It’s been said that in today’s world, change is the only constant. Business leaders take this as a given. The magnitude of disruption caused by COVID-19 and the ongoing health and economic impacts are unprecedented in recent history. These far-reaching impacts present new challenges for leaders managing departments, and organisations undergoing significant workforce changes in a short space of time. While the scale of today’s changes may be larger than most leaders have faced in their lifetime, the challenge remains fundamentally the same: providing leadership in a world of constant disruption and change.
Understanding a changing context
COVID-19 has caused great social anxiety on many levels. Our research found Australians are feeling anxious, frustrated, vulnerable and scared. The Australian Bureau of Statistics found that nearly three quarters of businesses are expecting reduced cashflow to adversely impact their business over the next two months.1 As social restrictions begin to wind back and more employees return to workplace environments, they will be bringing these anxieties with them.
Economic challenges have forced many businesses to make redundancies and reduce staffing hours. This means some employees will be shouldering increased workloads or blended job roles. Naturally, this places extra strain on staffing relationships while employees and employers alike adapt to these new configurations.
We’ve also seen a rapid uptake of flexible working arrangements, including large-scale working from home for those able to do so. The trend towards more flexible working arrangements has been in motion for some time, and we’ve written about the various wellbeing challenges that come with this. COVID-19 will likely be a catalyst to fast-track these changing expectations around flexible work, and businesses would be right to expect that the new ‘normal’ will look different from the old.
Our research found three in four Australians believe working from home will become the ‘new normal’, while also revealing there are many for whom working from home creates other challenges. Leaders will therefore need to consider their organisation’s own context as they chart the pathway out and re-establish workplace norms.
Leading through immediate and more permanent cycles of change
Australians are looking for leaders who are strong, confident, and open in the current context. They believe the two most important qualities of a leader in this time are being completely open and honest with sharing information and being prepared to make tough calls early and back themselves in doing so. This is especially important for business leaders dealing with changing workplace dynamics that COVID-19 has presented.
While we hope global pandemics will not become a regular occurrence, business disruptions will continue as the pace of social, demographic, generational and technological change keep moving at lightning speed around us. Today’s leaders need to keep an eye on this changing world of work as they navigate through more immediate needs over the coming weeks and months.
1 Australian Bureau of Statistics 2020, Businesses expect ongoing COVID-19 financial impacts, May 2020, ABS, Canberra