[Column] The new normal calls for leadership with a human touch (virtually)

In recent years, working from home has been a perk for some. Suddenly it became an imperative for many, as demand for remote work soared globally in only a few weeks. This has been a profound shift for society at large.

This wave of social change along with digitalisation have completely changed the way of work and the workplace as we know it. The workplace is no longer only a brick and mortar construct where people go to work, but an internet-based setup where people do work.

Suddenly, much of the world’s workforce is operating completely online while homebound due to covid-19 restrictions.  What used to be the norm of going to an official workplace environment has been replaced by mandatory remote working.

This shift has led businesses and organisations of all sizes to face unprecedented expectations to deliver business continuity, while keeping people safe and connected. The abrupt shift from the norm leaves employees facing the challenge of having to adjust to an unprecedented way of work and way of life.

Routine has been disrupted for many who enjoyed a structured day and movement. Getting ready and dressing up professionally, driving through traffic to the office, taking office meetings with clients, and engaging with colleagues are things now deemed unnecessary or just reduced to virtual interactions. Those who appreciate the old ‘norm’ as invoking a sense of purpose may have difficulty adjusting to this new norm of operating completely online while completely homebound.

Working from home during covid-19 tends to blur the office/home boundary. People work more overtime and are taking on more loads of work. Those with children have to juggle work and parenting and home schooling. Some have challenges ensuring the home workspace is a workable, suitable setup. So much is going on yet the world is almost at a standstill. It’s a lot to adjust to as an employed person and still be able to cope.

This profound cultural shift is not an easy one to adjust to. In addition to fast-changing work conditions, the virus itself is sowing fear, stress, and uncertainty. Job security and health fears are acute, especially for those in “hot zones”.

Uncertainty about the future as everything seems to have a ripple effect has left society in a state of distress.  Economies are experiencing a downturn. 72% of South Africans are unsure or pessimistic about the country’s ability to recover after covid-19. 83% believe their finances will be impacted for 2+ months due to covid-19, revealed a survey by Mckinsey; the rate of morbidity and mortality is exponentially increasing; the prevalence of negative news is overwhelming; adapting to a new way of life during a pandemic can be challenging.

Employees deserve credit for enduring under these circumstances and playing their part in ensuring business continuity and that business continue to thrive. For people who make the world function, the workforce across all industries, is a valuable part of society. Their wellness during such a stressful time should be priority.

Organisations need to keep employees engaged and motivated more than ever. Failure to do so may result in reduced employee engagement and productivity as well as demoralised staff.

In a time such as this, communication, team work and collaboration are crucial to sustain a people-centric culture and productivity which can have a direct impact on employee wellbeing and motivation. Fortunately, technology has been a major enabler helping us all stay connected and productive.

For many CIOs and IT teams, the speed and global sweep of these changes are unlike anything they’ve experienced. Stress is at an all-time high as teams work day and night to support unprecedented IT demands and deadlines.

Cisco has been keeping organisations connected and effective while slowing the spread of COVID-19 having built the foundational technologies that power remote productivity. As Covid-19 continues to upend businesses, the trend towards remote work will only accelerate. Cisco is committed to helping its customers and communities during this unprecedented time.

We’ve adjusted to the new reality ourselves and keep our employees motivated in innovative ways. Working from home has taught us to value the interactions that we have with colleagues. Our Cisco teams around the world are now having trivia hours, happy hours, singing groups and exercise classes that individuals can join via our collaboration technology.

However, organisations must be warry that working remotely and completely online presents opportunities for cyber criminals to take advantage and centre on gaining remote access to users’ apps and data – whether on devices they’re using to access corporate resources. They take advantage of potential security weaknesses in collaboration tools.

Fortunately, Cisco Webex is the biggest collaboration platform in the world that is highly secure, helping employees to stay connected to their teams and continue their business operations securely. 14 billion meeting minutes have been hosted on Webex in March alone, more than double the number in February. It’s a great platform to keep interactions going with employees and making sure human connection is maintained.

With the enabling technologies available to navigate the ‘new normal’, organisations should continue the ‘norm’ in order to sustain employee engagement and to keep employees motivated in this trying time in which we’re all feeling the impact of the cultural shift. Motivated employees mean a thriving organisation.

This column was written by Garsen Naidu, Country Manager, Cisco South Africa.

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