Learnings from 2020 and what could define the next decade
Just think of a time in your office, when your leader walked into the office and past your cubicle. I am sure you experienced some emotion. The emotions could have varied from inspiration, excitement, anxiety, fear and anger to something as negative as disgust even. Leaders simply have the ability to evoke a lot of feelings just by their presence and even drive people to achieve higher goals due to their charisma or completely demotivate someone due to the lack of it.
In the industry (IT) that I come from, where people are your biggest assets, effective management and leadership took a whole new meaning when 100s of thousands of individuals worked in buildings and office campuses to achieve a larger organizational vision. Good leadership became very important in motivating and driving this workforce. Aligning individual, departmental and the larger organizational goals took a whole new meaning.
In this new post Covid-19 world ecosystem, with the world moving towards the “Work from Home” model, several individuals working for the same team, department or organization are working remotely in the comfort of their homes. What does it do to organizations and cultures? Where do these individuals belong? Who will their loyalty lie with? How does one inspire them and lead them? Is it just a task now for a pay check or does something inspire them?
There are many aspects that are underplay here and need consideration. I have personally questioned certain factors that I’ve taken for granted all these years. There are also things that I felt would never change, yet they have. Interesting thoughts to ponder over. I have factored a few aspects which will impact leadership here with my thoughts on each aspect and how it could play out in the future.
Leader’s personal Charisma
Personal charisma is key for a leader, be it in person or online. However, this surely played a much bigger role in the real space. As stated earlier, a leader had the ability to inspire action or completely demotivate just by their presence and actions. With people working from homes and meetings going virtual, this has changed to a large extend. Does charisma really matter now?
On the flip side, if you thought your leader was intimidating, the new virtual space has completely changed that. In a virtual call with the camera not on, the team member may be more relaxed to share their own opinions without feeling obligated to parrot what their manager wants them to say or just even stay quiet. Virtual meetings give opportunities for new leaders to emerge, as one does not necessarily need to have that charisma anymore. You don’t have to be that dominating presence in a meeting, you just need to be the most mature one. It has given opportunities for many quiet people to speak up.
My dear friend and guide, Dr. George Watts has written a small post on this aspect, which is very interesting and is worth reading.
When humans congregate in any space, there is bound to be a multitude of thoughts, opinions and a myriad of emotions, both positive and negative. Organizations are a great example of people with various personality types getting together and creating magic. Collaboration becomes so much easier when people come together in a workspace. I recently had a client remark that something she was trying to wrap up, was getting needlessly delayed as she could not get her CEO’s time for a call as he thought that it was not so important. If they were in a physical office, she could have grabbed him for a quick couple of mins on his coffee break and got his approval. Another example of how workspaces help collaboration.
With a lot of people working from home, there has also been a lot of rethinking when it comes to workspaces. Most Architects, Space Planners and providers are proactively thinking ahead of time to bring in new concepts and technologies to provide a sustainable workplace for the future. The emerging concept could be satellite offices and “Hub and Club” models. The new designs would have hot desking options and flex spaces. Work from Home is here to stay, at least for some sectors and technology has already become its lifeline. Earlier, 80% of workspaces consisted of work desks and 20% of the space was set aside for collaboration. Companies are revisiting this and are potentially looking at making it 50-50 now. This is paving a future where people of certain professions come together only when there is need to collaborate.
This again is going to throw up new challenges and opportunities for leaders on how to manage their teams, hold them accountable and get the best out of them. This will also potentially impact organizational cultures.
While being in an office helps in sharing of ideas and creating some amazing things, they also cause many conflicts due to egos and jealousies. Office politics can be draining. In the virtual world, both teams and leaders don’t have to worry much about these distractions. In fact, this could become a positive. Leaders and teams can focus more on the task at hand rather than dealing with people and their conflicts. Office politics is less of an issue for the leader to deal with. When people do not meet each other daily, biases, jealousies and complexes get taken away from the equation and everything becomes task driven. This also means that leaders have less to deal with in terms of people issues.
With remote working, ‘tasks’ have begun to take precedence over everything else. In fact, it is the single way of measuring work today. I have written about the importance of tasks and task leadership, especially during the present times, separately a while ago.
Validation and Recognition
It is but human that all of us seek validation and recognition. In fact, studies have shown that recognition is the single biggest motivator for people to stick to their jobs. A positive remark could go a long way in motivating people.
While this can exist in the virtual world too, the real world had many ways to give a positive stroke. The quintessential “pat on the back” from your manager or may it be a quick check with your colleague sitting next to you. Even just having other people around and a healthy competition can go a long way in motivating oneself.
One factor that concerns me, is the validation that came with coming to work every day and completing tasks is no longer there in the virtual world. When you work in cocoons on your own, how long can you stay motivated? Unless you are self-motivated, you could find it hard at times to keep going while working from home. Leaders need to find different ways and ensure that they are able to provide validation to the team even while working remotely.
It is almost a year since the world got hit by the covid-19 pandemic. There are so many things that have come back to the old working ways and some have changed completely. In my mind, the jury is out there if work from home will be the new norm, but certainly a version of it will exist.
This has certainly thrown open some interesting paradigms for leadership and one needs to be cognizant of it and adapt to the new emerging world. As the west is battling the second wave of the pandemic and there is a semblance of normalcy here in India, I firmly believe we will truly know the future of remote working as the world starts to get back to some sort of a normalcy. Of course, as leaders, we have to be flexible in accordance with the times and learn to lead effectively in the new world. Would love to hear your thoughts.