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Remote control: the rise of the hybrid CEO (Published Quote)

Remote and hybrid working isn’t just for employees – CEOs are logging in remotely, too. What does it mean for working culture?

By David Stirling

Whether we liked it or not, among the kids’ schoolbooks and the empty takeaway boxes, working from home was the norm for many people during the pandemic. And remote and hybrid working are still in vogue. According to the Office for National Statistics, the proportion of hybrid workers in the UK rose from 13% in early February this year to 24% in May. As many as 14% of British workers were fully remote.

Of course, these figures include not only employees but also chief executives, traditionally seen as office stalwarts given their position and status. But can the boss really work as effectively in their converted barn or their garden office?

What do people want from their CEOs?

Mark Chaffey of technology talent hub hackajob is one of these hybrid CEOs. “If a CEO works remotely, they have a little bit more headspace to shut out the noise and do any deep work which is really important,” he says. “Remote working forces a culture of output and accountability rather than a culture of presenteeism and micro-management. I’ve found it largely positive.”

David Tuck, group chief executive of Kin + Carta Europe, is another hybrid boss who believes this set-up works. “Most organisations have a few offices across the country or globe, so CEOs have almost always been hybrid. And working from home enables some focused work, such as strategic initiatives or prepping for board meetings,” he says.

Staying visible as a remote CEO

The research concluded that remote work was killing company culture, even at the top. “There are functional and operational elements of the CEO role that can be done remotely, and there are benefits from having more personal thinking time,” says Toby Fowlston, CEO of Robert Walters. “But when it comes to the softer aspects of leadership, it requires a high degree of face-to-face interaction. You really need to sit down with them over lunch and have honest and authentic conversations. Younger workers also need to watch and learn from their ‘grey-haired’ bosses first-hand. Without all of this, you end up with echo-chamber management.”

Dan Goman, CEO of digital media supply chain and distribution platform Ateliere, agrees that less visibility, over time, does equal lower morale. This is despite Goman hailing the success of Ateliere’s move to a hybrid schedule consisting of two days in the office per week. “We’ve seen higher employee satisfaction, and we’ve seen higher productivity overall. Retention and engagement rates have been off the charts. And personally, I am connecting differently with staff, via recorded video messages or internal company newsletters. But I do all this from the office. Sometimes I am the only one here, but it is important for me as a leader to be visible. People want to see me here and be ready to give them quick answers, support and feedback.”


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