A new, more trusting style of leadership is needed to manage people working from home, says tech exec

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LONDON — When the coronavirus pandemic closed workplaces earlier this year, businesses effectively went from having one or more locations to having as many offices as they did employees, as staff worked from home.

For software company Splunk, this effectively meant going from 35 offices to more than 6,000 “overnight,” according to the firm’s Chief Technical Adviser James Hodge. Having so many people working at home has meant a more trusting style of leadership is necessary, Hodge told CNBC’s “Squawk Box Europe” on Monday.

“The first few months (of the pandemic) were incredibly challenging, I think a lot of us ended up working incredibly long hours. If I just take Splunk as an example, we’ve spent a long time communicating with our employees, understanding what the impact’s like,” Hodge described.

“There’s been some brilliant parts about it to give people flexibility, but … on the other side, we do need to be completely aware of where the additional pressures are going,” he added.

While some governments have encouraged office-based employees to go back to their workplaces, many are still working from home. Splunk is training managers to understand employees’ wellbeing and other needs, Hodge said, and has put in place measures such as prohibiting video calls on Friday afternoons.

“The real big key about it is trust. We went from 35 office locations to over 6,000 office locations overnight. People are our greatest asset and we’ve got to put the trust in them to be able to go and flex their work around and understand their needs and just adapt,” Hodge said.

Having people work from home also means businesses will be able to recruit from a wider talent pool, Hodge added.

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Splunk helps businesses manage and analyze their data, and Hodge said that being able to provide this information to staff at home would help businesses make decisions. “(Businesses) need to look at a new style of leadership, be much more confident in our employees being all around the world, and be able to get data to them so they can go and make decisions that they need to execute the rapid transformation the world is going through,” he said.

As to whether tech companies that help people work from home will be able to maintain margins in a crowded market, Hodge stated: “What we’re seeing as kind of technology evolves … prices always drop. As we then look to the new wave … of technology, we’re now getting things like 5G, IoT (internet of things), augmented reality coming out that’s going to drive that next wave of innovation. I think pricing is something that’s always going to fluctuate based on consumer demand.”

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