Remote work has steadily gained traction over the last few years. In fact, a report from GetApp estimates the number of people working remotely each week has grown by a staggering 400 per cent over the past decade. But during the Covid-19 pandemic, entire organisations have moved their operations off-site and now rely on telecommuting tools to keep everything “business as usual” during the outbreak.
These new circumstances simply create new needs. Technologies that were nice to have last month are suddenly critical, and there’s a new urgency to use technology to overlay many of the intrinsic benefits of office life. As such, the role of chief information officer has become even more important to navigating the uncertainties that come with a public health crisis.
Currently, most companies have many tools that individually make sense but collectively create a lot of noise. This makes it difficult to communicate and ensure critical information reaches every employee. Nobody reads emails, Slack is a jumbled mess, and Zoom — as you already know — is continually raided with unwanted intrusions
Employees need a central location to convene with regularity that functions as a single source of truth. Otherwise, communication just breaks down. Even with multiple communication platforms available, connecting with a co-worker or the company at large can feel like a scavenger hunt. That’s why a strong remote tech stack is essential to facilitating conversations, maintaining productivity, and keeping company culture intact.
A question of culture
With relationships being such a critical component of the team dynamic, technology can do only so much to keep newly remote workers feeling connected. The distance, combined with the time it sometimes takes for someone to respond, can leave people feeling socially isolated at best and totally lost at worst. Maybe they’re not hearing enough from leadership or from another department that plays a crucial role in their jobs. When you throw in the sense of uncertainty due to Covid-19, it just heightens sensitivities.
Needless to say, this puts unnecessary stress on employees that can trickle down to their families. Companies should take on social responsibility; otherwise, it will begin to impact employee engagement, job performance, morale, and productivity. All it takes is one well-intentioned team member to start working on the wrong things to set an entire team back.
Now is the time to lean on your company culture and not abandon it altogether. Use it to guide your interactions with a remote workforce going forward. Just because you’re not in the same building doesn’t mean you can’t provide some face-to-face supervision, nor does it mean you can’t convene as a team.
Reduced access to such support and communication can make remote employees question next steps. Some might be left spinning their wheels for half a day as they wait for the information they need to complete a task.
Finding a new cadence for communication can help. A weekly one-on-one meeting with each team member is a good start. This doesn’t need to be any more than 30 minutes, but the time can help ensure you maintain the relationship — and it allows people to ask questions, seek advice, and review responsibilities.
A weekly team meeting with direct reports can also keep a team tethered and moving in the same direction. After all, a study published in Organisation Science notes that people need “mutual knowledge” when working remotely. But this mutual knowledge does more than keep everyone on the same page. It creates cohesion, which makes team members more cooperative and aware of one another. In turn, this increases the chances of reaching team goals.
A virtual headquarters
Asking employees to work a day or two from home doesn’t require much in the way of technology. A laptop and a decent internet connection should suffice. But when remote work drags on for more than a month, it’s time to look at alternatives to serve as a virtual headquarters.
Although Zoom and Slack will do in a pinch, I’m partial to a modern intranet over the long term. It’s an easily accessible place to organise all the necessary information to keep operations running smoothly (or as smoothly as possible under these circumstances). Critical updates reach everyone at a moment’s notice, and no one is ever left out of the loop.
Such a platform also saves employees time. People aren’t jumping from one website or platform to the next. They can access information from anywhere at any time, all without needing to rifle through material irrelevant to the task at hand (or trying to remember a multitude of URLs, usernames, and passwords). This efficiency enables greater productivity.
Besides this, the platform gives employees the opportunity to stay connected. Think of it like a watercooler: It facilitates a back-and-forth interchange among staff, which helps maintain that sense of community you had in the office and keeps your company culture intact.
Connecting a workforce
Holistically speaking, a leader’s role is to provide team members with the tools they need to do their jobs effectively. Having a platform that can get everybody on the same page, connect disparate departments, and make it easier to find information seems like an important priority.
For CIOs in particular, these very tools make it easier to roll out new applications, standardise process changes, get employees streamlined on approved technologies, and communicate critical information at the drop of a hat. And in times of crisis, CIOs are in a position to help an entire organisation transition to this new way of working — which isn’t always possible without a centralised communications channel.
Tech, however, is merely an enabler. It’s culture that drives a business, and the CIO is a crucial part of this. He or she is there to help find the necessary tools, facilitate communication, connect different departments, and maintain that culture until everyone can meet face to face again.
Sam Keninger, vice president of marketing and research, Simpplr