When the COVID-19 evolved into a pandemic, forcing many countries around the world to move towards working from home, technology suddenly became fundamental to the functioning of day-to-day living and working—even obtaining the most basic needs such as food—to avoid virus exposure. People no longer have the choice to delay or reject digital literacy.

Being digitally-enabled means harnessing the advantages of digital media, tools and technology and using them to enhance performance. Now more than ever, across many organisations, staff need to be proficient in:

  • using digital tools to innovate programs, processes, systems, or services;
  • keeping up to date with the digital evolution;
  • creating and editing digital contents.

It also means making data-driven decisions, encompassing analysing, interpreting, and critically evaluating a range of data sources and information to inform decision-making.

Notwithstanding businesses that are already fully online from its conception, every organisation, industry and government must now quickly ramp up its digital capability to survive.

This applies to all sectors of the community but for this article, I will draw on the example of the university sector. The key question here is: “what can we do to make our online campus teaching thrive, and how can we maintain productivity using a virtual workplace?”

Let’s briefly recap on how the crisis unfolded for Australian universities. In the span of less than a month during March 2020—the start of a new academic year—the coronavirus became a global pandemic, with a rapid growth of confirmed cases and deaths reported around the world (WHO). Since then, the Australian government closed international borders, except for residents and special cases, and social distancing measures were put in place to contain the infection rate (Australian Department of Health).

This meant that all Australian universities had to transition their courses to an online offering for all students—domestic and international, swiftly shifting their focus from supporting international students unable to travel from China, to delivering quality online classes and supporting the existing students and resources. Griffith University successfully shifted all teaching to full online delivery from Monday 23 March, adhering to the Federal and State government’s policies on large gatherings. This demonstrated the staff’s digital capability, resilience and strong desire to ensure teaching and learning continue effectively, despite the unprecedented challenges.

These challenges call for self-leadership so staff are able to influence their own thoughts and behaviour to continue achieving personal goals and the organisation’s objectives. In other words, educators must be individually resourceful and committed to delivering innovative services to maintain quality teaching and learning and turn our online campus into a thriving community for students.

A crucial component of leading oneself is how we view and deal with challenges. Self-leadership requires control over mind, body, emotions and spirit. Competence and autonomy are two psychological needs required to thrive at work, and working remotely is no different. Self-leaders set plans and schedules and stick to them.

One of the down sides to the nation moving to virtual offices is that the average speed of Australia’s Internet is 41.8 Mbps, which slower than many other developed countries (68th in the world according to ACS in a report published on 30 January 2020). With most households now working and studying from home, such speed will soon become unacceptable due to the increasing demand for more bandwidth to watch online streaming lectures, video meetings and file-sharing. Another challenge for parents of young children is that the home may not be as conducive for focused work as their usual workspace due to the need to supervise and facilitate home schooling. These challenges will need to be tackled with creativity and an open-minded approach to find solutions that work for the whole household, especially at a time when people are subjected to economic and personal wellbeing crises due to (potential) job losses across the country in most sectors.

On the positive note, people will have the opportunity to realise how much more productive they can be by using technology well and adjusting plans and schedules to accomplish tasks and goals. However, it also means that we need to make adjustments while sharing home workspace with the whole family, and self-regulate the sedentary lifestyle that comes with it.

Failure to leverage technology in a virtual workspace could result in decreased productivity or lack of human connections, both of which decrease team spirit. Everyone needs to apply self-leadership to maintain productivity and be accountable for their own work and responsibilities, while understanding that everyone has a different capacity for working remotely.

Self-leadership skills provide the opportunity to demonstrate resilience and intelligence to solve any challenges that may arise in the coming months and contribute to strengthening our community so we can emerge stronger at the other end of the coronavirus pandemic and its soon to be realised global financial crisis.


Professor Dian Tjondronegoro is Deputy Head, Research at the Department of Business Strategy and Innovation and member of the Griffith Asia Institute.