Making a rapid shift to a remote work model can have its challenges, but these CIOs share how they have adapted given the circumstances.
Whether you look at it from the view of technology, business processes, or even connectivity among colleagues, converting to a remote work model isn’t an easy task.
But it’s even harder when you have to make a rapid shift, as many companies had to do in an effort to stop the spread of COVID-19.
Naturally, this rapid conversion was the central theme of a pair of CIO peer group meetings I hosted a couple weeks ago. We’ve been meeting bi-monthly for about three years now to share challenges and provide helpful feedback to each other.
The CIO’s stories of moving and adapting to a remote work model shared six common themes: collaboration, network bandwidth issues, work and life balance, budget and planning impacts, and unexpected benefits.
#1 – Collaboration
Microsoft Teams was by far the dominant platform cited by the CIOs. Most were on Office 365 already but hadn’t fully deployed Teams yet so they fast-tracked it. They were generally pleased with the roll-out considering the situation.
A definite success attribute was focusing on the people piece of the equation, more so than the technology. Training, education and communication were key, with one CIO sharing that their approach of peer-to-peer learning and support was a major factor in their success.
As a firm that has helped others deploy Teams for several years now, that’s certainly been our experience. While a good technical implementation is critical to success, equally critical is an exceptional adoption and governance plan.
#2 – Bandwidth / VPN
Networks and virtual private network (VPN) access were sized for much smaller traffic, requiring rushed efforts to accommodate sudden increases.
Most didn’t cite it as a significant problem but several noted that training on VPN access was helpful. The training helped employees make informed decisions on when and how best to use the VPN to optimize throughput and minimize costs.
One long-time CIO shared that his company had to double their bandwidth with a smaller, local provider – an effort that can be pretty painful. In this case however, he shared that his experience was surprisingly seamless from start to finish.
#3 – Work / Life Balance
Several CIOs stated that even though they worked a lot of hours before the shelter-in-place order, they were working even more now. Many cited the literal close proximity to work and dramatically fewer non-work commitments.
A few are noticing that trend among their staff too and are working on ways to help alleviate it because it’s not sustainable (or healthy) at the current pace.
Some are working to be more disciplined about down-time at the end of the day and encouraging their staff to do the same. They’re also encouraging their teams to be flexible with their work schedules during the day, if needed, especially to deal with family or other needs during these unique times.
Another valuable lesson was taking the time to ensure the team was staying connected to one another despite not being physically together. More than one company established internal virtual meetups periodically over coffee, lunch or happy hour. No work talk allowed, just low-key and informal conversation to keep everyone connected at a personal level.
#4 & 5 – Budgets and Planning Impacts
Some of the CIO’s companies were in relatively fortunate positions without massive hits to their revenue. Others were bearing the brunt of the pandemic and its impacts, including one (a formerly billion-plus dollar company) that had to cut more than 50 percent of its workforce in the last 30 days.
Evident themes on this issue included adapting to a rapidly changing mix of revenues/margins and contingency planning. Many of the CIOs shared that planned projects had been thinned down to most essential needs and, for some of them, overall budgets were cut anywhere from 15 to 20 percent. Most agreed it was a sound approach given the current climate.
CIOs stated they were very proud of their team’s ability to respond to the challenges so quickly and effectively. A CIO of a one billion-plus dollar public company shared that his CEO, who’d always been a fan of their IT operations, was effusive in his now-frequent praise of their efforts and results.
The CIOs mentioned there were a couple of items they would have handled differently though, including adopting collaboration tools more completely before it became a crisis and allowing employees to take docking stations and extra monitors home with them. At the time the shelter-in-place order was adopted, most felt it would be short-lived and now realize that they were being too cautious with asset management.
Several also shared how this situation verified the importance of business continuity planning over and above disaster recovery planning.
#6 – Unexpected Benefits
It’s still very early of course, after all the shelter-in-place order had only been in effect for a few weeks at the time of these meetings. However, some companies are already seeing positive signs of improved collaboration among employees, partly attributed to effective tools and partly to the change being forced on them.
Additionally, one company is currently evaluating plans to transition to more of a remote work model on a permanent basis for at least some of their staff. They’ve currently got offices across the country with real estate being their second largest expense item after personnel.
Early indicators of success have them thinking seriously about making this fundamental change. Personally, I think we’ll see a lot of companies making that switch in the coming year or so after seeing how their teams perform in a virtual environment.
Such a change will have huge societal implications with related impacts to entire industries. But that’s a topic for another post.
Fortunately, most of the CIOs were upbeat in their current assessment of the environment and their ability to react to it. They’re proud of their teams and impressed with their abilities to react and respond well to a dire situation.
They recognize that we’re still extremely early in this challenge and that while there might be generally good news on the near horizon, we’re also a very long way from returning to something close to normalcy.
Here are some of the key takeaways: focus on people AND technology, being especially mindful of the impact on people’s lives, emotions and stress levels; good planning is invaluable; look now for operational improvement opportunities on the other side; and leverage collaboration tools but put the effort in to ensure excellent adoption.