Learning is a lifelong journey that helps us change and adapt our mindset and skills to face new challenges. The last year has provided the entire world with valuable lessons on how to adapt in the face of adversity. The role of business leaders in the Covid-era has been of great importance. They’ve helped businesses manage their employees remotely at an unprecedented scale. However, they have had to undergo a significant change in their leadership mindset to successfully manage their teams.
Let us take a look at what motivates learning, what actions can help a team grow, dispel common misconceptions about learning, and overcome challenges in people and leadership development in the era of hybrid work.
How have teams evolved through the pandemic?
Over the past year, our lives have fundamentally changed to incorporate new routines and behaviors. Similarly, businesses have had to digitally transform rapidly and look for new ways to sustain operations and be productive while ensuring employee safety at the same time.
Now, months later, work-from-home, virtual meetings, and working in limited spaces have overwhelmed employees. Teams have started operating much differently than they did around this time last year.
Working from home has meant that people are sharing their workplaces with partners or maybe even kids. Limited face-to-face contact with peers, leaders, and customers has led to increased fatigue and feeling disconnected from work as well. Naturally, it has also become harder to collaborate and be as creative.
On the other hand, people are simultaneously enjoying the flexibility that comes with working from home. The time they save on travel is being spent with family or pursuing hobbies, and many who have found their rhythm say that they are now able to focus better without the office distractions.
The bottom line is that the way teams interact, perform, engage, and grow has changed forever, hopefully for the better. These changes necessitate a new style of leadership and management, and leaders are rising to the challenge.
Traditional leadership vs. new leadership
Traditionally, business leaders have played a more tangible role in the lives of employees. It tends to be centralized and based in the workplace's physical space, firmly rooted in face-to-face interactions, both formal and informal, and usually has a visible work output.
New leadership roles that have emerged during the pandemic are more intangible, decentralized, and geographically dispersed. Traditional leadership constituents have been replaced by virtual meetings and conversations and lesser visibility of work output, but more individual accountability and ownership.
Much like the other changes, this leadership change has also taken place at a dizzying pace for businesses. A significant mindset shift for all stakeholders has preceded these changes and helped teams become more autonomous by placing higher levels of trust on them.
Leaders in all organizations have had to adopt new styles and methods of working to support, enable, and engage their teams. These new leadership and management styles usually have incorporated the following trends in some form or the other:
Using collaborative tools and platforms: A rise in IM apps and collaborative tools has helped bridge the gaps in real-time communication and interactions between team members. These are also being used to connect outside of professional duties to simply check-in on each other and provide support whenever possible.
Enhanced focus on well-being: Supporting team members and each other in managing their work has become vital. Managers and leaders are going above and beyond to check their team’s well-being and recognizing how they are doing individually. This is reflected in direct communication during check-in meetings and also picking up on non-verbal cues of stress and pressure among team members.
Taking cognizance of the changed realities: Many teams have members spread across the globe, which means that everyone is impacted differently by the pandemic. Naturally, team interactions and work processes have responded to these challenges to help individuals make the most of their work experience.
Leaders recognize that expecting employees to be always up and running is unreasonable and, given that we are all impacted by the pandemic somehow, people are allowed to have a bad day as well. Similarly, if employees are involved in time-consuming domestic responsibilities (like homeschooling their children), leaders have to let employees set routines that suit them the best.
What teams need and expect to help them stay engaged, motivated, and grow
In such challenging environments, the role of the leader and the organization to help people grow, stay engaged, and motivated is of paramount importance. Here are some ways organizations can go about doing the same:
Performance enablement and well-being have traditionally been more personal and face-to-face endeavors. Right from onboarding processes to the exit interview, everything is designed to be conducted in-person. Ensuring their continuity isn’t as simple as taking them online but also supporting employees in their roles, as individuals, and as a part of their teams.
One of the first things done at Skillsoft was to open access to all learning resources for everyone in the organization. Even if a person wants to delve into an area outside of their current role, we welcomed it and provided them support to see it through. Similarly, we offered learning resources related to wellness, working from home, and setting a routine to help employees cope with the sudden changes in their way of working.
Another technique that has shown immense benefit is conducting virtual coaching sessions by leaders or team members themselves. If such sessions are not possible, then simply allowing team members to virtually shadow leaders, and participate in meetings and sessions, also makes a lot of difference.
