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As we leave the pandemic behind and embrace hybrid work models, employees enjoy greater flexibility in planning their workday. While some employers report higher productivity, engagement and client satisfaction, not all executives reap the benefits of these improvements. In this post, I’m shedding light on how a lack of relationship-building and connectivity at work can lead to wider organisational issues. Left unchecked, these issues can wreak havoc on everything from your company’s bottom line to company culture and organisational morale. My goal is to convince you that vulnerability, authentic leadership and a diversity-driven approach hold the keys to unlocking productivity and organisational benefits in the new hybrid work model.

First, if you currently work in a hybrid workforce, ask yourself: what steps have you taken to create social circles outside of work? For example, do you volunteer at a not-for-profit organisation within your community? Or do you enjoy social events with old friends? And similarly, when was the last time you met colleagues for in-person, informal gatherings? Answers to these questions reveal the strength of your relationships.

Relationship building is paramount to healthy, productive relationships both inside the workplace and out. At work, the recent drying up of opportunities for water cooler chats means that colleagues need to get more inventive in finding opportunities to share ideas and bond. Ultimately, relationship building at the office is an effective method to gaining trust quickly while cultivating effective bonds that can lead to productivity gains, improved sales, better customer service and much more.

With constant Zoom meetings and video conferencing software, it’s becoming increasingly harder to get to know each other. There is a real concern about a lack of relationship-building at the office. And more importantly, as we conduct business from home, we can easily fall into the trap of stereotyping others based on their unique characteristics – limiting our ability to build effective relationships.

In my executive consulting business, I take an authenticity-first approach. I inherently believe that relationship-building and embracing diversity go hand in hand. I also take the position that vulnerability is a prerequisite for achieving these outcomes. Being vulnerable in leadership means acknowledging that things won’t always be easy. In her bestselling book Dare to Lead, Brené Brown says, “Vulnerability is the birthplace of innovation, creativity, and change.”

But leading with vulnerability wasn’t always an inherent strategy in my toolbox. I hail from a working-class, Irish background. Growing up, I faced unique challenges and difficulties on a wide scale – from societal to behavioural. I’ve had my nose broken twice simply for being who I am. As an Irishman living in England, I learned to overcome complex thoughts and feelings. Over time, this internal struggle fuelled my desire to achieve my fullest potential.

At the apex of my corporate career, I stepped into the role of CEO at a Financial Services company. Looking back, my advice to fellow executives and colleagues alike is to avoid judging a book by its cover. As a white male, it may be natural to assume that I’ve had it easy. But the truth is my struggle crystallised my experience and shaped me into the person and professional I am today. I owe the turning point in my professional career to being vulnerable and by seeking support and help with the loneliness and pressure I experienced in my role. My aim in this post is to show you that vulnerability can serve as the key that unlocks relationship-building skills. To open the door to productivity and improvements in a remote and office based work environment, practice leading with authenticity and vulnerability.

My story, like that of many others, also illustrates that judging a book by its cover only impedes diversity efforts in the workplace. More importantly, to lead effectively, we need to get better at building relationships both inside and outside of work. For organisations to flourish and reap work-from-home productivity rewards, executives must prioritise equipping staff with relationship-building opportunities and skills. It’s the quickest and surest way to build the gears of trust that lubricate the engines of productivity and rewards. Similarly, we must all learn to have an appreciation for different perspectives, cultures and personalities. And we must try to limit our own assumptions and beliefs about others. In other words, keep an open mind. Ultimately, vulnerability is one of the most effective ways to spark these priceless outcomes.