The COVID-19 outbreak was declared a global pandemic on March 11, 2020, and shortly after, IT leaders began to make adjustments that would reduce the impact on their businesses, putting together teams to work remotely.
Infrastructure capacity was increased, employees were equipped with devices to use at home, and more applications were migrated to the cloud. The majority of Chief Information Officers permanently implemented new technologies and strategies during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Beyond the implementation of new technologies, IT leaders had to find ways to build a talented and reliable work-at-home IT workforce. Like most industries, the COVID-19 pandemic took the IT industry by surprise. Adjustments had to be made quickly. We wanted to discover how IT leaders had to reinvent IT by establishing a new and improved IT workforce.
What lessons did IT leaders learn during COVID when managing an at-home workforce for the first time?
Remote work has been labeled as ”the future” for quite some time, but the COVID-19 pandemic has turned remote work into the ”new normal”. The specific needs of each individual and the need for a secure at-home workforce are only a couple of lessons that IT leaders have learned during the COVID-19 pandemic.
‘here was a large gap between the lifestyle that was offered to staff at work which could be addressed with technology. There was no longer the ability to walk over to someone to have a quick conversation, or interact on a social level. Need for better tools to help staff maintain adequate performance was need across the entire organization. And after those tools were implemented, staff needed to be trained and feel comfortable adjusting to the new normal.-Carl Fransen, Founder, and CEO of CTECH Consulting Group
Working from home can be challenging as an IT Leader. You don’t get the same visibility into your team as you use to. Making sure people are on track and accountable has become more challenging. — Scott Gallupe, 403 Tech
Setup a WFH agreement from the start. Set clear parameters and sign off by both parties. Ensure their home technology can support the remote requirement. — Ian Brady, Steadfast Solutions
The biggest lesson (and biggest mistake) was in assuming that a worker who is a star at the office will be a star working from home. It took us about 2 months to realize that some of our technicians who could work independently and take initiative at the office could not translate those skills to the home where a new host of distractions were present. These same “rock stars” at the office ended up needing in-person structure from management and co-workers. When left alone, these same employees became less productive and some lost interest in the job. — Matt Bullock, Accelera IT Solutions
One of the most important lessons learned was that the workforce CAN work from home, even when they did not think it was possible. Managing the workforce at home does change, but with clear and concise instructions and deadlines, deliverables can be achieved. — Ilan Sredni, Palindrome Consulting
We learned that even with the proper cloud technologies in place to allow employees to work from anywhere, that didn’t mean that employees would have good internet connections or BYOD devices that would allow for them to work reliably outside the office. It is very important to maintain similar equipment standards inside and outside the office in order for employees to maintain productivity. — Joe Cannata Techsperts, LLC
COVID challenged the notion that employees have to be in the office to be productive. IT leaders quickly learned that they could continue to keep their businesses running with a reliable at-home workforce with the proper staff and policies in place. – Kenny Riley, Velocity IT
One of the key lessons is that it is possible to have a work-at-home workforce but with the right tools and technology enablement. — Ashu Singhal, Orion Network Solutions
How can these lessons be applied to a permanent at-home IT workforce?
Knowledge without application is when you are able to obtain information, but it is sitting there idly waiting to be applied. Learning without application is useless. While IT leaders have learned important lessons from the COVID-19 pandemic when managing a remote workforce, it is what they did what those lessons that made the difference. How did these IT leaders apply the lessons they learned to a permanent at-home IT workforce?
There is a vast toolset that can be applied to various issues staff experience from working at home. To successfully apply these, it is important to address the business issue first. What exactly are they having problems with? Is it a lack of being able to collaborate with other staff, is there a risk of corporate intellectual property falling into the wrong hands, or they are having problems finding the right documents? All of these problems can be address with a specific IT toolset. — Carl Fransen
Setting up weekly meetings to make sure all team members are on track and know what their responsibilities are for the week. — Scott Gallupe
A permanent IT workforce solution must include in-office time. There is natural absorption of information through human interaction. Social bonding. – Ian Brady
We had to create a separate “remote” culture for our company to more actively engage remote workers. We stopped communicating, for the most part, via online chat and phone calls and required our office staff to communicate with remote staff by video call, even if the call was only 1 minute. This greatly improved the remote culture. — Matt Bullock
Employers should control both the hardware and software used to access network resources outside the office to ensure proper reliability and productivity standard. This means ensuring employee devices meet the minimum security, hardware, and internet bandwidth requirements that will allow them to work from home reliably. — Joe Cannata
Which IT tasks are most suitable for at-home teams?
