Why Business Leaders Have an Even Bigger Part to Play as the Role of Technology Swells
The new wave of Omicron may have thrown our road to recovery off course slightly, and while this isn’t what most businesses and their leaders anticipated, we can at least agree that we’re in a far better position to adapt to the ongoing climate than we were last year.
Over the last two years, there is no doubt that technology stepped up — with businesses now having some of the best tools at their disposal, allowing employees to instantly switch between the office and their homes. But technology is only the enabler, not the solution to running a successful business. Instead, the modern, post-pandemic business needs two things: one, a careful balancing of the roles played by technology and by people – both equally important yet interdependent; and two, a reinforcing of the importance of leadership to striking this balance.
The pandemic created a seismic shift in the way we work, and technology offered us a ‘get-out-of-jail-free’ card, of sorts. For decades, we’ve learnt by observing but with the advent of remote working at such a large scale, the way we learn and interact with our colleagues has undergone tremendous change. Whilst working apart from each other, we’ve managed to create a secondary culture, with catch-ups, regular wellbeing check-ins, and huddles, all trying to recreate the human interaction – those water-cooler moments – we’re used to in the office. Although working from home was initially greeted with excitement, this was soon dampened by the pressure of being constantly “online” and a feeling of being overwhelmed by incessant alerts and interruptions. That was probably the first wake-up call for business leaders, who realised that technology alone, whilst a valuable tool, wasn’t enough to succeed through the pandemic.
As we set foot into another year of uncertainty, we can be clear about one thing: people are the lifeblood of an organisation. And how we lead those people is what makes a business successful, not the number of tools available to us. The most effective leaders see technology as an enabler, a means of expressing themselves, drawing the best out of their teams and empowering individuals to communicate in ways that makes them feel most confident and productive. If used well, digital channels provide us with a level playing field and a platform from which to give praise, work through problems, review and provide feedback, and even bond and have fun!
The most effective leaders see technology as an enabler, a means of expressing themselves, drawing the best out of their teams and empowering individuals to communicate in ways that makes them feel most confident and productive.
However, technology alone can only go so far as to replicating the human working experience. For many, working from home prompted a feeling of limbo, it was hard to learn, be heard, be creative, or progress at the same pace. There is no doubt that consistent remote working and overcommunicating (however well-intentioned) has prompted a sense of digital fatigue, and in some scenarios, greater anxiety and isolation.
Ultimately, as our reliance on technology swells, a balance that works for the people using it must be found and maintained. This rests on the shoulders of leaders. Intentional leaders.
For instance, with so many channels to monitor, work can become overwhelming. But an intentional leader will agree with their team on how best to communicate with each other – inclusive of all work styles – without crossing boundaries. Technology isn’t the answer to hybrid working but creating a space for everyone, especially for those that aren’t always the first to speak up, is what business leaders should be focusing on as they embrace the new normal.
Fundamentally, businesses need to understand that the future will revolve around how they work and not where they work, or the tools they use. Indeed, the most technologically dependent era of working we’ve ever experienced has actually taught us more about ourselves as employees, managers and leaders than ever before.
Leaders need to collect the lessons their teams have taught them; actively engage with their employees to understand what they want from their working environments and use these conversations to solidify working practices that are relevant today and can evolve in the future. Such strategies do not need to be prescriptive. Based on the feedback given, they should empower their staff to choose what is right for them, whilst meeting the expectations of the business.
As with all workplace changes, there is no one right solution. Technology has enabled us to work wherever we are in the world, but it isn’t the answer to hybrid working. People are. The onus will be on managers and leaders to define what works and what doesn’t work for their teams and the business as a whole. What makes us more productive, more efficient, more inspired, more results orientated, more fulfilled? These are the questions to ask yourselves when trailing new technology. Such an approach ensures that whatever the future may hold for businesses, and however advanced ways of working become, people remain the priority, and that is always the key to success.