Top 8 leadership skills for the hybrid workplace

The shift to a hybrid workspace has changed the business world. To succeed in this remote-first work environment, try our 8 leadership skills.

Kate Mulcrone

By Kate Mulcrone

working remotely is on the rise

The last two years and change have seen more changes happen in the workplace than in the previous two decades. The onset of the pandemic in 2020 sped up a transition to hybrid and remote work that has galvanized the workforce. With this rapid sea change, the most important leadership skills have shifted as well.

As part of our series on how the Covid-19 pandemic has affected the way we work, we have highlighted advice from renowned business leaders and experts.

The International Institute for Management Development recently revamped its research on the most important leadership skills with the changing workplace in mind. The exhaustive list covers all aspects of employee management, but there are a few skills that are especially relevant to hybrid and remote work setups.

Here are some of the most important leadership skills we identified.

1. Agility & adaptability

It’s no surprise that the skill to react quickly to changing circumstances would be one of the top leadership skills relevant to the workplace today.

“Effective leadership must be able to adapt to the changes – even if that means working out of your comfort zone – so leaders are not left behind by shifts in the industry, and can give their business a competitive edge.”

Above all, being agile enough to adapt to changing circumstances requires a certain degree of open mindedness, as well as a willingness to lean in and ask questions when presented with a new concept.

2. Conflict management

Now the water cooler is in your kitchen instead of the employee break room.

However, that doesn’t mean that water-cooler gossip is gone forever.

Conflict management is another one of the most critical leadership skills for today’s workplace.

“When a conflict arises, an effective leader should be able to jump in and resolve or at least mitigate the conflict before it affects the business negatively. When properly dealt with, a conflict may even turn out to be positive for your organization.”

good communication is one of the key leadership skills needed in today's workplace

The ability to intervene in workplace conflicts in order to ease tension and further a positive outcome is no doubt important. Being able to spot trouble brewing in the early stages is the best way to get ahead of workplace conflicts.

So don’t dismiss one of your direct reports’ snarky comments about a team member as a case of the Mondays!

3. Confidence

Confidence is another important way that today’s leaders can upskill. After all, we’re living in the TikTok age.

Nowadays everyone is expected to be able to perform a pithy best-of reel of their accomplishments on demand.

“Confident leaders make the organization appear strong and solid to its external and internal customers. It is critical for leaders to appear confident to their team members who look up to them at all times. Leaders need to make confident decisions even when circumstances are difficult.”

Projecting confidence is important.

But don’t confuse a confident stance with playing the strongman. One critical component of confident leadership is the ability to hear and respond to criticism without getting personal – or snarky, for that matter.

“New leaders can benefit most from leadership training programs that help improve their communication skills, people management skills and even simple personal development trainings.”

Training sessions that are tailored specifically for hybrid and remote workers are especially beneficial.

This way, anyone who wants to develop leadership skills.

4. Emotional Intelligence

One of the biggest challenges of hybrid and remote work is that decision making can take a little longer with distributed teams. Too many organizations default to the first person to chime in, rather than facilitating a discussion. Adding in the complications of asynchronous work introduces even more room for signals to be misread.

“The ability to empathize and listen to your peers and team members is part of being emotionally intelligent. To decipher a person’s emotion and know how best to deal with it professionally may not come instinctively to everyone so necessary leadership skills training needs to be implemented to develop or enhance emotional intelligence.”

Leaders with heightened emotional intelligence are able to customize processes to fit with each team member’s strengths.

5. Consistency

Hybrid and remote work has wreaked havoc on the traditional “9 to 5” paradigm.

But let’s face it, that tired schedule was already on its way out. Flexible work offers many advantages over more stagnant setups – but consistency is the key.

“Effective leadership is being consistent in implementing your chosen management style and leadership values so your integrity as a leader remains solid.”

In other words, stick to your guns. It’s important that your team knows what kind of feedback to expect from you and when. This is regardless of whether you’re working from your apartment, corporate HQ, or are on the road.

Consistency is one of the most important leadership skills for instilling psychological safety in the workplace as well.

6. Time management

Research has consistently shown a productivity bump when workers go remote.

Many workers also report feeling happier at work when they have the freedom to choose their schedules and work setups.

However, this productivity gain disappears when management isn’t able to keep up.

time management is one of the key leadership skills needed in today's workplace

“Workloads can easily pile up, and it can be daunting to think about how much time you will need to finish your work. A leader without the right time-management skills can be easily overwhelmed and eventually burn out.”

Although it’s clearly one of the most important leaderships skills for hybrid and remote work, time management isn’t one size fits all. One manager might need to keep her email inbox under control.

Another may need to reduce the amount of time he is spending reviewing his direct reports’ work.

The first step for successful time management for leaders is to honestly account for how they are spending their time, then work to improve how they prioritize their effort.

7. The ability to give quick feedback

Hand in hand with time management is the ability to give useful off-the-cuff feedback to employees.

However, it’s important that the response is actionable, not just prompt.

“Part of having good communication skills is being able to give timely and appropriate feedback to your employees.

One of the crucial leadership competencies required by firms today is the ability to give feedback to appreciate, recognize, correct or even reprimand employees.”

There’s no time like the present to intervene when a conversation or project is veering in an unhelpful direction, especially if the feedback is informal.

8. Cultural intelligence

As hybrid and remote work gain traction around the world, the workplace is changing fast. When employees have the ability to work from anywhere, the talent pool is truly global.

An abundance of talent is a good problem to have, but requires some nuanced leadership skills. Cultural intelligence is the ability to adapt to different ways of working or even attitudes around work itself.

“The emergence of the global economy makes cultural intelligence even more lucrative to employers. With the constant need to collaborate with peers from different parts of the globe, having this managerial skill is a must.”

Managers who are open to learning more about unfamiliar cultures will have a natural advantage in this arena.

Even if you only have a few of the most important leadership skills for the hybrid and remote workplace, you can leverage your knowledge to your advantage. It’s also great to set a goal of improving in one or two areas where you are less skilled.

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Kate Mulcrone

Kate Mulcrone

Kate Mulcrone has more than 10 years’ experience writing about travel, tech, and the workplace for a variety of publications.