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5 min read

Leaders: the way we work is changing, so what does that mean for you?

Digital Leadership

It’s tough being a leader at the best of times. Add to the usual pressures of the job they need to navigate a global pandemic and it’s no wonder 86% of aspiring leaders are feeling used up at the end of their workday

From keeping finances afloat, remote teams happy, and staying one step ahead of an ever-changing market—it’s fair to say leaders have a lot on their plates right now.

Leaders: there's no time like the present

Although it continues to be a testing time for leaders, it's also a time of immense opportunity. A chance to use this moment to bring about positive change. To shun the status quo in favour of creating a better future of work for all. One that increases engagement, productivity and innovation.

But, where should leaders start? And, what do they need to consider in the face of these new realities?

Our 2021 Digital Etiquette report is a go-to guide for any leader contemplating the best path forward. It dives into the top trends impacting the world of work today, from hybrid working and workforce wellbeing to redefining what productivity and leadership mean in this new era.

Let’s take a closer look at the results and what they might mean for the path ahead:

Leaders: choice is the future

The COVID-19 great remote working experiment challenged the whole concept of work to the core. For most leaders, this required a radical shift in mindset, from once viewing remote working as a privilege or perk of the job—to now a prerequisite for survival--to a model of working that offers its own unique benefits

But, as we move beyond COVID-19, is remote working here to stay? Or will hybrid or other models lead the way?

According to our research, feelings are still mixed on the topic, with 47% of global respondents keen to return to the office full time, 38% seeking a hybrid/flexible model and a paltry 15% eager to continue working remotely full-time. 

Of the 62% that transitioned to remote working as a result of the pandemic, more than a third (39%) want to be back in the office full time, with 46% wanting a flexible/hybrid model, and again 15% keen to work remote full-time.

Our findings indicate that one way or the other, the future workplace will be a blend of home and office working. The flexibility that underpinned the pandemic is something people want to hold on to. Giving people a choice over where, when, and how they work is now crucial.

Do you prefer remote, hybrid, or office working?

With this in mind, leaders must be open-minded and flexible. None of these models is inherently good or bad.   But they are different.  Understanding how each of these models works enables leaders to create environments that respect the need for solo-time work and quality collaboration.  Embracing the differences will enable leaders to better reflect the needs of their teams and their businesses.  At this inflection point, it's important for leaders to reflect on what has worked well so far, but also what needs to change and improve going forward.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has reminded CEOs of the importance of building resilience into their operating model....” says Kristin Rivera, Global Leader, Forensics & Crisis for PwC. “...firms that were able to quickly adopt digital working practices or switch their supply chains were better able to withstand the shock. CEOs now need to simultaneously contend with the unfolding pandemic and rethink how they operate in the future. Not every innovation developed in a crisis is right for the long term, but there is much to learn.”

Leaders: it’s time to listen and learn

Throughout the pandemic, we saw increased support for leadership, as people rallied together against the external threat.  But in reality, how many leaders are building on this momentum, involving their people in their future workplace strategy? How many are making a conscious decision to put employee experience on an equal footing as efficiency?? Let’s take a look at the results. 

Hmmm, it seems not many. 

When asked about their organisation’s post-COVID plan, 35% say they are now required to be in the office / onsite full time, 18% are following a flexible hybrid model where they have a choice over whether they work in the office or remotely, and 15% are yet to hear any plans from their leaders.

When asked what leaders could improve upon, 23% said they should ask for employee feedback on the way work has changed. It’s clear people want to be part of the solution, not the problem. They want to be listened to and heard.

Regular one-to-ones boost morale

The future of work has fundamentally changed. By harnessing the power of their people, leaders have an opportunity to deliver meaningful change—not simply promise it. Building tomorrow’s workplace reflecting people’s needs, desires, and aspirations will deliver a future that inspires high productivity and high innovation. With this in mind, leaders must be willing to ask for feedback and listen to what others have to say. 

Leaders: empathy starts with you

When our survey respondents were asked what leaders needed to improve upon—empathy topped the list. After more than a year and a half of trauma and suffering, people are looking for more meaning in both their work and personal lives. Struggles are both practical and psychological as employees learn to adapt.  Genuine empathy and compassion may reduce disengagement or at a more serious level mental health challenges. Inviting wellness experts to help you design your future ways of working is valuable.

Speaking to the BBC, Sandra Bond Chapman, a cognitive neuroscientist at the University of Texas, Dallas says:

“Before the pandemic, people were 24/7 non-stop on the go. People are now stepping back and thinking about the qualitative aspects of being productive over the quantitative...instead of how many things we have done, we now have an opportunity to shift towards the measures that matter most–was I more innovative? Was I more purpose-driven? Was I more socially driven?” 

Leaders need to look beyond the numbers and take time to understand the underlying needs and objectives that employees want from work. When asked what would make people love their job more, 28% of respondents said they wish leaders would allow them to work different hours than a traditional 9-5, as long as they get their work done. But how do we offer this flexibility? 24% of our survey respondents said having a choice over where they work (eg. remote vs in the office) was important.  But how do we ensure that everyone is treated equally when it comes to promotions and recognition? How do we ensure that everyone still feels connected to the organisation?  Leaders need to ask themselves these deeper questions.

Leaders: everything is changing, what about you?

Work is fundamentally different now. Expectations have evolved. Priorities have shifted. Leaders who recognise the chance to enhance engagement, productivity and innovation and are ready to take the right actions will reap the most rewards in the future. While those who bury their heads in the sand will be left lamenting over what could or should have been. 

Leaders: this is a pivotal moment—your chance to redefine the future of work, are you ready?

Let the workplace revolution begin!


For more insights on the challenges leaders face in this new digital-first reality, check out our 2021: Digital Etiquette Report.

Download the report

About the authors

Sarah Wicks

Sarah is a Strategic Delivery Director at Adaptavist