This spring Google’s former HR Chief, Laszlo Bock, made waves by suggesting hybrid work wouldn’t last. In an interview with Bloomberg, he gives the model three to five years, likening it to the “boiling frog” method of getting people back in the office. Start out with just a couple of days a week and slowly increase the requirement until employees don’t even realize they’re back in the office full-time, like it’s 2019 all over again.

Contrast this view with a Gallup study, also from spring, that indicates hybrid is, in fact, here to stay. In surveying 140,000 U.S. employees since 2020, Gallup has found that “nine in 10 remote-capable employees prefer some degree of remote-work flexibility going forward, and six in 10 specifically prefer hybrid work. Clearly, most employees have developed an affinity for remote-work flexibility that has grown into an expectation for the future. While permanent plans for remote flexibility are certainly trending in their favor, there are still a fair number of employees who will not receive the flexibility they desire.”

And, according to Gallup, what happens if employers go the route of Apple or Google, requiring employees in the office a certain percentage of time? “Failing to offer flexible work arrangements is a significant risk to an organization’s hiring, employee engagement, performance, wellbeing and retention strategies.”

In the midst of all this uncertainty — will hybrid stay, will hybrid go — what are managers to do? When there’s no clear direction from leadership, or perhaps the direction keeps changing, how can managers do the hard, day-to-day work of managing people when, two years later, uncertainty persists?

Managers can use their own unique personal presence to help steer their people through transitions and uncertainty. Deepening their self-awareness, building their emotional intelligence and leveraging their authenticity are three powerful ways managers can use their personal presence to navigate uncharted waters with their teams.

What is Personal Presence?

Personal presence is the ability to connect authentically with others — both their hearts and their minds — so they feel included, engaged and empowered. While the skills of presence are universal, the application and manifestation are unique. In other words, the skills of personal presence look different depending on who is using them. We might all be tapping into the same skill set, but we show up differently because we are different. Three key — and complementary — skills of personal presence are authenticity, emotional intelligence and self-awareness.

Being Authentic Builds Trust and Inclusion

Given all the pressures and demands on managers’ time, it may seem like a waste of energy to worry about being authentic or showing up as your “true self.” Yet when we let our employees catch a glimpse of who we are beyond our job title, it helps to humanize us and create trust.

Trying to be authentic isn’t the same as “trying too hard.” We can all spot someone who is “trying too hard” to be liked or appreciated. This particular person may be choosing behaviors or actions solely for the approval or validation of the audience.

While being authentic might feel a bit vulnerable, it shouldn’t feel like a lot of hard work. A risk? Yes. And the payoff for that risk is trust and connection. When we take the risk to show employees some authentic aspect of ourselves, we’re letting them get to know us and build a connection. We’re also paving the way for them to bring their authentic selves to work.

Building on the work of legal scholar and inclusion expert Kenji Yoshino, Deloitte surveyed U.S. workers and found that 61% cover some aspect of their identity at work. This might mean a gay man not speaking openly about his husband or a Black woman altering the way she speaks to sound “more white.” Even a straight white man might conceal his mental health struggles or a medical condition. When managers set the tone by sharing something about themselves first, it creates the trust and psychological safety necessary for employees to share more of who they really are, too. Over time, the trust builds and employees feel like they belong. The work environment becomes more inclusive.

But how do we share our authentic selves at work? Here are some guidelines to get started:

    • Start small and specific. Don’t open a town hall with your life story. Instead, tell your team about something outside of work that you enjoy or are interested in. Maybe you garden or like to bake.
    • Don’t push. Respect employees’ boundaries. Paradoxically, being comfortable with someone’s choice not to share also creates trust.
    • Listen and find common ground. Pay attention to the small details employees might mention (a favorite restaurant or book) and make a connection if there’s common ground between the two of you.

Get Comfortable with Everyone’s Feelings

Employees are going to have feelings. Feeling about working from home, feelings about working from the office and lots of feelings about being hybrid, a mix of the two. They’ll also have feelings about their manager’s approach to navigating and communicating in the hybrid work world. And they will definitely have feelings about whether the better coffee is at home or in the office.

According to Daniel Goleman, emotional intelligence (EQ) is the knack for being comfortable with feelings: ours and theirs. Managers with high EQ levels can recognize their own emotions and know how to communicate them and manage them. Moreover, they can do this with other people’s feelings, too — they can “read the room” and adjust accordingly.

Research shows that emotional intelligence is one of the single biggest predicators of performance. Employees with high EQ build stronger relationships and are more engaged, which translates into higher performance and more innovation. These are the employees who stay. All these factors, of course, mean more money for the organization.

Now imagine if it’s the manager who has the high EQ, not only does that manager perform well while being highly engaged, but their team benefits from their ability to build trust and connection. Their EQ skills help their team feel even more committed to their work and plugged into the workplace mission.

Additionally, managing our feelings (self-regulation) has an impact on the work environment. Managers and leaders set the tone for the team and the organization. The manager who harbors fear or lets frustration fester is allowing those feelings to circulate. Similarly, the manager who can acknowledge intense feelings and find a way to modulate or integrate those emotions models resilience and positivity. Moods are contagious, so managers need to set the right tone by bolstering E.Q.

Knowing Who You Are and What You Stand For

Self-awareness goes hand-in-hand with authenticity and emotional intelligence. In fact, deepening our self-awareness builds emotional intelligence. It may seem counterintuitive to take time out of the day to think about or reflect on the day when we could be using that time to get things done. However, devoting time to self-reflection can help managers grow.

Make the Time to Reflect Each Day to Sharpen Self-Awareness

Reserve 10-15 minutes of each day to ask:

  • What went well?
  • What could have gone better?
  • What role did you play? What could you have done differently?

Write down your observations in a journal or notebook. Physically writing them down will help you internalize what you’re learning. Think about one or two things you’re grateful for each day and write them down. This will help you become more aware of your values — what’s important to you and what you stand for.

Gaining a deeper understanding of what makes us tick helps to build EQ. Moreover, practicing self-reflection can make us more receptive to feedback. When managers understand themselves better, they can exercise more control over their actions and choices. They can manage from a place of deliberate intention, instead of from a place of hasty reaction.

A Final Suggestion? Get Present!

We don’t know what’s going to happen — with COVID or with workplace arrangements. And managers don’t have to know the future. They do have to respond to it, though. Having the power to craft an intentional, authentic response that builds trust and inspires confidence requires the skills of presence. These skills create a sense of belonging in the workplace — however that workplace looks — and help employees feel empowered to perform at their best.

While being more authentic at work and tapping into self-awareness and EQ can amplify a manager’s personal presence, none of those things are possible without first getting present. Managers need to be fully in the moment to make intentional choices and to handle emotions (theirs and their employees’). The simple act of breathing — taking slow, deep breaths — can reset our physiology and our thinking, bringing us more in tune with the present moment.

So, as a final suggestion, take a deep breath. And just be present for whatever comes next.