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5 soft skills managers need to lead hybrid teams

Managers play a major role in employees' engagement and likelihood to stay. As organizations look to design a new way of working, these are the skills managers need to lead in a hybrid work environment – and beyond.

In times of change, soft skills are fundamental to the health and stability of teams. And in many instances, the skills managers need in a hybrid world of work are the same skills they need in a remote world of work as well as a traditional office environment.

Indeed, soft skills are fundamental no matter the work environment; but in our new hybrid world, it’s how managers apply these skills that will determine if they meet employees’ needs and expectations.

How is hybrid work reshaping employees’ expectations?

So, if the skills needed to lead hybrid teams haven’t changed, what has?

Since the start of the pandemic, employees' expectations around work and how they perceive the psychological contract with their employer and manager have changed.

Employees are now asking:

  • Do my organization’s – and my manager’s – words (and promises) match their actions?
  • Do I feel that my manager trusts me? Does the trust I extend get paid back to me?
  • Do I feel a sense of belonging here?
  • Do I feel purpose in my work? Does it help me meet my own goals?
  • Is there another place that seems like it would give me more of these things (that my friends tell me about)?
  • Do I feel psychologically safe? Could I speak up in a meeting without feeling I may be humiliated or ridiculed?

And it’s soft skills and their applications (I get into the details of both, below) that not only answer these questions, but make or break whether employees feel like their current employer is meeting their needs, or if they need to move on to find a place that does.

What are the top skills managers need to lead hybrid teams?

Employees are keen to see their manager deliver on the promises of the past year and a half. And if they don’t, they’ll look elsewhere – as many people already intend to.

So, what will inspire employees to stay? We’ve identified the five soft skills managers can utilize to not only lead hybrid teams, but also stay attuned to their employees’ needs:

1. Coaching (versus managing)

The most effective managers view their roles as a coach; one who fosters an environment where team members support each other and where employees’ goals, as well as the goals of the manager and the organization, are supported and achieved with equal fervor.

2. Fostering a sense of belonging

We know that belonging is highly correlated to employee engagement. According to our research, only 20% of employees who feel they don’t belong are engaged versus 91% of those who feel they do – that’s three and a half times more.

A sense of belonging not only meets your employees’ basic needs, it inspires their work and drives better business results. How do you get started? Lead by example by bringing your authentic self to work.

Read more: Airbnb DEI Chief on 9 ways to create a culture of belonging

3. Meeting people where they are

Whether it’s geographically, mentally, and/or emotionally, ask your team how they want to work, and how they prefer to communicate. On a team with multiple communication style preferences you may have to work to meet team members in the middle – and iterate until you find what works.

Consider the scientific method: try out a new process or way of working over a specific window of time. Then, ask your employees for feedback about what worked and what didn’t. Iterate. And when you find a solution that works, make that your new normal.

4. Promoting inclusion, but being flexible with boundaries

Likewise, iterate on ways to be inclusive, especially if your team is distributed and/or hybrid – and never in the same place. Consider how to make communications and meetings both inclusive and more productive (as the two are not mutually exclusive).

Read more: How to host more inclusive meetings

Lead by example by being flexible with where your employees work (and where they feel the safest working). That might mean everyone goes back to working from home, or only some people come into the office a few days a week. Being flexible shows you’re attuned to your employees’ needs – and want to put their health and well-being first.

“Embrace that there is no one magical formula for developing soft skills. It’s all about the practical application; imperfect practice makes for learning and growth.”

5. Pacing and supporting change

As you bring employees back to the office, remember that some people might need quiet time once they’re back in the office, while others need time to catch up and socialize to feel that sense of belonging.

In a hybrid work environment, some employees may feel that the rate of change is too fast. One-on-one conversations with their managers can help people feel seen – and help reinforce the trust the relationship is built upon.

What can organizations do to support managers’ skills development?

First, listen to your people and work to understand – and set expectations around – what they should prioritize.

Second, embrace that there is no one magical formula for developing soft skills. Encourage managers to test and explore, and provide options for formal and informal training. Soft skills are all about the practical application; imperfect practice makes for learning and growth. Sometimes, the manager/coach/mentor will become the student from their employees.

And third, share these learning concepts with your whole organization. Have them be part of conversations at every level. Doing so helps create an environment where these skills will flourish.

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Qualtrics // Experience Management

Qualtrics, the leader and creator of the experience management category, is a cloud-native software platform that empowers organizations to deliver exceptional experiences and build deep relationships with their customers and employees.

With insights from Qualtrics, organizations can identify and resolve the greatest friction points in their business, retain and engage top talent, and bring the right products and services to market. Nearly 20,000 organizations around the world use Qualtrics’ advanced AI to listen, understand, and take action. Qualtrics uses its vast universe of experience data to form the largest database of human sentiment in the world. Qualtrics is co-headquartered in Provo, Utah and Seattle.

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