2020 has been a defining moment in human history, particularly for the world of work. Millions of people are working virtually isolated from their colleagues and many more are working in their usual workplaces but with an unknown fear of catching COVID-19 infection. The fear is significant because one in six people in India are diabetic and nearly one-third of the population is hypertensive who are at a higher risk of falling sick under the attack of the virus. In this backdrop, how do we leverage the social capital of the organisation?
Human beings work in organisations as workgroups or departments or functions which are nothing but social groups that work through interpersonal relationships, with a common purpose, under a common identity, shared values and norms. They establish practices through mutual trust and cooperation. This play of social capital is led by team leaders or workgroup integrators. How do these leaders in the current times steer their teams around those shared values and towards the common purpose to cross new milestones?
Adapting to the virtual work environments
New employees are being onboarded virtually. They receive a few phone calls to welcome them to the team and the organisation. The manager spends some time talking about the work, the goals and tasks at hand. And sometimes the skip level manager spends some time with the new employee on the phone or a video call. A laptop and a few essentials are couriered to the employee’s home so that the person can get started with the tasks at hand. Some teams get the person on a call with the other members of the team for an introduction. We hope, this process gets followed well and will be adequate in mainstreaming the new employee with the organisation. The hope is that the new person will relate well with the team, the manager, the organisation, the common purpose and the immediate tasks at hand. How pragmatic is this especially when we know that the onboarding process in a physical workspace is in itself challenging?
The leaders across the board have to adapt to the new reality so that they can use the tools such as video calls and collaborative work methods well; they can put additional efforts to engage with not only the new joiners but also the existing members of the team. Every member of the team might not be in the ideal physical and mental state to be effective while working physically away from colleagues. They may lose motivation to reach their goals, may not find it worthwhile seeking clarifications from the others in a remote way. Some people may struggle to concentrate on work due to the limitations of their physical work environment or the way they are as personalities. The role of the manager is very critical in adapting to the new way of working and customise their approach for each person in the team.
If we were to nail one thing that the pandemic has impacted the world of work, it is rapid changes in almost everything. Organisations have adjusted their focus market segments, made changes to the roles and expectations of their people, brought in several changes in their people policies and practices, reviewed their portfolio of products, services, supply chain and revamped them in many cases. Managers in each function have had the responsibility to communicate, implement and sustain these changes. Some of these might be reversed again, but many are going to stay.
Organisations have discovered new ways of improving efficiencies. So, employees are expected to behave or act differently when they spot, evaluate and respond to an opportunity. Sometimes, they may have to act differently to a problem or a challenge they faced earlier. The manager has to learn and adapt new ways of motivating the employees to behave differently.
Some organisations use recognition practices and monetary rewards to drive certain behaviours in their employees. However, this may not be practical all the time; hence, the managers have to carefully plan their communication keeping their target audience in mind. Some managers talk about the benefits of the change; some present it as a decree or instruction of the top management; and some link it with a higher purpose like an environmental benefit, poverty alleviation and the like. One cannot say that one particular style of communication works in all situations. Leaders need to adapt!
Understanding the people
It is easy to say that we must adapt. However, in practice, this is one of the most challenging aspects of leadership. Knowing members of the team as human beings is incredibly hard because it involves a huge amount of time and effort to build the rapport, understand the motives and drives of each person. As time passes, everyone’s context changes and the evolving environment keeps impacting our thoughts and beliefs. Hence, studying human behaviour and understanding group dynamics is critical for leaders.
This comment could sound run-of-the-mill and conventional. However, this is more significant than ever before because the new world of work is filled with rapid changes in interpersonal dynamics, business goals and standard practices. Hence, every leader has to invest a lot of efforts in understanding the team dynamics and adapting to the situation.