The office is quieter than it ever has been. To an outsider, offices today look like they’re being run by army captains. Heads down, the sound of furious typing, and no chit-chatting at the watercooler (or state of the art hot-water tap).
Yet, most often, there are crazy virtual conversations happening between two colleagues, while groups of people are dissecting new marketing approaches using Slack. Thanks to technology, leadership is possible without making a sound. It’s just happening online.
From small office environments, to enormous big businesses and massive corporations, technology is having a huge impact on leadership. On a larger scale technology is beginning to allow greater power and governance without needing a physical presence, while in the office, technology is helping to change traditional working patterns.
Technology-based leadership now allows employees to work remotely. People can clock in the work they’re doing using technology, and sharing Google docs while they’re in progress allows managers to see the progress people are making on important documents. Technology allows more freedom, which can bring new challenges to managers. There’s a fine balance to be struck between micro-managing work as stats and analytics are now available to hand whenever, wherever.
Carl Reader has worked with a number of entrepreneurs and up-and-coming leaders and feels that technology really is driving change in leadership. “It’s also due to a newer way of doing things (which actually often involves technology). Tools to help monitor staff engagement and customer satisfaction are helping today's new leaders be far more hands on with live data than ever before.”
Theoretically, leadership is no longer about direct power, but about influence. A leader of a corporation with no social media presence or technology use can only influence the 500 or so employees of the business.
Somebody like Mark Zuckerberg however, can easily reach millions of followers just by tweeting or posting something on Facebook. If for some reason he was photographed holding a coke, that picture would probably have gone viral, and sales of soft drinks could be implicated. Articles may then be written summarising his healthy eating habits, or questioning his actions in a way that would never had happened had it not been for technology. A CEO of a company who limits him or herself only to their immediate company will never have the profile compared to one who engages on LinkedIn, shares posts, ideas, thoughts, or debates.
The way success is perceived has changed - the more effectively a leader can share and show results, the better they’re seen to be. This is in direct contrast from 100 years ago, where leaders were celebrated for who they knew - their networking authority, and their knowledge. Now, such contacts can be made in person and then nurtured online, freeing up valuable time to promote a business, or lead on a micro-level.
Interestingly, technology also allows premature, or perceived leadership to flourish. An example of this was exemplified in a recent FT Interview with the CEO and founder of Mahabis Slippers. He focused on extreme marketing before the slipper gained much traction. Thanks to investing millions each year in marketing the slipper, there has been significant growth of the product. Ankur Shah, the founder, is now turning over a profit of £18m. However, his success is down to online marketing - and it’s this relentless marketing that has allowed Mr Shah to become an industry leader.
On a micro level, technology allows leadership more fluidity. Directives to members of staff can be sent by email, or management programmes like Slack can be used which means employees can work outside the office and yet still be properly managed. Thanks to video conferencing, nobody needs to feel as though they’re missing out on meetings. Getting the ethos or message of the company across is also easier via a multitude of social media platforms.
Chris Butcher, lead software engineer at charlieHR, explains how important open communications are for his leadership. “Slack is great for mission critical comms, but integrations like Growbot can take it to new levels. Slack is a place to communicate with one another - sure - but we've made it into something that pumps out good energy from the team all day. Don't underestimate how good old email can be used to similar effect. Just clicking 'reply-all' and sending :) to say you've read and understood makes a big difference. Your inbox becomes a place of a temple of positive feedback.”
He explains how the idea that software can make work better is of course the crux of CharlieHR. “Our own company's DNA is all over the product. We think it's about treating your team as adults -human beings who think and feel - people who want to come to work and do good. If our customers can spend less time on HR admin, more time on what matters to them, and inject a touch of positive energy into the workplace while doing it, then mission accomplished.”
Maintaining communication with employees is certainly easier thanks to advances in technology. It’s easier to maintain a catalogue of communications with employees - emails, meeting dates, minutes. Flicking through a virtual catalogue and finding the appropriate document or dossier makes it quicker and easier to locate crucial items, freeing up time to run the rest of the business.
Along the same vein, technology helps leaders to conduct essential training. Companies from IBM through to Strada restaurant all conduct learning programmes online - from health and safety information to management styles. By embracing technology employees can work at training at their desk for an hour or two, rather than having to leave the office for days at a time. Essentially, as in many walks of life, technology is increasing efficiency. Leaders and employers can work quickly and efficiently through essential tasks, freeing up more time to spend on the more creative side of the business.
Yet, one downside to leadership and technology is the ability to micromanage to an even greater extent. Jocelyn*, who works in IT recruitment, says her boss is constantly asking her to copy and paste emails into Slack before she sends them to clients so he can check for errors. “I find this belittling because it implies that I’m not trusted to do my job. Micromanaging isn’t a new thing, but using Slack means I constantly have to show my work step by step. I think technology can have a detrimental effect on office leaders in this instance.”
*name has been changed