Remote work has its advantages, but a lack of physical proximity could adversely affect some key areas of talent management.
Various surveys show that a substantial number of people worldwide are comfortable with working from home even beyond the Covid-19 pandemic. While many complain about burnout and distractions, others report being more productive at home, or are grateful they don’t have to spend time on a daily commute. More companies are also reporting being open to hiring remote workers across borders.
Remote work has its advantages, but a lack of physical proximity could adversely affect some key areas of talent management, particularly among C-level executives. Our dipstick survey of HR leaders suggests that grooming C-suite leaders requires physical proximity that cannot be fully bridged by Zoom meetings.
International exposure has often been cited as a crucial requirement for C-suite leadership. If you’re running a multinational organisation, being able to understand the cultures of your employees and other stakeholders such as clients and suppliers is essential. Senior-level candidates who have a clear understanding of best practices of various markets are also still very much sought after by local companies that are looking to expand.
You might be working for the same company with a common mission and vision, but you’re doing so in different cultural contexts. Remote meetings can help, but spontaneous or incidental in-person interactions can reveal vital nuances that are likely to go unnoticed during a video call.
As businesses continue to operate in a globalised market, not being able to adequately appreciate the differences between markets could adversely affect business outcomes. Several academic studies suggest that C-level executives with international experience can indeed formulate and drive strategy more successfully.
Remember also that awareness of local laws and regulations is important. While leaders can stay abreast of these even if they are overseas, understanding how they affect day-to-day operations would be a lot easier for them if they were physically present in the local market.
International exposure also has the potential to improve leadership skills in general. Working with diverse groups from different cultural backgrounds helps individuals become more adaptable, makes them better listeners, and helps them develop problem-solving and risk-mitigation skills. Having to develop methods to work effectively with people who have different communication and working styles stretches leaders and enables them to more robustly hone and exercise their leadership skills.
In a post-Covid world, business trips might become less frequent, but international assignments are likely to remain critical in developing C-level leaders. Companies generally value individuals who know how to build businesses in foreign cultures.
LEARNING AND MENTORSHIP
While digital communication and online learning have been lifesavers during the pandemic, we must acknowledge their limitations.
For one thing, knowledge workers tend to learn largely through observations and mentorship. Having to set up a video call to learn from a colleague can’t completely make up for incidental and spontaneous learning.
Companies such as JPMorgan have pointed out that such opportunities are curtailed in a remote work setting. A recent Forbes report explained, “Working and collaborating together builds a camaraderie and esprit de corps. Traders, bankers, brokers, compliance, human resources and other personnel share key information, engage in daily discussions and feed off one another. Young employees need mentors, guidance and direction. The synergy, according to JPMorgan, is diminished when its people are disconnected from one another.”
As we move forward, perhaps a balance needs to be struck based on job function and responsibilities. In which instances would remote work arrangements be ideal? Under what circumstances should physical proximity to the workplace and teams be encouraged or even mandated? Leaders and those being groomed for leadership must make a judgement call that serves them both personally and professionally.