Three questions tech leaders should ask during the pandemic

Three questions tech leaders should ask during the pandemic
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We’re living through unprecedented times, dealing with a situation completely out of our control. But while tech leaders have no way of managing the pandemic itself, they do have control over how their business responds and adapts to the chaos left by COVID-19. And for many, it’s exposing cracks in their IT management planning.

About the author

Chris Pope is Global VP of Innovation at ServiceNow.

Enabling remote working is not a new thing; it’s a concept companies have grown with as they utilize technology to scale globally. But never has working from home been so robustly tested as it is right now. Many organisations have adapted successfully as remote working has moved to an absolute necessity, but others are faring less well and it’s posing big problems for them. 

After all, how can a business react to the crisis if the staff it relies upon to keep things going are not equipped to carry on working? It’s never too late to improve and technologies like cloud services make it possible to do so. But whether thriving or failing with remote working, there are three questions every tech leader should be asking themselves right now:

Question 1: How successful is your remote working strategy proving so far?

Success doesn’t mean perfection, but it does mean a content workforce doing the right work, at the right time, without wasting time or adding unnecessary cost to the business. 

The measure of success or failure of your remote working strategy can’t be based on complaints about team members only having one screen to work on at home, or about kids occasionally interrupting video conferencing calls – those are normal distractions and that’s life. 

A successful strategy needs to start with evidence of an understanding workforce, one that’s used to a flexible culture and is showing they’re prepared and able to adapt to these changing circumstances. There are a number of ways leaders can monitor this:

  • When working remotely, technology becomes the heart of every interaction. Success can be measured by teams having access to the tools they need to do their jobs properly and having solutions for their clients as quickly as possible, no matter where they’re logging in from. The ultimate goal is for the workforce to function as smoothly as it did prior to the virus outbreak.
  • To replicate face-to-face collaboration, some leaders might have rushed to encourage constant communication across every channel – video conferencing software, chat, phone, text. This can result in confusion and signals being crossed. Leaders who have clearly defined which tools employees should use for each task should see the benefits of successfully streamlined communication.
  • Not only that, but security is a key measure of success. As McKinsey highlights, large-scale adoption of work-from-home technologies, heightened activity on customer-facing networks and greater use of online services all present fresh openings for cyber attackers to exploit. Phishing attacks have seen a significant increase, so if your workforce has staved these off, you’re on the right track. But leaders should never take their eye off the ball when it comes to security. For organisations that haven’t done so, looking to implement SecOps could prioritize and remediate vulnerabilities faster, improving the efficiency of their cyber security response.

Question 2: What will happen once the crisis subsides?

Strategy up until now would have likely focused on digital transformation and using technology to help teams do their best work. But a very specific and catastrophic event has happened, and it will rightly make the C-suite nervous it could happen again. The ability to work remotely has shifted from a ‘nice-to-have’ for many, to a ‘must-have’ for almost everyone.

So, building and future-proofing a strategy which enables employees to work seamlessly, without costing or losing the business money, should be a key focus for tech leaders once we’re back to some kind of usual routine.

Not only that, but new technologies set to hit the business landscape will continue development as normality resumes. 5G, for instance, was poised for imminent adoption prior to the outbreak. Meanwhile, the cloud has been considered critical supporting infrastructure for this crisis and will carry on improving having been pushed to its capacity. Tech leaders should make sure they continue to keep an eye on evolving technologies so not to risk falling behind once the crisis subsides. 

Leaders also need to prepare for a percentage of their workforce questioning why they need to return to the office. If employees have adapted and thrived through remote working, why should they spend thousands of pounds and hundreds of hours on daily commutes when they can achieve what they need to from home? 

It’s essential that tech leaders make sure they’re prepared for the whole host of working-culture questions they’re likely to face on return to the office.

Question 3: How do you rethink your remote working strategy?

This is a crisis that’s going to take years for businesses to recover from, and it’s going to change the way people think about work. With buy-in from the C-suite and secure access to the cloud, it provides an opportunity for tech leaders to re-imagine the working structure of their company. 

There are many businesses where the very nature of their industry makes it impossible, or at least impractical, to allow a blanket policy of working from home. So, the first job in rethinking the strategy is understanding which roles could be done remotely. Using data, tech leaders can scrutinize which functions could be automated, freeing up teams to do more meaningful work, whether that be conducted in the office, in a cafe or at home.

For a company that’s solely on-premise, true remote working faces obstacles. But for teams working securely in the cloud without the constraints of outdated, manual, costly, and inefficient work processes, there are huge productivity and satisfaction benefits to be gained. 

Those who have already embraced digital will stand the best chance of making it through these troubled times and set themselves up to thrive in the future. But a successful remote working structure comes from innovative thinking and a true desire to make working easier and more satisfying for your teams. So, for businesses yet to go digital, it’s not too late to use this as an opportunity to catch up.

Chris Pope

Chris is the Global VP of Innovation at ServiceNow. He meets, talks and 'cogitates' with CIOs, heads of IT and business transformation leaders about their experiences and ambitions. His role is to understand their vision, then enabling them to think differently and challenge the status quo to create the opportunities that will transform their business approach. He has managed large-scale, technology-led projects in global enterprises, prior to joining ServiceNow. Through senior roles at some of the world's leading financial institutions, including UBS, NYSE Euronext and Lehman Brothers, Chris led enterprise service management strategies and he is now working closely with central and local government departments on initiatives to transform the citizen experience.