CIOs Need To Help Remote Workers Start To Rethink How They Work

Things will never again be the same
Things will never again be the same
Image Credit: Janine

CIOs have to start to deal with the fact that everything has changed. None of us saw the Covid-19 pandemic crisis coming and when it did, it turned everything upside down. All of the changes that had to be implemented were required so that the business could keep operating even when nobody was allowed to come into work. However, now things have started to go back to normal. However, for CIOs things will never “go back to normal”. How are we supposed to deal with this new world?

The Pandemic Changed Everything

CIOs need to understand that remote work is no longer looking like a blip in the lives of millions of people, but rather a long-term realignment of how those workers and their organizations operate. CIOs are going to have to find ways to help people working from home assert more control over how that transformation is reshaping their lives and careers. The appeal of working remotely was evident in a survey that was recently conducted. More than 80% of people who were new to remote work said they now wanted to keep working remotely at least part time in the future. However, only 15% said they would want to do so five days a week. Workers who were already working remotely at least part of the time when Covid hit were even more enthusiastic about working from home: in the survey 65% said they wanted to keep working remotely full time in the future, and almost all of them wanted to continue at least part-time remote work.

CIOs have to realize that the enthusiasm gap between new and experienced remote workers reflects the obstacles that people have to overcome when they first start working from home, especially if their children are home, too. It’s hard for workers to figure out work-life balance when work and life happen in the same place. It’s also hard to stay focused on that client document, that PowerPoint deck or even that expense report when a worker can see their child getting paint all over the coffee table, hear their spouse conducting their own Zoom call, and smell that delicious batch of cookies their teen is baking in the oven. Everyone knows that it’s frustrating to try to brainstorm with colleagues or write a report together when you’re used to working together face-to-face, with the benefit of body language and a giant whiteboard. And it can be time-consuming to manage your own software glitches and video-call hiccups without the on-site help of the IT department.

As the CIO, we are going to have to talk with our people and discover that for all the enthusiasm they may be feeling about the idea of remote work – including benefits like personal flexibility and freedom from the commute – many people are now starting to experience its frictions. What can seem like tolerable problems when you’re home just for a few weeks or a few months ends up turning out to be significant obstacles to productivity and well-being when you’re looking at a long-run restructuring of your working life.

CIOs Wonder: Where Do We Go From Here

The Plexiglas dividers and floor decals that we’ve used to create our modern offices might not be permanent, but the pandemic will bring lasting change to our offices. That’s why it’s crucial for our workers to stop thinking of remote work as a temporary part of working life, or hoping that its challenges will magically be resolved when the pandemic ends. If workers are going to continue to work from home they have to address the frictions that they are encountering. This means not only addressing the obstacles and irritations that stand in the way of their focus and productivity, but also thinking proactively about what they want their new home-based career to look like.

We need to understand that the answer could be different for different workers. If they miss the creative spark that comes from in-person brainstorming, for instance, maybe it’s time for them to experiment with online whiteboards and mind-mapping tools that let them brainstorm with their colleagues in real time over the internet. If it’s hard to concentrate when they know the kitchen is full of dirty dishes, perhaps they need to make it a habit of calling into their first meeting of the day by phone instead of video, and clean the dishes while they listen in. If they find themselves struggling with depression every afternoon, when the isolation of home-based work sets in, maybe they need to try restructuring their workweek around two-part workdays, and spend the middle of each day going for a walk or visiting with a friend.

From the smallest detail to the biggest strategic choices, the path of each of your worker’s new remote career really is in their hands. Because make no mistake, it will be a new career, even if it’s at the same company or working with the same team that they have been part of for years. When they are working from home, just about everything about their job is new again. This moment, after the pandemic, is a good time for every worker to step back and think about what they want their job to be. It can be a job where they’re held back by the frustrations of video calls and the distraction of children underfoot. Or it can be a job where they’re finally designing the environment, habits and routines that will make remote work productive and delightful for the long haul.

What All Of This Means For You

CIOs have yet another responsibility that they need to tend to. The pandemic changed just about everything for just about everyone. All of sudden everyone who worked for us had an opportunity to work from home. Now that the pandemic is receding, we are faced with a new set of challenges. We are discovering that not all of our workers want to return to the office. For those workers who want to continue to be remote, how will how they do work change?

The opportunity to work from home was a new experience for many people before the pandemic forced everyone to do it. Surveys taken after the pandemic reveal that the majority of workers are interested in continuing to work from home at least a few days each week. CIOs have to understand that wanting to work from home and finding ways to achieve a balanced work life balance can be tricky to do. When workers start to work from home, they can quickly start to discover sources of friction that can cause being productive to become harder to do. Workers are going to have to find ways to deal with these frictions. Each friction will have to be dealt with and each worker may choose to do so in a different way. Working from home is truly a new career for each worker who chooses to do so.

CIOs have to come to grips with the fact that the world that they are living in has changed. As more and more of our workers are electing to work from home either some of the time or all of the time, we need to understand that the transition may not go smoothly for all of them. We need to work with the people who work for us and help them to identify the things that may cause friction for them. Together we need to find ways to eliminate this friction. If we can make this happen, then we’ll have more productive workers and we can all get back to work!

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

Question For You: What is the best way for a CIO to find out what is causing friction for their workers?

Click here to get automatic updates when The Accidental Successful CIO Blog is updated.
P.S.: Free subscriptions to The Accidental Successful CIO Newsletter are now available. Learn what you need to know to do the job. Subscribe now: Click Here!

What We’ll Be Talking About Next Time

CIOs have a responsibility to create an IT department that can help the company move forward. We need to be able to attract and retain the best workers who will be able to deal with the technology challenges of the future. As we prepare to onboard the latest crop of graduates, we may pause and wonder what we are getting ourselves into. This batch of hires is socially media savvy like no generation before them. Is this going to help them fit into our IT department or is it going to hinder them?