COVID-19 challenged IT leaders to keep essential operations functioning reliably and securely while ensuring staff safety. Now that the pandemic is gradually receding, many leaders are assessing their operations and concluding that even in normal times work-at-home teams can work both effectively and productively.
When the pandemic hit, leaders scrambled to ensure there would always be a way for teams to work together, regardless of their location, observed Chris Fielding, CIO of resilient IT infrastructure provider Sungard Availability Services. "At first, bringing people together over their computer screens felt a little more forced than it would in person, but developing a dynamic where virtual meetings are more comfortable and similar to an in-person conversation marked an important step in getting teams to collaborate and work together in an agile fashion," she explained.
Now, as permanent remote work becomes an option, many IT leaders are starting to think ahead, studying how dispersed teams operate and learning how individuals can be self-sufficient and accomplish tasks independently while working at home.
DeVry University, a for-profit educational institution with campuses spread across the U.S., rehearsed fully remote IT operations long before COVID-19 arrived. During these sessions. the organization learned that an at-home IT workforce must function collaboratively, particularly when a significant amount of problem-solving is required, stated Chris Campbell, DeVry's CIO. Team members working at home need to constantly drive conversations with key partners to ensure solutions are collaborative, and that they are making their thinking visible to both managers and other stakeholders, he advised. "It’s the self-driven, self-directed, and collaborative attributes that IT leaders should look for in their team members," Campbell said.
While most IT leaders agree that open communication is essential for a successful remote work initiative, finding the right balance between offering friendly support and overbearing scrutiny can be tricky. "Getting the balance right when it comes to when, how, and how often you touch base with your team [can be] challenging," admitted Anthony Cummings, director of infrastructure and operations at Salesforce recruitment firm Mason Frank International. "You don't want employees to feel isolated or disengaged, but you also don't want to micromanage or trigger video call fatigue either."
He noted that the biggest lesson Mason Frank learned during the pandemic was discovering how to communicate with at-home staff via multiple communication methods and ensuring that they were tapping into the right channel for the right message at the right time.
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