Apr 20 2020

The Future of Work Will Require a Fresh Approach from Leadership

Widespread remote work has forced businesses to speed up digital transformation, and leadership needs to be ready.

Many of the challenges businesses are facing right now are temporary. Restrictions on social interactions and travel will eventually be lifted, and supply chain problems will be ironed out. But one of the biggest changes prompted by the global health crisis will likely become permanent, at least partially: remote work.

A new survey from Clutch found that two-thirds of all employees are now working from home at least part time, with 44 percent working from home full time, up from 17 percent before the pandemic. While numbers likely won’t remain this high once the crisis passes, a Gartner survey of CFOs did find that 74 percent intend to keep at least some of their workers remote when life returns to normal.

This large shift will require a different outlook from leadership, says Seth Mattison, a workforce strategist and author of The War at Work. In a keynote presentation for the CDW Future of Work Virtual SummIT, Mattison says that leaders must trust themselves completely in order to maintain a smooth transition, and be able to adapt as needed. He laid out the challenges facing organizations thrust into a rapid digital transformation, and described how leadership can create a culture built for success in a post-pandemic landscape.

The Battle Between Network and Hierarchy

When businesses go through a transformation, one of the biggest points of tension is caused by two opposing factors, says Mattison: network forces driven by mobility and automation powering hyperconnected environments; and norms of hierarchy that maintain the status quo and structure that organizations are rooted in.

“We’ve got new tools that allow for total transparency, collaboration, connections throughout the organization, and democratization of power,” says Mattison. “But then how does that manifest culturally inside of the organization from unwritten rules rooted in this world?”

While these are opposing forces, that doesn’t mean that organizations should tap into only one, says Mattison.

“This is not a winner-take-all game. The future is not about exclusively moving into this network state,” he says. “Hierarchy is not inherently bad. It’s a powerful force, but we want to understand where it holds us back.”

There are some things that leadership should keep in mind to strike the right balance between agility and structure. Maintaining enterprise visibility and empowerment technology is crucial in helping employees understand their role, particularly if they’re working remotely, and operational fluidity is key to ensuring business continuity. 

But the most important element, Mattison says, is adopting an approach that’s both purpose-driven and human-centric.

“Everything else rises, rests and falls on this at the center,” says Mattison. “Leaders need to be able to communicate and speak first and foremost transparently, authentically and vulnerably from their heart. In this moment in time, it’s one of the most critical elements to be able to keep your culture whole through this moment of difficult transformation.”

INSIDER EXCLUSIVE: Watch the full webinar from the Future of Work Virtual SummIT.

The Human Element of Digital Transformation

When an organization is undergoing digital transformation, there is often a lot of emphasis put on the technology being implemented to achieve that goal. While the tech is key, too often businesses neglect the human needs to make that kind of transition successful, says Mattison. This is particularly true as industries and workers alike are under a lot of stress. 

“What we’re confronting that’s kicking off all of our stress responders is change and transformation,” he says. “If you think about again this moment in time that we’re all living through, the amount of uncertainty, the world at large, our nervous system is under constant duress today.”

In fact, security is one of the most important factors in a team’s success. Mattison cited a study that was done on teams at Google that he said showed that the No. 1 driver of success was psychological safety. He says that this is particularly important for collaboration in the era of remote work, where leadership should make employees feel comfortable sharing what could be a chaotic household when using tools like videoconferencing so that they turn the camera on.

“How do I in small subtle ways through our digital virtual environments make people feel like they can reveal their true selves, that they’re accepted all the way, that you can turn your camera on no matter what is happening?” Mattison says. “When we get that, we create an organization that is resilient enough to move through this.”

Keep this page bookmarked for articles, videos and webinars from the Future of Work Virtual SummIT, and join the conversation on Twitter @BizTechMagazine.

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