video and in-person meeting should work?

One technique suggested is to be truly intentional about this.

In other words, set a target ratio for video and in-person meetings with your different constituencies.

For CEOs who want to visit longstanding customers, you might aim for an 80/20 mix — 80% by video, 20% in person. In contrast, if it’s about interacting with employees that you meet only infrequently, perhaps 50/50 makes more sense. Regardless of the numbers, the point is to choose a target intentionally, assess how well it’s working, and recalibrate if necessary.

Beware of the video traps

When it does come to video interaction, it is worth mentioning several additional issues to be aware of.

Firstly, since it is so easy, just ‘popping into’ others’ meetings might not be so wise.

Yes, it might be a nice boost to morale or show how engaged the CEO is, but ultimately a CEO’s presence might well become a problem. An effective CEO delegates work to subordinates and then trusts them to get on with the job.

Nor should CEOs get into the habit of over-inviting subordinates to group meetings.

Of course, asking more people feels more inclusive, but it, too, can be a mistake. Smaller groups allow for debate and discussion that is more honest and productive. When a meeting gets too big, people tend to stay muted and land up multitasking during the call. Ultimately, engagement falls. And as study after study shows, in a hybrid world, engagement is the key measure.

In the office

For most CEOs, they are likely to be the person most likely to spend the most time in the office. And this has real value, way beyond the functional, as HBR explains.

“CEOs should recognize that time spent in the office carries symbolic value beyond its functional value.”

“How a CEO spends face-to-face time is viewed as a signal of what or who is important; people watch this more carefully than most CEOs recognize” says Christine Kuhl, Partner at Odgers Berndtson Germany.

“So, even if you are leading an organization where many people have opted to stay in WFH mode, CEOs will need to be the ones who are in the office more than colleagues at other levels of the organization.”

Listen, listen, listen

Wherever you are, in office or not, the clever CEO makes sure that they keep listening to their employees.  It’s your way to finds out if the organization’s form of hybrid is working for everyone. That means conducting regular pulse surveys to identify how employees get value out of your office and current work policy.

Plus, you can hear any changes they wish to see. Then you can implement the policies that allow people to choose their own best plan.

If you enable employees to work where and when they want, it will help improve employee productivity and satisfaction.

There doesn’t have to be a ‘hybrid model for all’.

More options will allow more leverage when it comes to hiring and retaining the very best talent.

The 2022 State of Hybrid Work report concludes that what employees want is simple. They want their employers to listen, care and adapt to their new needs and workplace expectations. For the 52% (over 1 in 2!) that have switched jobs or are actively looking to do so, flexible work in location and hours proved to be their top priority.

The CEO of GoFundMe, Tim Cadogan, sums up the right response for those at the top: “Stay nimble. It’s very simple. More and more people want very clear purpose on what they’re working on, and then they want flexibility in how they go about that work.

As an employer, if you’re providing clear purpose and you’re giving people the support and the means to be effective, people can work in all kinds of ways we don’t expect. Put those two things together and you create a great opportunity for people to do the best work of their lives, which I think is what people are looking for.”

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If you would like to discuss this subject in more detail, and its application to your corporate strategies or indeed your own personal career trajectory, please don’t hesitate to get in touch.