Hamilton Forth hosted its latest online forum in conjunction with Samantha Bedford, Digital Transformation, Innovation, and Gender Equality Advocate.  Leaders from a cross section of industry joined the virtual forum to share insights and learnings as to how we have navigated work during a global pandemic, and how it has affected businesses.

What was clear from this discussion was that this has been a year of unprecedented change, which has brought with it many ‘firsts’ in terms of experiences at work.  The cultural shifts within organisations and the adaptation of new ways of working have been phenomenal.

Whilst the overriding impact of the pandemic is one of loss and hardship, it is true to say that in responding to the challenges of this new normal, many businesses have discovered positive impacts behind the devastation.

An unexpected positive of the pandemic was the shift in leadership style required to engage a vulnerable workforce.  A more human style of leadership has emerged as successful, where leaders have had to find different ways to connect with people than before.  This has led to a deepening of relationships with some employees as a result of sharing personal experiences and challenges, including difficult life events and mental health challenges.

There has a been a shift towards valuing people rather than just their output.  Leaders have had to help employees manage their downtime when working from home, suggesting booking time in for lunch breaks, family time, and fresh air.

Many of our attendees mentioned the reduction in travel as another positive, saving time, money and reducing environmental impact, and also the benefits of working from home on spending time with family. Collaboration was another plus point, with colleagues and contacts readily available for meetings and discussions due to the new ‘home office’ model for most of us.

The speed of change required to adapt to new ways of working posed a challenge for many businesses, with those already set up digitally performing well initially.  However, the benefits of enforced change soon became apparent with change and digital transformation happening at a previously unrecognisable scale and speed, particularly in more agile organisations.

The consensus from our forum attendees is that it is highly unlikely that we will return to ‘pre-pandemic’ ways of working even after the second wave has passed.  The efficiencies of digital transformation and flexible working have spoken for themselves.  However, it will be a challenge for organisations to ensure the progress made is fully embraced by their workforces post-pandemic, when some may fall into old ways of working as force of habit.  As in the initial lockdown, there will be another period of adjustment required to find the right balance.

The political climate during the pandemic, particularly in the US and UK also led to an increased focus on diversity, equality and inclusion, and a need to have difficult conversations and acknowledge where progress needs to be made.

Whilst much of the discussion on our forum focussed on the positive changes the pandemic has brought on businesses, there is no escaping the negatives this new working pattern and social isolation has emphasised.  Many people have suffered from poor mental health as a result of burnout and being unable to fully ‘switch off’ when working at home.   The lack of in person interaction and missed opportunities to bond with colleagues and strengthen relationships through socialising have also taken their toll.

It is clear from the outputs of this forum that there are synergies in the challenges and demands each of the different businesses have faced in 2020, and the lessons our leaders have learned during that time.  How does this affect the way we move forward?  Is it time for a leadership ‘re-set’ in 2021, and if so, what lessons will we carry forward?

To discuss your transformation and change recruitment needs, or to find out more about our virtual networking forums, contact [email protected].