Are business leaders ready to lead in a post-pandemic world?
22 Oct 2020
Almost every business across the world has been affected by the Covid-19 pandemic at some level, with many having to adapt their work models to stay operational through periods of lockdown. This has posed some huge challenges for business leaders, many of whom have been forced to quickly adapt to a new style of leadership with no warning. While there have been challenges, many have discovered benefits that mean they are unlikely to return to the way things were. So, what do business leaders need to do to prepare for the way we work in a post-pandemic world?
The amount of people working remotely was steadily on the rise prior to Covid. Some businesses – particularly new start-ups, tech companies, and those with Millennial CEOs – already offered their employees some aspect of flexibility. What has changed is the accelerating adoption of flexible working caused by the pandemic. Even some of the most resistant employers have been forced to adopt a remote work model in order to keep operating.
Business leaders and managers have had to adapt their leadership styles and accept that they’re unable to monitor their employees as closely. Performance measurement has shifted from the number of hours a day an employee is present at their desk, to their level of output and deliverables. Many bosses have found their employees are as, if not more, productive when working from home, or more flexibly, proving their fears about remote working unfounded.
Of course, there are also challenges that come with remote working, especially for the businesses it has been thrust on so suddenly. The way employers, employees and teams communicate with each other has changed. Where we might previously have popped into someone’s office to ask them a quick question, there is now an additional action – pinning someone, sending an email or picking up the phone – to get an answer.
While it’s reasonable to expect this would lead to business leaders and their employees communicating less frequently, many have found that the quality of interaction is more valuable. One business owner we work with actually spends more time communicating with his employees since March, making time to check in with them throughout the day. He has realised that empowering the employee to take pride and responsibility for their own work results in the best performance.
For business leaders, the focus should be on facilitating communication between their teams despite the physical distance. Some businesses have adopted an instant messaging system to allow teams to communicate quickly and easily, making it as easy to have a conversation digitally as it is to have a chat in the boardroom. It is also important to consider the different demographics of your employees and how they might take to using new communication tools. For the younger generation communicating digitally is second nature, making them likely to embrace and use an instant messaging system, whereas there may be additional considerations for business leaders to get older employees on board.
For those who have worked a certain way for a long time, the introduction of new technologies can be intimidating. Studies also show that for the majority, any new tech introduced up to the age of 35 means they are likely to adapt and learn it, but for anyone over that age it is disruptive and alarming. This effect is likely to be exacerbated if an employee is trying to learn how to operate a new system individually from their home.
Training is fundamental and should also consider the current level of skill and knowledge employees possess – which may vary between different groups. Business leaders need to implement a structured programme, ensuring all employees’ training is up to date, and they are supported and empowered with the knowledge they need to carry out their role to the best of their ability, whether they are on-site or not.
Valuing your people
Any good business leader will know, people who feel supported, engaged and empowered are the most motivated and productive. In these challenging times, it is particularly important for employers to recognise and acknowledge that some employees may be faced with additional challenges created by new ways of working - for example, if they have to juggle working from home and looking after children. Expecting the same level of output from such an employee that they produced in the office, adds additional stress and may lead to the employee becoming disengaged and demoralised.
In contrast, those that feel supported by an understanding employer are the ones who will go the extra mile and remain loyal to the business. If anything, Covid has brought this into sharp focus. Not only have employers learnt which employees they can rely on, employees have learnt how adaptable their bosses are willing to be to their needs. In general, people have become less willing to compromise, and are likely to move on if their needs are not being met.
2020 has given business leaders the opportunity to evaluate their work models and leadership styles for the future. Many have seen the positives in flexible and remote working models and some will likely never return to the office full-time. The younger generation were already demanding more flexible work options before the pandemic, now that everyone has had a taste of what a healthier work-life balance looks like, business leaders need to be prepared for the shift to be long-term.