11 Leadership & Management Challenges of 2021: The Future of Work

When moving into a new management position, there are always some leadership and management challenges that you’ll need to face head-on in order to succeed. It’s a natural part of transitioning from being ‘one of the guys’ to holding a more authoritative position. However, for those managers making this transition post-2020, there are a whole new set of leadership and management challenges that are likely to pop up. The global pandemic has changed the commercial landscape - possibly forever - and tackling the new challenges today may be the key to preparing for the future of work. 

So what are the biggest leadership and management challenges to arise from 2021?

1. Adapting to Change

The working landscape was already changing long before 2020. New leaders have been expected to not only handle all of the typical management tasks - supervising teams, making decisions, and managing operations, for example - but to do so within environments that have been rapidly evolving thanks to the rapid pace of digital transformation. And today, managers need to do all this while also leading teams of remote workers, which adds yet another obstacle to the mix, and creates a brand new challenge. 

It can be difficult enough as it is to make the switch from being an employee to a managerial function. There is a special set of new skills every manager needs to succeed in the modern workplace, primarily rooted in the agile methodology that allows leaders to adapt quickly to different people, and different situations when needed. Building these skills now is important for succeeding tomorrow.

2. Board-Level Communications

While there has been a rise in remote working, not all roles have been easy to transfer from the office to the home or other distanced location. Reports show that senior executives are most likely to have the infrastructure to be able to move operations to the home environment, which means that many c-suite execs are now working from home for at least some of the time. This means that managers not only have to design a communication approach for the board, but for a board that’s now home-based.

The need to communicate ‘upwards’ as well as ‘downwards’ has previously been a major challenge for new leaders. Now, the need to tailor these communications for a board that’s also based out of the office has been added to the mix. To succeed, leaders need to work to build a board reporting framework that keeps the c-suite updated, and effectively communicates a message using remote technology.

3. Managing a Remote Team

Although organisations have become more flexible in terms of their working policies over recent years, for many the widespread shift to remote working has been surprising. Many managers weren’t prepared for this acceleration, having received little to no training in how to effectively manage a remote team. As many are realising, managing a remote team is very different to managing a face-to-face team, with a need to adapt working processes and leadership techniques to see successes. 

Of course, it’s not always easy. Even major companies have backtracked on their remote working policies, with former Yahoo! CEO Marissa Mayer bringing all workers back to the office in 2013, believing that remote working was failing to bring benefits. Add in a need to introduce a hybrid model if some workers are still in the office, and it’s a lot for any new manager to get their head around. Getting to grips with some strategies to help you become more effective with your remote team is very important for leaders. 

4. Building Trust

Trust has become one of the biggest leadership and management challenges to arise in recent times. Research into this area suggests that ‘a perceived loss of control and sense of being taken advantage of may be experienced by a manager as employees disappear from the manager’s daily gaze’. This can be especially true if you naturally have quite a directive, ‘helicopter’ management style, and are now finding that you can’t keep track of every team member, all the time. 

To tackle this challenge, study, analyse and deploy some of the best strategies line managers can use for maintaining and building trust in remote teams. Why? Because when trust becomes an issue, unrealistic expectations begin to creep in. Perhaps you’ll begin to expect that your team is available constantly between 9-5, always sitting at their computer; something that not only isn’t reasonable - don’t forget that distractions can happen - but could put the work-life balance in jeopardy and create even more stress. 

5. Remote Productivity

During the height of the pandemic, media sources were bursting with reports that the widespread shift to remote working had massively boosted productivity. But is this really true? Some more recent reports suggest that only around one third of workers are more productive at home, while others have found that remote working can lower job satisfaction and motivation, which in turn can have a negative impact on productivity. This is a problem for leaders, whose team productivity reflects on their performance.

As a result, we are witnessing the emergence of yet another new challenge for today’s leaders, who are searching for tools for managing remote teams that will boost productivity immediately and ensure they are continuing to prove their ability to the board as a new manager. As we can see from the research reports above, these tools need to cover a broad set of bases. They need to not only work to directly drive productivity from home workers, but also improve and enhance the remote working experience to raise motivation. Of course, the human element is vital here too with the humanistic, connected leader more likely to be at the helm of an effective, productive team than a leader who mistrusts remote workers, micromanagers or takes a command-driven style. 

6. Navigating Widespread Disruption

During the time of digital transformation, one of the most important things that managers have needed to excel at is leading teams through change, and helping them to accept new ways of working. This alone can be difficult enough, but today, managers are dealing with a greater number of new changes that have all been introduced quickly, and at the same time. 

