Leading from a distance: The future of work post-COVID

John Hester

Senior Consulting Partner

Read more about John


Now that we’ve dealt with the initial implications of leadership and development in a COVID environment, L&D professionals are increasingly turning their attention to what the future will look like in a post-COVID world.

One thing is certain—remote working will not go away after COVID. Many research firms are predicting that 2021 will see double the number of employees permanently working from home compared with pre-COVID times. If these predictions are correct, leaders within these organisations will need to transform how they manage their workforces in several important areas. Indeed, when you look at the data coming through from the industry experts, there is one common theme: our leaders do not have the necessary skills to manage these new hybrid models where employee work patterns combine office time with remote working.

Leaders are starting to think about their longer-term organizational needs post COVID and preparing for the new hybrid working models of tomorrow. We are seeing a huge shift in the thinking around the physical workplace and where it fits in the future workplace. There is no “normal” to go back to post COVID. Organisations need to evaluate the impact of the current situation on their business and people so they can start looking at the culture they want to have in place going forward.


Setting new norms and boundaries

Working a set schedule in an office environment typically placed natural starts and stops to the workday. Working from home has blurred the lines. A majority of at-home workers are feeling overworked and having trouble setting boundaries when there is no explicit end to the workday. There is flexibility in this, but there is also a danger of never really being off-duty. Senior executives will need to work with their HR leaders to create corporate cultures with explicit expectations for responsiveness, communication, and performance. That’s going to require training on new norms and more discipline around how people meet and how they use online platforms to communicate.

A focus on output

Performance management will also be changing. Measuring an employee’s productivity by the amount of time they sit in an office chair was never a good idea. The future of work will be measured by outcomes, not hours. But how will post-COVID leaders track productivity and work? This practical approach will require additional structure, clarity, and transparency, beginning with goal setting—clearly identifying what is to be accomplished by when. It will also require rethinking what day-to-day coaching looks like. Regular one-on-one meetings should become a priority, mainly to help managers keep up with how their people are doing. While the manager will set the schedule for these weekly—or even daily—meetings, the direct report will set the agenda. This is each person’s opportunity to discuss with their manager what is on their mind or the challenges they are facing. The manager’s role will be to ask questions like “How's it going?” and “What do you need from me?” It will be more about checking in with people, instead of checking in on people.

Building community

In the past, people who worked remotely often felt like second-class citizens who were left out when it came to development opportunities, being informed about what's going on in the organisation, and, of course, social gatherings. One of the positive aspects of having most people working from home has been a renewed focus on remote communication. Instead of an occasional alternative to in-person meetings, the remote presentation has become the meeting. As a result, remote workers (many of them former face-to-face workers) report that they know their team members much better now than they did before. Organizations will need to learn how to ensure the company culture remains strong now that the landscape of a traditional office environment has been changed permanently and the modern-day workforce is more flexible and remote.


The role of learning and development

In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need to improve a lot of the things that should have been happening before COVID. While the immediate need to keep the doors open and the lights on has been met, there is a lot of work to do to keep remote work moving on a positive path. L&D has an important role to play in this future. We’ve made great strides in converting content to virtual and digital formats over the past twelve months. Now our focus needs to shift to how we address the new skills needed for leading in a hybrid world.

Organisations must reset the bar and upskill their managers with the tools they need to manage in the post-COVID world. The focus will be on three key practice areas:

  1. Being attentive and mindful
  2. Fostering community
  3. Accelerating performance and development

Successful companies will value these characteristics more highly than others and will need to work on equipping their virtual leaders to excel in these areas. You can learn more by reviewing the complete list of 12 skills for leading virtually, identified by The Ken Blanchard Companies, here.

The Ken Blanchard Companies®

To learn more about some of the ways The Ken Blanchard Companies can help you on this journey, visit the Leading Virtually homepage on the Blanchard website.