The coronavirus, or COVID-19 (the respiratory disease it causes), is forcing organizations to rethink how they work. Many companies have implemented a mandatory work from home policy, an unprecedented move that is causing both company leadership and IT executives to think about how they can enable a diverse and varied workforce to do their jobs from home.
In a survey of 100 IT executives from across the world, respondents felt that IT (28%) was “leading the effort to plan for the remote workforce during this coronavirus pandemic,” followed by HR (18%), Company Execs (18%) and Operations (12%). With this in mind, Gartner suggests both short- and long-term solutions that CIOs and IT executives can take to not only stabilize, but positively transform their organizations during this time. Roberta Witty, VP Analyst at Gartner, recently hosted a webinar discussing the rise and implications of remote work that CIOs should consider, the power of digital platforms, and the importance of maintaining data quality in this “new normal.”
Here are some of her tips:
Remote Work Is Not Temporary
Although many employees have brought their work equipment home due to the coronavirus outbreak, the remote work culture may not be temporary for your organization. Witty explains that once employees start experiencing remote work, they often enjoy it – they may see the benefits of being able to work in a more comfortable environment while also potentially getting more work done (once they’ve settled in). This means that putting an effective remote work plan in place now is an important step to mobilizing and accommodating your employees’ requests in the future.
Choosing Online Tools
The use of online tools is rising, especially now. Witty recommended looking at immediate needs such as tools for training, data sharing, customer support, chat consoles, video conferencing, and access to enterprise applications. Witty mentions tools such as Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Webex, Slack, Cisco Jabber, and Facebook Workplace as viable solutions to help you communicate and collaborate remotely.
While purchasing different online solutions, keep in mind that one may not be enough. In some cases, one tool will work better for one location or circumstance than another does. With that said, you will first have to look at what those specific use cases are before picking matching solutions. Redundancy in use cases is not so much a factor as their ability to get the job done well. Concerns about the rate of adoption can gradually be addressed.
Automation and AI
Witty also mentions that automating processes during this time is an opportunistic way to drive employee efficiency and productivity when so many other things (in the world) are happening out of their control and they’re trying to get as much work done as possible. That way, companies can improve user experiences, while also saving time and money, and in some ways, boost morale. Some of the ways AI implementation can be used during this time include job application screening, virtual assistants for sales and marketing, or chatbots via Slack or Teams to streamline approvals, PTO requests, or support tickets.
Lead and Encourage Your Employees Remotely
Productivity (and creating an efficient way to work from home) is likely the biggest challenge to face during this period, but what many business leaders are also curious to know is: how can you lead, support, and encourage your employees during the pandemic? Consider these solutions:
Create a Single Source of Truth
Witty recommends establishing a single source of truth for pandemic-related content that your employees can visit. This will help you communicate your response, give your employees a crisis center where they can get answers, and serve as a trusted resource possibly even beyond the pandemic.
Set Clear Expectations
Setting clear employee expectations during this time is key – especially when so many people feel like they’re surrounded by uncertainty. Actions like defining performance goals and accountability – potentially in stand-up meetings – will give employees guidance on what needs to be done and when. It’s important that they’re always in the know, especially now.
At the same time, you should be over-communicating with your employees. Regular check-ins such as virtual happy hours, lunch-and-learns and wellness checks, can help to keep your workforce united and morale boosted. Additionally, with constantly updated security protocols changing the way we work, you should be sharing company-wide updates frequently.
Don’t forget to also encourage collaboration within your workforce, even remotely. If someone’s done an awesome job, give them kudos (possibly in a separate Slack channel). They may need to hear it now more than ever before.
Offer Flexible Work Hours
This is not to encourage people to constantly show up late, but now that more organizations are working remotely, you should consider flexible working hours. Some of your employees may have their kids at home or an older relative to take care of (or buy essentials for), causing more demands for their time. The regular 8-hour workday may not bode well for this period and what may help support this is offering to chop up your workday into certain hours that best suit these needs (as long as employees come to some sort of agreement with their immediate colleagues and/or boss so priorities and deadlines are aligned).
Consideration: Paying for Home Internet Service
Witty explains that while many organizations don’t pay for home Internet service, this may be a new experience for those who’ve never worked from home before (especially for mission-critical employees). This could be an incredibly nice gesture during this time, showing employees how much you appreciate their time and value their work inside and out of the pandemic.
There Is a Positive to This
Although the coronavirus outbreak has shaken up the world, and for good reason, we’re not quite yet on the other side. Throughout this pandemic, organizations that initially weren’t thinking long-term are starting to have to, as well as provide more resourceful ways to encourage and support their employees. All things considered, though, let’s go over some positives.
An Empowered IT Organization
Your IT help desk is likely overflowing with requests. Due to the quick change to remote work, your IT organization is more mission-critical now than it ever was before. They’re helping to facilitate remote needs and are working to keep your organization open in the long run. Witty explains that while this reliance on IT can seem overwhelming, it can also be empowering due to them powering your entire organization. It may be helpful to think of ways you can empower your IT team too to show your appreciation.
Remote Work Practice Days
To ensure things run smoothly, Witty explains that some organizations may have remote-work practice days. Since remote work is likely to extend past the pandemic, you can consider using practice days at your organization as part of your long-term plan. That way, if there are new features to test out, security issues that pop up, or troubleshooting that needs to be implemented, you can tackle it sooner rather than later.
E-Learning and Data
Many of your e-learning or LMS initiatives may have been put on the back burner, but now is the time for employees to get new skills under their belts. Witty recommends hosting data science, machine learning or AI competitions to practice or learn skills. When the pandemic is over, they can then bring those skills back into their daily workflows and further empower your organization.
In all, just because we’re in an unprecedented situation doesn’t mean your organization has to fail if you prepare for it. As a CIO, it’s essential to take this time to refocus your tech strategy on staying calm. You can then consider what processes need to operate differently, how to exemplify leadership and understanding to your employees, and which (if any) initiatives of lower importance you can now bring to the forefront. A lot is changing now and your org has to change with it – it’s just a matter of planning and executing your new strategy so your employees can thrive during such a unique time.