The COVID-19 pandemic has changed how everyone functions. From wearing masks and social distancing to homeschooling and remote work, we’ve all had to acclimate to the proverbial “new normal,” and corporate leaders are no exception. They’ve had to figure things out as they go along, and they’ve faced many challenges as they struggle to keep productivity and profit margins intact when the status quo isn’t quite so quo.
Nihar Chhaya, global executive coach, has pinpointed four distinct challenges that face corporate leaders during this pandemic (forbes.com):
Balancing Humanity and Productivity – The first concern for business leaders has to be their workers’ safety and wellbeing, but with that being said, part of their team’s wellbeing is inextricably tied to their livelihoods. To keep employees fed and provided for, the show, as they say, must go on. Leaders need to balance compassion, flexibility, and understanding while continuing to push performance.
Answering Questions – This pandemic and its impact on the economy and society at large is unprecedented. One of leadership’s primary responsibilities is to be there for their team and answer questions, but COVID has generated countless questions for which, quite frankly, no answers exist. Due to the situation’s unpredictability and unforeseen consequences, no sooner do answers manifest than the questions change, or in some cases, the answers change.
Maintaining Influence and Visibility – With the mass employee shift from corporate headquarters to home offices, leaders have to find ways to maintain a clear presence in daily affairs and a guiding influence on their teams. It’s hard to be there when “there” is scattered all over. Identifying and securing the right technologies will definitely help ensure the team and leadership presence is there.
Promoting Employee Engagement – Remote work can feel, well, remote. By nature, it’s isolating. Leaders are charged with keeping their employees engaged and on-task and helping them feel like they’re still part of something important. Employee engagement can be hard to foster when employees have nobody with whom to engage. For most people, a large part of job satisfaction and engagement stems from rewarding interpersonal interactions and collaborations. Again, using the right technologies for employee collaboration, training and project work will make a difference in your remote workforce feeling connected.
How Are Corporate Leaders Responding?
Business leaders have responded in different ways to the challenges that COVID has created. They have spent more time seeking support so they can offer it to their teams. According to Development Dimensions International (DDI), during this COVID-19 era, leaders have increased their online learning efforts by 12%, and have spent an average of 1.7 additional hours per week actively educating themselves about effective ways to operate in the current conditions. DDI’s study shows that these same leaders would like to spend an additional 3.3 hours a week in learning and development, if time would permit (ddiworld.com).
What are they learning? They are learning how to shift their focus and prioritize the following objectives in a COVID-affected world (numly.io):
- Building trust from a distance
- Fostering a sense of shared purpose in a scattered workforce
- Increasing communication over more and varied platforms
- Making hard decisions in times of stress and uncertainty
- Developing greater flexibility and agility
- Displaying empathy
Creativity, flexibility, empathy, and innovation are now the names of the game, and leaders must get on board or be left behind. In the next article, we’ll discuss some of the ways that leaders can move forward in the face of COVID challenges.