What does leadership look like post-Covid 19?

New hybrid ways of working, a global workforce that is looking for a new direction in 2021, and a need to be alert to the mental and physical health of your staff – all these are challenges for leaders of globally mobile companies. What qualities will be needed to support staff, develop talent and rethink the future, and how can the leader of the future upskill and rise to the challenge?

Lion photo
Summer Issue digital version
This article is taken from the latest issue of Think Global People, the new home of Relocate Magazine.
Click on the cover to access the digital edition or on the links below to read all of the articles on our website.
Working practices have changed and remote working is here to stay. How should the leader of 2021 respond when managing and supporting a globally mobile workforce?

Find out what your employees need

John Marcarian, Founder of Expatland Global Network, which brings together international teams of professionals to provide global mobility services across taxation, logistics, real estate, education advice and more, says “leaving no one behind” is very much the philosophy needed now.“As the mix of workers facing restrictions changes, we see many companies adopting a 'two tier' approach where there is a special focus put on isolated workers’ physical and mental health,” he says. “New forms of social interaction for those workers are put in place, such as the virtual team lunch (with food delivered!) or a simple delivery of employee care packages, or the implementation of additional medical or counselling support to address issues the isolated employee faces.”

Give your staff time and focus

Joe Palmer, Vice President of Human Resources at Colt DCS says that when managing an extensive and global workforce, it is important to ensure everyone is listened to.“The biggest challenge is giving everyone time and focus,” he says. “Truly engaging your workforce in the mission, vision and values of your organisation takes time.Business leaders need time to put a well-thought strategy in place, managers need time to connect that strategy to reality, and their teams need the time to deliver the actual work.“Employees want to feel that they have the ability to do their own their work, be creative and solve problems. Businesses need to come up with a robust list of the things the company or team isn’t going to do, or things that they will stop this year.“Providing employees with the clarity on what is important, then providing autonomy in allowing them to carry out their role is the best way to drive sustainable engagement. HR has a unique place at the table to help guide managers and leaders into providing an outstanding workplace for employees, which in fact, should be the main focus.”

Pursuing an agile working policy

Ian Miles, Private Client Tax Partner and global mobility expert at international accountancy network Kreston International, says the challenge now will be to continue to pursue an agile working policy.“We need to focus on how we will manage that new way of hybrid working into the future,” he says. Aoife O’Sullivan, Greenlight Digital’s Head of People, says, “From winning business to hiring new employees, we’ve seen a huge improvement in efficiency and cost by harnessing technology to work remotely. Ensure your HR team is educated on the legality of hiring remote workers from different countries and see the restriction of physical travel as an opportunity to grow in the digital sphere, rather than remaining yoked to traditional ways of doing business.”

Communicate and empathise 

“Taking a personalized approach to your management style – in all times, not just in crises – ultimately makes you a better leader and brings the best out in your team,” says Sarah Danzl, Head of Global Communications and Client Advocacy at Degreed.She manages a team across the US, UK, France, Brazil, India and Germany and says it is vital to understand your employees as individuals, with different lifestyles, aspirations, challenges and concerns. “At our team meetings, I dedicate the first ten minutes to going around the team and asking everyone to share how they’re feeling in three words,” she says. “This gives a great current gauge of my whole team’s wellness, plus gives space for people to air what’s on their mind and what’s happening outside of work. I also specifically ask people what their current obstacles are, especially if I can help to remove them in some way.”She says communication is everything. This, coupled with providing a psychological ‘safe space’ for your people to air their concerns and feelings, will help you identify any challenges before they snowball. This is particularly important when you are managing staff in different locations.“It also enables you to find the right opportunities for them, whether that’s a stretch assignment, a promotion, or even a new opportunity in another team.“Empathy is a muchundervalued management skill,” she says. “Showing each other kindness goes a long way, both as a manager and in building and uniting your team. My team is global and differing restrictions has been a huge reality for us. While some team members have been able to go out to gatherings and eat out at restaurants, others have been locked in their homes for months. Having a safe space to air feelings has been a huge help because it has built the team’s understanding of what their colleagues are going through (and what might be impacting their work).”

What is the future for talent and career development?

