Top trends emerging from COVID-19 and their lasting impact on leadership

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Published on: May 2020

Written by: Matt Prostko

During this strange period of isolation, both leaders and individual contributors alike have experienced significant challenges affecting the way they work and connect with their teams. While terms like “remote employees” and “virtual teams” were commonplace before the crisis, COVID-19’s impact on the workplace has expanded their meaning exponentially. This new reality has accelerated three major trends for individual contributors and three additional trends for leaders that will substantially impact the future of work as the world moves out of the crisis.

For leaders and individual contributors alike, there are three trends amplified by COVID that are here to stay:

  1. Technological proficiency is requisite for success.
    While the ability to comfortably navigate new technology has long been a core requirement in the workplace, COVID has made this skill imperative. Workers must now fully embrace new hardware and software tools as the primary conduit for connection, communication, collaboration, productivity and value creation. Anyone still dragging their feet and using workarounds to camouflage a lack of proficiency with new technology will struggle even after organizations return to a physical workplace.
  2. “Adapt or die” is the critical mindset to embrace.
    For years, leaders have been talking about being “agile” – agile projects, agile leadership, agile strategy, the list goes on. Now that agility has been called into question, and people who can thrive in this way of thinking and working will be highly valued. This divide is already apparent. Those rapidly adapting and prototyping new ideas are seeing success, while those that are waiting or hoping for things to simply “go back to the way they were” are getting left behind. To be successful in today’s environment and into the future, individual contributors must be able to shift quickly to new roles, projects, teams, or wherever the business needs them most.
  3. Personal lives and work lives have never been more intertwined.
    Many people have had to adapt to a new working environment – home. It is now commonplace to see people’s children (who have also been challenged to adapt) on video conferences, or hear dogs barking on conference calls. Spouses and partners have had to learn how to juggle parenting responsibilities while making time for video calls. In a post COVID environment, more workers will continue to work from home, enjoying the reduced commute and travel times they experienced during the crisis. Corporations will encourage this, as the productivity gains and cost savings will entice them to limit office investment and support funding workers’ home offices. As offices reopen, the ability to manage work life-personal life integration will continue to be a necessary skill.

Overall, success for both leaders and individual contributors during this time depends on their ability to embrace new technologies, willingness to adapt to change, and ability to smoothly integrate personal life and work life. Beyond these skills, leaders within large organizations also need to be aware of the following:

  1. Empathy is now more important than ever.
    Empathy, defined as the core ability to understand the feelings of others, has become fundamental during this challenging time. Leaders must understand their peoples’ personal context – their health, the safety of their family and friends, and their current mental state – before engaging them with work expectations. The immediacy of this skill will subside eventually, but moving forward, leaders will be expected to continue to consistently lead with empathy. The prolonged and persistent impact of COVID on everyone’s families, fortunes and work routines will demand that leaders demonstrate an authentic concern for their people’s well-being as well as their productivity. At the same time, leaders are still responsible for delivering business results through their people and teams. Thus…
  2. Providing effective feedback is fundamental for success.
    While crucial before the crisis, without the everyday, informal communication that occurs in the physical workplace, the quality and the frequency of feedback has become even more important. In the current remote environment, people are experiencing fewer social interactions than ever before. This isolation tends to breed anxiety, which can lead to feelings of insecurity. As such, employees will need more feedback on their work – both congratulatory and constructive – to build and maintain their confidence and sense of purpose. Over time, individual contributors will become accustomed to more frequent, meaningful communication, and once the crisis is over, leaders who fail to deliver this will lose the engagement and trust of their teams.
  3. Quality communication is key.
    Today’s leaders need to be excellent communicators, regardless of the medium. COVID has challenged leaders to be more adept at using technology like Zoom and Slack, but mastering the art of communication is omnipresent. Experts agree that technology, social media, the increased volume of data and data sources have diminished peoples’ attention spans. So now, as leaders are being challenged to share complex concepts through virtual methods, the ability to articulate clearly and concisely in a compelling way that influences others has become table stakes. The need for effective communication through spoken and written word was already important before COVID, but the crisis has augmented this requirement substantially.

In essence, leaders that currently excel – those who demonstrate empathy while still holding people accountable for performance, and communicate complex ideas in a clear and compelling way – will continue to do so in the post-COVID workplace. If you’re a leader struggling to lead your team during this challenging time, consider shifting your approach to embrace these behaviors; they will allow you to engender the highest levels of trust, attract and retain the best talent, and deliver results more consistently, today and in the future.

High value skills in a post-COVID19 world

For Individual Contributors

  • Proactive adoption of technology
  • Adaptation to Change
  • Successful Integration of Work and Personal Life

For Leaders

  • Demonstration of Empathy
  • Higher Quality and Volume of Feedback
  • Ability to Communicate Complex Ideas Clearly