Leadership in a new age of virtuality

workplace leadershipWe are living through a fundamental transformation in the way we work. The pandemic has forced organisations to go virtual. New government guidelines, including a tiered alert system, suggest that this will be the norm for the foreseeable future. But step back from the noise and it is easy to see how the current crisis is simply accelerating the inevitable. A confluence of forces, including advancements in technology and infrastructure, increasing globalisation, shifting demographics and COVID-19, has enabled greater connectivity and mobility, making obvious to organisations, their leadership and individuals the wisdom of adopting flexible work models.

All the signs point to more flexible  work in the future — between the office, the home, co-working, coffee shops and other third spaces — in which employers give their people the choice, flexibility and support to work wherever they can perform at their best. The most forward-thinking organisations are already on this journey to virtuality, adapting their processes, behaviours and ways of working to adjust to this new world.


Leadership change

So, the direction of travel is clear: more virtuality, less physicality. The vast majority of business leaders expect flexible working to become more widespread beyond the pandemic. The conversations that we’ve had with HR, workplace and real estate leaders in the Advanced Workplace Institute (AWI), suggest much the same.

To succeed in this change, however, leaders in both business and in government must now grasp the moment with both hands, envision the future and make the transition to a digital world as quickly and as smoothly as possible. Traditional organisational models are under threat, too, as leaders see the benefits of direct communications with workers at the coal face, bypassing the middle management layers that have historically served as a filter on the C-suite’s direction.

As virtuality takes hold, the role of middle management must morph from a communications, supervisory and control mechanism to a coaching, support and directing one. The AWI’s research into virtual teams, in partnership with Centre for Evidence-Based Management, suggests that virtualisation requires a shift from transactional management to transformational management, in which leaders ditch long-standing presentee-based methods and instead set outcomes and provide groups of highly skilled workers with the capability, support and tools to deliver.


Looking forward

It is these new demands of leadership that form the basis of Workplace Week International 2020. The four-day virtual festival follows hot on the heels of Workplace Week London and Workplace Week New York, two annual events that have opened the door to some of outstanding offices in those respective cities. This year, leaders from the worlds of HR, facilities management corporate real estate, design and IT will have the opportunity to explore how science, innovation and new working practices are enhancing business performance.

With the support of leading industry bodies, including the International Facility Management Association, Workplace Evolutionaries, the Institute of Workplace and Facilities Management and the Royal Institution of Chartered Surveyors, the 2020 programme will showcase the very best in work models and workstyles from some of the world’s most forward-thinking organisations. Delegates will get to see real-life corporate case studies, virtual panel sessions and fringe events from global brands such as PwC, Deloitte, Lloyds of London, Skyscanner and Innocent Drinks.

All proceeds will be donated to the festival’s international charity partners: BBC Children in Need in the UK; Make a Wish in France, Brazil, Switzerland and India; and the I Have a Dream Foundation in the U.S.  – boosting the $100,000 total already raised to date in the UK and US throughout Workplace Week’s 10-year legacy.

We hope that the festival will help leaders not only navigate the current challenges but also make the transition to a virtual future.

Image: PWC headquarters at 1 Embankment Place