How to be an Ethical Leader in a Hybrid Work Environment

March 16, 2023 | New Workplace Leadership | 5 min read

How can organizations ensure that their employees are set up for success in making ethical choices, while also empowering them to speak up when things go awry? The key is to empower employees to become ethical leaders by leading with emotional intelligence, actively listening, and accepting personal accountability. The question is: Do the topics, approach, or strategy behind that empowerment change in a hybrid work environment?

Throughout 2022, I spoke with a variety of leaders in different industries about how they communicate their organization’s ethical beliefs and values to team members so that everyone is aligned on the behaviors expected of them. I learned how they promote a safe workplace and employee safety and well-being across their companies, and how they make hard choices to do the right thing every day – and encourage others to do the same.

Of course, leaders rely on different tactics for encouraging their team to do the right thing. But, the strategies my industry peers shared with me boil down to some common ideas.

Here are some ways to become a more ethical leader:

  • Show your team what good behavior looks like so they can replicate it (even on Zoom).
  • Don’t hide your mistakes; learn from them and share them so others so they don’t have to learn the hard way.
  • Give your team opportunities to be role models.
  • Ensure that your team understands that we are all a work in progress, and we can only do the best we can on the journey we are on.
  • Provide employees with time and a safe space to make informed, ethical, and measured decisions.

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Applying Principles of Ethical Leadership to Remote Work

While many ethical leaders have the benefit of influencing their teams from a physical office, more organizations than ever before are turning to remote work. McKinsey’s American Opportunity Survey said that 58% of Americans reported having the opportunity to work from home at least one day a week in 2022.

Author C. S. Lewis said, “Integrity is doing the right thing, even when no one is watching.” And when employees are working from home, it can be more difficult for leaders, or anyone for that matter, to watch them – so it becomes more important than ever for them to do the right thing.

See how the Hill International team embraces integrity at work.

But before hybrid employees are able to do “the right thing,” employers must show them what good behavior looks like . . . at home. And give them opportunities to be role models . . . at home. All while acknowledging that they have their own personal lives to contend with while working . . . at home.

This means that managers may have to adapt their leadership styles a bit.

In Skillsoft’s recently published Lean Into Learning Report, Holger Mueller, VP and principal analyst at Constellation Research shared some hybrid work trends that he believes employers will consider in the coming year, and beyond. Here’s what he said:

  • Leaders will create new best practices to help their teams succeed, foster a sense of purpose for team members, and create a sense of belonging — ultimately fostering a higher level of resilience.
  • Because it is no longer a given that everybody is in the office Monday through Friday, physical offices will need to provide a better employee experience on-site.
  • Enterprises may start requiring leaders they hire to have two to three years of experience in successfully managing hybrid working teams.
  • Organizations will need to foster experimentation for the sake of better best-practices evolution and must allow leaders to fail, recover, learn, and experiment until new best practices crystallize.

“A more flexible workforce will be more productive, more successful, and more motivated and will show more resilience than ever,” said Mueller. “It is time for leaders to create environments that will unleash these key qualities for their teams.”

Changing Your Leadership Style to Accommodate Hybrid Work

Mueller encourages leaders to adopt the following tactics in a hybrid or remote work environment:

  • Find ways to see employees and spend time with them in their homes or other out-of-office work locations.
  • Make yourself available via calendar and chat, so your employees have an open line of communication with you.
  • Take advantage of larger talent pools for hiring and augmenting talent – no time zone is off-limits anymore.
  • Hybrid work has effectively democratized the promotion pool; because everybody is working hybrid, remote workers are no longer subject to stigma (and the risk of being overlooked).

Addressing Inequity in Hybrid Teams

Employees bring unique strengths and talents to the workplace which have potential to lose visibility in hybrid environments. To empower them and drive success, many leaders are embracing the components of Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) programs to promote employee respect, diversity, and equity.

Here are some steps that can help leaders acknowledge DEI across hybrid teams:

  • Establish clear communication channels: To ensure that all team members have equal access to information and can communicate effectively with one another, establish clear and consistent communication channels. This might include video conferencing, instant messaging, email, or other tools that facilitate real-time communication.
  • Set expectations for participation: Establish clear expectations for how team members are expected to participate in meetings, contribute to projects, and communicate with one another. Make sure that these expectations are equitable and take into account the different needs and constraints of remote and in-person team members.
  • Provide training and resources: Provide training and resources to help team members develop the skills and knowledge they need to work effectively in a hybrid team environment. This might include training on virtual communication, project management tools, or other relevant topics.
  • Foster an inclusive culture: Create a culture that values diversity and inclusivity, and that encourages all team members to contribute their unique perspectives and ideas. This might involve setting up affinity groups or other initiatives to help build connections and foster a sense of community among team members.
  • Monitor and address issues: Monitor team dynamics and be proactive in addressing any issues or concerns that arise. This might involve setting up regular check-ins with team members, conducting surveys to gather feedback, or other strategies to ensure that everyone feels heard and valued.

By taking these steps, you can help to ensure that all team members, regardless of their location or work style, have an equitable and inclusive experience working in a hybrid team environment.

Even if you are not watching in-person, taking these steps will also ensure your employees can show integrity, do what’s right, and thrive as ethical leaders in a hybrid workplace.