Leading from a Distance: One Year Post COVID

March 23, 2021 John Hester


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.

Remote working will not go away after COVID—in fact, many research firms predict that 2021 will see the number of employees permanently working from home double from pre-COVID times. If these predictions are correct, organizations will need to transform how they manage their workforce in several important areas.

For example, from what I understand from client sessions as well as research I’ve been reading, at least half of employees may look for other jobs if their current employer doesn’t provide a work-from-home option in the future. It doesn’t have to necessarily be full-time, but it must be an option. That’s going to require a major shift in the day-to-day leadership practices of managers worldwide. Although the immediate need to keep doors open and lights on has been met, there is a lot of work to do to keep working from home a viable alternative.

In some ways, the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed the need to implement a lot of policies that should have been in place before COVID. For instance, people who worked remotely used to feel like second class citizens who often were forgotten about when it came to development opportunities, being informed on what was going on in the organization, and, of course, social gatherings. Once nearly everyone was working from home due to COVID, this situation drastically improved. Many people report that they know their team members much better now than they did before.

But there are still issues to be resolved. A majority of at-home workers feel overworked and have trouble setting boundaries when there is no explicit end to the workday. Solving this problem may require more discipline around how, when, and how often we meet using online platforms.

Managers also need to be more aware of each individual’s home office setup. One colleague of mine is working out of a 400-square-foot apartment in Hong Kong with his wife and two children. They both work and homeschool their kids. That’s radically different than my home setup with a separate office and two monitors.

For managers, this means recognizing if somebody’s kids aren’t able to go to their physical school, there may be a certain time during the day when they’re in class and need their parents’ attention. That parent won’t be able to attend a meeting during that time. Kids will end up back in the actual classroom, of course, but it will still be important for remote managers to be aware of people’s personal environments.

Performance management will also change. Measuring an employee’s productivity by the amount of time they sit in an office chair was never the right thing to do. The future of work is to measure by outcomes. That means managers will have to become even more skilled in proper goal setting—clearly identifying what is to be accomplished by when, and having reporting processes that are transparent to everyone.

Management now will be seen as more of a partnership. Good managers will check in with their people instead of checking in on their people. These new post-COVID leaders will make regular one-on-ones a priority just to see how people are doing, and will ask questions such as “How’s it going?” and “What do you need from me?” In the future, we will see more shared scorecards that everyone can access and keep up to date so all members of the team can see what their teammates are up to.

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 12 months. The next step will be refining our content to address the new skills needed for leading in a virtual world.

Training can help. In addition to goal setting, performance management, and day-to-day coaching, we will help future leaders build awareness, trust, and community. You can learn more about the complete list of 12 skills The Ken Blanchard Companies has identified here.

As we all step into this new virtual world together, leadership qualities such as being available and being responsive are more important than ever. These characteristics will be valued more highly than were some of the qualities we thought we needed from leaders in the past. Successful companies will work on equipping their virtual leaders to excel in more areas like these.

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


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