While businesses worldwide have obviously had to deal with the technology challenges of the almost overnight shift to remote work, a panel of senior technology leaders recently cautioned that the cultural challenges of the shift have proven equally difficult.
Appearing in a virtual roundtable discussion, the executives—representing a wide swath of industries—found they could mostly overcome their technological obstacles to enabling work from home. “From an IT perspective,” said David Easley, director of architecture and digital transformation at technology integrator SAIC, “we already had our organization really working remote and we understood those processes.” The lesson Easley learned in the process, however, was that the company had “a lot of people that did not work from home. They had to deal with being home all the time,” he said. “We had to start making our teams more communicative.”
Team building in a remote work environment
While technology certainly can help with building greater communication and collaboration among remote workers, the panelists also suggested companies need to consider how they build a strong culture of communication. “There’s a silver lining in every crisis,” said Andrea Markstrom, CIO at law firm Taft Stettinius & Hollister LLP. “We get an opportunity to really get to know people on a whole different level.”
For example, PRGX’s Green said his young son often comes into his home office during meetings and sits on his lap. “It becomes part of our new normal for meetings, even to the extent that now when he’s not there, people start to ask, ‘Hey, where is he?’”
Taft Stettinius & Hollister’s Markstrom says it comes down to focusing on employees’ well-being. “In the first five or ten minutes of every meeting, we talk about what’s happening at home,” she said. “Is there anything that you want to share? What we’ve found is that the engagement level increases.”
Too many meetings: How to free up your calendar
One of the dangers of working from home, however, is that workers often fight the isolation by scheduling more meetings. To deal with the issue, SAIC’s Easley said his IT department started convening a 15-minute virtual meeting every morning to get momentum going and, most importantly, reduce the volume of virtual meetings. “I think everyone was used to seeing everybody [in the office],” Easley said. “So they just start getting on each other’s calendars. Then you realize your whole day was meetings, and after seven o’clock you started working.”
How do you make work from home secure?
Some of the executives at the roundtable also noted that having employees who were unfamiliar with working from home raised security concerns. “We have 33 offices around the world,” said Andy Green, vice president of global infrastructure and IT operations at recovery audit firm PRGX Global. “We created a task force to manage communications and training, and really set the security controls in place.” Green said the task force helped reduce the number of helpdesk requests dramatically. After a 50% increase in requests in the first two weeks of working from home, “it settled down and it was business as usual,” he said.
Can cloud communications benefit working from home?
The shift to remote working very quickly threw a spotlight on the need for more agile communications technology. In particular, with employees using multiple devices (and sometimes their own personal devices), cloud technologies gained even more importance in the new normal for IT. “Now there are new and different collaboration tools that weren’t on my roadmap [before],” said SAIC’s Easley. “People want applications much quicker and faster.”
Easley said his company is currently working through a list of applications to determine which can move to the cloud.
With so many apps moving to the cloud, open platforms and the ability to integrate as much as possible becomes of paramount importance, said Steven Zachok, assistant vice president of enterprise solutions engineering at RingCentral, which hosted the roundtable. “When you get into using all of these collaboration tools,” he said, “that open platform becomes critically important. You can tie each of these together and give all of your employees the best possible solution, regardless of how many tools you might have.”
For more information on how cloud communications can help your organization adapt to the work-from-home environment, watch Enabling Employees for Remote Work.
Originally published Jun 23, 2020, updated Oct 19, 2020