As vaccination efforts in many countries accelerate, leaders everywhere are turning their attention to the ‘return to work’.  While at the beginning of the pandemic, many organizations anticipated a full return to pre-covid work arrangements, it is becoming increasingly clear that the future of work is a hybrid one.

In Microsoft’s recent 2021 Work Trend Index, research showed that 73% of employees want flexible work options to continue after the pandemic.  Additionally, a survey by LiveCareer revealed that 29% or working professionals say they will quit their job if forced to return to the office.

What does this mean to leaders?

Traditionally leaders have required competencies falling into two general categories:

  • Business IQ – the knowledge and skills related to their industry, function and general management practices like strategic planning and execution.
  • Emotional IQ – the ability to understand and manage their own emotions, and the ability to recognize and positively influence the emotions of others.

The global health crisis and the accelerated digital disruption it has caused have changed the context for what leaders need to know and be able to do related to both Business-IQ and Emotional-IQ. It has also revealed a third emerging category of competencies required to lead in the virtual world – Digital IQ.

Digital IQ is the sum of social, emotional, and cognitive abilities that enable individuals to face the challenges of digital work and life, adapt to its demands, and thrive as a leader. There are five key skills that leaders need to succeed:

  1. Using technology to communicate and collaborate virtually – this involves being able to select the right digital communication channel based on the type of work to be done, and fully leveraging tools to communicate and collaborate in an efficient and effective way (i.e., those that maximize productivity and minimize tech-driven stress and exhaustion).
  2. Engaging and developing individuals and teams in all locations – achieving equity and inclusion of all workers – whether remote, face-to-face, or in combination – and ensuring that corporate culture transcends digital-physical borders.
  3. Leveraging technology to drive continuous improvement and innovation – understanding digital trends and identifying use cases to evolve business models, operating models, client experiences and employee experiences.
  4. Working in agile ways – adopting processes that value speed over perfection, and embracing the concepts of minimum viable product, iteration, and fast failure.
  5. Using advanced analytics to make better decisions – moving from using data to describe what happened and why it happened – to being forward looking and identifying what will likely happen and what you should do about it.

Unfortunately, leaders still have work to do to develop the skills required to thrive in the next normal. Research by MIT Sloan Management showed that while 82% of organizations believe that digital savviness is critical for leaders, less than 10% agreed that their leaders were ready.

Call to action

To close this gap organizations should start by building awareness around the concept of Digital-IQ. They should then measure existing capabilities using tools like 360 assessments. Next, based on those results, they should prioritize critical areas for development and identify traditional solutions (like training) and less-traditional solutions (like reverse-mentoring) to close gaps.

While getting started may seem like something that can wait – taking action now before the return to work will ensure a smoother transition, drive better business outcomes, and result in a more engaged and productive workforce.

For more insights on how to prepare your leaders to succeed as they return to work, please feel free to reach out to us anytime at



About the Author

Michelle Moore is the Senior Vice President, Strategic Solutions at HORN. Michelle has over 25 years of experience working globally with organizations to use human capital to solve complex business challenges, and with individuals to maximize personal effectiveness and career success. She has expertise across a broad range of industries and holds specialized knowledge in innovation and digital transformation.


About HORN

HORN is an award-winning learning and development company dedicated to creating learning that cannot be unlearned. We go deeper. We create lasting changes in behaviour, performance, and business results for salespeople, sale managers and leaders.