At any time, there are several ongoing projects in organizations, both at global and regional levels, requiring volunteers and participants. Leaders can encourage their team members to enroll for such opportunities and interact with different colleagues, learn something new, and essentially undertake a side project with a tangible outcome in the organization.
Finally, it is critical to make room for short and recurring team interactions with the specific purpose of sharing successes, discussing best practices and challenges, and essential learning from each other. Similarly, if some customer or business events that were otherwise out of reach are going virtual, be sure that your entire team participates and learns from them.
The importance of socializing and engaging outside of work discussions and meetings is higher when the boundaries between work and home have blurred. Holding informal social events regularly to get team members to try new things and experiences (trivia nights, guided meditation, cooking demonstrations, or any other activity) together can be a good starting point. Managers can also get creative and come up with new ways for everyone to interact with each other.
Leaders must not force their team members to participate but lead by example to contribute to these virtual meets and wind down with their teams. Making room to share anecdotes and stories, in these sessions or outside of them, is also critical to keep a sense of unity in the team.
There is no denying that a sense of ‘Zoom fatigue’ is also slowly creeping in . So be mindful of meeting lengths while setting them up and begin reducing their duration by 10-15 minutes to help participants catch a small break between back-to-back calls. Allow employees to turn off the camera if possible, as it takes the pressure off a little bit as well.
Leaders must start taking the onus of engaging with team members outside of work settings to keep energy levels from slacking off. Helping employees who have multigenerational families or small and shared workplaces by offering them the flexibility they need can do wonders for their productivity and engagement.
One of the surest ways to keep the motivation and momentum going is to provide regular and timely feedback to all team members. In addition to frequent team meetings that discuss tasks from a business perspective, make time for real one-on-one discussion and feedback.
At Skillsoft, some leaders have changed the traditional 30X30 model (30 minutes of discussion about feedback, concerns, future plans, and development opportunities every 30 days) into the 60X90 model. This helps us revisit these goals every quarter to discuss personal development as well as performance extensively for one hour.
Recognition is another essential motivation booster, and merely thanking someone personally or over an email can go a long way. Our recognition platform also allows collected recognition points to be exchanged for rewards and gift vouchers and is widely popular throughout the organization. We also have quarterly awards that are nominated by peers, alongside more traditional rewards for work anniversaries and successes.
Simply put, don’t wait for the annual performance review to deliver feedback to your team. Doing it frequently and in a timely manner is not just an advantage but a necessity in today’s world.
Thus, today’s virtual and remote teams need to learn new skills like agility, resilience, and building a growth mindset while expecting flexibility, autonomy, trust, and feedback from their leaders. These learning journeys must be accompanied by collaborations with peers, social interactions, and building a sense of community in their teams.
What does the future of work look like?
A survey done in Australia, Malaysia, and Singapore by YouGov in the latter half of 2020 shows that 89 percent of the respondents wanted at least one Covid-related policy to be adopted permanently into their workplace. Only one in ten (11 percent) were happy to revert to things the way they were before last year.
Similarly, 59 percent wanted flexibility in working hours, 58 percent expected working from home to be permanent, and 47 percent wanted more attention to physical and mental well-being.
The writing on the wall is that these fundamental shifts that have forced leaders and teams to develop new skills are the foundation for the future of work. The current leadership in organizations is responsible for identifying existing gaps in skill sets and competencies and strengthening them.
For the past decade, we have been focusing on digital transformation, and the Covid-19 pandemic has expedited many of these processes. Now is the time to work smarter and leverage these changes to enable employees to learn new skills and work in new settings.
As the traditional concept of a nine to five job gives way to a more flexible workday, leaders will have to place more trust in their team members and play connectors between different people. They will have to make it a part of their job description to engage their teams and keep them motivated. Leaders will need to help their team members find work-life balance by respecting their schedules and availability without micromanaging their days.
Thus, business leaders and managers will have to balance the needs of the business with that of their workers. To design an inclusive and effective blueprint for the future of work, they will have to grapple with questions about physical workplaces and how many roles can be managed remotely.
To sum up, leaders are tasked with establishing a functional working model that sustains productivity, maintains a positive work environment and culture, and protects employee well-being. The changes experienced over the last year will play a significant influence in the process, and the new way of leadership will have to change accordingly.