The most suitable IT task is the ability to provide adequate support on whatever device they are using. This can be a combination of remote access tools, or management and monitoring software. Having staff work on home devices or corporate laptops increases the complexity of the environment resulting in more support calls and issues. — Carl Fransen
Help desk, ticketing, Project management — Scott Gallupe
Support desk level 2 and 3; Back-office functions (maintenance, identity, and access management). — Ian Brady
Our most successful remote workers were our level 2 and level 3 staff who were more project-based, versus answering calls and taking support tickets all day. We could create more realistic Key Performance Indicators around a project, more so than around how many calls or tickets did a level 1 technician take during the day, which varies quite a bit from day to day.- Matt Bullock
Help Desk tasks are very easily accomplished in a work from anywhere environment. Hardware troubleshooting becomes a bit more complicated. — Joe Cannata
The bread and butter of IT is end-user support, and working from home allowed IT teams to continue to respond to technical support requests from end-users over the telephone and with remote support tools without sacrificing their level of productivity. Despite not having a physical presence in the office, remote IT teams could still effectively collaborate with email and audio & video conferencing solutions.— Kenny Riley
What attributes should an IT leader look for in an at-home IT worker?
Most IT staff come suited to work from home as the majority of technical personnel are comfortable working independently, in front of a desktop, taking care of systems. The majority of support calls they take can be worked on remotely and any server administration is inherently done from a desktop. — Carl Fransen
A person that is highly punctual and has good communication skills. As a lot of teams have moved to a work-from-home style of working, making sure that all team members can still properly communicate is very important. —Scott Gallupe
Self-motivated. Proven track record. Needs to have KPI behind it. — Ian Brady
We found the most success with employees who had previous project management experience and also those who had been in the military, where structure is a part of life. We also found success with employees who liked to over-communicate as they were the ones to start up a video call and create various forms of competition with in-office staff to keep the social culture alive.– Matt Bullock
In a work-from-home environment, it is important for employees to show they are readily available during working hours as well as dependable and reliable. A good remote worker will seem just as available and present as someone who is physically in the office. —Joe Cannata
When looking for an at-home IT worker, two of the most significant traits that a person needs to possess are being able to work independently and be a self-starter. — Kenny RIley
What type of individual usually isn’t suitable for at-home IT work?
Anyone who requires physical social interaction to either do their job or needs supervision to ensure they are doing their job. — Carl Fransen, CTECH Consulting Group
Someone that requires a little more hand-holding; a newly hired staff member that may require shadowing. —Scott Gallupe, 403Tech
Graduates, juniors. They need human interaction and absorption. Managers need to be made aware that for the team to work, they need to ensure junior staff develops to take on an increased workload. – Ian Brady, Steadfast Solutions
I hate to say it, but the younger the employee, the less likely they will work well in an unstructured environment. They are often distracted by their cell phone and social media. We have had success with younger employees working from home, but only after working in the office for a while to understand the company culture and expectations. — Matt Bullock, Accelera IT Solutions
One type of worker that could not work from home is one that requires a lot of attention and training. We noticed that training through video conferencing was just not as effective as onsite training. — Ilan Sredni, Palindrome Consulting
In order to succeed in a work from home environment, the individual needs to be self-motivated and able to accomplish tasks and meet goals with minimal supervision. Someone who is hard to reach at times or seems overwhelmed, is not suitable to work from home. — Joe Cannata, Techsperts
Employees that typically require micromanagement are not going to be suitable work-from-home candidates. — Kenny Riley, Velocity IT
The Future of Remote Work
To say that 2020 was a challenging year would be an understatement. Fortunately, many businesses and organizations put the right measures in place to address the challenges that were experienced in 2020, and are using the lessons they learned in 2021. With a goal of building a talented and reliable work-at-home IT workforce, what else can businesses and organizations do to ensure success?
”Remote working, which has been around for a hundred years before COVID, will become the norm and companies need to determine realistic expectations, have strong Key Performance Indicators (which the employee understands and agrees to), and learn how to extend the company culture, including games that all staff can participate in for prizes, etc. to keep the social aspect alive”, said Bullock.
”Key pieces to ensure Work at home can continue are ensuring team collaboration tools or unified communication solutions are in place so your teams can connect seamlessly. Enabling smooth communication between the team members is key. Another key piece is ensuring you stay on top of cybersecurity for remote access. As the threat actors will try to leverage these more and more to compromise your data and systems”, said Singhal.
About The Author
Ulistic LP is a leading marketing agency specializing in digital marketing, business development, and sales enablement for IT service companies. We equip companies with essential insights, advice, and resources to achieve their short-term and long-term goals. To learn more about Ulistic LP, visit ulistic.com.