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How CIOs are Navigating a Mandated Remote Workforce

In response to guidelines from the World Health Organization and local governments, many companies have mandated a mass switch to remote work nearly overnight. This transition has placed immense pressure on organizations and individuals to quickly adapt to a new working environment all while also responding to the rapidly evolving public health crisis, increasing economic instability, and sharp swings in consumer behavior. 

In the midst of this situation, we found we were hearing a number of common challenges and questions from IT leaders within our network, so we’ve started conducting virtual roundtable discussions with enterprise CIOs on top-of-mind issues. 

The onset of mandatory work from home policies have raised a number of challenges, and also opportunities, for CIOs and their teams, so we decided to have our first CIO roundtable focus on the topic of “strategies for supporting a remote workforce.” In partnership with our friends at Emergn, we convened a group of eight CIOs and senior IT leaders (from industries such as food & beverage, logistics, manufacturing, software, and telecommunications) to discuss their organization’s transition to remote work, including learnings and best practices thus far.  

Here’s what we’ve learned:

1. Companies are embracing speed over perfection

Speed to delivery is becoming absolutely critical in the midst of COVID-19 instability. This is resulting in a different relationship between speed and risk within enterprises. According to one CIO on our call, the motto now is “a less than perfect interaction with a customer today is more valuable than a perfect interaction in a month.” Organizations that previously delivered 100% perfect solutions are pivoting to delivering at 50-60 percent and iterating from there. This increased agility and flexibility is a new capacity that is likely going to become table stakes: CIOs aren’t looking to slow back down. 

This also creates potential opportunities for nimble startups to step up.  In our CIO Innovation Index data, Sapphire found that over 50% CIOs reported “faster pace of product delivery” as a top benefit of working with startups.  This very attribute could help emerging technology startups shine in the current business environment.  

2. IT teams are shifting priorities in response to rapidly changing business needs 

Most CIOs report that their tech stack for remote work has held up well so far, and users have been self-servicing for support (rather than calling the IT helpdesk, for example) more than ever before. IT teams are shifting their priorities to support crucial areas including: supply chain, digital customer engagement and enabling remote development organizations. This has implications on the composition of their technology portfolios and highlights a potential need for automation tooling, especially areas that may have been deprioritized. Tools like Moveworks can resolve IT Service Desk support issues automatically, freeing up resources to focus on mission-critical priorities.  On the developer front, tools like CircleCI are helping technology organizations build, test and deploy applications faster than ever and AIOps platforms like OpsRamp are coming to the rescue of IT Ops teams and helping simplify the management of IT assets.  Meanwhile, solutions that enable seamless digital communication with customers and prospects can help keep engagement strong while in-person interaction is limited. Engagement platforms like Podium can be especially crucial, particularly for businesses that interact with customers on a local level. 

3. Organizations should be thinking about enabling virtual communities

One of the biggest challenges here is the cultural and behavioral impact of shifting to remote work during an international crisis. Fostering community through virtual tools (whether it’s a Zoom happy hour, team Slack channel or online yoga class) is an excellent way to combat isolation. Plus, celebrating the messy facts of “business as usual at home” with kids, pets and tiny apartments can keep spirits up. CIOs are keeping a pulse on how their workforce is coping, and tools like CultureAmp are offering free Emergency Response Employee Engagement survey templates so that businesses can assess employee morale, make informed decisions and do the right thing by their people. Some organizations are also seeing creative ideas spring from virtual “bake-offs” and collaborative forums. 

4. Leading with compassion is crucial

In such an uncertain time, IT leaders are committing to empathetic leadership. This means being flexible with employees dealing with the new dynamic of balancing work and home life, and encouraging employees to set “office hours” and disconnect outside of them to prevent burnout. 

5. Open, intentional communication prevents panic

Especially with the high volume of information surfacing every day, the development of a single point of truth for COVID-19 information and internal communications can reduce inbox noise and fear of the unknown. One CIO leader we spoke to has a meeting with the leadership team every morning to edit policies and circulate information by region. 

 

If you’re a CIO or senior IT leader looking for further insights and the opportunity to discuss relevant topics with peers, we’d love to have you join an upcoming roundtable! Email Annie Warner at annie@sapphireventures.com with your interest. 

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