Leadership in a WFH Era

How Organizations Can Keep Teams Engaged, Connected

Jun 08, 2020
Management and Organization

SMITH BRAIN TRUST  Our pandemic work selves look starkly different than our pre-pandemic ones. The data – and our new “work sweatpants” – prove it.

These days, roughly half of Americans are working from home, compared to less than one-third of workers in the pre-COVID-19 era, according to the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics. How will we look going forward?

Today, as many organizations look to make telecommuting a long-term solution, some executives are sorting through the challenges of how to keep employees engaged and connected, the Economist Careers Network writes in its Executive Education Navigator.

The magazine spoke with Maryland Smith’s J. Gerald Suarez about the mistakes leaders make when managing people in a distributed workforce and understanding the cultural shift the pandemic has brought.

The first mistake that leaders make is not understanding the difference between a distributed workforce and simply having employees that work from home. Suarez says another mistake is not understanding that this is a cultural shift, and it requires a different mindset regarding how to lead and manage employees.

“Notwithstanding the physical distance, it is important to monitor stress, workload and employee wellbeing, as well as engagement,” says Suarez, professor of practice in systems thinking and design, and fellow of the Center for Leadership, Innovation and Change at the University of Maryland’s Robert H. Smith School of Business. “Team-building activities and hosting virtual social events are often overlooked, and not promoting these may lead to a climate of disenfranchisement.” Suarez warns that employees should not be left feeling like they’re working on a deserted island.

Read more: See why Suarez says companies are “wading into uncharted waters,” by going to The Economist’s article, “Successfully Leading a Distributed Workforce.

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About the Expert(s)

suarez

Dr. J. Gerald Suarez is a premier educator, speaker and consultant in the fields of Organizational Design, Systems Thinking and Total Quality Management. Suarez joined Smith in 2005 as Executive Director of the multidisciplinary Quality Enhancement Systems and Teams (QUEST) Honors Fellows program. He was a Ralph J. Tyser Teaching Fellow and an Executive Education Senior Fellow. From 2008 to 2010 he served as Associate Dean of External Strategy, leading the offices of marketing communications, recruitment and career services.

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