CIO Leadership and COVID-19: Supporting a Suddenly Remote Workforce

The CIO plays a pivotal role in an organization’s ability to respond, recover, and return to growth following this global crisis. Read the first in our three-part series on technology leadership through and beyond the COVID-19 pandemic.

The operating climate for businesses is complex and moving more quickly than ever before. Companies are reimagining all aspects of their operations to drive efficiency and revenue while seeking organizational agility. Natural disasters and global crises like COVID-19 increase this challenge exponentially. While every functional leader must think differently in this global crisis, massive changes face the CIO. CIOs are increasingly positioned in a leadership role to help their peers understand how they can effectively use technology to respond, recover, and return to growth. 

Why is the CIO so pivotal in a response situation? As the organization's IT leader, the CIO, and their IT teams, are at the center of crisis response in a digitally enabled world—and their most critical priority should be business continuity in the face of unprecedented change.This post is the first in a three-part series exploring business continuity through three different lenses: employees, critical business processes, and data assets. Today we’re focusing on employees.

The top priority for CIOs in a crisis is to address the large and sudden spike in demand for remote working capacity caused by the closure of offices and other facilities, while maintaining worker morale and productivity and managing operating costs. And, adds Workday CIO Sheri Rhodes, “Each employee’s situation working remotely is unique, and while standards are important, it’s also important to meet the workmate where they are. This could be as simple as recommending noise-cancelling headsets so they can work in peace in what might be a noisier environment than they’re used to.” 

There are multiple IT processes and technology capabilities critical to flexibly scale and handle unplanned workloads. Below are three best practices for supporting business continuity for employees. 

Support the IT Workforce

Ensure that IT workers have the ability to flexibly and effectively work from home, with the tools and support to manage an increase in IT workload from a newly remote workforce and customer base. And, encourage the whole of the workforce to remember this: IT workers are people, with their own families and other responsibilities outside of work.

Implement flexible working hours, and identify capable backups for the continuity of critical roles. Are call center staff supported with capabilities such as digital collaboration systems like Slack to workers at home? Ensure anytime feedback systems are in place to keep morale up among IT employees facing increased call loads and new challenges from remote work.

For IT and other workers, on-demand video learning is a powerful way to guide workers to set up and best use remote worker technology. For newer IT staff supporting remote workers, or to help prepare them for increased workloads, it’s worth investing the time in role-playing activities to ensure they can handle new IT support calls. Testing is also critical to ensure that remote IT and other organizational staff have the proper tools, and that those tools are updated and secure. Also of vital importance is collaboration software to ensure virtual meetings at scale through applications such as Microsoft Teams and Zoom.

We’re encouraging Workday customers who need to quickly realign their workforce to use our flexible frameworks, such as Workday Org Studio, which can help model different organizational structures that might be needed to support a surge in demand in a part of the business. This is one of many Workday tools that can assist with rapid response, which some of our executives recently discussed in a webinar.

Build for Hyper-elasticity

With the shift to remote working, CIOs need to focus on “right scaling” infrastructure capacity for VPNs and increased network bandwidth. Funding for transformational projects may need to shift, temporarily, to support the scale up of infrastructure for remote work. 

Most people reading this blog post have probably already realized that the remote worker scale-up can't happen overnight. Obstacles likely include VPN capacity, VoIP capacity and remote number extension, and implementing stricter security measures such as multi-factor authentication (which we’ve been strongly recommending for a while). And, although many companies have been shifting their businesses to the cloud at an incredible rate, some are learning the hard way that for cloud-based applications, the key is elasticity. Not having the ability to spin up additional capacity in real time to meet unforeseen spikes in demand is a nightmare made real.

For most corporations, 70% of the bandwidth requirement is outbound. But with the rush to remote work flipping that model, CIOs must assess whether they have the network capacity to handle increased inbound traffic.

“Hyper-elasticity preparedness and planning pays off big,” notes Rhodes. “We run a largely SaaS IT ecosystem, so we make sure the basics around system redundancy and support are integral to the solutions” 

For overall network bandwidth, CIOs must ensure they have enough bandwidth to handle the external traffic. For most corporations, 70% of the bandwidth requirement is outbound. But with the rush to remote work flipping that model, CIOs must assess whether they have the network capacity to handle increased inbound traffic.

And all this bandwidth is to make sure that employees can access any business tool they require to do their job at home, and conduct meetings without worrying about lag or technical glitches—on both computer and mobile phone, especially if remote workers are away from their home office to care for others in the family or support crisis response.

Communication, Not Technology, Is King

Ensure IT and the company have the digital solutions to effectively and empathetically communicate clearly and frequently, but remember that too much technology can make people feel even more isolated and alone. Use a variety of methods—chat, video, or even an old-fashioned phone call, so that you are not bombarding people (who likely already feel bombarded) with email. Most of all, make sure that communication with IT colleagues, employees, and customers is frequent and empathetic, using channels that are engaging and human. 

And remember, sometimes less is more. “Simplicity and clarity of communications is important, especially to improve the success of adoption of new features or protocols that become time sensitive,” says Rhodes.

Some of our teams have found success with informal weekly video coffee chats to help people feel connected. To support employees more quickly and naturally here at Workday (where there’s currently no in-person IT help center, as the whole company is working from home) we launched an “Ask IT” channel on Slack to try to get problems resolved as quickly as possible, while also allowing others to see, in real time, the fixes to common problems. 

We’ve also been encouraging our customers to take advantage of the Workday People Experience, which inherently supports multi-channel communication, natural workspace integration, chat, and mobile interaction.

Final Words

We know these are difficult times and we are all doing our best while striving to do even better. To see other articles from Workday about navigating the challenges of COVID-19, visit our resources page.

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