No CIO that I know would have asked for the mass experiment in work from home created by Covid-19. And while many tell me they are looking forward to work reentry, most believe work has been changed forever.
For this reason, the next #CIOChat Live 3.0 will be focused upon work reentry. The question is: when people can go back to the office, what will work be like? Will it support all workers equally, whether they be on premises, hybrid, or remote?
In other words, what do CIOs need to enable to make hybrid work a real alternative?
Biggest Changes Needed
CIOs believe that many things need to change if a majority of the organization remain partially or completely remote.
In terms of meetings, CIO Rick Osterberg says “organizations must assume any on-site meeting will have remote participants and who is in-the-room vs. remote may not be known until the meeting starts. For this reason, rooms need to all have telepresence capable. Also, lots of things we have been done in emergency should become permanent.”
CIOs believe in particular that time flexibility will become permanent. Also, in the coming hybrid environment, patience and empathy will continue to be needed.
To support this, a scalable, reliable foundational set of services including collaboration and messaging need to be retained. CIO Deb Gildersleeve sees the continuing need for “tools that allow for business continuity and for teams to work from anywhere. We’ve learned how to do it in 2020 but making it a permanent part of work-culture is the next big challenge.”
From a digital transformation perspective, CIOs believe that it is time to make processes work better. For chief digital officer Jay Brodsky, “it is crucial to build the cultural attributes required of a meeting with some in person and some remote. Which are the first-class attendees? How do those in-person send knowing glances to those remote? How do those remote side text those with those in person?”
As organizations move to hybrid work, CIOs believe it is important to find ways to develop and maintain the bonds between people. This includes making recruiting, performance appraisals, on/off boarding processes work better and easier.
At the same time, the need for culture, policies, and success measures for hybrid work need to be put in place. CIO Stephen diFilipo says hybrid work leaders today need to have trust. “They need to screen out micro-managers on their team or at least re-train them to eliminate this trait. As well, they need to improve virtual environments while remembering that culture eats strategy every time.”
Regardless of industry, CIOs need to figure out how hybrid works effectively and how to resolve the challenges that it creates. CIO Jason James says “even for people working in offices, get them out of cramped conference rooms and have them use the same tools as those that are remote. Even if they are in an office, why not connect from your desk? This will level the playing field.”
Clearly, everyone needs to look at their organizational structure to see if it works for hybrid work.
Challenges of Hybrid and Remote Work
In full disclosure, CIOs still remember the good old days. They remember brainstorming solutions with many participants. And they have seen firsthand the impacts of orchestrating work on complex technologies with many subject matter experts and dependencies virtually. Having said this, CIO Sharon Pitt, says “we’re investigating five primary work options: remote anywhere, remote local, hoteling, hybrid, and on-site.”
Pitt says, “there are impacts and considerations for decision making, budgeting, policy, tax management, equipment, systems, and information/data security. As the same time, there are benefits to hybrid work that are valued by employees. Our organization’s ability to manage space is a key consideration in understanding which work options are both possible and adopted.”
For this reason, former CIO Tim McBreen says “CIOs should start with what will work best for their companies in the next 24-36 months. They should take control of situation and build based upon budgeted run, grow, or transform budgeted initiatives.” In this vein, CIO David Seidl stresses, “it is important that leaders not create classes of staff between remote, hybrid, and on-site. I’m thinking about things like wanting to make sure that hybrid meetings are accessible and useful for everyone. This has been an interesting re-training conversation. Clearly, presence doesn’t mean productivity, and meaningful measures take some new thought and training and habits. We have so much to learn.”
It is critical going forward that managers do not equate presence with productivity. At the same time, CIOs need to allow teams to choose what works best for them. Here, CIOs should lead by example and walk the talk. And at the same time, IT leaders need to remember that seeing someone sitting in a cubicle doesn’t equal productivity, contributions, or value.
Historically, What Priority was Given to Remote Work Projects
CIOs are open in conceding that supporting remote work wasn’t much of a priority. They say remote was really considered a forced, reactive, and short-term responses to situations.
At the same time, it seems clear that IT was ahead of the game in allowing remote work. Where this was the case, business leaders are seeing what IT knew—that flexibility is the name of the game. Seidl says, “remote was more coincidental than purposeful prior to the pandemic. Cloud made it easier. Now we’re seeing a meaningful trend toward planning and purpose, but it varies from organization to organization and by corporate business model.”
Seidl continues that “pre-pandemic, I talked to folks who just left their Zoom room open all day. They basically co-worked via muted video and would tag folks by unmuting if they needed to. It worked for them culturally and by habit. Lots of others just didn’t like the idea.”
CTO Stephen diFilipo noted that, historically, there was “a philosophical separation of an employee on the payroll versus a contract worker, consultant, etc. This created a HR divide. There needs to be re-thinking of the definition of employee today.”
Given the continuing pervasiveness of remote work, Pitt argues that, “leaders have a greater understanding of their community’s capacity for work remotely. Remote work in the past year, however, was reacting to the pandemic. We are now moving into a planned process to understand what non-reactive return to work should be.”
Where Can Technology Investment Improve the Lives of Remote Workers?
CIOs believe that existing technology investments have not delivered yet what is needed for a truly hybrid workplace.
In video conferencing, for example, are we at what analysts call the trough of disillusionment? A search for “Zoom fatigue,” for example, has 38 million hits on Google. For this reason, CIOs perceive the need for new presence-monitoring solutions. As well they see the need to consolidate collaboration tools and platform tools. Platform proliferation has caused users to ask one another: which video platform should I be calling you on?
Going forward, Seidl says “collaboration and community are core values. Investing in these areas is business critical. We’re trying to find ways to make that happen for the entire organization and with some close partners.” Pitt agrees and says “post-pandemic, we need to be thoughtful about the use of these tools in a way that promotes work flexibility, discovery, innovation, and learning. And while Zoom fatigue depends upon the team, it is important to provide flexibility for teams to choose technology within a set of well-defined options. If we provide one-size-fits-all tech approaches, we’re not allowing our different teams to thrive.”
James believes that “offices will be modernized post-pandemic. In fact, many offices are now being changed to prepare for the future. Open offices were a terrible idea and maybe the end of that design will be accelerated due to the pandemic.
At the same time, Osterburg says, “we need as a society to consider infrastructure services, like electricity, water, etc. as basic human needs with the same levels of expected return-to-service time expectations.”
A Big Opportunity
Seidl believes “if we as CIOs do it right, all of their partner organizations will reap the benefit of the ability to hire talent regardless of location, to allow flexibility to their staff resulting in better life balance and happiness.” Clearly, leading on the hybrid workplace and transformation to support it is a big opportunity for CIOs. They question is: are CIOs ready to lead their organizations to a truly digital workplace.
About the author:
Myles Suer is Principal Product Marketing Manager for Data at Dell Boomi. He is also the facilitator of the #CIOChat and the number 1 influencer of CIOs.