A global survey of over 1,700 professionals, including alumni from Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) has found that over a third (35 per cent) believe they will communicate more frequently with colleagues based in other countries in the coming months than they did before the COVID-19 crisis began. This is despite international travel grinding to a halt and remote virtual working becoming a way of life.

However, many believe interactions may be negatively affected, with nearly a third (30 per cent) stating that this completely virtual way of working could have a detrimental impact on the quality of their relationships with colleagues based internationally.

The research, which was conducted by CEMS (the global alliance in management education) of which RSM is a member, also identified the most important qualities for leaders to display post-crisis, to ensure their global teams are able to navigate this new dynamic.

Top qualities

Resilience, empathy and the ability to communicate emerged as more important since the crisis began. In particular, resilience saw the biggest leap: 13 per cent of respondents ranked it as a top three quality before the pandemic, compared with 34 per cent afterwards.

While strategic vision ranked as the number one leadership quality both pre- and post-crisis, it declined 6 percentage points (74 per cent to 68 per cent). Results-focus also dropped 9 percentage points (58 per cent to 49 per cent) indicating that, at least in the short term, business leaders will be judged on more than just the bottom line as they emerge from the pandemic.

Although already low down in the ranking before the crisis, commanding leadership presence and technical skills declined even further, indicating that professionals do not consider these key qualities for leaders of global teams to possess right now.

When questioned about how the way they operate internationally will change, many respondents mentioned that remote working trends will be the way of the future, with relationship-building mainly done through digital platforms. Global travel, face-to face international meetings and conferences will be rare – especially over the next few months.

Leadership skills for the future

 “Businesses have experienced unprecedented disruption during the Coronavirus pandemic – we recognise that for some this has been devastating,” says Roland Siegers, Executive Director of CEMS. In particular, the new way of working thrust on global teams, has far-reaching implications for business collaboration and communication, he added.

“Leaders must make sure that they hone their skills to help these teams based around the globe maintain high-quality, productive working relationships, despite the fact they may not be able to meet face-to-face.”

Siegers: “In the past, the traditional, leader-centred approach has been something concrete – a collection of skills that can be taught and learned. However, this survey backs up the idea that in fact fluid human skills such as resilience, empathy, communication and cultural intelligence are key to making sure that global teams thrive during times of disruption.”

Helping future leaders navigate a post-COVID-19 world

In total, 1,746 respondents from 70 countries participated in the survey, 1,687 (97 per cent) of whom were alumni of the CEMS programme (now in the workplace) and 59 (3 per cent) represented CEMS corporate partners. 82 per cent were in a management position, with 55 per cent mid-very senior management. 11 per cent stated that they were a CEO, a board member or company owners.

Roland Siegers added: “We increasingly see our forward-thinking partner schools responding to changing demands, by putting innovative programmes into place to help future leaders navigate this new digital world. This includes helping them develop social responsibility, resilience, agility, innovation and integrity and teaching them to work successfully as a global collective – in spite of everything the VUCA world has to throw at them.”


CEMS is a global alliance of 33 academic members (leading business schools), 70 corporate partners (multinational companies) and 7 social partners (NGOs), dedicated to educating and preparing future generations of international business leaders, through the top ranked CEMS Master in International Management (MIM).

The CEMS MIM is a master programme delivered by CEMS Academic and Corporate partners that offers students the opportunity to be educated in a truly multicultural and boundless classroom. Upon graduation, students’ careers take a truly international path in a great variety of sectors and in many cases within multinational companies:

  • 98 per cent are employed or continuing their studies
  • 95 per cent are living outside of their home country
  • 74 per cent work for multinational companies.

RSM’s MSc in International Management/CEMS programme develops responsible business leaders for a more open, sustainable and inclusive world. Student can prepare for an international management career in this top-ranked, highly inspiring environment. They grow a strong academic foundation with a focus on practical applicability through skills seminars, an international internship, and a consultancy-like international business project.

More information

Rotterdam School of Management, Erasmus University (RSM) is one of Europe’s top-ranked business schools. RSM provides ground-breaking research and education furthering excellence in all aspects of management and is based in the international port city of Rotterdam – a vital nexus of business, logistics and trade. RSM’s primary focus is on developing business leaders with international careers who can become a force for positive change by carrying their innovative mindset into a sustainable future. Our first-class range of bachelor, master, MBA, PhD and executive programmes encourage them to become critical, creative, caring and collaborative thinkers and doers. www.rsm.nl

For more information about RSM or this release, please contact Erika Harriford-McLaren, communications manager for RSM, on +31 10 408 2877 or by email at harriford@rsm.nl.

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