Covid-19 and the future of work: big lessons for leaders

14 Jul 2020

Covid-19 and the future of work: big lessons for leaders

After months of lockdown, what kind of leaders will succeed as the rules of business are re-written? And what about those facing job losses?

This Insight is edited from a radio interview with MONEY FM89.3. You can hear the full interview here.

After continuous lockdown, with no clear roadmap back to normal, what should employers and their leaders be considering?

Firstly, I do believe, personally, remote working is here to stay. So, I think employers need to think long and hard about “how do I restructure my expectation on the workforce. How do I measure performance, what should the KPIs be, what does success look like?”

If you’re in sales, delivering numbers is one thing. But in another part of the organisation, what does success look like.

Employers have a lot of thinking through in terms of our expectations on our employees so that they are not glued to the computers 12 hours-a-day, worrying for their jobs.

Does this mean rethinking mental wellness support for staff?

There absolutely has to be a focus on wellbeing. Empathy, outreach, this is so important. How do I make sure these people who are not in the office every day are okay, that they are in control of the situation as much as they can be?

And, vitally, I think that means a lot of leaders have to change their style.

There is a lot of leadership out there that is command-and-control kind of mentality. That doesn’t work in this remote working: working from home and remote distributed workforce.

You have to be humble, you have to have a sense of humility, you have to be able to reach out at an empathetic level with your employees.

You have to encourage self-assessment, looking after each other, a focus on mental awareness in that remote workforce. It is a different and challenging environment for sure, but this new approach is a critical thing for all leaders today without a doubt.

Do we need a different kind of leader?

Well, some of the work we’ve done recently in conjunction with Harvard Business Review Analytics Services, which produced the Leadership Confidence Index, is very revealing. Only 15% of top company leaders have confidence that their leadership has the right attributes to succeed in the face of disruption.

That disruption was primarily from digital disruption. Not the catastrophic disruption we’re currently going through. However, it is still a strong pointer to what is required from leaders these days, more than ever.

There was a mindset change that people were looking for in their leaders. It is no longer about those hero leaders who believe in command-and-control.

So, these days, we’re looking for people who are resilient, motivating, emotionally intelligent, and understand how to manage multiple stakeholders within the organisation. They’re entrepreneurial, inclusive problem-solvers.

So, there is definitely a momentum within the workforce at large that leadership style needs to change and even more so now as we gradually come out of this pandemic, as well as the forthcoming recession. That change in mindset, agility, adaptability in leadership is going to be paramount. And that needs to trickle down to the wellbeing of the staff who are no longer perhaps a resident in offices around the region.

Do you see any advantages with this whole work from home situation?

One key benefit that has happened in the last three to six months is that the leaders and the team, and everybody in between, has got to know each other on a different level. You get on this big Zoom call and you’ve got people with their kids coming in, they’ve got their dogs on their laps, you see them at home. So that kind of leadership overcoat has gone away, that hierarchy has been diminished a little bit.

I think that the ability to see people for who they are is a real benefit of this situation to many people.

There is a positive side to it, in the sense that people are able to have perhaps a better work-life balance. But only if they are able to understand that their job is not threatened by the fact that they are not logged on for 12 hours a day.

Sadly, some mid-career professionals are going to lose their jobs. What is your advice for them?

I have always been of the mind that one has to have an adaptable mindset. Try not appearing to be set in your ways. In the new world we are going to be into, people are going to be looking for people who have the ability to think outside the box. Now this is very challenging for a lot of mid-career professionals because they have been doing the same thing in the same way for many years.

So, what I would suggest is to push your personal envelope now, take the opportunities. We are very fortunate here in Singapore, the government has done a phenomenal job, offering skills-based trainings and so many other things to push your personal envelope and learn new things. I would encourage people to find what they are interested in, and go learn about that.

Show to potential employers that you have the ability to take on different tasks and adaptable mindset and the aptitude to do different things.

On the flip side, I also be saying to employers, look, you’ve got to change your mindset towards your workers, and give them a chance. Don’t just look at their CV and see that this guy has worked for 20 years at PSA or 20 years at a postal service.

Look at them as a person and give them the opportunity to display what they can do for you as an organisation. It is a two-way street, that’s how I look at it.

Give them the opportunity to come and do something different in the organisation to see how committed and passionate that person is going to be. For me, the return for giving an employee of that generation a chance, you’re going to get huge returns on that.

Employers need to be more open-minded to the kind of individuals that may have had a long 10 years somewhere, but have gone and done something to push their personal envelopes. They deserve an opportunity to have their voices heard and to be listened to as potential employee in an organisation, without a doubt.