4 realities of hybrid working that CIOs must address

From meeting dynamics to merging toolsets, these issues demand attention now that we are through the first months of the COVID-19 pandemic. CIO Kevin Neifert shares priorities
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Ever since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, my priorities – and those of other CIOs – have been turned upside-down. Pre-pandemic, our basic infrastructure was in good shape, aligned to our business model, and working well. This allowed us to focus on things like doing more with big data analytics and engaging IT in new business pursuits. 

But all of a sudden, that changed. Overnight, we had to figure out how to move our business to a remote model. We were adding VPN capacity to our infrastructure and ensuring that people had the gear they needed to work from home. Our focus, our priorities, and our mindset instantly shifted.

This hasn’t been easy, and I’m eager – as most CIOs are – to get back to more strategic work. But before we do that, we need to grapple with the realities of accommodating a hybrid workforce. We don’t have all the answers yet, but the sooner we get them, the sooner we’ll be able to move on, refocus on our previous priorities, and steer ourselves toward a competitive advantage. 

Here are some key challenges we’ll be focusing on in the coming months. 

1. Provisioning a hybrid model

When the pandemic hit, one of our first priorities was determining how to handle equipment requests. A third of our workforce had PCs, and we had to decide whether we’d let them take them home and how to deal with those security implications. 

Employees also needed headsets, video cameras, and home office equipment. Managing this on an ad hoc basis was expensive and complicated. Some people wanted to replicate their setup from the office, while others were sending in piecemeal requests. As we plan for a hybrid work environment, we need to understand and consider employee technology needs while planning logistics and policies for them accordingly.

[ Also read: CIO role: 8 ways the pandemic has changed it forever. ] 

2. Adjusting meeting logistics

We’ve all had the experience of being the one remote person calling into a meeting that’s held in a conference room onsite with eight others. Your ability to be productive and engaging is low if you’re on the phone compared to the others in the office. When thinking about the hybrid model, the question is how to make both groups equally productive.

When thinking about the hybrid model, the question is how to make both groups equally productive.

Some of this will be about software and determining whether we need to implement tools we don’t yet have. White boarding is an effective method during in-person meetings, so what can we do to replicate this? And how might that work in a hybrid environment? 

We’ll also need to make process changes. During in-person meetings, it’s easy to ask for consensus simply by saying “Are we in agreement?” But when you have some people remote, you don’t necessarily have the visual cue of nodding heads. Asking whether people disagree, instead, might work better since dissenters have a more pronounced opportunity to be heard. 

3. Integrating global toolsets

Because Thales has a large stake in the defense market with an international presence, we have added layers of complexity in harmonizing our tools. There are locations in which our toolsets are highly integrated, and there are other places that have adopted more of a best-of-breed strategy. What the COVID-19 crisis has done is highlighted the need for a higher degree of integration of those toolsets. We need to be more mindful of how our information might be managed, and the implications of this in a hybrid model.

This challenge is not unique to us. Many CIOs will be prioritizing similar work in their revised digital transformation plans. 

4. Managing expectations

One of my concerns is that we’ll struggle with the hybrid model and people will revert to what they’re most comfortable with: Either exclusively working on-site or at home. To make a hybrid model work, we will need to clearly define why this mode is effective, the benefits of it, the steps we’ll take to make it work, and listen to people’s concerns and ideas.

While we’re not ready just yet to tackle a hybrid work environment, we’re starting to plan for it nonetheless because we’re eager to focus less on infrastructure and more on strategy. Clearing this hurdle sooner rather than later will position our organization to realize a competitive advantage – we’ll attract talent because we’ve stabilized our business model, we’ll have a strong remote working capability, and have the right policies and infrastructure in place to support a strong hybrid work model. 

Like many IT organizations, we’re eager to get there sooner than later. 

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Kevin Neifert is chief information officer for Thales North America. Previously he was the CIO of Raytheon, where he spent 14 years in a variety of information technology, engineering and program management roles.