6 Leadership Challenges a Digital Workplace can Help Tackle

December 17th, 2020 by Yvonne Harris

Digital Workplace HR

2020 was a rollercoaster of a year, with organizations across every industry facing challenges never before considered. Yet, obstacles inspired innovation, and the workplace changed for the better in many ways. It was twelve months of intense digital transformation, rapid adaption, and great learning. The key takeaway is that organizations need to be agile and resilient to survive. It’s hard to know what leadership challenges will arise in 2021 but it is possible to learn from the lessons of the past year.


Rise of the digital workplace in 2020

During the pandemic, the digital workplace became a fundamental digital tool to ensure communication and collaboration could continue. Platforms like the corporate intranet allowed employers to manage the crisis, communicate important announcements, and ensure everyone received the same message. It proved so essential that SharePoint doubled its audience, now counting over 200 million daily active users. Collaboration tools, like Microsoft Teams, also became so fundamental that Teams jumped to 115 million daily users in November 2020 up from 75 million in April.

Digital workplace tools will continue to grow in popularity and help leaders tackle new workplace challenges.

Top 6 leadership challenges the digital workplace can help overcome

  1. Uncertainty

Uncertainty was the only sure thing in 2020. With long-term planning near impossible, every decision was made with the caveat that things might have to change last minute. In business, this level of uncertainty can be damaging, but under the circumstances, unavoidable. While the digital workplace can’t provide certainty to leaders it can help ease the doubts and fears of employees, by offering a platform for communication.

When uncertainty filters down to employees, productivity suffers. Staff can’t be expected to perform at their best if they are worried about their jobs or safety. In a survey from April 2020, job security was the number one worry for 54% of employees.

Issues on Remote Employees Minds

When a crisis hits, the first leadership challenge is to implement a crisis management plan. By having this prepared in advance, employees can be reassured management is handling the situation. The right digital workplace helps by providing tools, like crisis management templates for the intranet.

Once the initial situation is dealt with, it’s time to reinstate a sense of security among employees. This is achieved with regular communications. For example, organize weekly or monthly company-wide Microsoft Teams meetings to update employees on the state of the business. Follow this up by posting any key announcement on the intranet for anyone who missed the session. Where cuts or changes have to be made, communicate these to employees so they can prepare.

  1. Disconnected and disengaged remote workers

The move to a remote or hybrid workplace, a necessity in 2020 is becoming a long-term strategy for many. In fact,  more than a quarter of employees will be adopting hybrid work by the end of 2021. However, if the move to remote is not accompanied by proper planning those working from home can become disconnected and disengaged. A key leadership challenge for a successful remote workforce will be connecting

Research supports this fear, with over half of respondents to a 2019 study saying they felt disconnected from their organization. Lack of effective communication was cited by nearly a fifth as the driving factor.

It doesn’t have to be this way. Building a connection with remote employees is possible with the right digital tools. Where a lack of communication is the issue, a tool like the corporate intranet is a solution.

An intranet provides the right platform for top-down communications, allowing leadership to post a message where employees will see it. With millennial employees having an 8-second attention span, putting the message right in front of them is key to visibility. Email is static and lost in the 121 emails the average employee receives daily, catchy updates on the intranet are more suited to today’s workforce.

Daily Email traffic

  1. Loss of company culture

One of the main leadership challenges businesses fear in 2021 is the loss of company culture as employees go remote.

Culture is defined as ‘’the shared values, attributes, and characteristics of an organization’’. (The Balance Careers). It doesn’t refer to a place but a mindset that is built through the actions and words of those in the organization, and starts at the top. Creating or maintaining culture in a virtual office is possible when leadership takes positive actions to inspire it.

In the move to remote work, building a teamwork culture is more important than ever. Teamwork has a positive impact on employee engagement, improves happiness, and increases productivity. However, getting everyone to work together is difficult if people don’t know what they are working towards and why. In a remote team, teamwork is impossible if employees don’t have the right tools. Providing all employees with the communication and collaboration tools they need is the first step to maintaining and building a strong remote culture.

Teamwork Culture

Read: Why Foster a Teamwork Culture with Collaboration Tools

  1. Lack of alignment

When employees are coming into the office every day and in regular contact with each other, messages pass easily and people hear about changes. With employees spending more time remote, it can be easy to miss important announcements and updates. More than half of employees in a report conducted by Igloo said they missed key information that was given in person. A lack of alignment can lead to inefficiencies. For example, if the sales team doesn’t know about a new update they can’t use it in their outreach.

A digital workplace is key to keeping employees on the same page. Ensure people get the right messages by placing them in the right channel.

  • Intranet: Used for company-wide communication and top-down messages targeted by department. Suitable for important announcements and passing information.
  • Microsoft Teams: A more collaborative platform that allows colleagues and teams to work together in real-time. More suited to day to day discussions, team announcements, and passing information that requires input from everyone.

Read: End the Hierarchy in Your Internal Communications

  1. Low morale

Boosting employee morale through a pandemic was always going to be a tough ask. In 2021, low morale will continue to be a leadership challenge. Pandemic and work from home fatigue have set in and restoring energy will take effort. For some, it’s more than just the tiredness of work from home, but increased stress leading to exhaustion. In a survey by Monster, 69% of employees reported burnout from working from home. Worryingly, over 50% of employees have needed to take a mental health day while working from home during the pandemic.

There are concrete ways to help:

  • Provide employees the collaboration and communication platforms they need to do their job.
  • Recognize employee achievements by giving shout-outs to employees on the intranet.
  • Reward a job well done through monetary and non-monetary means, like experiences.
  • Accommodate more flexibility. Allow work from home employees to choose hours that suit them, within a permitted time frame.
  • When the situation permits, introduce hybrid work where employees can spend some days in the office and the rest of the week at home.

Read: Digital Wellbeing in the Digital Workplace

Happy Employees are More Productive

  1. Safe return to the office

The roll-out of vaccines throughout 2021 will help in the return to the office. However, employees will still be wary, and not all want to go back full time. Nearly 70% of respondents to a University of Chicago survey would still avoid some activities like taking a crowded metro after a vaccine is rolled out. Transport fears are just one health and safety issue employers will need to plan for in any return to the office.

Ensuring some employees can go back safely requires logistical planning, as social distancing and contact tracing continue to be important. The right digital workplace can help. Powell Intranets Flexdesk feature allows employees to book their desk in advance. This ensures a record is kept of who is in on any one day and avoids too many people turning up at the one time.


The first step to tackling leadership challenges is identifying the obstacles that need to be overcome. While some issues are easily spotted, others like low morale or health and safety concerns are not as obvious to those in charge. So it’s fundamental that employees have the tools that allow them to communicate any concerns up the chain. The digital workplace alone can’t do this, but it does facilitate management to build an open culture, provide tools for productivity and opportunities to interact and boost engagement.

Powell 365 is a complete digital workplace solution combining a corporate intranet platform, Powell Intranet, with Powell Teams, the Microsoft Teams app for improved governance and employee experience. To learn more about how Powell 365 can help your organization overcome leadership challenges in 2021 contact our team today to organize a demo.

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