4 key leadership skills for a post-COVID-19 workplace

Managers will need to combine empathy with agility.
4 key leadership skills for a post-COVID-19 workplace

The post-COVID-19 workplace will not look the same in every country or industry, but for many managers, the pandemic presents both challenges and opportunities. Managers will have to adjust their skillsets accordingly.

Many of the traits that have always been important for managers — empathy, clarity, authenticity, and agility — are even more crucial during this time of uncertainty and upheaval. Leaders have been challenged to maintain connection and a sense of belonging within their teams even when they cannot be in the same room together. As leaders begin to stage the return to work, they have an opportunity to leverage new insights and advancements developed during the past several months to reimagine the workplace, rather than attempting a return to business as usual.

“We certainly don’t want to just snap back to the way we were before,” said Karen O’Duil, FCMA, CGMA, financial controller at Walter and Eliza Hall Institute of Medical Research in Melbourne. “We want to build on this level of flexibility that accommodates everybody.”

Many organisations have realised the benefits of allowing employees to work remotely, and as a result, some of the global workforce may never return to the office. According to the PwC US Pulse Survey, 54% of CFOs indicated that their companies plan to make remote work a permanent option. That means managers may soon have to figure out the best way to manage teams that are partially remote.

And in order to keep pace with technological advancements and changes in the global economy, managers may need to work with their teams to upskill or reskill and find ways to collaborate with artificial intelligence.

As finance managers prepare to enter the post-COVID-19 workplace, here are four ways to successfully lead teams:

Create new rules of the road with your team. Many teams that went remote in the spring may have found their groove by now, but if you’ve struggled to coordinate your team, or if you’ve recently onboarded new people, it may help to get everyone together and create new rules of the road as a team.

“One of the ways a team achieves high performance is by deciding together how to work together,” said Steve Hatfield, principal and global leader of Deloitte Consulting’s Future of Work team. “Doing that in a virtual environment becomes even more important.”

Managers should work with their teams to decide when they will have meetings, how meetings will be run, and which communication methods should be used for which purposes. Hatfield recommended managers of virtual teams make meetings shorter and more direct, with extremely specific agendas, because videoconferencing quickly starts to lose its efficacy.

He also suggested managers strike a balance between structure and flexibility by having a set time for meetings and allowing team members to do what they need to do before and after, whether that’s getting their kids ready for the day or taking some time to work out.

“These are subtle things, but if you apply them correctly, they can go a long way in giving your workforce the ability to go do the things they need to do,” he said.

Make wellbeing a priority. Concern for wellbeing in the workplace was a rising trend even before the pandemic, and it is arguably even more crucial as people around the world grapple with widespread grief, anxiety, and burnout.

The Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report found wellbeing was the top-rated trend for importance, with 80% of respondents saying that wellbeing — measures that help people feel their best so they can work effectively, according to Deloitte — is important for their organisation's success. At the same time, just 12% of respondents said their organisations were “very ready” to address the issue of incorporating wellbeing into the workplace, while 50% said they were at least “ready”.

While HR is largely responsible for driving organisational support for wellbeing, there are many ways managers can support wellbeing within their teams on a day-to-day basis. For example, managers can regularly check in with team members to see how they’re doing; they can model self-care by sharing how they’re taking care of themselves; they can offer venues for connection and mentoring within the team; and they can encourage employees to take sufficient time away to prevent burnout.

O’Duil keeps a checklist to make sure she’s regularly checking in with everyone on her team. She pointed out that when you’re not seeing your team every day around the office, you may have to make a point of reaching out, and you may also have to get better at sensing when someone could use a bit of extra support.

“You’ve really got to hone your skills on picking up on those things,” she said. “And that’s very touchy stuff for finance managers, which we do generally struggle with.”

Foster a sense of belonging. Along with embedding wellbeing into the workplace, managers need to foster a sense of belonging within their teams. Everyone wants to feel they are respected, treated fairly, included within the group, and connected to the larger goals of the organisation.

Remote work can increase feelings of isolation and loneliness, and managers of virtual teams should make an effort to combat that by fostering connection and belonging. One way to create a sense of belonging is to make sure the people in your workforce feel they can be their authentic selves. For example, you could model authenticity by making light of the fact that your child has come to visit you on a Zoom call.

“Allowing your home life to enter a little bit into your work life gives permission for others to not worry as much,” Hatfield said.

On a deeper level, managers can foster a sense of belonging and meaning within their teams by drawing connections between the work employees are doing and the greater purpose and mission of the organisation. The pandemic has put things into perspective, and now more than ever, people want to feel they’re making a contribution, not only to the organisation but to society as a whole.

Increase resilience through reinvention. Many organisations are accelerating their digital transformation efforts as a result of the pandemic. And as it turns out, in most cases, artificial intelligence is being used to augment workers rather than replace them. According to the Deloitte 2020 Global Human Capital Trends report, 60% of respondents said they are using AI to assist, rather than replace workers.

This rapid digital transformation could mean an increasing number of managers will soon be leading “superteams”, or teams in which workers and AI interact to do higher-level work. Managers in a post-pandemic workplace may need to hone a new set of skills in order to effectively lead these teams. Hatfield recommended leaders really get to know the members of their team, understand what their skills are, gauge the potential they have, and imagine how they might be able to reinvent their teams to thrive in the workplace of tomorrow.

“I believe this whole dimension of helping your workforce upskill and reskill on the things that are going to be of growing importance is the next horizon,” Hatfield said.

Hannah Pitstick is a freelance writer based in the US. To comment on this article or to suggest an idea for another article, contact Drew Adamek, an FM magazine senior editor, at