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How IT leaders adapted to the Covid-19 economy

(Image credit: Image Credit: RawPixel / Pexels)

Everyone has something to say about working from home, collaborating with colleagues on screen, and recalibrating their own work-life balance in the wake of the pandemic.  Many have shared their stories at length.  But the people who make those on-screen meetings possible – the IT personnel of affected organizations – have a unique and unsentimental view of both the technologies that have enabled so many employees to work from home during the pandemic, and of their own organizations’ readiness for future disasters – including the continuing global pandemic sadly affecting so many.

To find out what this essential group of professionals had learned through the initial months of workplace disruption caused by the coronavirus’ spread, as well as how they are planning for possible continued disruption and which technologies they expect to continue using through the crisis, we conducted a survey of U.S. IT professionals in companies of different sizes this past July. 

One of the most important things we wanted to learn concerned how IT leaders had responded to the coronavirus.  Given the unexpected onset of Covid-19 and how quickly businesses responded to it, did IT professionals feel as though they were caught off guard or were ill-prepared?  That would not have been a surprise.  After all, no one had seen the pandemic coming.  Instead, what surprised us is that the overwhelming majority claimed they were actually well prepared to manage the sudden shift to remote work during the outbreak.  That may have been because most claimed to have already received the training required to manage IT systems in an environment of mostly remote work.  At the same time though, more than three-quarters felt as though the continuing rise of remote work would eventually change the training that other IT personnel, particularly new hires, would need for their jobs. 

Planning for the future

The abrupt transition of the workforce from office to home included strong elements of improvisation.  For example, the devices employees used to do their organization’s work were often the same ones that they and their children used for recreation, personal correspondence, shopping, calling friends, and more.  They came from different manufacturers, with different operating systems, different features, and different capabilities.  Not only that, the workers’ physical setups didn’t include the sorts of office amenities – dedicated desks, chairs, phone lines, copiers, filing equipment and so forth – of their previous workspaces.  Yet, according to a separate survey of hiring managers conducted before the pandemic, over half agreed that remote work among full-time employees was already becoming more common and that nearly 40 percent of their full-time employees expected to transition into remote work within the next 10 years.  That number has only grown since the coronavirus hit.

If the increase in remote work is, in fact, the future of employment, it will require companies to plan for a future where the traditional office is far less relevant to the way people do business.  In some ways, we are at a point analogous to the first iteration of internet.  Since that time, the network’s development has completely changed the ways we communicate, how we do commerce, how we relate to customers and to one another.  I suspect that as the home-based work model matures, we will experience similar upheavals in our way of life and work.

One thing is certain, however: that WFH future will continue to depend on technologies – both current generation tools and iterations yet to come.  Among the changes many IT managers currently visualize are an increased emphasis on cloud-based services, a greater focus on network security and security training, more of their own work hours spent laboring from home with less time at their employers’ data centers, and securing bigger budgets for more advanced remote work tools.

Owning a device is still a privilege

Of course, institutional pressure to increase departmental budgets is baked into most organizations, and IT is no exception.  But in the case of Covid-19, there were specific expense areas that the IT executives pinpointed.  In addition to cloud storage and increased network security, the biggest included expanding their arsenal of conferencing tools and enlarging their VPN capacity.  That was more than just a wish; in many cases, it was supported by increases in IT spending which had already taken place before the survey was conducted. 

Personal computers have become a household staple over the past 30 years.  But not everyone owns the right home technology for doing their day jobs.  As a result, many companies bought laptops, printers, scanners, and accessible software for staff members who needed them, even though they didn’t know whether they would get reimbursed from government grants to cover the costs.

The vice president of human resources at Pace University cited creative ways that his institution found to address those shortages.  “In cases where there were workers needing computers, we allocated resources and prioritized employees in need,” he said. “In some cases, colleagues lent iPads and laptops to each other.2”

Not surprisingly, the number of requests directed to IT departments’ help desks during the shift to remote work, shot way up.  Yet the effectiveness of their responses – which seem to have been confirmed by the high productivity of remote workers – support the belief held by an most IT managers that the future of their companies depend on their IT personnel being able to create a stable work environment. 

What does it mean? 

While there may have been some question in how prepared organizations were for an immediate exit of the office environment, IT departments certainly met the task at hand. They pivoted to many of the tools that enable remote work to take place without a loss of productivity which are already widely available, and even more are in the pipeline.  Most organizations have recognized the important contributions of their IT teams and have reinforced them with budget increases.  And while nobody knows when or how the coronavirus crisis will end or what changes in work dynamics will occur in the future, IT leaders are confident that they have the resources to keep their organization’s work going even in the event of a renewed surge.

Finn Faldi, President, TeamViewer Americas