Shifting online: 5 post-coronavirus lessons for business leaders

Business leaders should remember these five key lessons from working through the coronavirus pandemic even after restrictions are lifted, according to experts from UNSW Business School and MIT.

Measure business leaders by their ability to teach

Moving businesses online requires leaders who can empower, teach and inspire a virtual workforce. Image source: Shutterstock

While technology is enabling people to work through the coronavirus pandemic, it also has important implications for business leaders who are looking to improve business efficiencies and productivity post-crisis.

“Everyone says this – and I totally agree, things are not going to go back to the way they were,” said David Goad, Adjunct faculty member at AGSM @ UNSW Business School and the Chief Solution Architect for the Automation and Innovation Hub.

With the Australian economy significantly impacted by coronavirus, the new post-lockdown normal is likely to be very different from the old one, requiring new capabilities and skills.

“As Warren Buffett used to say: ‘It's only when the tide goes out that you learn who's been swimming naked’,” said Goad, who was speaking as part of a recent AGSM Webinar Leading Through Times of Crisis - The Impact of Technology in a COVID-19 World.

“There will be a different world of work post-COVID-19… it won't necessarily be the world of work we're looking at right now but it's going to be a variation of that,” said Kristine Dery, Research Scientist with MIT's Centre for Information Systems Research, also speaking as part of the webinar.

The researchers suggested there are five important lessons business leaders must learn in order to thrive in in a post-pandemic world.

Identify online capacity, privacy and security issues

While technology is enabling organisations to continue through the pandemic, it also raises some significant challenges and threats.

Businesses must consider their digital capacity as well as online security and online privacy.

“Getting connected is one thing, but for many large organisations, the digital channels they've built are largely designed for a co-located working environment and many are struggling under the load,” explained Dery.

“Zoom bombing, where people will basically hack into other people's Zoom calls, has become a thing,” added Goad.

“Organisations should be giving more guidance to their workers regarding what their infrastructure should look like and perhaps they should even be helping them from a cost perspective to manage it.”

Zoom has released security updates

Zoom has released updates to address online security concerns surrounding 'Zoom-bombings' during coronavirus. Image source: Shutterstock

Rethink coaching and communication online

Business leaders will also have to ensure the provision of technology and networks so people stay connected.

“That connectedness to each other, the customer and the organisation has presented some real challenges in terms of being able to provide the bandwidth, security, capabilities and the physical hardware that's required in a home environment for people to be able to do that,” explained Dery.

“In the traditional working environment, work would be adapted to an environment that was already pre-established for employees,” she added.

"But in a digital environment, we see that this is a much more iterative process where the work environment has to adapt to the changing nature of work.”

Know your company’s culture and flexible working preferences

Dery also discussed the importance of understanding the current shift in collective work habits.

“Leaders are having to be a lot more connected with their team and in doing so should be learning a lot more about people,” she said.

This means defining what it means for people to work in these more virtual environments.

“Many of these habits are subconscious and deeply ingrained in our behaviours, but if we can identify them then we can shift and alter them to behave in ways that are more suited to the new world that we're working in,” said Dery.

Optus encouraged to work from home, post Coronavirus

Optus has said it will continue to shift business online and encourage staff to work from home after coronavirus. Image source: Shutterstock

Avoid micromanagement and empower others

Managing a virtual workforce can be extremely challenging, but business leaders now have the opportunity to become more human in the way they manage within a virtual context.

“It's not surprising that in the early days of this crisis, there's been a degree of moving to a more micromanaged environment and I think that's because we're not used to managing a total workforce that's virtual,” explained Dery.

“This is not flexible working, this is a completely virtual workforce. It requires a totally different approach to how we lead in these types of environments,” she added.

“That’s not micromanaging everything that they do, or gathering data on everything they do,” said Dery.

“It’s avoiding the pitfalls of checking up, and instead leveraging the power of checking in.”

Measure leadership by the ability to teach others

Finally, Dery said it was important for businesses to start measuring their leaders on their ability to teach because in high performing firms every leader is a teacher.

“This means that not only do they leverage their existing bank of expertise and skills, but they are constantly learning new digital skills,” she said.

“These leaders are assessed on their ability to effectively impart that learning to their people. This ability to teach is a major contributing factor in developing workforces that have the level of digital fitness required for success.”

While Goad added that a lot of organisations are doubling down on their investments in terms of AI, robotic process automation, business intelligence and these kinds of things just to help support these sorts of digital processes.

“[But] people will have to experiment and find out what's best for them and best for the organisation,” he said.

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