CIOs Have To Understand The Hidden Costs Of Remote Work

Remote work can change how workers view their work
Remote work can change how workers view their work
Image Credit: michael and anna

Back when the pandemic was a big deal, CIOs had to scramble to make it so that everyone at the company could work remotely. Now that this problem has been solved, there are still a lot of workers who continue to work remotely using the tools that we have provided them with. This can be a boon for these workers who don’t want to make the trek into the office. However, as CIOs we need to understand that remote work has both benefits and costs. Do you fully understand what the cost of working remotely is?

The Challenge Of Remote Work

Let’s face it, the pandemic changed a lot of things for a lot of people. Researchers have been studying how CIOs and staff interacted virtually at a Fortune 500 company. The researchers focused on nearly 1,200 staff members and interviewed 64 CIOs. Their research, conducted both before and during the pandemic, found that CIOs tend to see technologies such as Zoom and Slack as just a means for working together, when in fact these “tools” change the relationship between all of the parties using them.

What CIOs need to understand is how do remote-work platforms like Zoom change the nature of work relationships. It turns out that these technologies allow colleagues to see each other even if they are miles away. However, do they really give us the opportunity of “seeing” each other? Or rather do they offer us an illusion? The results of the study that was done reveals that it is more of the latter. Work relationships that are built solely on the intermediation of some video communication platform begin with what’s called a “ritual sniffing”. This is where people cautiously check one another out and try to put their best foot forward. It has been shown that sometimes, unfortunately, such relationships don’t get any deeper over time. The relationship that has been created becomes inauthentic and doesn’t augur well for a great organizational culture. CIOs must be aware of this. The lesson that we need to learn is that entirely remote work is rarely the best option for all parties.

The good news about the remote working technology that is now in play is that it has helped many workers continue working during the pandemic. However, the research uncovered potential downsides. It turns out that virtual, tech-mediated collaboration provides many benefits to employees and CIOs, but it comes with four big risks: isolation, exclusion, surveillance and self-censorship. CIOs can find themselves becoming isolated. CIOs have suddenly realized that they have become distant from those they are supposed to be leading. They have become isolated from their teams simply because they begin to use these collaborative technologies as a mere transmission device for conveying messages. This is called a case of tele-leadership, almost like a military leader transmitting directives to soldiers in the field. CIOs have to be careful that we don’t allow technology to become the only means by which we sustain work relationships or close relational gaps.

Solving The Remote Work Problem

So all of this brings up the good question: what can CIOs do to overcome these shortcomings. We need to understand that remote work has its advantages, and we have to appreciate that. What CIOs must seek to overcome is the psychological and managerial distance it can generate. We humans are social beings, and we will always flourish best at work if we can inhabit our shared humanity there. Understand that we are the best form of ourselves in communityship, and this is exactly what we must encourage in our work relationships.

One of the things that CIOs want to get good at doing is nurturing a sense of community. In order to do this, CIOs have to take deliberate actions to encourage voice in the organization. One way to go about doing this is to seek out employees for one-on-one conversations. CIOs should go out of their way to arrange meetups, online or in person, for casual conversation about work and nonwork issues. Even more broadly speaking, the most important thing across the board with remote work is to find ways of fostering a sense of social connection. It can be something as simple as weekly lunches, in person or remotely, that can bring CIOs and staff closer. You can also provide training to address any knowledge gaps that might cause a sense of exclusion, and also tell reticent employees that you need their input during specific collaborative virtual meetings.

CIOs have to realize that we have to find ways to sustain and extend our culture when our workers are scattered and some hires have never been present in the office. Organization culture isn’t something we are able to build and then let be; it needs to be sustained through our practices. If those practices are left behind, then the culture will disintegrate – especially if the organization comes to seem boundaryless to its workers. It’s not possible to say we have a culture already there, and therefore now let’s go out and work remotely. We have to nurture it and pass it along in person.

What All Of This Means For You

Remote work has always been a part of the IT culture. However, with the arrival of the pandemic all of sudden everyone was working remotely. Things have changed and now people are back in the office, but there are still a lot of people who are working remotely. CIOs who have remote staff need to understand that working remotely can take a toll on workers. We need to understand what the impact of working remotely can be.

One of the big problems with remote work has to do with the tools that we use to do it. CIOs view those tools as simply being tools. However, the workers that use them understand that the tools go a long way in defining the relationships that we have with the people that we are communicating with. Both workers and CIOs can find themselves starting to become isolated as they work remotely. CIOs have to take steps to deal with the problems of remote work. We have to understand that people are community creatures. We have to create opportunities for remote workers to interact with us and others. We have to constantly be working to develop and build our organization’s culture.

Remote work has been a critical part of how work got done during the pandemic. Now that the world has changed and remote work is now more of a part of the way that work gets done, we need to understand what the impact of this new way of working will be on our staff. CIOs have to be sensitive to the impact of remote work on workers and we have to make a special effort to reach out and make sure that our remote staff feels included in our day-to-day activities. If we can get good at doing this, then remote work might not feel so remote.

– Dr. Jim Anderson Blue Elephant Consulting –
Your Source For Real World IT Department Leadership Skills™

Question For You: How much time each day do you think a CIO should spend on trying to include remote workers?

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What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

I suspect that one thing that a CIO does not spend a great deal of time thinking about is completely restructuring the IT department. However, perhaps we should. Let’s face it, the way that your IT department was set up was established years ago. You know, back when computers were a precious commodity and there needed to be a special department dedicated to acquiring, installing, and maintaining them. Now that computers have spread throughout the company, perhaps a new approach to IT is called for.