o explain the way the working world has evolved over the last three months would be impossible to summarise in one article. Leadership is now more important than ever as employees look to their managers for blueprints and practical guidance around how the “new normal” will look.
Global leaders have had markedly short times to deal with exceptional crises. Their reactions, along with the actions of workplace leaders and managers – have been scrutinised in this unprecedented time. True leadership in a time of crisis is a gruelling task, requiring fast thinking and even faster acting. This brings into focus the important skill of leadership. Can this skill be boosted, refined or developed to a point where our workplace leaders are in a better position to face daily challenges? Can we help them be better equipped for dealing with large scale issues, allowing them to ‘take it in their stride'?
Our leadership and management training experts have assessed the way L&D has changed throughout the pandemic, if it might ever go back to “normal”, and what we stand to gain or lose in the face of this ever changing field.
How has the pandemic changed leadership?
There are simply too many facets to the way leaders have adapted their approach to successfully survive the lockdown and manage a distributed workforce, so we'll be focussing on the top 5 changes we've observed since March.
Remote working challenges
Perhaps the biggest adaptation comes in the form of remote working. This “luxury” has historically been reserved for special occasions or exceptional circumstances that prevented an employee from physically presenting at the office. Being forced to work remotely, to collaborate and to find ways to keep effective communication ongoing has been a tall order for businesses across the globe.
This forced situation has highlighted some major benefits of flexible working. This Stanford study shows that employee productivity when working from home has the potential to boost outputs by a full day. This is not surprising; when working remotely, staff are inclined to spend more hours on-the-job compared to working from the office. This could be attributed to the time gained that otherwise would have been spent commuting, or the inclination to spend more late-night hours boxing off tasks. That being said, the blur between working hours and personal hours can lead to mental fatigue and other potential pitfalls for your team – including conflict. It's a delicate balancing act to ensure targets are met, outputs are improved, and teams are managed remotely – and throwing mental wellbeing into the mix is too often left as a last priority - with major consequences.
One of the best ways to ensure you're prepared for handling a remote workforce – which we predict will soon become the new normal – is to upskill yourself in emotional intelligence in the workplace. Learning how to actively listen, think on the spot and have courageous conversations are just a few of the ways to equip yourself to lead from the front during all seasons.
As more of us start our return to the office, we can benefit from the skills we learned from working remotely to help us communicate more effectively, to collaborate more efficiently and importantly – to continue achieving targets and goals as a collective.
Mental wellbeing no longer on the backburner
The mental agility of your team can not be ignored, least of all in circumstances that are emotionally and mentally taxing to start with. Lockdown has affected every single worker – whether they are inclined to show it or not. A person struggling with their mental health is less inclined to reach out – which subsequently requires a leader or manager to reach out when they start seeing tell-tale signs of distress. One of the most important characteristics of a true leader is their approachability, and this is even more apparent when your team is dealing with a crisis.
The ability to spot issues with your workers' mental health can be learned and improved over time. Unfortunately, too few leaders consider this aspect of business to be vital – but something to bear in mind is the potential knock on effect poor mental health can have on all staff as well as on outputs and team morale.
Managing a Multi-Generational Team can also have a unique set of challenges, and learning how to resound with all ages, backgrounds and personality types is what will set you apart as a leader, and not “just” a manager. We predict the ability to deal with mental health issues in the workplace will become a benchmark for the success of a true leader – and it's about time! It's also worth bearing in mind there may well be a surge in mental health issues within your team as they have to re-adapt to working in the office. Forewarned is forearmed, and there is no better time than now to ensure your own mental wellbeing is in the right place and that you have the required skills to deal with team members who need your assistance.
Focus on development
With so much focus on keeping the proverbial ship afloat, most managers have placed personal development on the backburner to allow for more time to be allocated to “business as usual” tasks. Granted – we're likely to have learned more about ourselves and our roles in the last 3 months than we could have anticipated – but that shouldn't be the cause of us letting our professional growth fall to the wayside.
As lockdown restrictions ease, it might be a good time to start prioritising the personal and professional development of both yourself and your team. This can be achieved in many ways – from attending online management & leadership training courses, to job-specific skills training that will help both you and your team be the best at what they do.
It's understandable that development has taken a backseat while we all try to fathom our way through the challenge's lockdown has presented. The key is knowing when to start “training” our brains back to being fighting fit and giving our best, every day.
One way to encourage further development and provide your team with something to look forward to, is to book in a skills course (whether in-house or online). The sooner everyone is able to get their metaphorical thinking caps on and become excited about both their and the company's future - the better it is for all involved.
Accountability on all sides
A poor manager is a poor leader, and good leadership means understanding accountability for yourself and your team. This means understanding your team's strengths and weaknesses, and using them to propel everyone forwards. Lockdown has perpetuated underlying issues with lack of accountability as it's become easier to shift blame for missed deadlines, or even misinterpreted communication. By acknowledging these shortfalls, we can start to find ways to help each person develop their accountability to a stage where they are proud to associate themselves with each of their projects and outputs.
Holding both yourself as well as your team accountable for individual output creates a culture of pride and ensures that goals are met. As we return to a more normal way of working, we need to focus on creating a culture of accountability. It might be a good idea to start looking at your strategy for how each team member's unique set of skills can be best put to use within the scope of the business, and within your department.
Once you've identified key strengths, weaknesses and opportunities for each of your team, it will become clearer how you can allow each person to take ownership of their role and help towards to overall strategy of business growth.
We anticipate that companies who prioritise this aspect of their workforce will see the biggest successes as they focus on the talents they already possess, as well as lending a hand in effective recruitment once gaps have been identified within their existing skills matrix. Companies stand to lose out if they assume that the ‘old way' of working will suffice in this time of change.
Anticipated returns to work
The 4th of July marked a momentous step towards the new normal in the UK. Non-essential shops are starting to open their doors, and with that, the country as a whole is looking more optimistic in returning to work.
Many businesses have noted the opportunities that remote work has provided, and as such are allowing their staff either a flexible working schedule or allowing them to continue working from home indefinitely. Finding the right balance for your businesses needs is unique to each company, but the majority of companies are eager to see their staff return.
This return is unlike any other. Many employees are anxious over the return to office-based working – whether that be for health reasons or simply a worry over how things will be. As a leader, you will need to reassure you team that the challenges they face in their return to work are valid and that they have your support in overcoming these hurdles.
If you are of the school that promotes flexible working, you will need to ensure that those who take up the offer to work some days from home are fully equipped to do so and can continue contributing towards the targets and goals of the business. As important as your support is, it's also critical that you take some time to prepare yourself to return to work, as well, which includes setting achievable and realistic goals and setting aside time to catch up with each of your team members. Companies who can successfully reintegrate remote staff into the new work pattern will undoubtedly benefit from an engaged and motivated workforce – if handled correctly.