The transition to virtual jobs has challenged management in many ways. While the qualities and attributes of an effective manager remain largely unchanged, IT managers need to use a new set of skills and tools to effectively manage employees in the virtual workplace.

As telecommuting becomes the norm, managers need to learn new skills to meet the evolving workforce landscape. This is especially true in the absence of regular face-to-face interactions. Other challenges prevail in the virtual workplace, especially when it comes to ensuring real-time collaboration and regular engagement with employees.

This provides an opportunity for both leaders and their employees to improve their skills in new areas, including soft skills and digital skills development.

For Sunit Dua, PwC’s chief growth officer, effective communication is a critical aspect of building and maintaining trust with the remote workforce. “This is especially true after the pandemic, as employees have increased the confidence levels of their employers, with 80% of employees saying they trust their company the same or more now than before the pandemic,” he said.

From Dua’s point of view, it is a business imperative to engage with employees, listen to their feedback and take action to remove barriers and resolve negative trends. “In today’s digital world, there are many opportunities to gather feedback from employees and promote two-way communication,” he said.

Nicholas Hopman, global vice president of transformation and acceleration services at Red Hat, agrees, but notes that in the current workplace landscape, ensuring that the team is aligned and working together can be a challenge. “Communication is a key factor in ensuring that the team is clear about their goals, objectives and individual responsibilities for business support,” he said. “We live in a time of great confusion and well-executed communication management will ensure that teams have the clarity needed to be highly effective, whether virtual or personal.”

Digital tools for workplace automation and management

As more and more organizations move to telecommuting, digital tools focused on workplace automation and workforce management will be paramount to generating value. Workplace automation platforms can offer an effective way to streamline processes and allow employees to spend more time maximizing business value and less time for administrative tasks.

However, Dua points out that in order for organizations to successfully embrace automation, they will need digital training programs to teach employees how to use the tools to incorporate digital automation into their daily tasks. He explained that PwC went through this internal “citizen-led” journey of digital transformation and set up a digital skills platform to meet the need for digital skills on a larger scale.

Digital workforce management platforms can also be an effective way for managers to engage with their employees by transforming mass communications into meaningful interactions and one-on-one experiences. “These tools allow you to tailor your messages to specific audiences in your organization and ultimately increase engagement and productivity,” says Dua. “They are also great for collecting and analyzing employee data so you know when, where and how to communicate with your employees.

With these insights, IT managers can customize communications for specific audiences, roles, and functions within their organization. “With the trend toward telecommuting over the last few years, we’ve had the opportunity to look at how we work and collaborate with a new emergency,” Hopman said. “Finding new tools that keep the deployed team feeling connected and in line with common goals is a major focus.”

He says virtual meeting spaces, whiteboards, collaboration methods and frameworks to facilitate discussion and capture results will benefit people across the organization, even as teams return to a more mixed virtual and physical workplace.

Online management training programs

Hopman explains that many organizations have also invested in online management training programs that managers need to use to develop their leadership and management skills.

“I think it’s important for IT managers not to accept that technical tools replace the need for personal contact with your team and organization,” he added. “Focus on using tools to support streamlining and optimizing your efforts, and make sure you don’t replace all points of interaction with automation or impersonal workflows.”

After all, the most important thing for managers is to ensure that they create an environment that the organization can perform. “Whatever you do, you want to increase productivity and enable people to produce provable results,” says Hopman.

One approach to this is by focusing on measurable goals and key performance indicators (KPIs) for which the team and individuals are responsible. He also recommended that managers develop systems and tools in the workplace to support them in achieving these measurable results.

“The focus should be on providing the team and the organization with the tools they need to fulfill their roles, rather than focusing on where and how they work,” says Hopman.

Dua predicts that soft skills, including team building and talent management, will become more relevant than ever. “It is crucial for managers to learn digital communication skills with a focus on employee engagement, to motivate and lead different teams,” he says. “Managers also need to learn how to build and maintain trust in the digital world.”

While building trust with someone you’ve never met in person is a complex challenge, from Dua’s point of view, managers have to deal with it as the future of the job continues to evolve.

Hopman points out that in his experience, people actually feel more comfortable with remote work than expected. With this in mind, he believes that the challenge in the near future is to create the right combination of virtual and physical workplace.

“I don’t think it’s a policy or a level of the company to decide,” he said. “I think it will be crucial for managers to have the tools and flexibility to determine the best work environment for their teams and organizations, which is unlikely to be a one-size-fits-all solution.”

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