Dr. Curtis Odom is the Managing Partner at Prescient Strategists, and an Executive Professor of Management at Northeastern University.

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When we were all dispatched to work from home in March 2020, many leaders didn’t perceive that their organizations would be relying on them to sustain their level of productivity virtually for a year. The global pandemic has exposed a series of leadership challenges as most of the workforce continues working from home.

The “new normal” of our work-life balance.

Organizations are dealing with increased external supply and demand pressures while leaders are adapting to a rapidly evolving environment. Each of us has experienced some deep shift in our work-life balance to this new normal. Many of us are no longer commuting into offices and do not have the personal space as we did before the pandemic. And while our home lives wouldn’t necessarily have been talked about at work, our personal lives are discussion topics for the first five “empathetic” minutes of every Zoom call.

Many leaders are in deep shift because they did not anticipate that the digital transformation of their work-life would also require their personal life to transform. The most sweeping change for most has been the increased expectations of access to our time by customers, coworkers and colleagues.

Social Media: Our personal lives on display.

Social media continues to change what, when and how we communicate. Digital transformation has created a new world where the thoughts and comments of leaders can be taken out of their intended context. As such, a new paradigm has emerged where something you say or send can be shared digitally with customers or coworkers without your knowledge.

An open mic in a virtual meeting can end a career. A political viewpoint posted online can lead to being asked to resign. Behaving badly while thinking that the computer camera is off can bring about public humiliation. Digital transformation has blurred the lines between personal and professional life while redefining the concept of privacy for many of us.

Leading digital transformation by example.

In our interconnected world, leading by example is even more required. Look within your organization for exemplars of digitally productive leaders.

• Just how deep in the shift are your leaders?

• What is their personal attitude on digital transformation?

• How are they demonstrating that they are agile enough to lead in this moment?

• Is your organization assessing how exemplary leaders are being productive in harnessing the digital skills of their employees?

• Are you actively monitoring or assessing if your organization is providing support to improve those skills?

• Is your organization placing a concerted effort on having younger potentially more digitally productive workers mentoring more tenured employees with the aim of improving their digital competencies?

• How do you maintain your leadership effectiveness, authenticity and credibility in a virtual world where literally every word you say or send can appear anywhere at any time?

Working in a virtual and hybrid environment has created a laser focus for organizations on how they remain productive. But have we taken the time to rethink how we define and measure productivity post-pandemic? What is actually being measured? Is it face time? Is it email availability? Are different time zones of the team members in consideration? Or is it the impact that your employees and your team members are having on the bottom line?

Productivity and change in the digital era.

The pandemic has been an unwanted accelerant of multi-year change to leadership development, coaching and mentoring in an era of constant change. This deep shift is linked to the rapid evolution of a digitally transformed world. Calling to mind a quote attributed to Satya Nadella, the Chief Executive Officer of Microsoft: “We had two years of digital transformation in six months.”

However, in conversations with my executive coaching clients, they have expressed that their organizations underwent five years of digital transformation in one long socially distanced year.

The idea that organizations will operate the same way in a post-pandemic world as they did before March 2020 is naïve. Yes, many leaders have accepted the impact of digitization, but not all have so easily taken the new norms and changes to culture and ramped up expectations of leadership productivity to be lasting.

Researchers are now highlighting that digital productivity from leaders of organizations is mission-critical — having changed from a “could-do” to a “must-do” as the imperative of digital transformation is made clear. If one terrible day on September 11, 2001, would go on to change the way the entire world has traveled for almost 20 years, then it is conceivable that this one terrible year for the entire world may change how, where and when we work forever.

Conclusion.

Many organizations are using the pandemic as the impetus to create a critical mass of digitally productive leaders enabling organizations to better compete. Effective digital productivity has emerged as a leadership competency for the modern world.

And as living life on planet Zoom continues, organizations will need to rely on their leaders to continue using more robust, more resilient and more adaptive technologies to remain productive. But first, they will need to dig their organizations out of the deep shift they also find themselves in as a result of the pandemic.


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