3 fading and 3 future IT culture trends

From always-on expectations to human/AI collaboration, here's what in and what's out in IT culture as we move toward the post-pandemic workplace
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If there’s one takeaway IT professionals across all industries can learn from this pandemic, it’s that you need to be adaptable. Systems, processes, technologies, and internal dynamics must pivot as the business landscape reinvents itself and workplace culture trends shift.

With a continuous push toward a WFH model, companies need to rethink how their infrastructure will promote collaboration, flexibility, and automation in a virtual or hybrid workplace.

As a CIO, I know how crucial it is to adopt the right IT culture trends with the staying power to benefit your team long-term versus ones that will become obsolete in this post-COVID ecosystem. Here are some of the fading IT culture trends you’ll want to leave behind, as well as a few emerging, future-minded trends to take along with you.

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Fading: Pressure to be "always-on"

Since the pandemic began, 37 percent of employees now work longer hours, and 40 percent are suffering an increase in burnout, a FlexJobs survey reports. Employees are also three times more likely to have poor mental health outcomes than they were pre-COVID. In large part, this is due to the “always-on” work culture that many companies reinforced in 2020.

Without a physical separation of home and office, it’s hard to unplug from the job, and pressure to check notifications or answer emails can persist well into the night. However, this often causes stress levels to escalate, which means that leaders must ditch the “always-on” expectation and create boundaries, such as no email responses after-hours or on weekends unless you are specifically assigned to be “on-call” – both practices I have strongly encouraged my team to adopt. As remote IT teams increasingly become the norm, work-life balance is vital to sustain productivity and minimize the effects of burnout.

Fading: Synchronous communication

As leaders scrambled to maintain cohesion and connection among their remote teams in 2020, synchronous communication seemed like an obvious solution. This was initially useful for meetings, brainstorming sessions, and team-building activities, but as time went on, issues with synchronous communication also came to the forefront. Because it occurs in real-time, it’s not always practical for remote workers.

Some team members might be in different time zones, which can make it difficult to schedule meetings. Not to mention, synchronous communication can be distracting and exhausting too. Research from the American Psychological Association found that excessive amounts of real-time interaction (especially video) results in cognitive overload. We’re all familiar with the Zoom fatigue phenomenon at the end of 2020, right? While synchronous communication is sometimes unavoidable, in my experience on remote teams, asynchronous communication – which allows for response time delays – promotes more connection.

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Fading: Complicated tech stacks

Whether your IT team is remote, hybrid, or back in the office, all the pivots of 2020 made it clear just how crucial digital transformation is for business. But more than that, it’s important to have the right tech stack – one that’s simple, efficient, and centralized, not scattered or complicated. Adobe Workfront’s State of Work 2021 report indicates that 32 percent of employees have left a job due to inadequate technology that was a barrier to their workflow, and another 49 percent are likely to quit if the tech stack is frustrating or hard to use.

IT leaders must scale down their technology in order to consolidate tools and software programs for maximum efficacy. In this case, less is often more, as employees don’t want to spend a large portion of the workday searching for decentralized information across various platforms. Not only is this a waste of time, but it can result in security breaches too. When team members access numerous applications from remote or hybrid locations, this puts sensitive data at risk. When it comes to technology, think streamlined over complicated.

Future-minded: Cloud-based workspaces

While we’re on the subject of a centralized tech stack, let’s talk about the newer trend that has made an imprint on IT culture: the cloud-based workspace. Part of a tech solution called Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS), this digital hub is hosted in the cloud but accessible wherever there’s an internet connection. A cloud-based workspace also eliminates the need for complex hardware or equipment since workers can access it from a wireless device. Just this past year, our organization completed moving all of our applications to the cloud and we have seen some terrific improvements!

The interface’s dashboard stores your files, messages, tasks, calendar items, and other content in one secure, customizable nerve center that all team members can easily use. Due to its convenience and efficiency for optimizing workflow, IaaS will likely become an integral application for IT teams well beyond 2021. In fact, most major software providers now offer cloud-based workspaces and IaaS services as part of their tool suites.

Future-minded: Legitimate DEI initiatives

Global outcries for social justice in 2020 exposed racial and gender inequities at all levels of business operation, and the IT sector was no different. This lack of diversity and inclusion remains a problem in 2021, as a recent Business of Tech survey across 300 companies found that less than two percent of current IT leaders are African-American, and less than 20 percent are women. Those leadership disparities can have a trickle-down effect. According to mthree's 2021 Diversity in Tech Report, 68 percent of 18-28 year olds have felt uncomfortable on a job because of their gender, ethnicity, socioeconomic background, or neurodevelopmental condition.

In order to both attract and retain talent, DEI from the top down is non-negotiable.

It’s past time for employers to do more than talk about diversity and inclusion – they need to prioritize real DEI (diversity, equity, and inclusion) initiatives that center marginalized workers and help build a culture where each team member receives equitable compensation, treatment, and opportunities. Employees know the difference between a virtue signal (verbal inclusion without tangible action) and authentic progress toward a more inclusive workplace. In order to both attract and retain talent, DEI from the top down is non-negotiable.

Future-minded: Human and AI collaboration

Artificial intelligence and machine learning are not unfamiliar concepts, but this year marks a new trend in the human-AI collaboration known as augmented intelligence.

[ Check out our primer on 10 key artificial intelligence terms for IT and business leaders: Cheat sheet: AI glossary. ]

This approach combines the fast, accurate, and rational processes of an AI machine with the intuitive, emotional, and culturally sensitive traits of a human employee.

Many workers once feared that AI innovations might push them out of their current roles, but this collaboration will fuse together the abilities of smart machinery and human brainpower to maximize information processing, decision making, and overall productivity.

This means future IT teams will more than likely be comprised of both human and non-human colleagues who work in tandem to deliver an accurate, high-quality performance.

[ Get exercises and approaches that make disparate teams stronger. Read the digital transformation ebook: Transformation Takes Practice. ]

Jeff Fields has served as the Chief Information Officer for SERVPRO since 2012. In 2019, he was appointed Vice President.