Top Priorities for IT Leaders to Support Hybrid Work Environments
Indisputably, IT departments are having a “moment.” At the onset of the pandemic, IT departments scrambled to provide employees with the technology and support they needed to work from home. Despite the short notice and the challenges of converting in-office workers to work-from-home employees while also working remotely themselves, IT departments rose to the challenge.
IT’s success in supporting the shift to remote work has brought them to the forefront of a conversation around the future of work strategy in a way they haven’t appeared before. They’re concerned with the continued support of hybrid work and offering a collaborative platform and tools to secure networking and automation capabilities—all to make their organizations more nimble and able to adjust to the constantly and rapidly shifting market. This includes achieving “experience parity” by ensuring all employees have equal access and the same experience with systems wherever they work.
CIO’s 21st Annual State of the CIO study shows how the CIO’s role has evolved, where tech executives are currently focusing their efforts, and what will require their attention in the coming years.
Of the CIOs surveyed, 51 percent reported they’re currently focusing on security management, while 43 percent on improving IT operations and system performance. Forty percent said that efforts to modernize infrastructure and applications were currently underway. Not surprisingly, innovation and security will consume CIOs in the near future, with 32 percent identifying business innovation as an area they'll spend more time, while 30 percent expect security management to require more of their attention.
So, as CIOs in every industry sector prepare for what’s next, how can your IT team make the permanent shift to hybrid work productive for employees while maintaining an appropriate level of security?
Securing hybrid work environments
A majority of CIOs have increased the IT budget this year and the top reason is the need for security improvements. This is, in part, a result of the need to support hybrid work environments, as employees and contractors can access data and systems from almost any location at any time. To avoid alienating in-house or remote employees, exposing the organization to excessive risk, and derailing the move to hybrid work, every employee should receive the same standard of security support wherever possible. Simply put, in-office and remote employees should have the same, secure, experience accessing your company’s systems.
Along those lines, a recent survey by F-Secure shows that security and privacy are top concerns for remote employees. According to their study of 7,200 workers around the world, 67 percent of remote workers worry about their online security and privacy. Only 58 percent of in-house employees shared their concerns. In fact, across the board, F-Secure reports that remote employees are more overwhelmed with security and privacy issues.
With these findings in mind, educating remote employees regularly about the security tools at their fingertips and best practices to protect their privacy could go a long way to easing their concerns. Additionally, it is imperative to require regular training classes on security practices for employees to follow when working remotely.
Reevaluate technology solutions with an eye toward scalability and resources
IT teams are being asked to deliver on-par hybrid experiences while considering how to scale their operations and reevaluate budget and resources. In order to reconcile these three, seemingly conflicting, priorities, now’s the time to revisit the technology in place and its ability to meet the needs of your distributed workforce. This includes the ability to scale as the needs of the business dictate in a rapidly shifting market dynamic.
Some of your solutions may not meet the organization’s needs or function well in a hybrid environment. Other systems may create a security risk by creating silos of disconnected data or creating reasons for workers to come up with remote workarounds. Gathering feedback from end users is critical, as it will help uncover duplicative and disconnected systems and opportunities to create additive solutions.
Consolidate costs by identifying solutions that are a drain on IT and other departmental resources in ways that don’t scale. Analyze how much of the IT department’s resources each solution requires. Take a look at how remote workers access systems and if there’s a better solution already in place or readily available. Uncovering and replacing solutions that consume a disproportionate amount of your IT department's time and budget can create bandwidth to deploy new solutions.
Focus on employee productivity
Today, hybrid workers can conceivably work from any location. For hybrid work models to succeed, employees must be productive and able to collaborate regardless of location. For example, many employees will need access to documents, structured data and frameworks accessed and created by others, and tools that allow them to collaborate, regardless of their physical location. Done well, digital tools and automated processes give employees better access to shared data and information, reducing recency bias and organizational silos.
In partnership with other departments, such as legal and HR, your IT team can help to create your organization’s hybrid culture by establishing norms, accessing searchable information (or walling off sensitive data), and sharing best practices. Standardizing on a common collaboration platform can help organizations avoid shadow IT/point solutions that could inhibit cross-functional collaboration.
Strengthening collaboration between IT and lines of businesses is a top priority for both teams. Successful IT teams understand the need to invest in change management and that digital collaboration tools aren’t necessarily intuitive to every part of the organization. Training can also play a critical role in ensuring the success of these new collaborative options. This should include access to high-quality training materials that envision new hybrid work and cloud-based scenarios.
Since traditional employee oversight is no longer possible in a hybrid environment, monitoring employee activity is another area for IT departments to help. In partnership with the legal department and executives , the IT department can help ensure that any effort to monitor employee productivity complies with relevant laws and regulations and aligns with the organization’s policies and procedures.
Lastly, thriving with a remote workforce may require some organizations to reimagine how they define and monitor employee productivity. For example, Deloitte believes efficiency, effectiveness and engagement are the cornerstones of sustained virtual productivity. From an efficiency perspective, organizations should determine if employees are doing the right things in the right way. With respect to effectiveness, executives should ask if remote employees are producing the right results. And as it relates to empowerment, leaders should determine whether they’re empowering the workforce and sustaining their well-being.
Making hybrid work environments successful
As with any change of this magnitude, the permanent shift to hybrid work will require a sustained commitment and a willingness to address the inevitable challenges that appear along the way. Research by Gartner Peer Insights confirms that hybrid work, cybersecurity and digital enablement are top priorities for CIOs, and that will likely continue to be the case in 2023.
For many organizations, the hybrid work environment is still a work in progress that requires evaluating the technology purchased during the pandemic and finding opportunities to expand the solutions that offer an ability to scale and meet the needs of the enterprise today.
Visibility into how the enterprise uses technology provides the IT department with enviable insight into the needs of employees. This knowledge, coupled with the authority to influence the organization’s strategic direction, means IT leaders can play a critical role in building the path to hybrid work.
For many reasons, there’s a spotlight firmly centered on the IT department. CIOs who rise to the challenge will play a critical role in making the shift to hybrid work permanent, which includes a willingness to revisit and reimagine how the IT department supports the business. For many, that starts when they envision the needs of remote employees and how technology can help connect the entire workforce, regardless of their physical location.
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