When COVID-19 struck in March, IT organizations in every sector quickly shifted their priorities to provide work-from-home tools and resources. Six months later, IT leaders must tackle the next steps: using technology to improve business operations during the pandemic and preparing for the post-pandemic work landscape.

In a recent virtual roundtable discussion moderated by RingCentral, IT leaders in multiple industries discussed the challenges they currently face and the innovative projects they’re pursuing. 

According to RingCentral CIO Trevor Schulze, the three major challenges are:

  1. Accelerating digital transformation while cutting costs
  2. Flexible work arrangements are the future
  3. Ensuring seamless collaboration between office employees and remote workers

1. Accelerating digital transformation while cutting costs

Digital transformation swept through every industry during the coronavirus outbreak as IT departments scrambled to provide employees the computers, communications software, and other apps they needed to stay productive.

Now that the initial crisis of supporting remote workers is over, IT departments are tasked with two seemingly conflicting priorities: continued acceleration of digital transformation while simultaneously reducing costs.

Faced with budget constraints and budget cuts, IT leaders are investing in technologies that can boost sales or streamline organizational operations, which in turn bolster the bottom line.

For example, some organizations are migrating or re-architecting their apps to the cloud to save money. Some are focusing on technology that automates tasks, allowing organizations to do more with fewer people. Others are investing in artificial intelligence or machine learning to help sales teams better understand customer preferences or allow IT teams to predict and prevent outages and equipment failures.

While it’s not easy to achieve, the key is to make sure your IT team leaves room to invest in new tech priorities, one IT leader said.

Because business leaders now demand accelerated digital transformation amidst COVID-19, IT teams now have the resources to implement new technologies faster. In fact, one IT administrator at the roundtable said he’s seen two years’ worth of change in just the last six months.

2. Flexible work arrangements are the future

One thing is clear after the coronavirus crisis is over: remote work is here to stay. Leaders strongly believe their organizations won’t return to the pre-COVID-19 days when the vast majority of employees worked in offices.

Instead, they expect a hybrid model where some will work in the office, some will telecommute permanently, and others will have a flexible work arrangement where they rotate workdays. That means IT departments will have to support employees who work from anywhere.

In fact, some IT teams already have begun to enhance their work-from-home technology by improving security with multi-factor authentication. They’re also making sure that workers who will be allowed to telecommute permanently have access to technology they’d have in the office, such as dual monitors and docking stations.  

3. Ensuring seamless collaboration between office employees and remote workers

IT leaders at the roundtable agreed that remote workers should be full participants in meetings despite not being physically present in office meeting rooms. The challenge is figuring out how to make sure on-site and remote workers can equally contribute to meetings.

The pandemic presents one unique advantage: video conferencing. Since most employees are working remotely, everyone is just a box on a screen, and there isn’t an in-office group of attendees dominating the conversation. When the pandemic is over, IT teams need to ensure that meetings aren’t dominated by office workers like the pre-pandemic era and instead continue the equilibrium established during COVID-19.

One suggestion was to decommission office meeting rooms and insist that everyone logs into video meetings from their desks. Another mentioned that his organization tested augmented reality and virtual reality technology in which people create avatars and meet in a virtual space.

One IT executive has equipped meeting rooms with large projectors, so the office workers can more clearly see their remote colleagues who are connecting via video conference. Others posited that concerns over meetings were overblown—that employees in their international branches have already returned to normal. 

When these global companies hold meetings that include people from the US and elsewhere that connect through a video conference, office workers are more aware of remote workers and make sure they’re involved and included. 

4. The role of communication technology in the future of work

Trevor Schulze, CIO at RingCentral, believes that during and after the pandemic, IT leaders will be asked to do more—faster. 

IT managers will also have to support flexible work arrangements within their own IT organizations. That means making sure remote employees have the same opportunities to shine and the same opportunities for advancement.

IT executives have to look at each employee individually and allow them to work where they feel most comfortable, safe, and productive, whether it’s remote, on-site, or both.

How organizations achieve this boils down to their technology stack. With disjointed collaboration apps, employees are left scrambling to tackle communication hurdles on their own, leaving them to default to inefficient forms of communication. When there are too many barriers to remote teamwork, employees will simply work alone. This throttles innovation and leaves companies lacking in the post-COVID era.

Key to ensuring effective collaboration are unified communications in which all of the essential communications tools are bundled together. With a single platform for team messaging, video conferencing, and phone, employees can access important conversations, files, and meetings from anywhere in the world. Whether employees work in the office, at home, or have a flexible schedule, location won’t prevent teams from collaborating in the future of work.