man working outside in the cold on a tablet
PHOTO: Surface

Over the past two months I’ve spoken with a number of IT executives across North America about what it's been like to manage remote work through 2020 and what it means for the way forward. Some of these IT leaders were from organizations that already had work from home as an option, while others were from those historically “in office only.” Some also had people spread all around the globe and others had over 50,000 employees.

One consistent thing across all these conversations was how every IT leader and their team had to step up to play a critical role in business continuity. It pleased me to hear that not only did IT teams help with the pivot and maintain business continuity but that they also did it quickly and are now playing a critical role in planning for the future. Through these conversations a few common themes emerged:

1. IT Has a Bigger Role to Play

Organizations see IT in a whole new light. I have heard IT executives say, “we went from zero to hero” and “we went from a cost center to 'what else can you do for me.'” If it wasn’t for the IT department, many businesses would not have been able to pivot and function in the new normal and businesses would have been at a standstill for a long time.

The last year helped shine a new light on IT’s role. Going forward, CIOs and IT leaders must play an integral role in  ensuring that employees are able to adopt new technology that fosters the digital workplace. IT has an opportunity to seize that momentum and bring big ideas to their organizations this year.

Related Article: Has Digital Transformation Left Your Business Continuity Plans Behind?

2. Preparation Paid Off

I’ve heard many comments like “thank good we deployed Microsoft Teams in 2019” or “I’m so glad we had modernized our infrastructure into the cloud.” My company saw this first-hand: the organizations who had already started investing in modernizing their infrastructure by investing in cloud adoption were in a better position to pivot and continue with business than those who had not yet started their cloud transformation journey. And even though the technologies might have not been fully utilized when the pandemic hit, they were there and waiting. When the time came, the technologies could be easily scaled since they were cloud-based and helped organizations thrive in 2020. Preparation must continue, and the way organizations can continue to be prepared is to ensure they have a cloud strategy and implementation plan. Cloud technologies introduce agility into an organization and enable them to react quickly when the business environment changes.

Related Article: Take Your Cloud Strategy Into the Future

3. Adoption of New Technology Is Easy When There's No Alternative

When there was no other choice to do work, people adopted technology pretty quickly. I’ve heard when new tools were provided as an option they weren’t adopted particularly well. When there wasn’t a choice, people figured it out. It’s amazing what a different perspective will do. There was also consistent feedback that the platforms, such as Microsoft Teams, turned out to be a lot easier to use than they thought.

Beyond the base features of remote work, CIOs are now exploring what else they can do with what they have in place (such as cloud, voice and automation). Having adoption services and change management in place helps ensure that people are able to make full use of the technology they have and not just use a few features.

Related Article: The Pandemic Popped These Closely Held Digital Workplace Beliefs

4. Design for the Hybrid Workplace Model

Last year’s pivot made us all realize we can be productive even when working from home. Organizations realized cost savings due to significantly reduced travel and cancellation of leases in office space. Not only that, another consistent theme was that productivity went up. This includes sales forces, who had to sell remotely whereas before it was in person. Employees also appreciated the new flexibility. Well … for a while. Though most employees appreciated the flexibility, the novelty has definitely worn off.

The one question on everyone’s mind is how we can preserve the benefits from this pivot and incorporate them into the future of work? Most organizations are investing in creating a hybrid model on the future, using technology to reimagine the physical office which can become the center of collaboration. A recent HBR article, "Designing the Hybrid Office," states, “Increasingly, what companies need from people is their creativity — and as we’ve seen, people are more creative when they’re together and can share human moments.” To achieve that end, now is the time to design the hybrid work model as this shifts the in-person experience from a place of work to a place of collaboration.

Related Article: The Future of Office Design After COVID

IT's Role in Preparing For Whatever Comes Next

Based on these themes, it seems clear that IT executives have a unique opportunity to bring their value to a new level in their organization. I think they have to play a pivotal role in fostering a digital-first culture in their organizations, which results in innovation.

Since technology has a direct impact on employee experience, when IT leaders partner with human resources and facilities, together they can bring a new hybrid model that incorporates flexibility, agility and human connection.

In 2020, IT proved how they could help an organization recover from a significant event and now have a window of opportunity to secure new changes enabling ongoing success for the organization. Stanford professor Scott Sagan has said, “Things that have never happened before happen all the time.” It seems to me technology, because of how it introduces agility into business, is the perfect hedge against those things that haven’t happened yet.