Prepare for the New Normal Now: 7 Remote Work Management Tips for CIOs

Man working from home with child

Maybe it’s the continual rounds of audits or that they’re constantly asked to show their work. Either way, most IT directors and CIOs are planners and preparers. Our CIO Philip Rogers is no exception and has had to work through a few unusual circumstances during his career (next time you talk to him, ask him about getting a telecommunications engineer into Nepal after a royal decree cut off communications). He believes we’ll emerge from the crisis stronger, but altered. The time to adapt to the “new normal” is now. We asked Philip to share how businesses can prepare for the long-term shift to working from home. He gave us 7 strategic considerations and recommendations to help you manage a remote team.

1. Recognize the Signs of Employee Burnout

I don’t need to tell you your IT team is working long hours, but I can help you determine if your staff is burnt out. Spotting burnout in the office is easy. It’s usually written all over your employee’s face – you read in their eyes, “I’m at the end of my tether and need a break.” In a virtual environment, look for different cues and out-of-character behavior. Burnt out employees won’t be as engaged in problems or situations they eagerly participated in before. They’re more likely to abruptly end phone calls. Ideally, you have a strong relationship with your team, and they’ll tell you well before they actually burn out.  

2. Build Rapport, Digitally

Rapport is necessary for more than spotting burnout. But, how do you build a team when they aren’t sitting together in a breakroom? How do you ensure people know who their coworkers are when they aren’t singing happy birthday over a yellow cake? At Protocol Networks, we’re doing more with audio and video. We’ve set up chatrooms where employees share videos and movies and encourage people to keep talking – like they would on their way into the office or when they visit the breakroom.

Building rapport digitally can look a lot like forming in-person relationships. Ask questions, show genuine interest and listen. We’re all stuck at home, it’s okay to say hi to your coworker’s spouse who is sitting across the table from them during your video call. Ask about the pet you see running around in the background and check in to see how your team is managing to balance home-schooling kids with work.

3. Goofing Off can be Productive

No, you don’t want to let it slide if your technicians spend Wednesday streaming Tiger King, but don’t admonish them for “water cooler” chatter. Realize if people are commenting on a TV show, it isn’t goofing off or avoiding work – that’s them building a relationship.

For IT workers who don’t have a traditional 9–5, build in more leeway. You know your team will respond at 2 a.m. to an issue or take time away from a child’s birthday party to log into the system from their phone and make quick changes. Having a team-building activity in the middle of a Tuesday afternoon is just as important as the happy hours you organized before the crisis started. Like those in-person events, it’ll help build rapport, release stress and prevent burnout.

4. Recognize Priorities Have Shifted

Coronavirus is a shared experience and will fundamentally change society. People will emerge on the other side with a new set of priorities. They’ll want to continue spending more time with families, discover hobbies they want to make into careers or stop settling for a job they don’t love.

Have honest, upfront discussions with employees who are disengaged. Explain you’ve noticed their disinterest and offer to help them get where they want to be. This isn’t a totally selfless act. If you help someone fulfill their dream, they’re more likely to refer people to you. As an IT leader, you need a strong network which you build by helping others. Plus, you never know where your business will be in 5 years. You may end up needing that employee again in a different role as your company evolves.

5. Prepare for More Remote Workers

You know the saying A church isn’t the building; it’s the people? Well, a company isn’t the building, it’s your people – and a lot of them will want to continue working remotely. Offering telework opportunities will go from being a “nice-to-have” benefit to a key criterion of a job posting and a way to attract top talent.

Employers will demand more remote work too – even the ones who previously hated virtual workplaces. After spending months reconnecting with cousins and high school friends over video chat, they’ll know it’s possible to form emotional connections remotely. That experience, paired with seeing how their team can stay productive working from home, will cause them to rethink the money spent renting office space. Virtual workplaces will become a cost-saving measure, and your IT team should have a long-term strategy for supporting and securing a distributed workforce.

6. Create a Sustainable Plan for Returning to the Office

That said, not every industry is suited to a 100% digital environment, and people will trickle back into offices. As they do, your already-overworked IT team will have even more to do. Office workstations may need to be reconfigured and company-issued devices repaired or updated. Your team will need and deserve a break. Figure out now what “returning to the office” looks like from an IT standpoint, who will work on what and when people will be able to take time off.

7. Expect Other Members of Your Leadership Team to Ask: What’s Next?

You knew the importance of business continuity before the pandemic. Other members of your team might have viewed it as a “nice to have.” Now, it’s a necessity and the C-Suite is going to ask you, “What’s next?”

Keep their expectations under control. When I worked for the Royal Bank of Scotland “business continuity” was the watchword. We had plans for tsunamis, coups, international conflict and other large-scale disruptions. But unlike when I had to explain to business leadership how the in-country server racks were destroyed by a piece of field artillery during a minor military uprising in North Africa, we don’t need to plan for the fall of a regime at Protocol Networks. What we do need to know what will happen if our NOC isn’t available. Pinpoint the likely scenarios, outline what you’ll do to keep your business running and communicate the plan with your team.

We Can Help You Design a Comprehensive Plan

At Protocol Networks, we started planning for the pandemic in December and had 100% of our team working remotely a week before the Massachusetts shutdown. We didn’t have a pandemic-specific plan, but our other preparations meant we had plans drawn up that we could quickly and efficiently implement. We can help you evaluate your current business continuity plans and develop new strategies to confront the next crisis. Call us today: 877.676.0146.