'Nothing can substitute for good leadership': Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella on how businesses will work differently after the pandemic

Microsoft’s CEO Satya Nadella (Photo by Chesnot/Getty Images)
  • Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella outlined what the pandemic’s impact will have on businesses the in next five to 10 years.
  • He said it will lead business leaders to rethink collaboration, learn how to improve their workflow and focus on the wellbeing of staff.
  • Nadella also highlighted the importance of managers for keeping staff connected.
  • Visit Business Insider Australia‚Äôs homepage for more stories.

COVID has led to a lot of change.

At a virtual event held by the Australian Financial Review, Microsoft CEO Satya Nadella described how the pandemic has impacted technology adoption among customers.

“As people went home and worked remotely, there was a real surge in the needs of cloud computing and so our first order of priority was to make sure that we were ready for all of that,” he said.

He also discussed ways companies are adapting to the new normal.

“If you think about it, I don’t think any healthcare organisation is ever going to go back and say that telemedicine is just a niche – it’s going to be mainstream,” he said.

Nadella outlined what the changes caused by the pandemic will mean for businesses over the next five to 10 years. In terms of workplace culture, it will see businesses rethink how employees collaborate and manage workflows.

Another major element is the importance of learning going forward – whether that’s upskilling, reskilling or understanding the best way to onboard new employees.

The final aspect was around wellbeing. Nadella believes we should not measure productivity narrowly, especially because of how much time workers may need to spend in virtual meetings.

“I never thought I’d say this, but I do miss my drive commutes because the commutes where those periods of transition,” he said. He believes these “transitions” matter, particularly to help address video meeting fatigue.

“There’s a lot of innovation but ultimately it will also require us as leaders and just members of the workforce to work differently – take time out, take transitions and think more holistically about what is required to stay in this for the long haul.”

Joining Nadella on the virtual panel was Telstra CEO Andy Penn, AEMO CEO Audrey Zibelman and NAB CEO Ross McEwan. Penn said the companies that will be successful in the long term will be those that provide flexibility for their workers.

“In the future, the companies that will be successful – and this is how we’re thinking about it – are those that can actually offer the people in their teams the greatest flexibility to work in the way in which they want to work, how they want to work [and] where they want to work from.”

And while a lot of workers can’t meet face to face because of the pandemic, Penn believes it will lead to a “rapid development and evolution” in the quality of technology that helps us engage and interact with others.

How NAB transitioned to working from home

NAB boss Ross McEwan joined the company just months before almost all its employees (98%) had to work from home because of the pandemic.

“When we started, our capability was about 4000 people being able to work remotely and within three weeks, we had just about everybody able to work successfully from home,” he said.

McEwan mentioned a lot of changes that happened during this period, with an 800% spike in ecommerce activity, staff training being done on screen and changing consumer attitudes toward money.

“Cash has become something people don’t want to touch and many small businesses just went cashless overnight,” he said. “You’ve seen a five-year shift in how customers think about how they operate with cash. It would have taken five years for us to move that far into, not cashless, but less use of cash in the society.”

But with companies working in a more digitised environment, the potential develops for more cyber attacks.

“As we move forward in the world that is increasingly digitised, what’s actually happening is we’re increasing the attack surface area for malicious actors,” Penn said.

Case in point, McEwan mentioned that NAB faces tens of millions of attacks every month now. “Some of these are very severe attacks and they won’t just be happening to us as a bank, they’ll be happening right across the board,” he said.

While it’s important to be vigilant about the attacks and have the right tools in place to prevent them, Nadella emphasised another important element companies need to focus on.

“The operational security posture that you have is what will give you the ability to withstand cyber attacks,” he said.

As companies continue on a more digital-oriented path, one thing Nadella believes we will always require is human contact. That is why he believes managers matter.

“The thing that I feel is most relevant in this period is care,” he said. “You can easily tell the people who feel most connected are people who are working for a leader who cares and has a real sense of where they’re coming from and cares about their wellbeing.

“And so that, I think, is the real currency: technology can help but nothing can substitute for good leadership.”

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