The accelerating pace of change
For the past two decades, advanced information technologies have been fundamentally transforming interactions in the workplace, modes of working and communication, and even the content of work itself. Research has summarised this transformation as the decoupling of work from place and from time. These changes saw a major acceleration in 2020, as the COVID-19 pandemic forced millions of workers to work remotely from home. The above changes have major implications for corporate leadership. My master’s thesis research has highlighted the need to develop new knowledge and new skills as new technologies create new work and new ways of working. In a similar vein, CEMS’ survey of more than 1700 alumni and corporate partners from across the globe has emphasised how the effects of remote work are changing the kinds of skills and qualities leaders will need to successfully lead in the uncertain climate caused by COVID-19.
The importance of trust & communication
Firstly, the survey results indicate that the shift to remote working has demanded leaders delegate and decentralise their organisations. With an increase in decentralisation comes an increased need for leaders to trust their teams. Combined with increasingly time and place-independent ways of working, micromanaging and helicopter leadership become impossible. As such leadership styles have been associated with negative organisational outcomes such as inefficiencies and poor employee wellbeing, this change may form one of the few positive effects of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Secondly, a central theme emerging from the survey results was the effects of the pandemic on communication in the workplace. This result echoes the findings of my own research, which suggest that virtual communication – where body language and nonverbal cues are lost – poses a number of challenges for effective leadership.
Surviving the new normal
Looking forward, 87% of the 1772 survey respondents believe that the COVID-19 pandemic will impact their international operations for some length of time, whilst 28% believe the way their company operates internationally will change permanently as a result of the crisis. New leadership styles that are better adapted to the new normal are likely to emerge. As technologies have rapidly improved efficiency and speed, customers and clients have demanded faster and higher quality work, increasing workload for many knowledge workers. These demands have grown further in the high-pressure context of the COVID-19 crisis. Consequently, the significance of ‘humane’ leadership qualities such as empathy and altruism are likely to increase, as is the importance of ambiguity tolerance and the ability to successfully navigate change.
As an incoming entrant to the workforce, my sights are set on the future post-COVID-19 world. Leaders must have courage to take bold decisions in the face of significant uncertainty. As advanced technologies continue to disrupt business models and change consumer behaviour in major ways, leaders must resist the instinctive urge to focus on short term strategies that save costs or maintain cashflow, and continue to direct investment into research and development to ensure their organisations remain fit for the future.
For more insights from the CEMS Global Alliance on Leadership in a Post Covid-19 World, visit: https://cems.org/news-events/media-centre/press-center