How can leaders navigate the new realities of hybrid work?

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Is hybrid work really just work in another form? How do companies and organizations navigate this arrangement while balancing the needs of its workforce so as to bridge the gap between leaders and employees.

In a recent video interview, Microsoft Asia’s President, Ahmed Mazhari spoke to Managing Director of Great Place To Work ® ASEAN and ANZ, Evelyn Kwek to discuss these questions in relation to the findings of Microsoft’s latest Work Trend Index Research. It suggests that a year into truly hybrid work, not everyone agrees on how it’s faring. The report is based on an external study of 20,000 people in 11 countries including five markets in the Asia-Pacific region (APAC). It also draws on analysis of trillions of Microsoft 365 productivity signals, LinkedIn labor trends and Glint People Science insights.

Ahmed Mazhari: Hi Evelyn, we just released our Work Trend Index and one thing we are discovering from our data and discussions that we are having with employees is the idea of “productivity paranoia”. Productivity paranoia is when leaders fear that lost productivity is due to employees not working, even though hours worked, number of meetings and other activity metrics have increased. What is your research telling you?

Evelyn: Like you say Ahmed, the views are mixed. Bosses want their employees in the office. Employees who have tasted the fruit of flexibility, do not want to go in – the case for commuting to office every day is just not strong when I know I get a lot more done when I work from home. The contrast cannot be more stark.

Based on the three key findings that emerged in this Work Trend Index Pulse Report, leaders can use the insights to navigate the new realities of hybrid work when they keep in mind the following:

  • Leaders need to create clarity for their people and end productivity paranoia.
  • Employees go into the office for each other.
  • Re-recruit employees with reskilling to stay ahead.

Companies which already have a high-trust culture are actively promoting hybrid work. Like Microsoft, the thinking is whatever works for you. We are help to support you to do your best work and the business is here to give you the tools that you need. We will train the leaders to know how to manage a remote work team and to lead effectively in a hybrid world. We will co-create on the rules of engagement for how it will work for the employees and the organisation. This is for companies who have a high culture of trust, believing that employees are engaged to do their best work.

What about companies who do not have the foundation of trust in their culture? Leaders default to the old ways of leading, and that is control. That’s where there is the paranoia over whether employees are working or not. I believe that it comes down to whether there is a culture of trust in companies.

Ahmed: You raise a fascinating point about culture and trust and some amount of social capital perhaps has been lost and we got to continue to invest in building our social capital. But at the core, again, our research is suggesting that three out of four employees want to come back for fellow employees, and that really reflects on how much human connections become relevant in everyday life. What has been your experience with this?

Evelyn: At Great Place To Work, we do lots of employee surveys, and one recurring theme from employee comments, regardless of job designations or location, is that we are social creatures built for connection. As leaders, before we get swept away by new trends and fancy tools – let’s remember people’s basic needs – autonomy, flexibility, connection. And then we can ask, for our business setting, how can we best meet those needs?

Ahmed: At the core, what I am concluding from your comments is the ability for people to have options, and when given those, people do enjoy the human connection. In solving some of these, we have created new tools around Viva, you may be familiar with it. They allow and enable managers to create more insights and use the data to be able to motivate and drive teams for the future. As you look through your journey, your findings and your travels, what are the 3 leadership experiences that you can share with us today?

Evelyn: I was reflecting on this just yesterday: Here are the 3 points I will share:

  • As leaders, we need to learn to pause, to breathe. As leaders, we want to do good. We want to coach, we want to show care, we want to show empathy. If we are stretched thin, if our emotional fuel tank is low and if we are tired there is no physical and emotional bandwidth to show empathy and care. That is when leaders can default to command and control mode.
  • Leaders can learn to operate from a place of trust. We can expect people to come in wanting to do their best work and to leave them to do their best work. That should be our starting point and it makes life easier for them and for us as leaders.
  • Leaders need to be comfortable being uncomfortable. The world is changing rapidly. The ways of work are constantly evolving. As leaders we will constantly be placed in new situations, uncertain or even conflicting data points. We need to sit with the discomfort, be ok with it and be able to run with it. That’s how we can survive and thrive and flourish in the new world.

How can leaders encourage a culture of trust in employees in the workplace? Backed by 30 years of data, Great Place To Work® is the global authority on workplace culture. Through its proprietary For All™ Model and Trust Index™ Survey, it gives organizations the recognition and tools to create a consistently positive employee experience. Find out more here.

Daphne Lee

Daphne believes in building community-relatable content, telling stories through narratives that add value in today’s workplace and in culture-building. Her idea of a great workplace is one that thrives on openness, support and inclusivity while building trust and working towards a common business growth and purpose. A journalist, she spent 15 years writing for trade publications, lifestyle magazines and broadsheet supplements. Daphne was also active in the Parent Support Group of her daughters’ school, chairing the volunteer-run committee for 3 years. A mum of two teenagers and two adopted dogs, she enjoys riding on her trusty bicycle to discover new sights and sounds in Singapore.

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To be eligible for the World’s Best Workplaces list, a company must apply and be named to a minimum of 5 national Best Workplaces lists within our current 58 countries, have 5,000 employees or more worldwide, and at least 40% of the company’s workforce (or 5,000 employees) must be based outside of the home country. Extra points are given based on the number of countries where a company surveys employees with the Great Place to Work Trust Index©, and the percentage of a company’s workforce represented by all Great Place to Work surveys globally. Candidates for the 2017 Worlds Best Workplaces list will have appeared on national workplaces lists published in September 2016 through August 2017.