Post-COVID Challenges Every Leader Faces
“Historically, pandemics have forced humans to break with the past and imagine their world anew. This one is no different. It is a portal, a gateway between one world and the next.” - The Pandemic Is a Portal by Arundhati Roy.
Indubitably, COVID-19 has changed our world and for the past 2 years, we were capable of finding different ways to manage it. The rise of digitalisation and the subsequent declining necessity for physical workspaces are evidence that our world has indeed changed- in response to this pandemic.
While there are advantages of virtual learning, post-COVID challenges are proliferating- such as the increasing difficulty for workers to adapt to occupational transitions and the increased areas of consideration in order to ensure productivity.
Such challenges include:
- People are not adapting fast enough
- With the rise of digitalisation, workers are required to adapt to occupational transitions due to waning traditional methods of working. However, since a multi-generational and diverse workforce has differing levels of exposure to technology, there could be a lack of productivity and efficiency. Moreover, certain occupations are also increasingly unneeded - leading to structural unemployment when workers are not able to quickly transition to other occupations.
- Navigating people’s psychological resistance to change
- Businesses are investing billions in up-skilling programmes without considering people’s psychological resistance to change. This can lead to less effective or even futile efforts and wasted resources. Thus, businesses will need to rethink different ways to curb this. For instance, businesses can consider investing a small fraction of the overall investment in preparing people to embrace the future as a world of possibility, such that they can accelerate and de-risk their future work programmes.
In order to tackle such challenges, we have to step up and improve our skills pool to remain relevant. According to Deloitte's 2019 Global Human Capital Trends survey, 86% of respondents believe they must reinvent their ability to learn. Despite a pervasive corporate focus on digital transformation, 84% see the need to rethink their workforce experience to improve productivity. With new pressures to move faster and adapt to a far more diverse workforce, 80% believe companies need to develop leaders differently.
Not only are employees facing challenges, but leaders are also affected. Leaders are responsible for their employees’ growth and have to ensure that their organisation remains relevant in times of change.
Based on our research and observations, here are 4 most prominent leadership challenges:
- Leading with digitalisation
As mentioned above, the traditional way of working has been taken over by digitalisation. Leaders now need to be capable of leading a team that is able to function efficiently in this novel way of working and ensure the effectiveness of this system. Furthermore, leaders- many who are senior, will be blindsided if they only rely on past experiences to lead a major technology shift. They might also be struggling themselves to be technologically savvy and may need to learn a new way of leading.
- Managing humans with emotions
Unlike robots or technology, leaders need to deal with humans that have emotions. We are living in a time of uncertainty with a heightened potential fear of making mistakes- especially with many technological changes in this new working model, the fear of being replaced becomes ever more prominent. With such a fear, employees may feel demoralised after a mistake or even shy away from taking risks that could potentially be a door to success. In order to prevent this, leaders must foster a psychologically safe environment for employees to voice out their needs and concerns which can then be addressed accordingly to improve the entire team’s performance. This would require leaders to be more empathetic, observant and possess relevant coaching skills to train their employees.
- Managing a hybrid workforce
While many organisations are eager to return to normal after this pandemic, it is still attractive to maintain productivity gains from virtual team collaboration. Thus, many organisations would face challenges of managing a hybrid workforce. In fact, According to a McKinsey survey, 9 in 10 organisations plan to combine remote and on-site work going forward. However, therein lies the problem of ensuring worker productivity when no one is watching. Leaders must now ensure that this new way of working is adaptable and are able to facilitate the best outcome possible. Moreover, this new model of work must include employee-driven flexibility, culture connectedness and human leadership to retain employees and boost employee performance. In fact, studies have shown that employees who feel connected to their organisation’s culture experience a 36% boost in performance and retention.
- Changes to leaders’ roles
Maintaining relationships are increasingly more difficult for leaders when in-person interactions are reduced in the hybrid workforce. Managers or leaders will have to seek out new ways to be more active in engaging with their team members and develop strong manager-employee relationships. These relationships are vital towards shaping employee experiences and the subsequent connection that they have towards the organisation- which affects their performance.
This sure sounds like a lot has to be changed. Indeed, the world now is not the same as the past and it is definitely a struggle to transition into this new world we are in. It must be acknowledged that we, as humans, will inevitably face challenges which will hinder our ability to excel. Leaders are now required to learn a new way of leading their team such that these challenges can be addressed and productivity can be maximised.