For the 36th time, the Annual Conference of the Society of Industrial and Organizational Psychology (SIOP) was conducted, but instead of being in New Orleans – as originally scheduled – this conference was held virtually. So rather than strolling the French Quarter and enjoying several delicious meals, I attended from my office via various technology applications including videoconference, telephone, and downloaded presentations. Having attended over 25 of these conferences, I must admit that this year was a different experience.

However, as always, I spent time identifying the “newer” themes and trends that were discussed during the conference. Two stood out this year. The first – not surprisingly – is COVID-19 and its impact on organizations and all employees throughout the world. One specific aspect of this pandemic that I found most relevant for this year, and for years to come, is “How has COVID-19 affected teams, and teamwork, in businesses?”

As I/O Psychologists from many companies noted, most of their organizations plan to “work differently” for many years to come. That is, the majority of employees will not return to their past places of work (i.e., large office buildings, offices/desks placed close together, etc.), and will continue to work virtually, at least for a portion of their workweek. In fact, a “hybrid” approach where employees work virtually for several days each week/month and only work “in the office” for less than half of each week/month seems to be the preferred approach for years to come.

Although the past year has proven that work can be accomplished both effectively and efficiently in a virtual environment, this shift raised numerous questions among the conference attendees. I found that issues surrounding “teamwork” in a virtual work environment to be a major concern.

As a person who has worked in various in-person work environments, along with virtual office environments, only rarely being together with colleagues can create a number of challenges. These include the following: 1) opportunity to “get to know” other members of your company/team on a “more personal basis”, 2) sharing ideas suggestions in an informal and non-threatening environment, and 3) feeling like a valued member of a team and, thus, building a strong commitment to your employer/company.

None of the presenters/panelist that I “saw” seemed to have all of the answers to these dilemmas; however, everyone agreed that organizations that recognize the new challenges surrounding teamwork, and integrate various interventions, policies, and programs will thrive, while other companies will experience a number of unwanted outcomes such as an increase in turnover and more difficulty recruiting top talent. At this time, the single issue that everyone agreed upon was the need for more targeted research in this topic area.

The second emerging theme seemed to be Diversity, Equity & Inclusion (DE&I). Although I/O Psychologists have led efforts surrounding Diversity, and then Inclusion, for many years, “Equity” is a more recent concern. Based on the presentations that I attended, this concept does not seem to be as well defined as Diversity and Inclusion. Specifically, I heard DE&I discussions that were focused on understanding the “history and/or backgrounds” of persons from specific cultural and racial backgrounds, employees becoming much more attuned to “microaggressions”, and how best to develop, support, and motivate employees from different backgrounds, ages/generations, and cultures. Bottom line – DE&I will be a major challenge for years to come.

In addition to “attending” this Conference, I also participated in one Panel Discussion. Our Panel included I/O Psychologists from Pepsico and Procter & Gamble, along with other consultants. Although our topic was focused on Agility, we discussed a number of issues related to “identifying and developing more effective corporate leaders”, especially during such chaotic times. As discussed in detail in previous newsletters, ( I talked about E.A.S.I-Consult’s research that has identified the Four Pillars of Exceptional Leadership. Although Learning Agility is related to each of these Pillars, Strategic Agility is the Pillar that is most impacted. Most importantly, all Panel members emphasized the imperative that all leaders – and non-leaders – must demonstrate a higher level of Learning Agility during continually changing times. And, for better or worse, everyone agreed that our future will always be “continually changing”.

E.A.S.I.-Consult is a leader in researching and identifying leadership capabilities in an effort to help organizations reach their full potential.

About the Author

Joseph Gier, Ph.D. is Vice President – Consulting Services at E.A.S.I-Consult® and is a licensed Psychologist. E.A.S.I-Consult works with Fortune 500 companies, government agencies, and mid-sized organizations to provide customized Talent Management solutions. Utilizing scientific approaches, E.A.S.I.-Consult provides superior results to Business – Driven by Science. Our specialties include leadership and leadership