Managing a remote workforce is not an easy task for technology leaders, particularly in times of a pandemic.
According to one recent study, between 25 and 35% of people currently working remotely due to the COVID-19 pandemic will continue to do so long after it has ended. For most organizations, it will fall to the Chief Information Officer to help enable this new era of working remotely, allowing employees to be as productive as possible while mitigating risk to the enterprise as much as they can. This will come with its fair share of challenges as organizational leaders adjust to this “new normal.” But it will bring with it a host of unique opportunities, too – all of which are worth a closer look.
The Challenges of Managing a Remote Workforce
By far, one of the biggest challenges that CIOs will face when it comes to enabling a remote workforce has to do with the idea that productivity no longer fits into a traditional “9:00am to 5:00pm” box. It’s unrealistic to expect all employees to stick to this rigid structure when the balance between their personal lives and their professional ones is more delicate than ever before.
In an effort to combat this as much as possible many businesses are turning to a technique called “time blocking.” Rather than forcing employees to work during pre-determined periods, they’re setting aside blocks of time to accomplish specific tasks so that employees can take advantage of their peak performance times – regardless of when those times happen to be.
Certain tasks like meetings or conference calls may take place at specific times, but everything else is left to the employee’s discretion. All that matters is that the work is getting done – when it’s getting done is far less important.
The most significant hurdle is the fact that most managers are used to supervising employees within that outdated “9:00am to 5:00pm” structure. This is far more difficult when everyone is operating on their own unique schedules. Therefore, managers and CIOs will need to shift their perspective on how they are judging employee productivity. Everything needs to be focused on performance outcomes, as opposed to simply marking down whether someone showed up in the office.
Finally, CIOs will need to continue to be proactive about researching the types of collaboration tools that will be needed to support the remote work era. A lot of the solutions that businesses leveraged at the outset of the pandemic were utilized out of necessity. It’s not that one video conferencing platform was “the best,” necessarily – it’s that workforces needed a solution immediately and they had to make do with whatever was readily available.
But moving forward, CIOs will need to find the communications and collaboration tools that prioritize the user experience. They need to offer solutions that make it generally easier and more enjoyable for people to work together and to do their jobs. These tools can’t just allow someone to “get the job done” in a literal sense. They need to allow people to work in a better and more engaging way based on their preferences, and the CIO will be directly responsible for making that superior user experience a reality.
Something that goes along with this will be CIO priorities that shift towards not only artificial intelligence and machine learning, but concepts like robotic process automation as well. Using this type of technology to automate as many important (yet time-consuming) tasks as possible is a key to creating a better experience for employees, as it frees up as much of their valuable time as possible to focus on those matters that truly need them.
The Cybersecurity Challenge of Managing a Remote Workforce
Another significant challenge for CIOs in an era when everyone is working remotely has to do with cybersecurity. It was always important to put protections in place to keep a business’ sensitive information safe and away from prying eyes. But it’s especially crucial when your workforce is spread out in so many directions.
At a bare minimum, CIOs now need to prioritize a total, end-to-end view of how business processes are working across their network – especially as those processes begin to move outside the four walls of their office. They need to put the solutions in place that will allow them to monitor traffic, regardless of where it originates or where it is going. They’ll need to make data as available as possible to guarantee that those who need it to do their jobs have it, but they’ll also need to protect access to that sensitive information as well.
In a lot of situations, CIOs may find themselves in a position where they need to rebuild their security architecture to support this remote work. Multi-factor authentication, virtual private networks, strong identity management, and similar techniques need to become commonplace if they have not already done so.
Unlocking the Opportunities of the Remote Workforce
Another significant challenge for the CIO when it comes to enabling a remote workforce can also be one of the biggest opportunities with the right approach.
Moving forward, organizational leaders will need to be more proactive about recognizing the signs of stress (and disengagement) in remote team members. The warning signs aren’t as immediately obvious as they would be if everyone were still coming into the office on the same basic schedule.
This is a major challenge for CIOs who weren’t necessarily the ones responsible for overseeing this in the past. But those businesses who can leverage technology to do this won’t just have an easier time attracting top talent – they’ll be in a better position to retain them as well. According to one recent study, about 74% of workers in North America say that they would gladly change jobs based on a work-from-home policy. Another study indicated that 53.3% of developers said that working remotely was already a high priority when looking for a new job to begin with.
So from that perspective, a CIO’s investment in navigating a lot of these challenges with enabling a remote workforce will more than pay off by making their companies naturally more competitive among job seekers when the pandemic has finally left us behind.
But the most important opportunity for CIOs in the remote work era comes down to the significant amount of money that can be saved as a result. Another recent study estimated that if employees who could work from home did so at least half the time, it would save a combined $700 billion nationally every year. Even breaking things down to the individual business level, organizations save an average of $11,000 for every employee who works from home at least part-time.
Most businesses are undoubtedly going through a significant level of disruption as a result of the pandemic – and some of that disruption is going to be permanent. But by making IT investments in a way that supports the remote workforce today, CIOs will have done more than just empower people during these current challenging times. They’ll also better position their organizations to come out on the other side of the COVID-19 pandemic leaner, more efficient, and more profitable, which may very well be the most important opportunity of all.
What challenges and opportunities have you faced in managing a remote workforce at your enterprise?