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Is lockdown helping dismantle certain power structures?

Sep 16, 2021

Despite all the negativity associated with lockdown, it seems there may be some silver linings for those in business.

One might just be that COVID is dismantling certain power structures that exist within organisations, empowering employees from all corners of a business more so than ever before.

Why? Because remote working seems to be breaking down the façade that physical presence and personality are what matters most when it comes to being a leader or a key player within an organisation.

Instead, employees are being pared back to their credentials and quality of work – the true determinants of what we really bring to a business.

In the absence of physical presence (and in turn ego and personality politics), there is less opportunity for perception, assumption, intimidation, bias, and in some cases, hierarchy – providing an opportunity for employees, including young people, to step out of the shadows of others and have more of a voice in the daily goings on of the business.

This leads me to ask the question I’ve been wanting to throw to LinkedIn for some time now – is COVID levelling out the imbalance that physical presence plays within team structures and at the management/executive level?

My first inclination a change was underway was last year, when I noticed that dynamics within teams I was consulting with were shifting. People were bringing ideas to the virtual table differently and were being listened to more so than before.

Personality obviously goes a long way in an organisation – extroverts tend to thrive on open engagement and are quick to debate and discuss a topic or give their opinion, while others, usually introverts, need information and time to think things over before providing feedback or ideas on how something could be done differently.

Businesses haven’t historically allowed these left-brain right-brain conversations to occur freely and without prejudice within an often pressured and time-critical executive environment.

But, given the physical remoteness of how we now work – and with ample reading and preparation time allowed for virtual meetings and feedback – a switch in power play could be occurring.

Historically, executive teams have been led by those who rely on physical stature and big personalities to engage and influence colleagues and team members.

Yet with in-person interactions no longer available to them, they may have struggled over the last year to manage beyond the meeting room and motivate teams who usually execute on their behalf.

In this new environment, a leader who listens to their team in a bid to understand, connect and motivate is probably going to get a lot more out of staff in terms of productivity.

You could argue that a new layer of management training is needed to help business leaders genuinely connect with staff in lieu of management skills they lack due to relying on presence to establish a position of power and influence.

Let’s be honest – these are positives for business as we know it – maybe not positives for certain individuals but certainly positives for employees overall.

The benefits of this new working environment are clear, to me and no doubt other professionals. We – women and men, young and old – are not being judged, like books are by their cover. The work we do and how we do it is what will matter the most in a post-COVID world.

As to the question about whether COVID is levelling out the imbalance that physical presence plays in business, hopefully the answer is yes. Anything that results in a leveling out of leadership teams, not just in gender, but in leadership style, is a welcome addition to any working environment.

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Peta Quirk is the Strategy Partner of Brand Council, an independent consultancy with a depth of experience in purpose-led transformation and corporate brand strategy. Brand Council works with some of Australia’s and the world’s premier brands by using purpose to drive growth, value and economic and behavioural change.