ABSTRACT

The COVID-19 era has driven virtual work models in the organisational context. Teleworking was the alternative that many organisations found to continue operating. Overnight, many employees started working from home. Leadership practices are essential in times of uncertainty and crisis. This study aims to analyse the perception of teleworking employees regarding the leadership style, specifically the transformational and authentic leaderships. The results show that transformational leadership is pre-dominant in the teleworking context. However, when compared with other studies, teleworking employees perceive less transformational leadership behaviours and more behaviours referring to laissez-faire
leadership, as well as the behaviours of transactional leadership. Teleworking employees perceive more behaviours of the authentic leadership style. This study demonstrates the need for leaders to adapt their behaviours to the new working conditions, face-to-face and virtual, to ensure leadership effectiveness.

INTRODUCTION

The year 2020 will become known as the year of the pandemic due to COVID-19. Many are the impacts of this pandemic, not only on people but also on organizations and countries. Studies have been developed to know these impacts, namely the impact of telework on people and organizations (Almeida, 2020; Kniffin et al., 2021; Mesquita et al., 2020; Tavares et al., 2020b, 2020a; Xiao et al., 2021).

In the uncertainty and lack of knowledge about the virus, countries went through periods of confinement in which the face-to-face activity of companies was suspended, with employees working from home. This reality occurred in Portugal, from mid-March 2020, with the first state of emergency. The particularity of the Portuguese situation has to do with the fact that telework did not have a great expression in the corporate culture until then. In 2015, only 11% of Portuguese employees were teleworking (Eurofound and the International Labour Office, 2017). With the COVID-19 pandemic, without much experience or adequate technology, most Portuguese companies managed to adapt and continue working by keeping their employees at home. It was a big challenge for employers and leaders who became separated from their teams at such a difficult and uncertain time.

Despite the limited literature on leadership effectiveness in the virtual work context (Bartsch et al., 2021), it is undisputable that the role of leadership is key in communicating and managing change processes. Before the pandemic, there was already concern in understanding how leadership works in virtual teams, as it was already a reality with an increasing trend (Liao, 2017). Organizations must develop their
change and management strategies and leadership style to survive (Hirlak & Kara, 2018). For researchers, there must continue to be studies on the connections between development and effectiveness, organisations, and outcomes, and between leaders and followers (McCleskey, 2014).

During and in the post-pandemic time, it is observed that there is a need for studies on leadership styles in virtual organizations (Batırlık et al., 2022). With more flexible working methods, “a traditional or no leadership can result in some risks” (Contreras et al., 2020, 1). Leaders and managers need to make company structures more flexible and develop new skills to establish a strong and reliable relationship with their employees, maintaining their competitiveness and a genuine concern for their well-being (Contreras et al., 2020). In addition to leadership competences, because trust is considered the fundamental basis of relationship-oriented leadership structures, some researchers have explored the leadership styles (situational, authentic, servant-oriented, and transformational) during uncertainty that best sustain trusting relationships. “Developing and maintaining leader trust in circumstances such as a pandemic is a dynamic process, changing over time from pre-existing trust, to trust based on actions, to trust in the strength of the authentic relationship” (Ahern & Loh, 2021, 268). The study of leadership styles further highlights the importance of targeted leadership development to increase the effectiveness of educational technology in the higher education sector (Lalani et al., 2021).

Through studies carried out during the pandemic, it is possible to see that COVID-19 seriously impacted organizational leadership and more, “leaders need good communication skills to share true information with empathy and optimism and leaders need to be thoughtful and capable to handle change in uncertain situations ethically” (Chen & Sriphon, 2021, 1). With COVID-19, the importance of crisis leadership for organizations also grows, despite the weak existing research on this topic. Some researchers have sought to develop a crisis leadership model through the lessons of the pandemic. They concluded that ‘crisis leadership is multifaceted and requires an all-encompassing effort and provides a road map for organizations looking to develop crisis leadership capabilities for senior managers and leaders’ (Balasubramanian & Fernandes, 2022).

During the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders faced major challenges with employees who were teleworking and in a context of great uncertainty. There are leadership styles that are better suited than others in uncertain contexts. “Transformational leadership is positively related to innovative behavior only when psychological empowerment is high, whereas transactional leadership has a negative relationship with innovative behavior only under these conditions” (Pieterse et al., 2010). These approaches are the most widely used for the study of leadership in uncertain and changing times, finding several studies using both styles (Banks et al., 2016; Hoch et al., 2018; Yavuz, 2019; Zhu et al., 2011). Hence, they are assumed to be the approaches that are best suited in change contexts. In face-to-face environments,
transformational leadership is recognised as relevant by team members, but in virtual environments there is no such relationship (Balthazard et al., 2009). “If leaders lead in a transformational manner instead, possibly even together with other leaders at the same time, the leadership of virtual teams can be successful” (Zeuge et al., 2020).

In an uncertain context, the motivation, engagement, health, and well-being of an organization’s employees largely depend on the leader’s behaviors. It is necessary to develop skills and behaviors to engage and protect the health and well-being of teams. Research shows that transformational leadership and authentic leadership can help hone positive psychological skills and positive attitudes in leaders and their followers. (Yavuz, 2019). Transformational leadership promotes change in organizations and when an organization faces high frequency of changes, transformational leadership style is best suited (Busari et al., 2020). Thus, Bass and Avolio’s model, which allows the study of transformational, transactional and laissez-faire leaderships (Avolio et al., 1999; Bass, 1997; Bass et al., 2003; Bass & Avolio, 1993), and the model of authentic leadership (F. Walumbwa et al., 2008) are used to study the impacts of leadership styles on teleworking. Thus, the purpose of this research is to identify the perception of teleworking employees on the leader’s behaviour during the COVID19 pandemic, comparing the results with previous studies that used the same models.

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Sobre o autor:

Doutorado em Psicologia do Trabalho e das Organizações pela Universidade do Minho, investiga e desenvolve projetos, desde então, nas áreas das Competências e dos Talentos. Autor de vários livros e artigos, a última obra, publicada pelas Edições Sílabo, aborda a Gestão de Competências, do conhecimento e do Talento.

Explora projetos de desenvolvimento de competências, nomeadamente nas áreas da liderança e selfleadership, com abordagem em competências específicas e contingenciais. Mais do que uma visão dicotómica de hard ou soft skills, é adepto de uma lógica de life skills, integradora e desenvolvimentista das competências. É ainda empreendedor e investidor. Detém uma vasta ligação ao Ensino superior, onde já assumiu responsabilidades em vários cargos de liderança. Atualmente é Professor no Instituto Politécnico de Setúbal.

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