Covid-19 has had a huge impact on society and global business. What do you think are some of the biggest challenges for business leaders to overcome during this period?
Their own paranoia and lack of trust in their employees. All too many managers have broken down the lines of trust between employer and employee, and look to enforcement rather than building back the levels of mutual trust and motivation to ensure that people naturally want to do their work.
Have you seen any interesting examples of how companies have pivoted to adapt?
Plenty! My favourites are the small businesses that have flipped from being coffee shops, bakeries or gyms into e-commerce delivery services or on-line delivery.
But larger businesses too have done it. I’ve seen training companies flipping from being fully face-to-face to entirely remote. That’s not an easy change. Lots of companies also standing up to offer vital services. That’s both entrepreneurial and helpful.
What can businesses do to emerge from the Covid-19 crisis stronger?
Clean house. Take the opportunity to get rid of old processes and systems that are no longer fit for purpose but there was always too much of a rush forwards to do anything about them.
Build resilience by learning what was needed to adapt and survive. And particularly, don’t fall back into old ways just because you might eventually be able to do so. Make the most of being forced to change – stay that way!
From your previous experience, where have the biggest changes to business leadership been in recent years?
Many people suffer from presenteeism – they expect to have their staff visible. They don’t understand how they interact with them and hence find it difficult to map that to remote models. I identified a hierarchy of needs for remote workers, based on Maslov, starting with basic comms and apps needing to work.
From that you need to build out rituals that work. It is not about 9 am and 5 pm calls daily to check in and check on. It’s about understanding what works best for the team and following that.
The people who have reacted best are the ones who have embraced change rather than trying to find some way to maintain the old way of working.
How have changes been implemented by business leaders?
We’ve all seen the forced jolliness of on-line beer bashes and the like. That didn’t last long. The best changes usually relate to looking after people who are furloughed, or worse, made unemployed through no fault of their own. Handling that kind of situation remotely requires a lot of skills.
I’ve also seen people throwing out a lot of old, unhelpful, restrictive rules about “how we do stuff” for IT platforms and embracing SaaS, low code, open app models and the like. Proportionate security, not attempting to lock everything down.
Do you predict major changes to how companies and employees operate in the wake of the virus? Homeworking has proven to work thus far.
I’ve worked from home more than I have worked in an office, and I found being in an office almost unbearable with all the noise and movement.
How are you supposed to think in that mess? My view is that by 2025, 50% of all those who can work from home most of the time, growing to 100% by 2030. When people see what a “new office” is like they’ll be heading home.
Alternative workspaces similar to the coffee shop model will appear, but nobody is going to climb 40 flights of stairs to be the only person in a room with properly spaced desks because the lifts aren’t safe.
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The benefits of home working are huge – starting with the lack of commute, and continuing with a potentially much calmer workspace where you can concentrate.
Many people are suffering at the moment with being enclosed with children and partners, so they don’t really want to go back to the office, they want to have a calm place to work.
When schools can be safely opened one of the issues will be removed. It’s impossible to work and home school. Many people also claim they miss the social aspects of work, I would say that they are really missing their normal social lives outside of the office.
It’s perfectly possible to have fun with your colleague online, you just need to get used to it.
I also don’t buy the argument that serendipitous meetings occur in corridors. That may be true if you are the CEO of a major corporation being shuttled from meeting to meeting by your acolytes. Normal people can just call the person they need to think out loud at them.
It is looking like there is a chance we will hit a new recession. How can technology help to navigate a business through a period such as that?
The wonderful Tom Fishbourne, the Marketoonist, just published a cartoon with four options: cut everything, invest in what works, change what doesn’t work, or just panic.
All too many people stick to that last option. My view is that we should be investing in what works while tidying away, Marie Kondo style, the stuff that doesn’t work. Embrace the change, seek out new opportunities as they arise.
In your opinion, what makes a fundamentally good business leader?
Someone who cares about the people they work with, someone with an idea of where they want to go as a team. Someone who protects their staff from the machinations further up the structure.