The effect of the pandemic on the workplace has been widely documented, in particular the shift to remote working. But as advancements in technology have made the sudden shift to working from home possible, it will be up to leaders to make those connections as meaningful as they are effective in a work culture that will not revert to what it was before Covid-19.
As we look towards a future of work that will rely heavily on virtual workplaces, we must remember that remote working, despite its many advantages, by definition creates separation. Reducing this distance will require a new breed of leader.
The leader of tomorrow will have to practice what I call bypass surgery if he is to be successful in the post-Covid-19 business world. Reconciliation refers to the behavior adopted by leaders to create meaningful bonds and thus encourage fruitful collaboration.
This is the most important new ability that executives will need to master. And it will allow people to forge three types of connection: through physical distance, between distinct cultures, and within new organizational models.
The most obvious of these is to create social bridges between employees who do not share an office. To do this, leaders must create cognitive and emotional connections as well as standards of behavior among dispersed team members in the name of creating a sense of belonging, trust and common expectations.
Cultural and organizational gateways, which this article focuses on, are two essential elements of leadership that, during the pandemic, have been less discussed than managing remote teams. But they are just as important for the workplace of the future.
They are nuanced and require sensitivity, but are well within the grasp of the competent leader.
As the more flexible future of work allows people to work remotely, collaboration will transcend national borders. In addition to connecting employees through computer screens, leaders need to bridge cultures. The process of cultural rapprochement, insofar as it involves entrenched social norms, is complex. And it is often unknown to people who have not worked in multinationals. Yet, when there are cultural differences, leaders can strategically engage in activities that strengthen ties.
It is important to note here that cultural rapprochement does not mean requiring colleagues to behave identically. The workplace of the future will not and should not lead to cultural homogenization. In fact, it is precisely through these behavioral scripts that diverse teams will be able to collaborate successfully by focusing on common understandings and expectations amid healthy and often life-giving differences.
Remote working, along with other deeper transformations in business models, should lead to less hierarchical and more decentralized decision-making models. When critical business activities and decisions are made and made by members in geographic, cultural and hierarchical spaces, leaders need to build bridges between people in new organizational forms to ensure a smooth alignment of work.
Organizational rapprochement therefore implies the creation and maintenance of a strong organizational identification between the members. A central principle of organizational transition is to foster a sense of purpose. When people are connected by a common goal, their decisions and actions converge to achieve common goals, even in the absence of highly centralized and hierarchical control systems.
Leadership attributes for manage multicultural teams and flatter organizations
What attitudes can leaders bring to light to best bridge cultural and organizational distances?
Managers should be understanding rather than imposing. The lingering challenges – societal and personal – of the pandemic have underscored the need for some form of empathic management. The remote and globalized workplace of the future will continue to demand compassion.
A related skill will be able to cede some power in making final decisions. The new world of work will require that these decisions do not depend on the personal preferences of managers, but rather be based on more strategic criteria finely tuned to the needs of a specific operation. In other words, it must be clearly explained that there are spatial and cultural differences at play, but that certain actions with a clear strategic angle are necessary.
Such humility will also be required to be successful in the many organizations that have redesigned their leadership structures or will do so in the coming years. The future of work will see the continued erosion of traditional hierarchical power structures and the adaptation of bottom-up or external decision-making styles. In other words, more people from a wider range of departments will play a crucial role in deciding an organization’s actions.
None of this is to say that a more agile and extended style will downplay the importance of strong leadership. Rather, it will make leaders essential to bridge the gaps between their increasingly dispersed and diverse team members and articulate a purpose that binds teams together and contributes to business performance.
Through Yih-Teen Lee, professor of people management in organizations at IESE Business School.