A Shift in Priorities: How the Pandemic Changed Everything for IT

Designing for efficiency made sense before the coronavirus, but going forward requires recalibrating priorities in order to thrive in times of uncertainty.

By Stephanie Vozza

By Stephanie Vozza October 30, 2020

Do more with less. That was the driving force in most organizations after the Great Recession, when leaders redesigned their businesses around cutting costs, increasing efficiency and streamlining operations. When COVID-19 impacted workplaces in early 2020, however, these lean systems revealed a fatal flaw: They were fragile, which put organizations’ survival at risk.

The pandemic has reversed the pendulum’s swing, according to a recent study by Gartner. Systems that had been designed to be efficient, it concluded, are being replaced with systems that are designed to be resilient. From a human perspective, that means creating teams with cross-functional knowledge that are agile enough to quickly correct when business requirements change.

No department has required increased resilience more than IT.

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When employees transitioned to work-from-home arrangements almost overnight, IT was called on to create, install and manage the infrastructure needed to support them while also addressing concerns like internet connectivity and cybersecurity.

“This has no doubt been an unprecedented time, and IT managers must set the tone,” said Sam Roguine, director at cybersecurity service provider Arcserve. “They need to make sure their team is flexible enough to handle requests and respond in a way that they may not be used to.”

If it lacks that flexibility, here are three things your IT organization must do to engender it:

1. Lead with Empathy

To create resilient teams, IT leaders must first acknowledge and understand that their employees are being stretched to their limits. Support tickets have been flooding in as workers continue to troubleshoot the kinks of remote working, and as temporary fixes become long-term or even permanent situations. IT leaders need a plan for supporting remote teams not only logistically, but also emotionally.

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2. Redefine Workflows

How work gets done will also need to change. Realize that IT teams may need more time to complete support tickets when they’re resolving them remotely. In the past, an IT team member could help an employee set up or troubleshoot a system in person. Handling these processes when people are scattered, however, is more challenging.

“It’s significantly harder for IT pros to identify and troubleshoot problems from a distance,” Roguine said. “Managers will need to clearly outline assignments and response metrics, and develop strategies for solving new problems that may come up.”

Because certain IT tasks will still need to be done onsite – for example, installing, connecting and repairing hardware – IT leaders can establish a way for employees to drop off equipment that cannot be worked on remotely. Keep onsite team small and put safety measures in place to protect it.

Also, consider how communication will need to change in response to new workflows.

“Implementing modern communication tools that allow for easy written, voice and video communication is necessary when building a responsive team,” Roguine said. 

“Relying on just email to file and respond to IT tickets will likely be too cumbersome and difficult to manage. Knowing how to use these tools effectively can go a long way in facilitating smoother communication between IT and the broader business, especially while everyone is unable to meet and collaborate in person.”

3. Change Mindset

An organizational redesign doesn’t have to mean starting from scratch. In fact, you can mine old challenges for new opportunities by leaning into the problem-solving skills your team has successfully utilized in the past, suggested Gail Gazelle, M.D., assistant professor at Harvard Medical School and author of Everyday Resilience: A Practical Guide to Build Inner Strength and Weather Life's Challenges.

“When facing a dilemma, the managers need to remind employees that they have faced challenges of a similar magnitude and that they have been successful in managing these,” she said. “This evokes the kind of can-do mentality that is critical to help them move from being overwhelmed by the challenge to making it manageable.”

Having a growth mindset instead of a fixed mindset is key to being resilient, according to Gazelle. 

“Managers can help employees shift from seeing a challenge as a problem to it being an opportunity, and move from being stuck to seeing creative possibilities,” he said. “It is creativity that their teams need if they are to work from home and resolve the issues they formerly needed to be onsite for.”

The Benefits of Resilience

Major shifts in procedures and strategies in the wake of a crisis aren’t anything new. World War II, for example, had a significant impact on women entering and staying in the workforce. And more recently, the Sept. 11 terrorist attacks convinced more companies to focus on crisis communication and employee mental health.

As these and many other examples illustrate: Change can be challenging, but often makes organizations better and stronger in the end.

In this case, an organizational redesign that focuses on resilience can benefit a company’s bottom line, as companies with a resilient workforce demonstrate more than triple the rates of annual revenue growth, according to a study by the professional coaching platform BetterUp. What’s more, highly resilient employees reported 31 percent higher job productivity during the pandemic when compared to their least resilient peers.

“Resilience is critical no matter what is happening,” Shatté concluded. “At a time like this, however, it leads the pack. Resilience is an essential ingredient, and organizations will not survive without it.”

Stephanie Vozza is a contributing writer who specializes in business and productivity. She is a columnist for FastCompany.com, and her byline has appeared in Inc., Entrepreneur and Success magazines. Find her on Twitter @StephanieVozza.

© 2020 Nutanix, Inc. All rights reserved.  For additional legal information, please go here.

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