From control to empowerment: a new mindset for remote workJun 30, 2020
After transitioning quickly to remote work, many organizations have stabilized and are now looking ahead. What decisions do they need to make? How can they correct prior, hasty decisions or capture emerging opportunities? And more importantly, how will those decisions be made? Dynamic times require dynamic IT. Cesar Gonzalez, virtual workplace expert at TELUS, shares his perspectives on the mindset required for dynamic IT and why it starts with reimagined relationships with the business, employees and providers.
Q: What is the state of IT in organizations four months into this new Covid reality?
CG: Now that we’re past the urgent survival stage, IT is asking, “what’s next?” What decisions need to be made to support how the business is currently operating and where it is headed? In the reactive phase, short-term thinking guided decisions – how can IT support the business to the best of its ability? However, not all of those short-term decisions considered the long-term implications. There are so many examples. Purchasing laptops for virtual employees without thinking about security, long-term support or licensing. Extending bandwidth without understanding real usage. Enabling remote employees to access applications without the right controls.
Q: What has IT learned from how decisions were made in the survival stage?
CG: During the survival stage, there was a demonstrated shift in ownership over decisions. The business took over and made critical decisions about tools and capabilities, sometimes without consulting IT. We saw example after example of the business adopting consumer-grade IT including connectivity, VoIP, video, and collaboration applications. Unfortunately, those types of decisions are fraught with risks and implications.
One of our insurance company clients is now dealing with new issues in its information privacy management. When everyone was working at head office, IT had tight security and privacy controls, especially when it came to tools and capabilities for employees. But when everyone was sent home, the business adopted a contact centre tool for agents, which wasn’t approved by IT. So IT had to figure out how to mitigate and manage that risk.
Another client had an IT-approved video conferencing solution (for boardrooms), which integrated with a web conferencing application (for remote users). Unfortunately, many users didn’t have access to the application so they decided independently to use Zoom. This shadow IT decision increased risk and complexity but also decreased the company’s ability to scale the solution across the business. With a lack of cohesion and integration, it was also hard for IT to deliver an end-to-end experience.
Q: What recommendations do you have for IT right now?
CG: It depends on the organization, but now is a time for reflection, correction and optimization. The traditional expectation is that IT takes control and minimizes risk. But that’s not necessarily the case in this environment. IT has to really enable the business in this dynamic environment by focusing on rich, elegant employee and customer experiences. I know that’s a message we’ve historically heard a lot. But it has very different weight now. IT has to change its fundamental mindset, from control and protection to empowerment. And this isn’t just a cultural priority anymore. It’s a matter of survival. It’s fair to say that most businesses will be operating in unknown territory for the foreseeable future. The business needs to have maximum flexibility to pivot quickly based on what happens, which is completely unknown. So IT has to step into its own discomfort zone and figure out new ways to allow the business to be dynamic while still managing risk.
Q: How can IT reorient itself to that new mindset?
CG: It comes down to how IT manages three core relationships – with the business, with employees and with providers.
Q: What needs to change in IT’s relationship with the business?
CG: Every industry is pivoting. Many businesses are in a position now where they can optimize what they’ve implemented and survey the market for new opportunities. IT needs to have a clear understanding of what it can do to enable opportunities so it can influence business decisions effectively. For example, many companies are relying on social media campaigns to promote their new services or offerings. The contact centre is a key engagement point within that strategy. And IT can play a significant role in enabling contact centre agents to provide a cohesive experience.
We have clients in retail, wholesale and professional services that were in the process of transforming their contact experience to include more virtual, digital interactions (website product reviews, online virtual chat with experts, 1:1 video consultation calls). But when the lockdown happened, many had to shut down their contact centres because agents didn’t have the capability to work remotely, and those planned digital experiences were not delivered as quickly as required. With a more productive relationship between the business and IT, IT can deliver on those in-demand capabilities and experiences more effectively and with the urgency required.
We also have one client in the health care space that is changing its model completely to accommodate social distancing and protect its vulnerable demographic. So IT has become vital for the innovation that will allow this company to survive and reinvent its offerings.
Q: And what about employees?
CG: IT is used to connecting buildings and offices. But now IT needs to understand what people need to do their jobs and the experiences they want to have. How do they interact with peers and customers? How can they share information in a secure way? What applications do they need when working virtually? If they do need to be on site, what do they need to stay safe and healthy?
Giving employees the right tools to work virtually or remotely is obviously important for this new mindset. It is vital to consider how these tools can increase employee efficiency, as well as work-life balance, empowerment and engagement. At TELUS, employee engagement has increased to 85%, thanks in large part to our flexible work environment. IT worked with the business and employee groups to ensure that work processes and technologies aligned to the needs across the employee lifecycle including hiring, training, coaching and engaging.
IT is also fundamental to helping employees adjust to new corporate and safety procedures. One of our clients is a large media placement company that has to change the way workers access media from the warehouse and deliver media to locations. The company is considering process changes including self-serve entry to the warehouse, scheduling for social distancing and enabling communication back the business. Each of the new business needs and process changes has a complementary IT requirement.
Q: You also mentioned providers. What is changing in that relationship?
CG: Typically, IT engages providers for a product or service. But at this pace of business, partners can be a helpful and positive force in helping IT to drive change. Providers have perspective. By this point, they’ve worked with a lot of companies, across a lot of industries that are trying to adapt to this ongoing uncertainty. They have a lot of insight about balanced decision making, which adds infinite value beyond product selection. Right now, it’s critical to leverage knowledge and capability that exists in the market, rather than trying to build. It is no longer about technology. The focus is on using technology to solve a problem in a way that makes business sense. We recently had a CEO in health care come to us. She knows she needs to pivot and recognizes the potential for opportunity. She wanted to engage in discussion and idea sharing to figure out how to best use technology as an enabler of all of this new opportunity.
Q: What does successful IT look like as we proceed in this dynamic climate?
CG: Competitive advantage has new meaning and urgency because it’s about both survival and opportunity. With every market or business change, there are new needs and problems to be solved. How can the business act quickly? IT must be considered vital at the idea and planning stages, not just for execution. And in turn, IT has to engage with its providers as partners to help navigate this new territory. With a reimagining of the relationships between IT and the business and IT and its providers, the business can rightfully lead, and technology capability will follow.
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