As the workforce enters what seems to be an eternity of remote working due to the COVID-19 pandemic, your workday has made things like a morning commute and weekly in-person meetings feel archaic.
The new normal is juggling parenting while squeezing in that 11 a.m. Zoom meeting, teaching your children an elementary curriculum before your next deadline. It’s taking the kids out to the playground on your lunch break or trying to sneak in some form of a workout in the living room.
It’s been as much of an adjustment for the leaders calling shots to the interns just getting their feet in the door as workers of all levels find ways to communicate through new avenues and continue productivity at levels that match in-office.
In doing so, remote working has been a moment of reflection inside the office. In a digital landscape, the playing field has been leveled where stars of the physical office might take a backseat to those more comfortable behind a screen.
Studies have proven that introverts are the shining stars during the COVID-19 pandemic, as skills not normally shown in offices are thriving on digital platforms like Google Hangouts and Zoom. While companies are sure to welcome these new set of stars, it could also be threatening a dying breed: certain types of leaders of the physical office.
Recently, DoubleLine Capital CEO Jeffrey Gundlach allude to this theory in a webcast where he said white-collar workers making more than $100,000 could see an unemployment phase due to their actual roles at companies.
“What people may have learned for white-collar services jobs, in particular, during the work-from-home lockdown situation, at least in my perspective — I’ve talked to a lot of my peers on this — I kind of learned who was really doing the work and who was not really doing as much work as it looked like on paper that they might have been doing,” Gundlach said, via Yahoo Finance.
Like perhaps a disgruntled employee has noticed, Gundlach said he’s taken notice of how junior workers are holding up their end — and more — during the crisis.
“I wonder where they’ve gone,” the billionaire said in reference to those running the show. “It seems like the people who work for them are constantly in contact with me doing all this work and some of the supervisory, middle management people I’m starting to wonder if I really need them. And this is just a one sample thing.”
A new leader
Although some leaders are seeing positives in how their leadership and management has translated to the digital workspace, there are certain types of leaders at risk, according to one expert.
Penny Locey, VP of Keystone Partners, told Ladders that the COVID-19 pandemic has exposed people negatively and people positively in terms of getting to shine in a new medium, specifically those self-proclaimed leaders inside the office, where their skillset might not translate as easily in the virtual office.
“People who have created a persona as a leader versus being authentic or real get exposed a lot in work-from-home because it’s kind of like the difference between movies and TV,” Penny said recently. “On the small screen, warmth is more important than the on-stage charisma, like the people who are great at big meetings. People who are comfortable being more real or authentic or more human I think show better not just because of virtual meetings but because their employees are being more real (e.g. they’re meeting from home, and adjusting to children, other work from home adults).”
To Gundlach’s theory, Locey said that she didn’t feel middle-management jobs are more threatened but specific styles of management are. Middle managers often are player-coaches where one of the key components revolves around choreography of the work beneath them. While that style is pivotal inside the physical office, those skills aren’t necessarily being translated through remote working as employees are working more individually which perhaps makes some more susceptible to change, especially if your leadership is style over substance.
“People who are really vulnerable to exposure are the people who delegate everything and are what some people would call ‘empty shirts,’” she said. “They talk a great game whether they take credit for the work of their people or not. They talk a good game, show well at meetings, and have that kind of charisma but they don’t really do anything hands-on and delegate everything and they are the ones that present it to a board or have the visibility upward. I think they are vulnerable — that style of leadership where they don’t do any of the work themselves.”
Locey said these empty shirt-types are different from the ones that actually move an office in cadence, the ones who move roadblocks and facilitate work. Senior roles like VP with directors underneath them could be more at-risk especially if a company is navigating under tight finances, said Locey.
“Maybe more senior roles like VP with some directors underneath them. The VP role may be more vulnerable in one way… Some layers of management could be vulnerable beyond tight finances. If you’re not needed to run stuff and do the choreography, then your role could be eliminated. On a small team, you might take out the VP and have three directors report directly to the head of that unit.”
That sets up the rise for new leaders — or those who are finding more comfort showing their skillset through remote working than in the physical office.
“I do believe introverts may have more of a chance to get noticed working virtually if they are willing to risk being noticed,” Locey said. “Everybody’s little box on the screen is the same size. It’s a level playing field and the better leaders are getting everyone to play. I think individual contributors have a better opportunity to be more visible.”
“You see everyone in the group at the same time. In meetings, it’s very easy to get more attention for your ideas than it would be in a room. I think people who are willing to speak up about their ideas are being heard more and have an opportunity to be more visible to leadership.”