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This article was published on November 2, 2020

The pandemic has changed leadership forever — here’s how to be good at it

The pandemic has changed leadership forever — here’s how to be good at it

Well before there was even a whiff of coronavirus, the attributes that were predicted to be the most important for business leaders by 2030 were the ability to be innovative, adaptive to change, and collaborative across the business. With the sudden curveball thrown by the pandemic this year, businesses have had to adapt the way they operate almost overnight, and greater pressure and responsibility has been put on the shoulders of leaders in the workplace. It became clear that those predicted qualities are most certainly what was needed during the pandemic.

The future of work isn’t clear, but what’s certain is that flexible working is here to stay. As well as focussing on purpose, culture, and leadership at ABN AMRO, Transformation Consultant Marit Janssen is also developing the Future of Work project, which explores how the company will continue working post-COVID.

During her TNW2020 keynote on ‘Remote Leadership’, Janssen shared some of the best practices from the company and highlighted the fact that the key responsibilities of managing and communicating with your team, but also motivating them and facilitating the collective journey towards the common goal of the company remain the same as they were before, it’s just the context that has changed.

At ABN AMRO, recent research has shown that 9 out of 10 people feel positive about remote working, and the majority of employees have expressed a desire to continue working remotely at least two or three days a week. A lot of research is also going into finding out employees’ hopes and fears for the future, in order to learn and adapt to that, and facilitate a scenario that best suits their needs. 

Tips and tricks on how to adapt to the future of work

During the last few months, businesses have been reactive rather than proactive — understandable, as no one could’ve predicted the suddenness and severity of the pandemic. Looking toward the future, preparation, and a thought-through process of transformation is needed.

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Here are a few tips and tricks we learned from Janssen’s keynote on how to plan for the future.

1. Maintain transparency

Without being physically in the same space, keeping everyone in the loop on things can be difficult. It’s important to update your team regularly because they need to be aware of developments within the company for the context of their work. Additionally, it’s important to be upfront with your team about your intentions, for example, whether the situation of working remotely will be temporary or whether it’ll be more of a long-term thing.

2. Trust your team

As has been evident at ABN AMRO, switching to remote working has challenged a lot of previous misassumptions about productivity levels decreasing. In order to maintain good levels of productivity moving forward, whether you’re working remotely or not, leaders must relinquish some control and trust their team to get their work done, without trying to micromanage everything. While taking a step back to let them get on with their work, it’s important to keep the conversation going about your expectations, and providing feedback on performance can help guide your team and provide the framework for them to achieve results. 

3. Be flexible to your team’s needs

The pandemic has highlighted that people with children or other life commitments simply aren’t able to work at certain times. Instead of setting strict rules around working times, companies have had to adapt to loosening their grip on the traditional idea of a nine-to-five. The future of work will continue to demand flexibility from leaders with regard to the needs of your teams. Allowing your team to create a schedule that best suits them is imperative for their productivity, as well as job satisfaction and mental wellbeing. 

The greater trust and empathy your team feels from you, the more likely they are to be motivated and dedicated to their work. Being approachable allows your team to be open with you about what works best for them — not everyone is able to work remotely for example, in which case it’s better to encourage those people to come to the office or shared working space. 

4. Communicate effectively

Finally and most importantly, strong communication is essential. Create a structure with regular meetings, not only discussing business but also discussing other feelings and ideas to connect on a more personal level with your team. At ABN AMRO, research has shown that 20% of employees still feel concerned about their health and safety, in the wake of the pandemic. Janssen predicted this figure will likely increase, but by maintaining good communication, you will always be aware of how your team is feeling, and be able to adapt accordingly. Leadership isn’t about being transactional, but about being supportive, fostering good relationships, and creating the best environment for your team to thrive in.

Final thoughts

In conclusion, the future of effective leadership is about being more in touch with your team, and facilitating the best working environment for them. This includes encouraging a healthy work-life balance, team spirit through open and positive relationships and communications, and an inclusive, accepting, and collaborative atmosphere. Experiment to find out what works best and refine your approach accordingly, and always be adaptive to change.

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