After the worldwide upheaval of Covid-19, it is clear that we’re never going back to work the way we knew it. According to a World Economic Forum survey, 70% of UK respondents said they prefer hybrid work arrangements. And while most employers are working to find ways to meet the new needs of talent, they still have to deal with customers and suppliers. Retail customers obviously are buying online far more than before the pandemic, so brick-and-mortar shops can shift efforts there fairly seamlessly. But the majority of organisations are still dealing with customers and business partners in the ways they did before. And that can be difficult to manage with a workforce that wants to operate differently.
How do leaders meet customers where they are, while accommodating hybrid workers?
Start with your needs but consider others. Executive leadership have to pull back and plan for how to enter a new era of workplaces and work arrangements. What is your brand? How will you maintain your culture? Where is your talent and how will you retain and develop them? And then as they work through with senior managers how to implement these changes, consider what your supplies and customers need. How will your sales team interact with customers? Will they need to come into the office? Make fewer visits? Move all interactions to virtual? Find solutions that will meet the realities of your hybrid workers and the needs of business partners and customers.
For some organisations, there will likely be areas of operation where in-person work is required. Leadership teams, particularly human resources executives, will need to find ways to encourage and recognise when employees are on-site. As odd as it sounds, it is now an ask, not an expectation. Whether its updating office spaces, subsidising commute expenses, or other benefits, find ways to bring your teams back in. And while you can accommodate your employees with changes to the office environment, it is important to also articulate expectations. How many days per week must you be on site? Who determines which days are in the office?
Educating customers about your hybrid workers is key. Companies will have to teach their customers the changes in how they operate now and how to meet their needs in new ways. On the upside, customers are fully aware of the new workplace dynamics. Everyone was forced to do things differently in the last few years and has learned to be more flexible. And for large organisations, their customers are businesses facing the same flexible work dynamics within their own teams. On the other hand, the companies who learn how to meet customer needs the best, have an opportunity to gain a competitive advantage. The rapid change and lingering uncertainty of the current environment creates space for leaders who can figure this out first, to win more market share.
Hybrid work has changed everything for you. And your customers.
The current business environment has come about in a reactionary fashion. First, a worldwide upheaval due to a global health crisis. Then a war in Europe added more uncertainty. Leadership teams like to have five- and ten-year plans, and instead they are catching up with the newest challenge after it has already happened. The only solution is to start tackling these issues immediately. I recently had a client who had been discussing the new challenges of meeting with their customers and managing remote teams. They had gone round and round the issues without getting consensus on next steps. Until they discovered that the client was aware of their paralysis, making them vulnerable to competitors who could meet the client’s needs now. That was enough to get them around the table and building solutions. It’s easy to get caught up in a version of everything new is an internal conversation. But we’re more global and interconnected than ever before, all sharing a new reality. Whoever figures it out first, will be rewarded most.
In terms of my background and expertise, I have spent my entire career working as a trusted advisor to senior leaders wanting to improve the effectiveness of themselves, their teams and their companies. Prior to starting my own consulting firm, I led the global executive assessment and development team for Cisco. Earlier in my career I held leadership roles with RHR International, PepsiCo, Ashridge Executive Education, Hult International Business School and the Central European University, Budapest, Hungary.