Digital leadership under lockdown

Ahead of Digital Leaders Week next month, organisers highlight the challenges of leading and motivating staff during the coronavirus pandemic and pull focus on new ways to create meaningful virtual communities

Robin Knowles, Founder and chief executive of Digital Leaders

Moving your organisation to home working has for many been an epic undertaking. We have seen a period of accelerated digital transformation and leaders need to be thinking digital first when motivating the individuals they lead. Digital transformation is all about your people, your culture and not
the technology.

So it’s particularly important to be thinking about the impact of lockdown on the four traditional areas of an individual team member’s motivation: purpose, learning, autonomy and social connection.

Individuals still need a sense of purpose in a role. This can be contributing to a meaningful outcome bigger than themselves and often one larger than the organisation they work for.

Leaders must rethink organisation’s purpose

During lockdown our organisational and even whole sector’s sense of purpose has been under attack. We have focused on survival ahead of purpose in the short term and as we unlock, it’s vital for leaders to acknowledge this and take the time to rethink their organisation’s place in our sector and society.

You can be sure that your teams will also be asking themselves, “Is my organisation still in a place where what we are good at is what people need?”. Time thinking about this collectively with your team as a leader post-lockdown is critical.

With autonomy levels high, we need to leverage digital tools built to encourage collaboration and suppress any urge to reduce this strong motivator of individual performance

The importance of learning and developing skills in a role is an area where lockdown may have created opportunity. Before the pandemic a lot of skills were acquired from colleagues longer in the job and also from those more senior. Six months of lockdown has transformed this relationship and remote teams now know they need digital skills unavailable in their current organisation.

This is a national challenge and has combined with an explosion of free training events online. As a leader, encourage and support this opportunity to connect individuals to the knowledge available and needed by them and our organisations online.

How lockdown led to greater trust

Autonomy, that sense of control over work, is an important part of individual motivation and has been an unintended, but necessary, part of lockdown. The level of trust in our people has certainly risen and a plethora of digital tools now means we can co-ordinate disparate teams with less direct control. With autonomy levels in our organisations high as we come out of lockdown, we need to leverage digital tools built to encourage collaboration and suppress any urge to reduce this strong motivator of individual performance.

Lastly, and perhaps the main victim of lockdown, has been social connection within our organisations. Individuals need a network, support group, mentors and sense of social belonging. Whether “watercooler moments”, gossip or social events, a great deal of this has been lost.

Our team members’ networks are now far more geographically local to them rather than with work colleagues. This might be good for the individual, but is not for the organisation. We need to leverage technology to build new virtual cultures that can survive and build support networks of value to individuals, with a lot less face-to-face interaction, to reinforce them.

Building virtual communities

Louise Stokes, Director, Digital Leaders

We are social beings and the interaction, networks and social connections we create at work are important given we spend so much of our lives “in the office”. However, during the pandemic, working from home has meant those watercooler moments and face-to-face conversations completely halted.

Remote working was not entirely new, of course, but even working-from-home veterans would be the first to admit that aspects of a remote environment still had some distance to go when compared with physical interaction.

Technology has done it’s best and we all had our digital networks accelerated by the “Zoom boom”, taking part in online quizzes and the like. Virtual drinks certainly helped, but I am much more excited now about the plethora of new digital platforms stepping up to recreate social togetherness for teams and organisations.

The truly virtual community is coming of age in 2020 and for me will become the way to network, build connections and bump into serendipity for professional communities

In the last few years, we have seen the tech for group working and one-to-one interaction platforms transform unimaginably, at first through the likes of Slack, Zoom and Microsoft Teams. But for me, the missing link always remained the networking and interaction you get in larger groups, that you can only get through physically attending an event, meet-up, conference or summit.

Lockdown has created new ways to network

Pre-lockdown, the Digital Leaders team already ran a large online programme for our community alongside physical events because our members are based throughout the UK and beyond. The platforms we used were typical one-to-many formats like webinars, where content is presented and questions asked. However, it was always missing that golden moment of audience interaction when the serendipity of bumping into a new and useful connection happens.

This moment is what people value most when attending physical events and in lockdown this has been lost. But lockdown has now created new platforms that do offer this networking and audience peer-to-peer interaction, And wow, what a change. Delegates on these new platforms can sit together in groups of five, use social media tools to connect, move around the space and see everyone else there. This now includes our own members’ space we have christened the #DigiLounge.

Creating new, inclusive communities

Most excitingly, communities of designers and users have sprung up around the new platforms and these groups are making weekly improvements, updates, new features offering extraordinary levels of creativity. I recommend you try them. Communities will rely far less on face-to-face meetings attempting the serendipity we lost when we locked down.

Also, these new communities are inclusive, offering access for those working remotely, or for people in rural communities who don’t have the time or the funds to travel, and there is the reduced environmental impact to consider. Being live and interactive, delegates can network in a natural-feeling way. They can meet new people, listen to great speakers and even take part in the Q&A, all from the comfort of their home office.

The truly virtual community is coming of age in 2020 and for me will become the way to network, build connections and bump into serendipity for professional communities.

Digital Leaders Week, the UK’s largest online gathering of those leading digital transformation, takes place from October 12 to 16