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Home office: leadership should be relationship and task-oriented

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Whether we love it or not, home office is becoming permanent for many in Germany too. In August, an average of 60 percent of the workforce in German companies worked from home, wrote an Ifo study. In the summer, forecasts assumed that this number would soon rise to 80 percent. In the new world of work caused by the corona, managers are also looking for guidance on how their team can stay as effective and committed as possible during the pandemic.

Until recently, there was little knowledge of how managers can manage to maintain the performance of their employees in an unpredictable change.
As the Science Information Service reports, two working groups from the University of Hohenheim in Stuttgart and the Ludwig Maximilians University in Munich have asked 206 employees from service companies in the fields of media, insurance, consulting and education. The focus was on how the behavior of managers affects performance in a digital work environment.

The study shows that leadership behavior that guarantees a high degree of autonomy is particularly suitable. In addition, bosses should have a strong focus on the distribution of tasks. An interplay of both approaches also promotes team spirit.

The fine line between control and autonomy

When it comes to task-oriented leadership, there are two main goals for managers: achieving corporate goals and maintaining control over tasks.

A relationship-oriented leadership, on the other hand, is aimed at improved cooperation between team members, personal responsibility, flexibility and the creation of a cooperative and supportive working atmosphere.

“Contrary to our assumptions, task-oriented leadership does not have to be fundamentally negative. Although individual workplace autonomy is restricted, it improves team cohesion ”, describes Ellen Weber, doctoral student in the working group at the University of Hohenheim. Security and a clear structure are given: bosses coordinate the tasks and clearly formulate the expectations. According to the study, this is particularly important in a virtual work environment. The autonomy of the individual employee is also important, which above all supports a relationship-oriented management style. Leaders enable their employees to take the initiative, learn from mistakes, and manage difficult situations in their own way

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Both management styles have many advantages and must be individually adapted to the company structure. In times of crisis, there should be no decision between task and relationship orientation when leading a virtual team, says Marion Büttgen from the Institute for Marketing & Management at the University of Hohenheim. “Rather, both are important, but with a stronger emphasis on relationship-oriented leadership behavior,” believes Büttgen. Because this only has positive effects, while task-oriented leadership restricts the perceived autonomy of employees. This can have a negative impact on performance.

In addition, the extent to which the company has already established digital work processes also plays a major role, the study also notes. Digitally proven companies seem to be better able to deliver a high level of performance even in times of crisis – regardless of their leadership behavior.

If the digital change in itself represents a challenge for a company, the pandemic-related circumstances have taken you completely unprepared, according to the Information Service Wissenschaft.
“In situations like this, employees can quickly lack clarity about their tasks and the means to carry them out,” explains Marion Büttgen.

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