Sarah Danzl warns that talent development is at a critical juncture. With the global lockdown, 85% of L&D (learning and development) functions shifted their in-person training to virtual.“Moving forward, we’re likely to see a continued focus on virtual, or hybrid, training as more people will continue to work remotely (or in a hybrid way) and also because people have experienced the benefits of virtual development,” she says. According to PwC, 86% of top-performing organizations have digital-based training programmes that drastically boost their employee engagement and performance.“As learning opportunities go digital, so too will career development,” she says. “More companies are looking at solutions like internal talent marketplaces and mobility tools to help them offer relevant career opportunities to their employees, no matter their work style or location. Edrington, for example, has an in-house digital creative studio which it launched during the pandemic and which is resourced through internally offering opportunities to current employees that align with their career goals and skills.”“The pandemic has been a catalyst for change and highlights the value of technology in mobility,” says Pam Dunleavy Vice President, Sales and Marketing, at Aires. “With the increased movement of families across our borders, the demand associated with duty of care will continue to be a priority for corporations.”“SPAN believes that well managed mobility affords people with opportunities for growth. But unmanaged mobility creates stress that can undermine a child's education and development,” says Doug Otta, SPAN Chair, Psychologist and author of Safe Passage. “The pandemic gave the world a non-optional masterclass in the consequences of unmanaged mobility.”

Making sure employee mental health is top of the agenda

Lauren Valent, Head of People & Culture at Candlefox, a global Education Marketing business based in Melbourne, Australia, says a focus on employee mental health should be the number one priority for managers. This is particularly true for international companies with a workforce situated in different locations around the world, each of whom will have had a different experience of lockdown.“With most of the Candlefox staff based in Melbourne and enjoying freedom much earlier than our CoursesOnline team in London, it can’t have been easy for the latter to hear about what the rest of the team is getting up to,” she says. “Therefore, as soon as the UK’s restrictions eased in April, we really encouraged the team to meet up and make use of that sizable socialising budget that was gathering dust until then.“We are at the mercy of political decisions when it comes to moving talent around and in an ideal world we would fly the UK team to Melbourne to meet us in person and become further immersed in the company culture. The constant changing of destinations with systems such as the UK’s “Traffic Light” one and the tight border control in Australia makes longterm planning in this respect really difficult, so 2022 is likely to be more realistic for travel.”She says that a strong focus since the start of the pandemic and something that will continue on is a strong focus on mental health and wellbeing. “Gone are the days when your 1:1 meetings focused purely on work in progress. Today, leaders need to understand their employees on a deeper level and have more conversations that are human to human and less manager to employee.”Leadership in the post-Covid world is all about providing employees with the flexibility and support needed to get work done the way they want to, says Steve Black, co-founder and chief strategy officer of Topia.“According to our recent Adapt survey, the second most important item for a great work culture is feeling trusted and empowered and 91% of employees agree they should be able to work from anywhere as long as they get their work done” he says. “Good leaders will embrace flexible working models and trust their employees to work autonomously.”

What makes an effective leader post - Covid?

Leadership effectiveness is of paramount importance in 2021, as most organizations continue to operate remotely with virtual teams. Crises such as the current pandemic act as a litmus test for leaders, with effective leaders rising to the challenges of guiding their organization through hardship, and ineffective leaders unravelling under pressure.According to Hogan Assessments, the workplace personality assessment and leadership consulting company, personality is a robust predictor of job performance and a key driver of leadership effectiveness, with a common distinction made between ‘constructive’ and ‘destructive’ leadership. However, constructive and destructive are not the only leaders companies must look out for. Leaders who are neither constructive nor destructive, otherwise known as absentee leaders, pose a far greater risk to your organization, particularly in the age of remote work.Absentee leaders are people in leadership roles who are psychologically absent from them. They were promoted into management and enjoy the privileges and rewards of their leadership role but avoid meaningful involvement with their teams.Research has shown that absentee leaders cause even more damage for businesses in the long run, leading experts at Hogan to aptly describe them as ‘the silent killers of an organization’.Dr. Ryne Sherman, Chief Science Officer at Hogan Assessments says, “Senior management rarely observes absentee leadership in action, mainly because it is difficult to spot immediately. Companies must pay close attention to employee engagement data and complaints about conflict or bullying, as these are clear indicators of absentee leadership.”Gareth Hoyle, Managing Director at Marketing Signals, says regular contact is important. “In straightforward terms, don’t be an absent manager,” he says. “There might be a lack of faceto- face contact, but that doesn’t mean you can’t develop a formal structure that makes regular contact a priority. Ensuring every individual at each location has what they need to be successful, whilst making yourself available when they need additional support is essential. Whether your employees have spent the majority of the last year in isolation with their family, or they’ve experienced a more relaxed lockdown, making your presence felt is key.”

