Blogi 6.1.2021

How remote work tsunami have changed key leadership competencies forever?

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New hybrid workforce 2021 vol. 2 

My virtual meeting marathon, the 8th one for today, just finished. Even though I try very hard to recall details from the first meeting, I do not remember them anymore. Was I fully present and engaged? Did I listen actively more than I talked? Did I feel appreciated, encouraged, and belonging? Does this sound familiar to you?

Groundhog Days of Pandemic

For knowledge workers, remote work during the pandemic has become like Groundhog Day. In the movie, Bill Murray wakes up for a new day with high hopes, but in the end the day is identical – day after day. The pandemic has revealed to us that there is a need for a change in the way we work, how we get organised, and how people are led without losing our primary needs as social animals. There is no right or wrong, no one size-fits all solutions. The only thing true is that workspace choices made today will have deep implications for performance, staff well-being and leadership success for years to come.

Remote Work Not Allowed

Before the pandemic in most workplaces, excluding some IT and creative sector forerunners, needs of employees and wants of management regarding remote work didn´t correlate. Remote work was mostly unacceptable due to its roots in Theory X of human-beings as lazy, incompetent to think for themselves, and untrustworthy when operating alone. In addition, almost 200 years after Taylorism, many organisations are still founded around inflexible control and command mechanisms. Especially, middle management fear of losing authority over subordinates, and evidenced lack of trust towards staff working without close supervision, have been the modus operandi – the way of operating without questioning it.

A crisis often enforces people to change their behavior, as happened with the pandemic. It changed everything almost overnight both in the minds and actions of many industries and workplaces, both at the individual and organisational levels. It triggered the shift in general attitude towards remote work forever.

Death by Zoom Meetings

Risto Siilasmaa, ex-chairman of the board of Nokia, mentioned in an interview in March 2020 that according to their internal survey asking about working location preferences at the group, 20% of respondents didn’t want to return to their offices ever again. How would these Nokia people answer to a similar survey today?

Various research conducted after that date about virtual work. Most findings are the same. For example, the Work Trend Index of July 2020 made by Microsoft states that video-meeting fatigue is real. Studies show that time needed for commuting to work has decreased, but the length of the working day has increased in remote work settings. In my native Finland such a figure is, on average, 48 minutes daily.

Even with more time at work, productivity especially in creativity intensive work has not drastically increased with the same proportions. In addition, during autumn 2020 when virtual meetings’ technical challenges had been finally resolved in most workplaces, many of us noticed that remote meetings are good in one-way communication status checks amongst small parties present on-line, or recorded for later viewing. However, as second-best option for two-person face-to-face meetings, there is a strong trend now towards old-time telephone voice-only calls for better mobility, personalisation and privacy, rather than high visual content MS Teams, Zoom, or similar tools.

Without any hesitation, it can be said that bigger venues focusing on innovation and creative virtual events have become shadows of physical encounters, both in terms of motivational flow and productivity. The challenge is not in engaging and gamifying virtual platforms, but it is more about humans as social animals, craving for connections, respect, reason to exist, and shared achievements. It has also been noticed that whatever the group size, innovations, inspiration, belongness, new ideas and transformation of tacit knowledge happen only in face-to-face encounters. In short, these types of events require co-operation, curiosity, courage, and creativity in a right context and from all fully present and equally heard. Such a climate will not happen by chance. It needs to be built brick by brick.

Impact on Leadership

It is estimated that remote knowledge workers’ work will consist of at least 40-50% of their working time in the future. When your people will meet you and colleagues only occasionally in physical hub locations face-to-face, and are mostly working remotely at home or in bespoke offices, your leadership focus will need to shift from management of time-related work to efficient person-centric support. This means that you need to be interested in your people not only through their work, but also at a personal level. Their performance today and tomorrow are influenced by their personal situation, capabilities, needs, dreams, and wants.

Your emotional intelligence, situational leadership, intercommunication skillset and clarity in direction/roles and goals will become high priority both when meeting face-to-face and virtually. You need to grow your mind-set and leadership toolbox to adapt to the context rather than the content of the work. Simultaneously, you need to build a mutually inclusive high-trust environment between you and every single knowledge worker you are creating opportunities for and remove any impediments.

Did you miss the previous part of New hybrid workforce series? Read about the future of physical offices from the part 1.

Jere Talonen

Jere works at Gofore as a lead and service culture development consultant. He has over 20 years of management level business experience from global consumer brands in nine countries and three continents. In addition Jere is also a seasoned entrepreneur of start-up ecosystem and network building.

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