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How IT Teams Can Help to Avoid a Second Wave of Business Disruption

By Tim Flower, Global Director of Business Transformation at Nexthink

As businesses explore how, when or if to bring employees back into the workplace, it's never been more critical for leadership to factor in technology access, performance and employee sentiment in their crisis planning. Looking at different models for return to work, some companies are basing their planning on how employees feel relative to health risks of themselves or their family. Others on an employee's ability to return based on the status of childcare, school, and other social implications. And, some are based on the need for a ratio or rotation of staff across work shifts, responsibilities, and other coverage requirements. A recent Gartner survey revealed that only 8 percent of CFOs have factored in a potential second wave of disruption as businesses look to transition back to a version of "normalcy." There still exists a risk of further pandemic-caused disruption to business continuity and employee productivity, in addition to the potential disruption organizations may face if a hybrid workforce of some in-office employees and some work from home (WFH) employees don't have a consistent and stable employee experience. Leadership must take into account multiple elements and make decisions backed by both internal and external data.

Communication is key

With such uncertainty about how to continue operations, leaders are leaning on external resources from the Centers for Disease Control and their local government, but what they may not realize is that critical data to inform decision making should also come from their own employees. How do you take the pulse of a large workforce, while implementing a scheduled and group approach to return?

  • Poll staff to determine who can return based on how they feel and what their ability to return is
  • Schedule and communicate to staff on when and where they are needed in the office
  • Confirm that the schedule is workable at an individual level
  • Report to the business units on employee responses and planned coverage across departments
  • Validate that as the plan is implemented, the return rotation is being implemented as planned - re-poll and address any new concerns from staff over time
  • Keep a pulse of staff who have both returned to the office full time, are rotating shifts, or are still at home - situations will change
  • Contingency plan to pull back re-entering workforces, if waves increase in your geographic location

It is important that communication and planning are done transparently, so that employees understand the process used relative to decisions being made.

These may all sound like "HR issues", but I have written in the past about how IT and HR need to partner in certain circumstances, and this is one of them. In fact, the real time and efficient collaboration between IT, HR, business leaders, and individual workers has never been more important.

Measure technology impact on employees

Even before the pandemic, employees were losing an average of 28 minutes every time they had an IT-related problem. This number has most likely increased as many employees moved to remote work. Increased downtime may lead to less productivity, which often has a major effect on employee well-being and engagement. And "downtime" may not be an IT issue at all, as many are also dealing with childcare and other responsibilities at home while also trying to work. Internal data provided from IT departments will allow leadership to gather a holistic view of any potential issues to take into account. For example, issues with video conferencing apps were cited in a recent survey as a challenge for 35 percent of employees during the COVID-19 pandemic and shift to remote work.

As leaders explore bringing some employees back to the workplace or keeping them all remote, they should consult their IT teams for their insights into which employees or key functions may be struggling with remote work setups, such as weak WIFI, insufficient hardware, and collaboration problems.  Without the full picture, IT departments are unable to gather the full scope of the digital employee experience issues that exist. The same survey shows that support tickets increased to 43 percent and visibility decreased to only 30 percent during the first shift to remote work at the beginning of the crisis.

Businesses need to lean on IT teams to support phasing employees back into the workplace. To do so, while ensuring a consistent and productive experience for in-office and remote employees simultaneously, IT departments need to:

  • Define the key metrics to measure and see trends - for example, CPU and memory won't be as important, but network response times, reboots, app crashes and hangs, and slow logon will be
  • Set appropriate thresholds to the data to account for different scenarios - work from home will likely have different characteristics than in-office, and both may be acceptable
  • Give employees a formal communication channel to identify productivity issues and use those reports as a way to find out if others have the same issue
  • Communicate to different groups specific to their plan and solicit information in their context, i.e. don't ask those that are working from home how their return to the office is going

By focusing on digital employee experience data, IT teams can monitor the impact of technology on employees working remotely. Ultimately, this will not only help improve digital employee experience but also inform businesses how to approach the return to the workplace and mitigate against setbacks of a potential second-wave of disruption.

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About the Author

Tim Flower 

Tim Flower is Nexthink's Global Director of Business Transformation, responsible for helping businesses large and small around the world understand the power of information when viewed through the lens of the end-user. He is an enterprise IT leader with more than 30 years of large enterprise experience and joined Nexthink after 20 years of desktop engineering leadership at The Hartford, where he was accountable for strategy and direction.

Published Thursday, October 29, 2020 7:21 AM by David Marshall
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