Written by: Arshya Rayhandra A.
Edited by: Wulan Faraditha, Zania R Putri, and Ghafi Reyhan
Illustration: Lisa Kalystari
The demand trend for virtual leadership skills has increased in the past year. The cause of the surge in demand isn’t something that we aren’t familiar with, the COVID-19 pandemic. As most companies are ‘forced’ to close down their on-site activities during the early days of the pandemic, organizations and their leaders and employees struggled to adapt to the situation. Many of them also feared that changes in the work environment would also lower the employees’ task performance. However, in times full of uncertainties, organizations are left with no choice but to adapt to the new workflow, or risk being left behind.
One of the many occurring changes is employees are no longer confined to their office cubicles. Since the start of the pandemic, we can see how many companies have coped up with this challenge by providing accessibility for remote working. Yet, many others also happened to not be able to adapt with the situation. This situation is caused by many factors. It can start from the impossible access for remote working due to the nature of the work that the company undertook to an unprepared management team and company leaders in providing an accessible remote working environment for the operation of the company, which eventually led them to running out of business. Consequently, a new pace and leadership style has been perceived as a solution to these many challenges, hence making the demand for “Virtual Leaders” higher than ever amidst the pandemic.
Each organization is distinct from each other, with some influencing factors including organizational values and the role of leadership styles on decisions and policies. In turn, this creates the presence of an array of leadership styles, each with their own advantages and disadvantages, that can be utilized by leaders to implement good management and leadership skills. Speaking of which, there are fundamental differences between good management and good leadership in general. Kotter (2001) argues that management is related to coping with complexity wherein it brings order and consistency to the quality of the outcome. On the other hand, leadership copes with changes, making it relevant to today’s world due to the changes that the COVID-19 pandemic brings to a workplace thus requiring leaders to adapt faster than their subordinates whilst encouraging and assisting them in achieving organizational objectives.
Back in the day, when everything was still paper-based, slow dissemination of internet access and low mastery of computer-based technology have obstructed employees’ capability in mastering the latest technologies. Through the advancement of technology, companies are able to adapt to the new reality and workflow as email replaced the fax machine and computers replaced the typewriter. Now, just like when the internet and modern computers are introduced, the dismay of change is felt once more through the transition from face-to-face interaction into virtual interaction. Most day-to-day business activities and operations are now and business is conducted online, creating new problems such as communication disruptions and work-life imbalance. Moreover, many organizations still made the classic mistake related to implementing something new to workflow: overmanaging familiar works and undermanaging new yet essential aspects. To deal with these changes, organizations rely on their leaders’ capability to manage company functions, making leadership style heavily affecting the likelihood for organizations to achieve their goals.
Communication difficulties and lower productivity level as it was harder to supervise employees are only some effects of the changes in the work environment. Good leadership has been perceived as the solution to these problems. To provide quality control for their subordinates’ job performance and retain interaction, leaders and managers need to come up with new strategies that place good communication between leaders and employees at its forefront. However, understanding the core nature of the problem is not sufficient to be constituted as good leadership. Good leadership also signifies setting a clear and applicable execution strategy, in this case, creating a virtual office environment by providing a versatile communication channel, setting daily job expectations and weekly agendas, and becoming transparent.
Other than that, good leadership is also lauded as the solution to increase and maintain employee’s job performance during remote working conditions. Bekirogullari & Thambusamy (2020) stated that a newly-transitioned workplace could impact a leader and drag them off their comfort zone by preventing direct contact and affecting their interpersonal dynamic. Therefore, leaders may encounter difficulties in maintaining the same degree of authenticity commonly found in face-to-face interactions. To cope with this, leaders must reassess communication strategies by considering the purpose, the audience, and the exchange context by identifying its goals, the schedule, and the amount of time (leaders) want to spend on each issue. Furthermore, Bekirogullari & Thambusamy (2020) added that virtual leaders need to boost their team members’ engagement time and opportunity to receive feedback to compensate for the absence of face-to-face interaction. However, before doing this, leaders must first understand how to approach their subordinates based on their preferred leadership style.
“Different leadership styles lead to different outcomes”, and each companies have their own preferred leadership styles depending on the nature of their work, core values, and its employees’ culture.
For instance, participative leadership style involves all members of the team in decision-making, which can improve group morale, job satisfaction, and engagement. Although this style is very popular, one can argue that sometimes it may be difficult to reach a consensus, which might be disadvantageous in some scenarios. Another well known leadership style, transactional leadership, is known for how it enables effective change management and promotes efficiency, however its utilization of rewards and punishments on employees may erode employees’ creativity. Another form of leadership style is transformative leadership. According to Korejan & Shahbazi (2016), this leadership style moves organizations to the future, identifies environmental demands, and eases the adoption of necessary changes. This leadership style places leaders as broad-based thinkers who work with others to reveal opportunities for improvement and characterize leaders as being courageous, compassionate, and innovative. These examples are just the tip of the iceberg on how all of the existing leadership styles could play their important role in the remote working situation. The takeaway is that in the time of changes, leaders and managers need to understand whether their current style of leading is suitable for the condition or not.
Despite the variation, any chosen leadership style will play an important role in determining a company’s success in remote working situations, and during a time of change like today, leaders and managers need to understand whether their current leadership style is suitable and occasionally requires them to depart from their preferred leadership style. It must also be remembered that regardless what their preferred leadership style is, to successfully tackle the challenges imposed by remote working, leaders and managers must successfully integrate elements of virtual leadership such as identifying the needs of their environment, facilitating relevant adjustments, and promoting creative ideas across virtual space into their leadership style. In times of pandemic when organizations are required to adapt with the new reality, it creates a demand higher than ever for a fresh and distinct leadership style. Therefore, it doesn’t matter how small or big an organization is, leaders’ capability to adapt towards change is now needed more than ever. It seems that the classical debate whether leaders are “born” or “made” is not as important as it used to be. What matters most today is to what extent leaders want to learn and understand the leadership style most suitable for their situation. All in all, virtual leaders must act as a bridge by reinventing aspects of pre-COVID-19 work environment and adjusting it with the remote working environment to keep their employees motivated and productive during an uncertain time.
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