Why outdated leadership styles are to blame for 1 in 5 employees being forced to work in the office during the pandemic


Romy Hughes, director at change management consultants Brightman, explains how leadership styles must change significantly to empower staff in the “new normal,” and why managers in firms which have focused on digital transformation are already miles ahead.

According to an article in yesterday’s Guardian, the TUC has found that 1 out of 5 workers are being forced to work in the office during the current lockdown, despite the fact they could do their job from home. Most telling of all, was that 40% of the respondents cited “pressure from bosses” as the principal reason for going in.

This pandemic has shone a light on some of the archaic leadership styles that continue to plague many organisations, where the most important way to measure an employee’s productivity and dedication to their job is seemingly how much facetime they spend with their manager in the confines of the physical work environment.

Managing staff at home vs. in the office requires a very different management style. Sadly, most likely due to the speed at which this change occurred, many managers have yet to change their styles to be effective in this post-COVID world, and they, and their employees, are paying the price.

One thing that is noticeable is that those companies that had already invested significantly in digital transformation – and thus had already shifted to a hybrid home/office working pattern, are now miles ahead of their competitors who hadn’t.

The cultural “jolt” of COVID was less significant for them, because their digital transformation efforts had placed a lot of emphasis on how management needed to change. When COVID hit, they simply had less change to do, so they were more productive from day 1.

How does management need to change?

  • Greater trust vs. micro management/remote monitoring
  • Empowerment of the workforce vs control/hierarchy
  • Focus on output, not hours worked
  • The need for wellbeing “activities” to be scheduled in (since many of those informal conversations between “work” that are so critical to care are no longer taking place)