Rethink the future as a leader and reshape the working environment

Tim Parr, client services director How on Earth, the behavioural change and sustainability agency, says the pandemic has provided a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to really challenge traditional notions of what constitutes work and the workplace; to take a step-back, and consider how human-centred our organisations are, and how to shape the best solutions for us and our people.“Employers’ responses to this huge shake-up in working life should start with their people,” he says. “With listening. What have we all learned from this shared experience? What have we learned about our people and how they’ve responded, communicated, collaborated and innovated? What have we learned about trust and leadership? How will we re-define our working relationships and networks? What have we missed?“The human organisation understands people, and how they tick. It understands our social nature, and how we need workspaces that are shaped to encourage the key working activities – concentration, conversation, collaboration, exploration and reflection. The human organisation has a clear purpose that gives work meaning, and it defines that purpose in ways that connect with what its people value. Ultimately, the human organisation has human leaders – people with integrity, authenticity, and who are open to transformational change.”He argues that this is a moment of great transition for businesses and a chance for employers and employees to come together to not just fine-tune, but to reimagine a more fully human world of work, creating a new energy to unlock previously untapped potential and accelerate positive change.

Flexible, trusting and empowering - the new definitionof leadership

Chris Dyer, founder and CEO of PeopleG2 and co-author of Remote Work: Redesign Processes, Practices and Strategies to Engage a Remote Workforce, says the new normal will require a significant change of thinking for many leaders.“The best leaders will give more choice, flexibility and autonomy to their teams,” he says. “This kind of open and trusting leadership will give companies an advantage, over the next one to two years at least, in attracting and retaining top talent.“The key is to treat everyone fairly but not equally – a onesize- fits-all approach won't work. Circumstances vary from one employee to another, depending on factors such as children and extended family. Managers should understand the many different situations and take a tailored approach to working with each employee.”

Five steps to better leadership

As a leader, you have huge power to influence the culture and future of the organisation you manage.“Company culture influences results right from the top of the organisation all the way down to the bottom,” says Sam Hill, Head of People and Culture at BizSpace. However, in order to run a business successfully through hybrid teams, a strong company culture must first be established.Here are the five key steps to take:1. CLEAR COMMUNICATION IS KEYWith some returning to the office, those choosing to stay at home may feel a sense of isolation from the team and the company, something that is difficult to ignore when you used to spend day-to-day with your team in the same office, or as a whole group working remotely. To aid this and keep the communication flowing, teams can use instant messaging like Slack and Google Chat. Daily huddles and weekly catch-ups with a line manager/mentor using a mixture of video and voice calls help to keep updated. Keeping a constant open door to communication can replicate that feeling of being in the office where we can so easily chat to one another.2. LISTEN TO WHAT YOUR EMPLOYEES NEEDBuilding a strong company culture across teams first requires an understanding of what those teams need from management. Employee mental health can suffer from the change with productivity taking a hit, so companies must therefore take the time to understand what their team requires and how the business can adapt to suit.3. GIVE FLEXIBILITYSome employees may prefer to work independently without constant encouragement whereas others would prefer to have tasks delegated to them on a regular basis. By understanding what specific teams require and how each member operates, companies can mould their strategy to suit the wellbeing of each employee.4. TRUST YOUR TEAM AND MEAN ITThe traditional working hours are now no longer ‘normal’, with many of us now juggling responsibilities from home that we didn’t have to during the working day, like childcare etc. This can lead to a feeling of needing to prove that all work is being done, leading to overworking and in turn, burnout. Thousands of us are defined by the 9-5, taking lunch at the same time each day and having a physical presence in front of colleagues to prove we are actually working. For those remaining at home, they don’t have this way of ‘proving’ themselves externally.5. SET CAREFUL DEADLINESTo combat this and prevent a team that is working over capacity, team leads must show that they trust their team. They can do this by being flexible and less formal. Where meetings are required, keep these streamlined and avoiding typical lunch hours or times early in the morning where some may be taking advantage of the new hours. Setting attainable and broad deadlines with a lot of notice will allow flexibility and give enough time for deadlines to be met.

Related Articles