Returning to normal? How smart leadership can help business recovery

Good leadership never goes out of fashion, like a nice suit, or in today’s new normal, your most comfortable trackies! The COVID-19 emergency gives us a chance to think about how we work, where we work – and what constitutes strong leadership in the new paradigm. Companies need good leadership to make their way out of the current crisis. Work will be different, offices will look different … should leadership be different too?

I recently read a quote from John Hollows, CEO of CSOB: “Everyone has noticed that Skype meetings take less time than regular meetings. Board meetings, which would normally have taken eight to nine hours, we can suddenly do in two to three hours. That has been quite an interesting statement on the inefficiency perhaps of meetings in the past.”

This reflects what I am experiencing with working life during the coronavirus crisis: everything is different. I have taken to conducting walk-and-talks with my teams, combining meetings and project status discussions with healthy exercise and some fresh air. It’s something new and is popular.

What’s happening in Australia?

KPMG Australia recently reported: “Working remotely during the coronavirus crisis has quickly become the new norm, and one that won’t dissipate quickly – rather, remote working (both part-time and full-time) will rise across all industries. Work will be regarded as a thing you do, rather than a place you go. Measurement of ‘work’ will increasingly become about outcome rather than the input, regardless of when and where it is done.”

This makes sense, as the workplace will be a very different place as restrictions ease. New office environments will focus on worker safety first: wider office corridors, one-way foot traffic, better filtration in office aircon systems, touchless elevator controls and sensor-operated automatic doors will all become the norm. Contact-free is likely to become commonplace.

Australians seem to like remote working. Recent research by Citrix has shown that 78% of Australian office workers believe remote working is likely to become a new normal when the COVID-19 emergency eases. They say their favorite aspect of working from home is being able to use their time spent commuting differently: 49% say they use this time to be more productive, and 36% said not having to commute has resulted in less stress during the work day.

If this is the new normal for Australian workers, where does that leave leadership? You still need to keep your teams strong, inspired and productive, wherever they are – but you have to lead them without the usual face-to-face interaction. It will need to work in a world where meetings are held via Zoom or Webex rather than in person and where instant messages and emojis have replaced informal work chats at the water cooler.

Role of technology in leadership

Technology is playing a role in helping workers be more productive, and unified communications and collaboration (UC&C) tools, secure remote access and VPNs have proved invaluable. Orange has recently helped customers in Australia, from global packaging leaders to world-leading mining companies, keep business up and running and massively scale up remote working. You can read more about how we did it in our new report on strategies for resilience and adapting to the new normal.

Leadership in the new normal will need to empower your teams to use these digital tools to focus on work that delivers value to the organization, rather than mundane tasks. Good leaders will deploy automation to perform more routine jobs and free up workers to do tasks that are more engaging and drive business growth. Artificial intelligence (AI) tools have their place here, as do robotic process automation (RPA) solutions.

Research by McKinsey found that IT leaders consider enabling workers with collaboration tools and operating norms for working from home as their top technology concern during the COVID-19 crisis. Leadership in this current crisis means not only equipping your teams with digital technologies but using them as effectively as possible to maintain general business activities. They will also need to use them to drive improvements and new methods of productivity as we weather the downturn.

Where else should leadership focus?

As new ways of working become the new normal and we ease out of the COVID-19 crisis, business leaders will need to adapt and find new ways of leading teams through it. Customer engagement is critical here. With so many employees working from home, your approach to the customer experience has to change, too. Physical, face-to-face channels are no longer going to be what they were, so you need to shift towards digital collaboration channels as well as finding creative ways to workshop solution ideas using digital whiteboard tools and other visual means.

Digital transformation in customer engagement has been around much longer than COVID-19, but the pandemic has accelerated it. How you empower your teams to reimagine customer engagement and collaboration to solve business problems is the gold for the post-COVID-19 world. People still buy from people: digital tools will help, but what matters now more than ever is the ability to solve the challenge of the current moment, which is showing customers how to execute on business problems efficiently, with a remote and a light touch change effort and in a cost-controlled way. Trust, more than ever, will be critical to mutual success.

A chance to lead better

As we progress through the emergency and out the other side, business leaders have an opportunity to display leadership and inspire employees in new ways. It seems to me that since the world of work has changed so dramatically and will very likely continue to be very different, reverting to the same old leadership techniques and ways of working would be a missed opportunity.

We’ve learned in the past few months that our teams can be at least as productive working from home as they were in the office, so we should leverage that to build the new normal. The next phase for us all is acceptance of the new normal – and thinking about how to implement new techniques and different ways of leading and thinking about different ways to energize and motivate your teams to deliver even better results. The new norm isn’t normal yet, so I’m interested in feedback and to learn about what’s working for you in your new operating rhythm and, just as important, what you’ve tried that hasn’t worked and why!

Read more about how Orange is helping companies with five strategies that your organization can take to achieve business resilience and mitigate the risks of disruption.

Paul Tucker
Paul is a seasoned global ICT sales and account management professional with 20 years’ experience in various facets of the industry, including new business development, executive client relationship management, pursuit strategy, account marketing and account management. He has broad vertical industry experience, mostly in Financial Services and Natural Resources/Mining.
Paul is passionate about people and collaboration, and putting the client challenge at the center of his thinking is his fundamental mantra to help bridge the gap between business and technology requirements.