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ANZSOG insights into how leaders can support hybrid work in the public sector

12 October 2023

News and media


a person working from home

Hybrid work has become the new normal for many public sector agencies, with public sector leaders and new ANZSOG research has identified seven leadership behaviours required to effectively support hybrid work.

A new report published by ANZSOG explores what new approaches, skills, and resources leaders need in order to meet the challenges and opportunities of hybrid organisational models. Hybrid work models include employees who work in office locations, those who work from home, and those who alternate between both.

It looks at why the traditional command and control style of leadership is not suited to hybrid work, and how leaders can succeed by focusing on outcomes and outputs as well as processes

The report authored by Executive Master of Public Administration (EMPA) students Jenny Dove, Mardi Stewart, Grant Solomon, Charlotte Wood and Jessica Ziersch resulted from research undertaken as part of the Work Based Project component of the EMPA.

Leadership capabilities needed to support hybrid work in NSW Government was sponsored by the NSW Public Service Commission and has now been made available to other jurisdictions as an ANZSOG Research Publication.

The NSW Government positions hybrid work as the preferred and expected model of work for many of its employees. Hybrid work is central to its employee value proposition. The NSW Government advocates for an “if not, why not?” approach to hybrid work and considers hybrid work the ‘new normal’.

Research involved qualitative data collection of interviews with 12 senior public servants and a focus group. Participating agencies included: NSW Public Service Commission, the Australian Public Service Commission, NSW Department of Transport, NSW Department of Customer Service, NSW Ministry of Health, The Victorian Public Service, ACT Government, The National Indigenous Australians Agency, Comcare, and Utrecht University, the Netherlands.

How leaders can support hybrid work

Interviews and focus group discussion confirmed that leaders have less time in a hybrid work environment and therefore need easy-to-use reference guides, checklists and support to help them.

The report found that: ‘communication on hybrid work needs to be clear, concise and consistent. Key behavioural elements for leaders such as trust, flexibility and autonomy combined with simple tools and tricks such as walking the floor, intentional and deliberate engagement with teams, anchor days with set agendas, creating the ‘water cooler’ and selling the benefits of the office.’

The research identified the following specific leadership capabilities and behaviours required to support hybrid work across NSW Government departments:

Trust Building: Being explicit about trust, and being confident and comfortable in empowering and delegating, are even more important leadership capabilities in leading a hybrid team due to the lack of physical visibility.

Leadership Flexibility: Employees’ needs vary depending on the role, the team dynamic, personal circumstances, living situation, and preferences. Leaders need to know what works best for individuals, the team and the business.

Managing the ‘new’ pressures that come from hybrid work: The blurred physical lines between home and work have meant extra pressures for many leaders in Government. These demands have caused some leaders to feel that they always have to ‘be on’.

Digital Skills: Digital literacy is a fundamental leadership capability in a hybrid work environment in order for leaders to be able to share and collaborate with their employees regardless of place, time or setting.

Building Culture: Focus on building culture and leading team members beyond just productivity and outputs. Care about employee wellbeing and focus on how team members work together to solve complex problems and learn.

Managing a new team and new staff: Leaders need to be deliberate in the induction of a new starter by tailoring the information provided to them. Check in frequently to assist them in understanding priorities and try to meet with them in-person as early as possible to develop rapport.

Empowering autonomy, rather than micromanaging: Focus on outcomes based on clear goals and objectives. Capable hybrid leaders encourage and enable employees to work independently and advise employees to reach out if support is required.

The researchers examined how the public service is equipping its leaders with these capabilities and analyses what is missing. It identified what capabilities will equip public sector leaders to flourish during this evolution of working practices.

The research findings led to five key recommendations. These are themed around what the NSW Public Service Commission should stop, start or continue doing to support leadership capabilities in a hybrid work environment across NSW Government.

The research adopted a mixed methods approach including gathering information from an extensive literature review that consisted of contemporary articles in human resource, business, and public service publications as well as recent media editorials on hybrid work and leadership capabilities.

Leadership capabilities needed to support hybrid work in NSW Government is intended to be the first paper in a series that showcases topical and exemplary EMPA Work Based Projects with insights that are applicable across the public sector.

The Work Based Project module is the capstone of the EMPA and involves the practical application of the skills and knowledge gained throughout the degree. It requires students to work together to research a topic or issue nominated by a public sector agency.