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IT needs to be strategic, creative, and practical to deliver value to a remote workforce

remote working
(Image credit: Image Credit: Eugenio Marongiu / Shutterstock )

2020 taught IT departments that “business as usual” can change in the blink of the eye. One moment, you have a bustling office full of workers, and the next, you have nearly everyone working remotely from home.

Months into the Covid-19 pandemic – and with months to go before a full rollout of vaccines can tame the pandemic – remote work is still a fact of life, and will continue well into 2021.

The good news is that IT departments have learned a thing or two about delivering value to a remote workforce over the past year. It requires a mix of creativity, strategy, and practicality, but the net result is an enhanced ability for IT to keep pace with the evolving needs of staff.

Get practical: Figure out what matters most

What are the core values, principles, and offerings that keep the business afloat? This is the kind of practical question that IT needs to constantly be asking itself and then, in response, reprioritizing or even eliminating projects that are not business critical. 

For example, is there a large IT upgrade project that was on deck that doesn’t directly impact remote working? Maybe you were thinking about updating the software at your corporate headquarters that manages the employee seating or physical access control systems controlling what floors employees and visitors can access. It’s safe to say there probably aren’t throngs of  people flooding through the front doors of HQ at the moment – so, consider postponing this type of project so that more energy can be spent on ensuring employees are connected and productive.

Figuring out which projects get tackled first isn’t always an easy decision, however. For instance, is a telephony or wireless upgrade the top priority – or should it be tabled in favor of rolling out a new messaging and collaboration application? 

These conundrums are why it’s critical for IT teams to be in regular contact with leaders on the business side, who are acutely aware of which issues are most pressing or are creating the most roadblocks for their teams at the moment. This regular communication between the two sides is the easiest way to establish consensus on priorities and what needs to be tackled.

Get creative: Define the value

In delivering value to a remote workforce, IT should make sure that they can put their finger on what exactly the individual stakeholders – as well as the organization as a whole – consider IT ‘value’. This is where some creativity comes into play, because defining IT value is harder than one might think.

To one person, IT value might be ensuring that services are up and running and that any IT issues or problems are addressed and resolved in a timely manner – as soon as the mail or other collaboration services go on the fritz, for instance, IT is on it to restore service as soon as humanly possible. To another person, that very same thing might be purely table stakes: something that is expected, rather than something that delivers any added value.

IT needs to be fully in sync with the business in order to understand needs and identify opportunities to provide that value-add. 

For example, if the process of onboarding a new customer is being held up by that customer’s unique security requirements around two-factor authentication, then IT has an opportunity to step in and help that business unit make the onboarding a success by drawing on their expertise around enterprise applications. Identifying the need allows IT to effectively deliver against it and provide a clear definition of value.

Get strategic: Create a partnership

In addition to being practical and creative, delivering value to a remote workforce also requires IT to be strategic. One of the best ways to cultivate this strategic approach is by establishing meaningful engagement with the stakeholders. 

That means developing a real partnership with two-way communication. Part and parcel of this is creating a collaborative experience between IT and stakeholders, rather than IT being a harsh taskmaster who tells end users what they can and cannot do, or what products or services they can and cannot use.

The truth is, there might be room for improvement in the way certain IT areas have been approached in the past. Is there an application that would provide a better way of keeping a remote employee connected or of doing their daily work? IT should be all ears, listening to whatever is causing problems for the end user and then working with them in a collaborative manner to eliminate any friction. 

This is particularly the case given the proliferation of new tools, software, and capabilities that have emerged over the past year to meet the demand of end users who are working remotely in response to the Covid-19 pandemic.

People working from home might see an application or tool that their spouse or college-aged child is using and think to themselves: “I could definitely use that for my own day to day work.” For instance, they might see a videoconferencing application that has a smoother user experience than what is currently in use, or a project management solution that could significantly streamline communications.

In soliciting suggestions for tools that may not be available within the traditional corporate environment, IT teams will need to strike a careful balance, entertaining new ideas that can make team members more efficient while still maintaining a level of appropriate enterprise security. That’s part of what makes a successful partnership: the ability for both sides to bring something to the table that the other might not, so that they are stronger together.

The right mix

Remote work has been a way of life for the better part of a year, and it might be like that for a while yet – but IT teams are well positioned to continue delivering value to a remote workforce by tapping into the right mix of creativity, practicality, and strategy. 

This combination ensures that the organization as a whole – both IT and stakeholders alike – is ready to successfully navigate the coming year, no matter where the workers are physically located or where the daily business of getting work done takes place.

Van Richardson, CIO, iManage