When the golden sun rose at the dawn of the third decade of the second millennium, there was cheer, joy and hope all around. The National and Global Indices did not reflect even the remotest dark shadows hovering beyond the horizon and despite some rumblings in Europe there was a steady hum of dynamic business acceleration worldwide. Then, as the Corona virus spread from China to Europe by the silken route, it hit us very harshly in the second and third quarters bringing the Eco-Socio-Geo-Politico structure of the country to a grinding halt. From the apex national bodies, down to the tea vendor and the milkman, everyone was caught off guard, hemmed in by Lockdown, Curfew and Containment Zones as facial masks emerged as the chosen symbol in these Corona times.
While the media has poured voluminous content on the subject matter of the pandemic the students and doyens of Management alike, are still unable to fathom dimensions of the impact of this virus on the economy and the society. The grim reality far exceeds the VUCA phrase often used to sum up the unpredictability of such impacts. It will be quite some time before the analysts and prophets of the global economy and society are able to make any prediction regarding the deep impact it will have on the future of human society and race.
However, some apparent transformations on the manner and the mode of managing business and society are visible as a result of emergency actions and interventions are taken to conduct business both in the public and private domain to deliver goods and services to the customer and beneficiaries as seamlessly as possible given the limitations. Here, the vast outreaches of the eBusiness and web world have significantly helped the state as well as the private sector organizations to reach out to the last link of the delivery chain. The IT sector has not only facilitated financial, regulatory and logistical outreach but it has made massive contributions to the sharpening, acceleration and accuracy of public health and hygiene delivery systems both at home and worldwide. While the Covid warriors plunged headlong into the battling of Corona, the young innovators, research bodies and start-ups rose to the challenge to deliver hardware and software solutions including critical hardware supplies of PPE kits, Masks, Low cost ventilators as well as Mobile Apps & tracking devices and high speed testing kits etc. No praise is too high to salute those warriors who risked their lives to beat the pandemic challenge. Now that there is a talk of vaccines, the 2021 might witness the tapering off of the disease severity and mass casualties.
Paraphrasing Edmond Burke, now the epidemiologist, data analysts and dooms-day sophisters have reluctantly driven this century of hope and innovation, into an unending chase of the crooked shadow of the invisible virus. While the research scientists are engaged in frantic efforts to deliver the vaccine to stop the wild dance of death and doom, we are left with some valuable lessons which may force us to rewrite the scriptures and canons of management of organization worldwide. Without pushing any agendas and rigid posturing, we may analyse some working solutions thrown up during the churning of the global economy and society by the pandemic tornado.
The first and the foremost impact of the pandemic is the visible ascent of the power and output of the eSmart professionals acting as a member of the smart team working anytime, anywhere beyond the time zones. This process of empowerment was initiated decades ago with the launch of the world wide web and was further multiplied in geometric progression by the onset of digital revolution. AI, Machine learning, Algorithms, Simulations, Robotic driven design thinking etc. have acted as force multipliers deepening the impact. These interventions have led to a quantum jump in qualitative and quantitative output of the esmart the professionals in many organizations at home and worldwide workplaces.
This has also resulted in the steep rise in emergence of eSmart Teams which work in unison despite remote and far flung locations. Managing such teams involves sophistication in strategic planning, designing, training and coordination of smart professionals operating beyond visual range in a virtual space. In many cases the teams are spread across the world and time zone. That many corporates have achieved this seamless working is a tribute to the deep outreach of IT and Digital Technologies in ensuring success despite the pandemic. The term Cloud is no longer a meteorological metaphor but a crucial component of continuous communication and connectivity critical for Corona conquest and business sustainability.
Undoubtedly business as well as public sector organisations and regulators will have to focus on shaping and sharpening the Leadership talent pool, to effectively manage eSmart Teams operating in the virtual workspace. Though there is a significant body of work in this area, the pandemic learnings need to be structured in sharpening the talent pool. We at the B Schools will have to partially move away from the traditional view of the Leader as the frontispiece of organisational architecture. A new style of leadership will have to be forged and fine tuned to suit collaborative, participatory ethos and empathy driven microclimate vital for success in guiding eSmart teams operating in virtual workspaces. The leader will have to live up to the new found freedom of the team which was 'cabined, cribbed and confined' earlier to corporate pigeonholes in many cases. It may be worthwhile to look at some obvious traits vital for success of a Leader of such eSmart teams.
The first and foremost trait of such a Leader is the capacity to build a bond of trust and transparency between himself and the team members. Every interaction with the remotely located team will be tested against the touchstone of truth and faith developed as a result of past association and contextual present. Every action of the Leader will have to be balanced and must also be backed by visible effort put it across as such.
Secondly all interactions must appear to be rooted in deep concern about the state of the team members operating remotely. This is taken for granted when the team is in front of you but even then in the Armed forces special attention is paid to the mental state of troops. In fact such opening dialogues laced with genuine outpouring of leader's outreach will not only strengthen the team's faith in the leader but will act as springboard for desired action by the team.
Another important trait of a leader is close familiarity and command of the Leader in the tech/platforms deployed for networking and seamless connectivity for managing such teams. A perpetually fumbling, stuttering and mumbling leader may not evoke confidence of the team members.
It will also be useful if the leader seeks inputs and solutions from the team to enhance the performance of the tech and eventually it would lead to a collaborative leadership model. I had an unusual experience of this phenomenon when we sent our first team to UNECOSOC at New York for implementing the PAPERLESS COMMITTEE project. We had only one hardware intern but since everyone acted in unison all ten interns were treated with rare respect and aplomb as we succeeded beyond belief in our task.
Goal setting and target fixation are the primary responsibilities of the leader but on remotely located teams it must appear as a joint effort. This will spur the team into action especially if they seem to be the crossing milestones with rewards springing up along the predetermined pathways.
Last but not the least is the projection of a positive and highly self motivated persona of the Leader reaching out to every member of the team. History is full of leaders who have won battles seemingly lost, by powerful positive interventions and similar opportunity exists to the leaders of virtual teams. Leader's positivity will always have the desired impact on the team no matter what the state of the team. This will be the most significant factor leading to success.
In conclusion I would like to humbly state that at the B Schools such Leadership developing initiatives would help the future management professionals to direct eSmart virtual teams. Undoubtedly sharpening of multidimensional communication skills and in depth exposure to such tech platforms would need to be emphasized in the students. But we have looked into retooling some skill sets to achieve the desired outcome. The virtual workspace is here to dominate the present and future of management of organisations and we must start looking at Leadership in the virtual space seriously to facilitate the ascent of future leaders to the commanding heights of the economy.
Prof. (Dr.) Vijay Page
MET Institute of Management