Do business leaders need to treat employees differently as the remote working age comes to life? This article explores the dynamics leaders may need to tackle in the new normal and concludes with an action plan for HR to lead out of the crisis.

As the world recoiled from coronavirus and people retreated from their offices to kitchen tables, the vast majority of managers found themselves having to re-evaluate their approach to leadership. Whilst the line between personal and professional life has long been blurred, the global lockdown of 2020 shifted these boundaries far beyond anything seen before. Where previously some leaders may have faced the complexity of managing a few homeworkers and the occasional connectivity issues it brings, suddenly many were in a new situation managing an entirely remote workforce. With people either completely isolated or cooped up with their family and the unique situation it brings.

From a leadership perspective, this sudden shift to mass remote working magnified the management challenges leaders have to consider when managing people. Including heightened childcare responsibilities, varied working hours, the physical working environment (from comfy home offices to make-shift desks on washing machines), family relationships (the good, the bad and the ugly), physical health and, of course, mental health which is exacerbated by uncertainty and isolation. The reality is that leaders have never truly only managed the workplace professional they see before them but many of these unique factors that make up that person. The difference now is that these individualised factors have played, and will play, an ever-large part of people’s lives in the remote world (none more than mental health). Therefore, if leaders are to be successful, they need to recognise the unique human issues within their workforce and adjust accordingly. Leadership has to become truly people centric.

This shift propels HR to the top table because it is the people function. HR has the opportunity to set the pace. HR should be partnering with the business and supporting its leaders to ensure productivity is maintained whilst employee wellbeing is maximised! It can do this by, firstly, setting expectations with leaders about what their responsibilities are (from the basic fundamentals to the nuances of more complex topics). Secondly, by helping leaders to develop skills in order to manage a remote workforce effectively – which could range from technical skills for using new technology to being able to spot the signs of struggle within employees (this should include active listening programmes with experience management technology). Finally, HR needs to be leading the provision of avenues to professional support and guidance when needed because if the coronavirus has shown us anything it is that the welfare of our people is paramount and critical to success. Whether or not remote working will end is pretty uncertain at the moment. The one thing that is certain, however, is that the pandemic pioneers of leadership can only be the HR function.

This post was written by Michael Abbot and Georgie Adkin of SAP SuccessFactors on the HR Grapevine website here. They are an exhibitor on the HRTech247 HCM and Employee Engagement floors.