If remote IT is here to stay, how can CIOs make it work?

Posted 9 October 2020 by Jason Wojahn

Many CIOs are asking: is remote IT here to stay, or will the majority of IT staff eventually return to the office? At least in the short term, the more relevant questions might be, how productive can we expect remote IT to be, how can CIOs ensure their productivity, and what metrics should IT consider to gauge their effectiveness?

In this article, we’ll take a look at these questions and a few others, with the goal of helping CIOs plan for what will be extended and expanded requirements for remote IT.

Is remote IT a long-term trend?
Remote work has been present in many forms within IT for years, due to space limitations, greater need for office space flexibility, disaster recovery capabilities, high travel demands, an incentive to attract scarce skills, among others reasons. Many IT organizations today have stated remote worker objectives. In these cases remote collaboration tools such as video and web conferencing are typically already well established in these companies. What’s unique about COVID-19 is the capacity needs of these solutions, which have changed from the need to serve a small percentage of a company’s IT staff to virtually all IT workers.

This requirement, however, is also not entirely new. It is more of an acceleration of an already present curve toward more digital and remote ways of working. Remote IT will continue to be a trend in IT work, and organizations will need to be more focused on the capacity, capability, and the ability to be “elastic” with these solutions.

Across enterprises, COVID-19 has accelerated priorities on digitization and digital transformation. IT has a unique lens on the problems, solutions, and opportunities presented by this acceleration. As IT is and has been an early adopter and enabler of this business pattern. These patterns of working, and the move to more and more digital ways of doing business, have already proved successful, and the ROI and speed at which an organization can move will only improve with further scale and adoption.

What metrics should CIOs consider to gauge remote IT effectiveness?
While some traditional methods of evaluating how the workforce is performing still apply, for example, work time vs. overtime hours, talent retention and attrition, things certainly change when considering remote workers.

New metrics that balance the business needs and results with employee well-being and experience must be considered as the lines between work and personal life blur. Some key measurement areas to be considered are:

How to stay connected to the voice of your employees in a remote environment. How will you gauge their experience? Are your employees struggling with hardware, network, systems, or other disruptions when conducting business remotely?

Are you delivering the same customer outcomes, relationships, and satisfaction with a remote distributed workforce?
Do you have new and active feedback channels for your employees and customers? For example, regular and more frequent video check-in’s and 1:1’s to help bridge the gap. Are you only connecting during regularly scheduled meetings or are you taking time to virtually “drop-by” their remote office from time-to-time?

Are you measuring at remote speed? Can you increase visibility to metrics to a more real-time view to ensure everyone can see a real-time status? For example, are you using online collaboration tools to keep your team and client content/updates dynamic versus sending asynchronous updates via attachments in email?

Are your teams using your remote and collaboration tools? How many minutes a month are your teams using Teams, Chime, Zoom, or WebEx. Are some people being left behind? What can you do to improve adoption and ensure everyone is collaborating?
Are you managing in a results-based versus a time-based work economy? Results, tasks completed, and the quantity of work must be considered above time worked. Outcomes and efficiency are the currency of working remotely.

What are the top challenges of managing a remote IT staff?

Managing remote employees has its own distinct challenges. Examples of those challenges are:

  • Ensuring Productivity – To meet this challenge there needs to be a strong focus and clear communication on individual and team deliverables and task velocity, quality, and completion.
  • Maintaining Personal Connections and Communication – Building trust and confidence, as well as culture, within a remote workforce can be challenging. The key here is to communicate well and often. Regular check-in’s, one-to-one’s, helping employees to solve problems and obstacles to help them stay efficient, as well as 360-degree feedback are some of the activities that need to happen regularly.
    Also important is ensuring clarity and timeliness of communications to ensure both teams and individuals have context as to where their efforts fit into broader work efforts, directives, and strategies.
  • Leadership should also be using many modalities to, not only remotely interact, but also communicate with their employees (voice, text, video, collaboration apps, and social media).

What are the most effective tools and strategies for remote IT staffers?
There are many collaboration tools, so it is imperative that there is clarity on what tools are being used and how these tools should be used together. Efforts should be made to strategically centralize on a few. This minimizes the communications channels your employees need to use and ensures it is more intuitive on what should be used when.

This will improve adoption, which is the most important part of ensuring that teams are communicating and working effectively. Things like: Skype, Teams, Zoom, Google Hangout, Slack, GoToMeeting, WebEx, Salesforce, ServiceNow, email, shared documents, and even text and social media tools like Facebook, WhatsApp, Twitter Instagram, all can help unlock collaboration, teaming, communication and awareness, but you have to help your team understand how and where to tune-in.

Is security a major drawback to a permanent remote IT workforce?
Security can be a challenge but one that can be overcome. Your remote employees need to be surrounded by systems of security, not only for the way they work digitally, but also physically. Generally, modern digital remote work tools have addressed the foundational security requirements for remote working.

But, what have you afforded your remote employees to ensure physical security? For example, what happens to that document that was just printed when it’s no longer needed? What are your company policies on portable media, password and device security protection? Are your employees trained and aware of how to not only protect themselves but the company in a remote working environment?

Is remote IT the first step to a fully automated IT environment?
Some environments lend themselves better to automation (remote/non-remote) than others. Just as some types of work lend themselves to synchronous or asynchronous patterns of work.

In a digital environment, automation should be considered a foundational way of evolving work and should be continually measured, released and improved. Automation should be measured and reported as a key performance indicator centric to each business area with metrics like: How often is the automation being used? What is the efficiency gained each time each automation is used? What patterns of work can be automated next? How has quality and timeliness of work improved as a result of this automation?

Conclusion
Remote work is not a style of work, it’s a different mode of work, and it requires everyone to participate equally in bridging the gaps and uncovering the opportunities. CIOs should guide their teams in such a way that work is broken down into core workflows, and those workflows should be reviewed to determine the best way that work should happen. Is the work best completed in-person, remotely, automated or a combination of these modalities?

With more focus on the workflow and how the work is getting done comes the potential to find hidden efficiencies that not only will make the work more productive for remote workers, but all worker types.