How leaders can thrive in the post-COVID digital workplace?

Gartner has rightly pointed out that this is an opportunity that every technology leader, CIO, CTO and CEO must seize to take that big digital leap. But first the big trends in the workplace of the future.

Jan 05, 2021 11:01 IST India Infoline News Service

As year 2020 comes to an end, people must realize that the workplace will never be the same again. The kind of change that normally comes about in a decade or several decades has, perhaps, come about in just twelve months. January 2021 will not even be remotely like January 2020. At the beginning of 2020, you would have hardly imagined that nearly half the world will be working out of their homes. But, that is the reality today.

In an incisive analysis, Gartner has looked at the future of the workplace at two levels. Firstly, it has looked at some key trends on how the workplace will change in 2021. Secondly, there is also an in-depth analysis of what are the qualities that leaders will have to inculcate to survive and thrive in the new digital workplace.

Gartner has rightly pointed out that this is an opportunity that every technology leader, CIO, CTO and CEO must seize to take that big digital leap. But first the big trends in the workplace of the future.

Trend 1: Anything that can be automated, will be automated

Welcome to the era of hyper-automation. While automation of routine processes was already on, it will be accelerated in the new digital workplace. This automation will happen at two levels. Firstly, the simpler tasks pertaining to HR and administration will be automated and become machine driven.

The second level will be when even routine management activities like work allocation, time management, work sharing, eliciting feedback, rating performance; will all become substantially automated. Gartner has stuck its neck out to predict that by 2024 nearly 70% of all that a manager does will be automated.

So, what do managers have to do? Broadly, two sets of tasks will be left for managers to accomplish. Firstly, managers will have to spend more of their time in strategy setting. Secondly, the more acute and advanced aspects of team management will have to be still done by managers. But automation will play havoc with traditional comfort zones.

Trend 2: Focus shifts to enabling digital dexterity

The managers of 2021 will have to go much beyond emails, excel sheets, word documents and PPT presentations. The biggest challenge that leaders and managers will face is to determine the skill sets team members need and equipping them with the same. Artificial Intelligence (AI) can go a long way in bridging this gap.

Gartner has rightly pointed that the organizations of the future will be learning organizations. Hence a good deal of time and effort of the leader will go towards identifying and facilitating the delivery of such learning needs for their team members. It will be all about digital dexterity.

Trend 3: Get ready for distributed and on-demand workforce

Nearly half the workforce still works from home. In India IT giants like Infosys and TCS are opting for a distributed workforce model. But remote work will come with its own challenges as it would go beyond the traditional physical office model. If you just extrapolate this to larger organizations and workforce distributed across multiple geographies and time-zones, you can imagine the complexity.

The distributed workforce model also means companies can reduce their cost by relying on the on-demand model. Increasingly, companies are relying on qualified freelancers to reduce the hassles of managing a large workforce without losing on productivity. The time to create teams, train teams and match skills will get substantially crimped. In short, on-demand workforce is likely to become the norm in 2021.

What qualities will leaders require in the digital workplace?

Traditional concepts of efficiency and effectiveness will be turned upside down. Here are 5 important qualities leaders must possess to survive and thrive in the digital workplace.

a) In the future workplace, digital leaders must have a passion for new ideas and identifying new opportunities. Of course, there is the risk that attention span may get diluted but that is a risk worth taking.

b) You don’t just invent but also innovate. Digital leaders don’t originate all the ideas themselves. Some ideas can very well be adopted from colleagues and even competitors and tweaked to your digital needs. Creativity is not everything.

c) Businesses will be judged by their value addition not the industry they operate in. Just look at how a multi-billion dollar company like Reliance Industries transformed itself from a hydrocarbon company to a digital company in less than 4 years.

d) Digital workplace will need leaders with resilience. In a business where models change by the day, only resilience will help leaders. Digital transformation is disruptive by default. Hence it needs a high capacity to manage and overcome adversity.

e) Successful digital leaders look at digital as an input; not as an output; a means to an end. That is why good digital leaders typically focus on desired outcomes before they even think digital. Only then can digital help your leverage the new workplace!

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