5 Steps to Stronger IT Teams Now and in the Future

Posted by on May 15, 2020

Cherwell Staffer Strengths

Editor's note: This post was originally published on Forbes

Social distancing, shelter-in-place and nonessential services—common phrases in a changing world. As the world copes with the realities of a global pandemic, businesses face challenges to continue operations while maintaining the health and safety of the workforce, their families, and their customers.

For many companies, the transition to predominantly digital operations occurred without much—if any—warning, and crisis plans are being tested in real time as companies conduct business almost entirely through email and videoconferencing with geographically separated employees and customers.

Even as regions consider reopening their doors for business, many executives are reconsidering remote workers as cost-effective, and it may create a paradigm shift in how we work. For many, the challenges are not changing anytime soon. How can IT help businesses continue to survive and thrive?

For more than 20 years, I've been working with thousands of IT leaders, practitioners and staff to help with day-to-day and strategic challenges. From my experience, I believe you should start with these five practices:

1. Support Your Workforce

Challenge: If we've learned anything from this crisis, it's that all sustainable businesses require a healthy workforce. We must take measures to ensure workforce health (physical, mental, emotional). When the uniting factor of physical presence is lost, organizations must compensate to avoid islands of uninformed and isolated employees. How do companies accomplish this task when most employees must work remotely?

Solution: Every business is a people business, and people thrive on communication. At their core, people want to be known, understood, and accepted. To meet these needs, leaders should establish regular communication protocols to address employees' health statuses, availabilities, work assignments and progress, issues, and concerns. Develop methods of communication to keep everyone engaged and informed. Leave no person or department behind. Managers must take empathetic measures to care for their workforce. Use all available communication tools, including email, social media, messaging tools like Microsoft Teams or Slack, telephone, webinars, and livestreaming.

2. Identify Devices And Secure Data

Challenge: Remote work environments have introduced nonsecure devices into corporate networks, creating vulnerabilities in data and data sharing. Employees own powerful devices for communication and entertainment, and they are starting to incorporate them into their professional lives. Is it acceptable for employees to check in to a company webinar via their smartphone, tablet or Xbox? If so, how do you secure devices and data for the remote workforce?

Solution: Develop an enterprise strategy using a mobile device management (MDM), endpoint management or client virtualization platform. Use a virtual private network (VPN) to enable secure connections to corporate data, even from unsecured public Wi-Fi access points. Consistently update software security patches to all devices you control. Segment, back up, and encrypt your corporate data for protection against compromise and loss.

3. Humanize IT

Challenge: Our workforce spans multiple generations. Such a workforce naturally demands creative and diverse ways to motivate teams and organize work. Operating remotely compounds these challenges.

Not everyone experiences IT the same way. Just as companies segment customers, they must approach employees in the same way. Savvy organizations build personas to determine how employees interact with their IT services based on roles and experiences. For example, a 50-year-old accountant will have a different mindset than a 28-year-old consultant. With each generation bringing different IT backgrounds and comfort levels, how do we optimize the IT experience for all employees?

Solution: Transform your IT staff into a business-to-consumer (B2C) model. Treat all employees as customers or clients, and humanize their experience. This change requires simple messaging, emotional appeals, and a laser focus on providing value.

For example, most corporations have an IT help desk center. Unbeknownst to the callers, help desks are measured on the number of tickets closed, and administrators develop checklists of questions to facilitate closing tickets as quickly as possible—regardless of whether the problem is resolved.

Compare that to a smaller help desk serving a remote workforce. They enter tickets through a similar system; however, to resolve the issue, the IT help desk does not follow specific checklists. Rather, the team seeks to resolve an employee's issue. The process may take more time, but the problem gets fixed, and the employee experience is vastly improved. They've received needed assistance from a person who was committed to resolving the issue.

4. Think Big; Win Small

Challenge: Large, complex IT projects can be difficult to manage, and projects often balloon beyond initial scope, deadlines, and budgets. These challenges compound when teams are working remotely. How do businesses accomplish strategic goals with a dispersed workforce?

Solution: Businesses need to reframe IT projects into targeted, iterative solutions. Agile approaches to managing projects deliver smaller, high-value wins in shorter time frames to achieve broader goals and objectives. Through increased communication, accountability, and flexibility, Agile delivers increased quality and productivity, improved morale, and enhanced customer satisfaction. Indeed, IT frameworks such as ITIL incorporate Agile-like methodologies into the core of delivering value to employees.

5. Rethink Teams: Networks Vs. Siloes

Challenge: Organizations should be designed to reflect the needs of vision, strategy, and purpose. Structure should also enable leadership and workforce to reach objectives and serve customers. Yet often, decisions come too slowly to meet the business demands of remote workers and digital commerce. How should an organization be structured to meet leadership, employee, and customer demands?

IT teams should be integrated across all business functions in order to understand the unique needs of each function; for example, the set of tools needed for business development is not the same as the set needed for HR. Rethink hierarchies that lengthen the time between problems and solutions. Leverage retired Gen. Stan McChrystal's "team of teams" concepts that build networked (not siloed) teams of subject matter experts, and leverage your communication tools within and across teams. These networks create success by building timely and cross-disciplined solutions to problems as they arise while staying aligned to corporate vision and goals.

The past few weeks have already changed how we work, but even forced change can be leveraged for positive outcomes. Let's accept the challenge of a remote workforce by empowering and equipping our people. Let's take care of each other while we're also taking care of business—through this crisis and into the future.

Get practical advice for managing this transition in our ITSM Handbook for Remote Workforce Enablement

Download the Handbook