In fact, today’s managers are trying to navigate widespread disruption across practically every aspect of business operations thanks to a number of notable workforce changes that are here to stay. These include remote working, the use of artificial intelligence, adapting attitudes, new technologies, and a shift from designing processes for efficiency to designing for resilience. Understanding these challenges is key to overcoming them, and overcoming them is key to getting your team members on board with those changes

7. Handling Previously Unseen Personality Types

Your team consists of many different personality types that all require an individual approach. You may already be well on your way to building a leadership and management style that is adaptable and works for each member of the team. However, with the shift to remote working, a whole new set of personality types is emerging, which means managers need to adapt again in order to effectively handle these personalities and minimise the risk of conflict in the team without being in a position of face-to-face communication.

While there are many possible new characteristics that can emerge when your team moves from the office to the home, these characteristics can usually be categorised into four different remote work personality types: stabilising, social, commanding, and technophobe. These types all seem to thrive in on-site working environments, but can struggle in home situations. Understanding these personalities creates an opportunity to develop a leadership style that helps them succeed.

8. Leading for Tomorrow

It is clear that there has been a notable gap between what managers were already doing, and what they needed to do. While tomorrow’s challenges may not be as extreme as a global pandemic, we can reasonably expect that it will come with its own unique set of issues and obstacles that must be addressed. Leading for tomorrow - making efforts now to address these potential challenges - looks set to be essential for building resilience and being prepared. 

That’s why a renewed focus on leadership is so important for leading the workforce of the future. Leaders need to find effective ways to juggle managing their team as it is today, while also trying to develop their style and implement small changes to future proof the approach and ensure it works just as well tomorrow. Focusing on leading a team - rather than managing it - is one way to make this happen, by putting the needs of employee’s first and giving them what they need to succeed. 

9. Shifting from ‘Business’ to ‘People’

Although you’ve probably already been working to shift from your natural directive management style to a more flexible approach since you were promoted to your managerial position, there’s yet another aspect to take into account that must shape how you do things: your people. Putting your people at the centre of everything you do with a humanistic management style approach allows you to maximise productivity and prioritise human resources.

An IBM Institute for Business Value study, titled ‘COVID-19 and the Future of Business’, concludes that ‘placing a renewed focus on people is more important than ever in a world of work where many employees are working outside of traditional offices and dealing with heightened personal stress and uncertainty’. Taking a people-centric approach could significantly help to boost satisfaction, motivation, and productivity even at challenging times, ensuring your team performs to the best of their ability.

10. Driving Team Collaboration

Collaboration between team members happens naturally - organically - within the workplace. When people work together, there are almost unlimited opportunities to interact. In remote settings, however, it’s something that actively needs to be facilitated. As a leader, it’s important that you work to build positive remote work collaboration habits for your teams that make it easy and natural for people to work together and collaborate, even if they are not working from the same location.

Research shows that how teams collaborate from home is much different to how they collaborate in the office. For example Microsoft reports that longer meetings are being replaced with more regular shorter meetings, and that social meetings have grown rapidly. By working to not only build but also reinforce good remote collaboration habits across your team, it’s possible to tackle one of the biggest issues of working from home, ensuring communications, brainstorming, and interactions are still driving overall success.

11. Transferring Workplace Culture to the Home

The importance of company culture is becoming increasingly apparent, and many leaders have been working hard to develop a great culture amongst their teams that supports workers, motivates them, and makes them want to succeed. With this though, a new challenge has emerged; the need to transfer this culture to the home working environment. And this isn’t always easy, with the natural misalignment between business and employee created by remote working posing a significant risk to company culture.

Today’s managers must know how to build and improve culture in remote teams. This can be easier said than done, with Gallup noting that ‘culture can be understood as “how we do things around here”, but right now, the “how” is changing daily -- and in some cases, forever’. A Gallup report suggests that people who work from home are less likely to think they’re cared about by their team members, and feel less recognised for their contributions. This very clearly needs to be addressed. 

Future-Proof Your Management Style

The new leadership and management challenges that have arisen in sync may be frustrating to handle all at once but they do provide a unique opportunity for leaders to adapt their approach now and increase their chances of success tomorrow. We may have lived through a highly challenging year, but leaders can learn from it, grow from it, and use it as a driving force behind their excellence.

KH - IP Blogs - Blog CTA