Counselling, collaboration, and virtual coffee chats: Leadership in the post-COVID era

Skillsoft's Rosie Cairnes examines the role of leadership in the workforce in a post-pandemic era.
By: | June 3, 2021

To say 2020 has shaken up the workplace would be an understatement. The impact COVID-19 has had on the way we work will be felt for years to come. In the early part of the year, many businesses found themselves mobilising and managing a completely remote workplace in a hurry and making do with a ‘this will do’ approach to get the job done.

With employees confined to their homes for weeks on end, COVID-19 has disrupted the way we work and served as a trigger for businesses and employees alike to reflect on how we want the workplace to look moving forward, with a focus on wellbeing and mental health thrust to the forefront. So how do you establish a functional working model, maintain a great company culture, and protect employee wellbeing when you do not see each other in the office every day?

Employee wellbeing matters more than ever

Recent research from Skillsoft has found more than eight in ten Australian workers (81 percent) are against a return to ‘normal’ working life and want to see at least one COVID-19 practice adopted permanently. The top practices that workers want to see introduced are flexibility in their working hours (55 percent) and working from home (48 percent), with almost half wanting more time dedicated to their physical and mental wellbeing (49 percent).

Supporting a remote workforce

With normal routines disrupted, many business leaders have upped their communication and engagement with remote workers – implementing regular virtual huddles and ‘coffee mornings’ using video technology to banish feelings of isolation, fill the social void and nurture team bonds. 

Some companies have issued helpful guidelines to remote workers, from the work protocols that are in place, to encouraging them to take regular breaks from monitors and go for walks. At Skillsoft in APAC, we offer employees access to an EAP programme and provide a wellbeing budget for staff to take fitness classes or buy equipment and we have even held virtual guided meditations.

But nurturing the mental outlook and wellbeing of the remote workforce in the long term will require an appropriately structured approach that features new tools and processes that take into account both personal and organisational development needs.

Building connections that support healthy working practices

With a disparate workplace, it is not always evident when there may be issues in an employee’s life that are impacting their wellbeing. Business leaders need to make a point of checking in with employees to ask how they are and what is going on in their personal lives.

One of the huge advantages of working from home is that employees have flexibility to manage their own time. With that in mind, encourage employees to schedule their day to prioritise their own needs – they can start the day with a run or have a rest in the afternoon, provided they are meeting their objectives.

Establishing effective daily communication with a remote workforce is essential; email alone will not suffice. Use multiple channels to communicate, particularly work chat platforms that are more casual and personal, encouraging greater connection between employees.

Also plan regular face-to-face meetings with teams via video conference. The consistent interaction and engagement will help remote workers feel included, accountable, and supported. However, you have to trust your team to get the job done. Micromanaging someone from afar will only lead to frustration and resentment.

Respecting the boundaries between work and leisure time is also critical. With employees no longer limited by 9-5 office commute routines, it is easy for the boundaries to blur between work and personal time. To avoid burn-out, organisations will need to adhere to appropriate working hour protocols; do not schedule conference calls out of hours or expect late night responses unless someone is rostered for shift cover.

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“Building a community where isolated workers feel engaged and included will become increasingly important as digital working becomes embedded into company and national culture.” – Rosie Cairnes, VP APAC, Skillsoft.


Building a community where isolated workers feel engaged and included will become increasingly important as digital working becomes embedded into company and national culture. With annual get-togethers and social celebrations no longer on the table, companies will need to find new ways to call out individual staff successes and recognise the special occasions and life events that matter to their people.

Do not lose sight of personal development needs

Today’s digital HR and learning platforms make it easy for employees, no matter where they are based, to access the learning and development resources they need to extend their capabilities and know-how.

Many people will be anxious that being based from home, means their career aspirations will be on hold. Employers will need to deploy tools that make it easy for workers to share what roles or skills they would like to transition to in the future, identify competency gaps, and acquire the new qualifications they will need. Organisations should provide a dedicated time each week for learning and suggest tools such as habit calendars to build into employees’ routines.

Best-in-class learning platforms today offer a wealth of learning options in the form of watch, read, listen, and practice that make remote learning an enjoyable experience for people with a range of different learning styles.

At Skillsoft, we have seen a tremendous spike in learner activity since COVID-19 lockdowns came into effect around the globe.  We have witnessed a significant increase in key metrics like average time spent in learning, number of resources accessed by learners, and the number return visits to the platform.

Adopting a more holistic approach

The COVID-19 crisis has fast-tracked new workplace models that are set to change the world of work as we know it today. For many business leaders, the experience has highlighted the importance of adopting a holistic approach to managing the remote workforce that is not just focused on the practical tools they need to do their jobs.

Keeping people happy, productive, skilled and engaged will depend more than ever on nurturing every aspect of their professional and personal lives – paramount to this will be nurturing their mental health and wellbeing.

By Rosie Cairnes, VP APAC, Skillsoft