In response to Covid-19 pandemic, the majority of the workforce moved overnight to work from home, we have been invited into the studies, living rooms, dining rooms of our colleagues, with video call meetings often punctuated by kids, pets, the delivery folks ringing the doorbell.
Companies began to reevaluate the training, infrastructure, and leadership qualities needed during this time. As organisations faced unprecedented challenges, the leaders found themselves in unchartered territories of managing the full scope of ‘at-home workforce, their safety, and wellbeing. As we’ve come to recognise the permanent behavioural changes that have been set in motion, companies are now taking a long-term view for addressing these developments.
So, what skills and leadership capabilities will be most prized as organisations continue to adjust to this “new normal” and learn to thrive with a remote workforce? Well, it’ll include breaking away from traditional leadership practices.
Lead with transparency and compassion
While uncertainty looms large and safety concerns remain high, it’s important for leaders to address teams’ need for transparency, resources, stability, respect, in the context of the crisis. It’s a critical time for leaders and there is no playbook or historical data to fall back on. Leaders will have to adopt an analytical and problem-solving approach and make decisions based on facts. Have an honest discussion of how companies could be addressing workers’ needs in different phases. Since the start of the pandemic, IAS has conducted live Q&A with our CEO, CHRO, and other leaders during weekly Town Hall meetings to address questions. All employees have the opportunity to pose questions through an open and active Slack channel. We also conduct company-wide engagement surveys to get a pulse on our global and diverse workforce to make sure that we address any concerns and provide support. The company also provided employees with funds to create more suitable work from home environments.
People need leaders who can demonstrate compassion, vulnerability, and empathy, and leaders of companies globally have taken this opportunity to adapt. I read about companies providing employees with online counseling sessions, no-call Fridays, wellness app subscriptions, etc. Leaders need to advocate for employees’ mental and physical well-being by dedicating resources to various initiatives. IAS provided all employees with a Fitbit and launched a global team challenge to encourage everyone to get in their steps each day. It sparked a healthy competitive spirit, team bonding, and fun for all involved!
Create a culture of community
Leaders must create a sense of belonging and a culture of on-going feedback to get a pulse on a global and diverse workforce to make sure that they address challenges and opportunities. The focus should be on creating an inclusive and trusted community for all of the employees. IAS has built a strong network of support for employees globally through our Employee Resource Groups (ERGs) and Employee Interest Groups (EIGs) which lead a range of activities. Our ERGs at IAS include ASIAS (Asian Society IAS), BIND (Black Integral Network Domain), LGBTQ + IDIAS, Women@IAS, and more.
Re-open with care
With lockdown presenting a wealth of challenges for employees, both from a professional and personal perspective, empathy and connection quickly became considered definitive characteristics of effective business leaders. And now, as we enter the COVID-19 recovery phase, and begin to think about implementing a safe transition back to the workplace. There is a compelling need for leaders to further engage, strengthen and maintain their connections and communications with employees. As companies prepare for this next phase, leaders should continue to consider the broad spectrum of their employees’ needs, beyond just creating a physically safe workplace.
Striking up a new work-life balance has been challenging for everyone to varying extents. The key requirement of business leaders now is to lead with compassion and transparency and consider how they can sustain the positive skills and behaviours that emerged as a result of working differently during the pandemic – such as agility, creativity, improved productivity, and faster decision making.