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How technology has changed how we work

The advent of lockdown was the catalyst for significant changes to how technology teams were perceived - the response of the IT team played a critical part in helping employees work from home, getting them into a new environment, keeping them connected securely and working in a productive way.

The circumstances helped businesses to learn a lot about their teams. Many IT teams became more visible across the organisation and IT leaders demonstrated innovation and shown personal resilience and adaptability when the call was made.

Nigel Wright Recruitment has managed and chaired an IT Director Forum for the last 16 years and the members meet regularly to discuss current topics and share best practice. As the forum members come from a diverse industry background, delegates are provided with opportunities to broaden their experience and knowledge. As lockdown became more entrenched, Nigel Wright’s IT Director Forum helped play a supporting role in helping IT leaders exchange knowledge and accelerate the ways they supported their organisations through the pandemic.

Initial responses to lockdown

Our first lockdown meeting in April hosted a roundtable discussion for members to discuss how they were managing in supporting their respective businesses. Unsurprisingly, no one had prepared to send their whole workforce home and our initial conversation prompted a piece of research led and published by Savvas Papagiannidis, David Goldman Professor of Innovation and Enterprise at Newcastle University Business School. Savvas worked with some of our forum members and looked at three time periods – before COVID lockdown, response to the decision and then into areas to be considered in the future.

A pertinent quote cited from R. M Davis in the International Journal of Information Management, (Davison, 2020) and added by Savvas sums up the approach: “While disruptions are undoubtedly inconvenient, not to mention potentially life-threatening, they do offer us an opportunity for transformative change.” You can access a link to the paper by Savvas here.

Cyber criminals respond

By May we saw naturalisation of the new working model. Initial firefighting changed to time to look at security and business resilience. As people adapted to remote working, new attack surfaces evolved from criminal elements across the world. Our forum facilitated a discussion by Asam Malik and his team from Mazars. The global opportunity for cyber criminals was presented to members. Threat actors capitalising on the publics fear, seemingly genuine emails linking to ransomware websites that were very convincing until clicked upon. 

Security advice and focus is centred around:

  • Phishing – educating staff in regard to the new threats
  • Awareness – keeping staff up to date with regular communication on threats
  • Testing – conducting vulnerability scanning on critical systems
  • Passwords – ensuring these are changed and are sufficiently secure
  • Device security – advising on sufficient separation between personal and work data on digital devices and ensuring the latest software updates are installed
  • Email security – ensuring email scanning tools and gateways are up to date.

Readiness for remote business continuity

There are 3 key areas that needed addressing to ensure an organisation is ready for increased remote working:

  • Capacity: is the tech fit for purpose and are there enough licences?
  • Time to scale: plan capacity needs internally or with third party suppliers and remember capacity is people and not just the tech.
  • Your tech resilience: test any single points of failure and closely review plans for disaster recovery and business continuity.

Once immediate solutions for continuity have been implemented, future considerations that present themselves may include:

1. Future business / economic uncertainty:

  • Will the business and/or digital strategy change?
  • Will the accommodation strategy change?
  • Will this change the IT strategy?
  • Will this change the IT operating model?
  • Will investment in IT increase or decrease?

2. Other considerations:

  • Where does IT focus its efforts and resource?
  • What is your organisation’s cultural attitude towards IT?
  • Are IT teams working remotely effectively? Are they coping personally?
  • Did IT third party providers give you the support you needed and how are those relationships?

By mid-June, as the global situation continued to change, the IT Director Forum enabled directors to revisit how they were personally handling the crisis and how they could help their teams.  Then in July, we hosted a session with Claire Walton, Executive Business Coach and a long-term partner with Nigel Wright, to gain some fascinating insights into human behaviour.  Claire facilitated our discussion on leading teams through uncertain times and constant change.

In our leadership group:

  • 59% were missing the lack of spontaneous interaction to spark ideas and support
  • 53% missed being in the office for the social aspect
  • 47% were struggling to switch off

However, although 53% were in high performance/high challenge mode, 47% were feeling fatigued by the challenges that needed to be faced.

Approaches that were working well included:

  • Communication and regular meetings
  • Knowing your team – understanding their personal situation and challenges
  • Utilising work sharing platforms – start from a position of trust and use SMART objectives
  • Keeping momentum – Hire, onboard and integrate staff and keep moving forwards
  • Insisting that your people take breaks – check in on their wellbeing

At the end of July, we discussed an interesting report that has been undertaken by Pete Watson and his team at Atlas Cloud.  They had surveyed almost 3,000 companies as lockdown happened and then revisited the companies at the end of June to explore how hybrid working was working.  Our forum members had the opportunity to discuss the results prior to the launch of the Report.

Key findings demonstrated that remote working was becoming a ‘must have’ for any business:

  • 87% of UK office workers stated their desire to be able to work from home at least some of the time.

However, the office is not dead yet:

  • Only 26% of UK office workers said they wanted to work from home on a full-time basis
  • Nearly 70% of UK office workers stated their desire to be able to work both from home and the office

But will employees get what they want?

  • Only 23% of UK office workers say their employer has confirmed they’ll be able to work in their preferred manner moving forwards.

You can download a full copy of the survey here.

As this year evolves, the level of uncertainly is still prevalent in most of our clients’ organisations. However, it is inevitable that our technology leaders will continue to be challenged to support their organisations handle whatever digital, online, ecommerce, communication or connectivity hurdles they encounter into 2021 and beyond.

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