Ellucian CIO: How to make better decisions when everyone is remote

When you're fully remote, you must be more deliberate about the decision-making process. Ellucian CIO Lee Congdon says IT leaders can lead the charge on this remote culture shift
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We’re all hearing a lot about how to optimize the employee experience for remote working, but there’s a critical element of remote culture that’s not getting a lot of attention: the ability for employees and organizational leaders to make business decisions remotely.

People who work at companies where in-person meetings are the norm may initially struggle when decisions must be made virtually. At companies where everyone typically works in one place, it’s entirely possible decision-making could look something like the following. You talk to your team and your boss, decide who the key players are, walk by their offices, talk it through, and say: “Okay, this is all good. Check with finance. We got the budget. Let’s do it.”  

[ Help your employees feel psychologically safe. Read Crisis leadership: How to give people psychological safety. ]

When everyone is remote, you’re going to need to connect with those people differently. Your organization must quickly adapt to big video meetings, one-on-one video calls, and electronic chats. Decisions may even require a series of all of the above.

Employees who are trying to get decisions made will have to be more deliberate in their planning simply because things won't happen with serendipity.

This can sometimes be challenging at remote-first companies, and even more challenging at organizations where employees don’t typically work from home. In some cases, it can even be challenging for technology-savvy office workers because they’ll no longer have the option to walk by the financial analyst’s desk to ask for advice. They’ll have to schedule that meeting. Employees who are trying to get decisions made will have to be more deliberate in their planning simply because things won’t happen with serendipity. You’re not going to run into a colleague in the break room or elevator and have a chance to chat naturally like you may have in the past.  

CIOs and IT leaders can lead the charge and help develop new cultural norms around remote collaboration and decision making. Get your organization comfortable with using video conferences and chat tools to engage with each other candidly and transparently.

Be deliberate in the language you’re using when you’re communicating virtually. Simply saying or typing, “Okay, I hear what you’re asking for. Yes, you’re approved,” can go a long way toward speeding up decisions when everyone is remote.

But it doesn’t stop there. You must also ensure that the organization supports the decision and ratifies it. In some cases, organizations will have to change the way decisions are both negotiated and then recorded.

Guard against making your virtual team meetings and one-on-one conversations simply transactional.

And by all means, guard against making your virtual team meetings and one-on-one conversations simply transactional. Take the time to have the same kind of conversations you’d have over coffee in the morning at the office. Try to continue those conversations over video or chat to maintain the connection you have with your colleagues. My team has enjoyed sharing photos of what they're cooking for dinner or what they’re baking.

Don’t neglect that level of engagement. Don’t approach meetings thinking: “Here’s a transaction, authorize it.” Start thinking about how you bring people together, how decisions are made, and how you frame discussions. It’ll vary from culture to culture, but that’s worth spending some time on now.

Working remotely can be challenging enough for employees who aren’t used to it. It’s made even more challenging when business decisions aren’t made in a timely or direct fashion. This is a real opportunity for IT leaders to guide our organizations and do the hard work of leading a remote culture shift.

[ 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.