Leading in the next normal: 6 lessons learned for CIOs

We need to lean into the lessons – around challenges ranging from training to silos - learned in the first months of the pandemic, in preparing for the next transition
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When the pandemic hit six months ago, our workforce — like so many others — went remote. This transition was difficult for everyone as we navigated new solutions, policies, and emotions. During this time, we learned a lot about leadership, management, communication, and productivity. 

As we prepare for the reality of a hybrid work environment in the future, now is the time to lean into these lessons to ensure that we’re successful in this next transition. Here’s a look at what we’ve learned over the past several months.

[ Get answers to key digital transformation questions and lessons from top CIOs: Download our digital transformation cheat sheet. ]

1. Being a good manager isn't good enough

When we were physically together in a workspace before the pandemic, good managers were good enough; they could pass without sharpened toolsets and going the extra mile. But when you’re working in a virtual environment, that guise slowly erodes and reveals cracks. It becomes apparent when managers struggle to connect with their teams, measure results, and stay productive without in-person conversations. Teams get cranky, have trouble coping with restrictions on everyday life and new ways of working, and morale drops.

Leadership is easy when things are going well. The past few months have been a true test of organizations’ leadership and how quickly they’ve been able pivot and adapt. To succeed in this next transition, organizations need to invest in their leadership, fill those cracks, and make them stronger than before.

2. Prioritize management and leadership training

Managers need help learning how best to lead through these tough times. At Forescout Technologies, we’re doing this through training: We’re helping managers keep up to date with the technologies rolling out so they’re aware of all the features that can help them and their teams, and we’re also offering training on how to be better managers in this virtual environment. Specifically, we have provided curriculums focused on leading remotely and team meditation.

[Help your team be more intentional about time and energy. Read also: COVID-19 leadership lessons: 5 ways to help your team recharge. ]

3. Prevent against new silos

Before the pandemic, it was easy to swing by a workstation and have a catch-up conversation with a colleague about the status of a project. That’s not possible today. Instead, our organization has adopted 15-minute meetings that act as occasional check-ins to gauge how people are coping and assess the status or roadblocks in projects. Because we’re not all in the same space, we needed to make an effort to still have these important conversations. 

These quick, 15-minute check-ins have become a valuable model. They have brought the leadership team closer and have become more effective against new silos as we navigate remote work.

4. Don't complicate productivity measures

When we first went remote, I was asked this question a lot: How do we measure productivity now that we’re all virtual?

When we first went remote, I was asked this question a lot: How do we measure productivity now that we’re all virtual? My reply to that was always, “How did we measure productivity before?” While we’re working from home now, the metrics we used before shouldn’t change.

For example, I fielded many questions about how to measure our sales team’s productivity, but they’ve been virtual for quite some time — they all work in the field. It makes sense, then, that you use the same measures and platforms as before, but check in with them differently than you have before. 

5. Don't delay in setting policies

We’ve received feedback from our employees that they want a concrete work-from-home policy because they’re happier with the greater flexibility and feel more productive. How best to support this is something all businesses need to consider because it’s important to get it right. This means devising policies for everything from investing in ergonomic workspaces to conducting effective virtual interviews. If this is the way of the future, it’s important to start thinking about this now.

6. Consider employees' well-being

Because employees are every company’s greatest asset, it’s important to take care of them during this time of unrelenting change. We understand that everyone is under a lot of pressure. We’ve invested in a meditation app that’s available to everyone to help them focus on their mental wellness, encourage positivity, and sleep habits, for example. We also encourage people to take time off; it’s easy to forgo vacation time when you are home, but it’s still vitally important to take a break and recharge. 

As organizations consider the next phase of work, it’s important to take time to reflect on the lessons you learned during this first intense period of disruption. These are the policies and considerations we’re making as we plan for the new hybrid work environment. 

[ Are you leading culture change? Get the free eBook, Organize for Innovation, by Jim Whitehurst. ]

Julie is the first chief information officer at Forescout Technologies, the leader in device visibility and control. Prior to Forescout, she was the first chief information officer at FireEye.