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Is Your Leadership Team Equipped to Lead in a Virtual Environment?

​​Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive shift to remote work for American workers across the nation, a ...

​​Prior to the COVID-19 pandemic and the massive shift to remote work for American workers across the nation, a mere seven percent of civilian workers, or roughly 9.8 million people, enjoyed access to remote working benefits (formerly known as “telecommuting” or “teleworking”)—and they’ve traditionally been managers, white-collar professionals, and highly paid, according to the 2019 National Compensation Survey from the Bureau of Labor Statistics. The recent surge in remote working has brought with it an onslaught of virtual tools such as video conferencing, online work chat rooms, and project management software—and a new way of working for many.

It’s clear that our current arrangements are uncharted territory for everyone, and organizations and their workers are learning and revising as they go. Many companies are likely performing cost-benefit analyses to determine whether remote working will become a more permanent fixture in their working environments.With many aspects of the workplace continuing to change and American workers logging in and signing on from the comfort of their homes, businesses must consider how to adjust their lenses in relation to many aspects of the workplace.

As the workplace continues to change and long-standing norms shift, it’s smart for organizations to look at their executive leadership teams with fresh eyes and consider:

How to manage key performance indicators

Success in today’s environment likely looks a lot different for most businesses than it did in 2019.Your KPIs will be different in this altered environment, and you need the right leadership in place to help you adapt to and focus on new priorities and objectives that make sense for your business, both now and in the future. Big Data and AI capabilities are a challenge for many companies, but the need to incorporate them into everyday operations is only increasing. In companies with strong data cultures, executives are able to act on analytically derived insights, rather than relying on their guts or past experience.

As it turns out, the roadblocks for companies that aren’t adopting a data-driven culture don’t seem to be due to a lack of technology. In a survey of large firms by NewVantagePartners, though more than 75 percent of firms said adoption of AI and Big Data was a challenge, only five percent attributed it to a lack of technology; 95 percent said the roadblocks were due to cultural, organizational, and process challenges.

How to address skill gaps

Do you currently have the skill sets in place to address your rapidly shifting priorities? The types of skills organizations formerly sought might now be limiting forward progress or creating roadblocks and unprecedented challenges.

Making executive adjustments while hard and soft skill needs shift can set companies on a clearer path to handling big changes or disruptions. Many of the executive leadership skills that proved so effective in yesterday’s workplace are giving way to new skills necessary to help teams across the organization thrive. For example, if you had once sought a healthcare CEO, you may have focused your search primarily on someone with extensive experience in the healthcare industry. Now, your ideal healthcare CEO may need to be someone who has healthcare experience, as well as technological expertise. Soft skills like creativity and innovative thinking are also proving to be more in-demand strengths for healthcare executives, which weren’t necessarily highly valued traits before.

Emerging leadership skills

Many businesses are eschewing-traditional hires in favor of candidates who possess skills that are of increasing importance in today’s labor market. Some skills that may formerly have been seen as weaknesses are being viewed with fresh eyes. As this Gallup article says,“The coronavirus is turning out to be a critical leadership stress test.” Considering the growing skill gaps in many workplaces, which new type of hire or skills should you be seeking that you haven’t previously considered? Widening your pool of candidates to include those with skills matched to the challenges many executive leadership teams are facing can give you an edge in an unsteady environment.

Today, you may need to hire someone who has experience working with virtual teams, a qualification that was likely down toward the bottom of the list for many companies before the days of COVID-19. In addition, skills and qualities such as strong communication; the ability to lead with confidence and build trust in employees; care and compassion; transparency; flexibility; the desire to experiment and seek innovative solutions; and the ability to build a healthy remote culture and ensure that staff stay connected, productive, and collaborative are becoming more important. Great leaders are able to maintain a strong leadership presence, even when they’re physically distant. Leaders who can effectively harness the energy of their workforce toward a clear purpose in resolving the crisis will often find themselves with a wave of new ideas from individuals, said Larry Clark, managing director of learning solution, Harvard Business Publishing Corporate Learning.

Today’s executive leaders must also be able to clearly set expectations and boundaries as they face more situations arising out of a remote culture, such as determining appropriate times for workers to expect email responses or messages on platforms like Slack.

A lack of geographical boundaries

As physical travel in the U.S. and abroad is limited, many other geographic elements are also shifting in the workplace. More meetings, conferences, and even job interviews are taking place virtually, not to mention day-to-day work itself. Though people may be geographically limited in a physical sense, geographic limitations in hiring really don’t exist in a workplace that’s primarily connecting online. Many companies that previously focused only on local candidates can now expand their focus to include candidates on a national scale, as their physical presence may no longer be a necessity. Today, due to labor market changes and many other factors, a wide range of talented executives are available who previously weren’t. Companies that are able to move quickly can round out their teams by bringing in fresh candidates who are well equipped to face today’s challenges.

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