Remote teams: 4 things CIOs should do now

Ellucian CIO Lee Congdon shares key considerations – both technical and cultural - as IT leaders help organizations adjust to a newly-remote workforce
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CIOs are in the early stages of an unplanned transition to a remote-based workforce. This unprecedented, and in many cases, overnight shift to support a work-from-home workforce is challenging for even the most prepared IT organizations.

Here are some short- and long-term considerations that may help you navigate the challenges currently before you and prepare for what lies farther ahead.

[ What else can leaders do to support their people right now? Read also: How to lead in the age of newly-remote teams. ]

1. Make sure your house is in order

For starters, if you’ve got fires burning right now, obviously you must put them out. If you don’t have enough VPN or video capacity, for example, then tactically you must tackle that right away.

Fortunately, we were in very good shape to accommodate the shift to remote working for our employees. But we did have one system that required a fast replace as a result of the crisis. It was already on our risk list and something we were planning on doing this year. However, we were able to accelerate the project because of the business necessity.

Current circumstances certainly justify starting the investment process faster for any projects on your risk list.

2. Plan your next critical moves 

This leads to the next area CIOs should consider once any fires are extinguished: Start identifying the places you need to position your organization for the future. Current circumstances certainly justify starting the investment process faster for any projects on your risk list. Or if you already have funds allocated for a necessary project that will aid or advance your organization under these conditions, now is a good time to start planning to move those forward.

3. Support a remote-decision making culture

IT leaders should also begin work on what will no doubt be a more time-consuming effort: shifting your organization’s culture to be comfortable with remote decision making. I’ve been speaking with a lot of people, and I get the sense that some people are really uncomfortable with a remote work style where you’re sitting by yourself talking to people on video. In particular, it seems to be a bigger adjustment for folks who work in organizations that have traditionally made decisions by putting 15 or 20 people in a conference room for discussions.

This is an area where IT leaders in particular can be really helpful. This is a great opportunity to set up the cultural norms that say:

  • We make decisions on video conferences
  • We stay in touch with our people on video conferences
  • We communicate the status of the organization candidly and transparently on video conferences.  
  • We use chat tools to engage with our people electronically

To the extent possible, encourage your senior leaders to lead video meetings with your organization. At Ellucian, our CEO and other senior leaders have been conducting many group video meetings, some of them as short as 10 minutes, simply to ask employees how they’re doing and communicate what they’re working on.

It’s up to us, as technology leaders, to help lead this culture change because this is going to be a new way of working.

It’s up to us, as technology leaders, to help lead this culture change because this is going to be a new way of working. In the future, people will probably start traveling again, people will probably still meet face-to-face to get business decisions made, but my sense is it won’t happen as often as it did before. Certainly, within large enterprises, the idea of staying distributed, saving money on travel, and learning how to interact electronically, is going to be a cultural norm in an increasing number of organizations, and it’s something IT can facilitate and promote.

4. Get ahead of the next crisis

Finally, it’s not too early to be planning for the next crisis. If you do have gaps in your technology portfolio that will be critical to conducting business remotely in the future, start addressing those now.

Do you have gaps in online file sharing or your email, video, or chat suites? If these services are based in your data center, for example, you may have resiliency issues. With cloud and Software-as-a-Service-based options, you don’t have to focus as much energy on operational aspects and can instead focus on your enterprise’s core business. It’s going to take a while, but now’s the time to start making the investments to move those tools to the cloud. Identify vendors that will give you the resiliency, robustness, and portfolio of applications to better navigate whatever challenges your organization may face in the future.

We’re at the beginning of what’s already been a monumental shift in the way organizations operate. CIOs and IT leaders are primed to help address the many challenges ahead. As technology takes on a more pivotal role than ever before, let’s make sure we’re doing all we can to make it work for our organizations.

[ Culture change is the hardest part of transformation. Get the eBook: Teaching an elephant to dance. ]

Lee Congdon is Senior Vice President and Chief Information Officer at Ellucian, the leading independent provider of higher education software, services and analytics.