Although IT best practices have touted “deliver business value” for years, never has IT so visibly done so as it has during the COVID-19 pandemic. During a time of immense uncertainty, IT became a true business partner in every industry worldwide, virtually overnight. IT professionals and leadership went beyond delivering “technology solutions”; they were partners in organizational transformation, innovation and improved customer and employee experiences. Although it was challenging, time-consuming, stressful and in some areas, risky, there were positive outcomes that should become part of the “new normal”.
IT: A strategic partner in prioritization
Normally, organizations prioritized projects based on available funds, organizational goals and division-by-division needs. In many companies, business leaders analyzed, prioritized and finalized plans long before involving IT. With COVID-19, the need to move quickly forced organizations to evaluate and prioritize differently. First, business decision-makers involved IT from the beginning – and not just IT leaders, but also individual contributors and technicians. Together, they clearly defined needed business outcomes, assessed risk and took a company-wide approach to prioritization. As a result, business and IT teams were aligned across new projects. Any projects that were previously prioritized or in progress were delayed if they did not pertain to the newly defined goals and needs.
Conversely, some previously discussed efforts that had not been added to the project list now became top priorities. Projects like deployments of Office 365, One Note, Google, Slack, Zoom, Teams, etc., had to be expedited. In many cases, projects expected to take 12 months were completed in just weeks! Although this pace is not sustainable, IT learned to streamline practices and found ways to be nimbler in delivering on immediate business needs.
In the past, IT was sometimes viewed as a bottleneck, unable to quickly adapt to changing business needs. During COVID-19, that impression changed. Business partners relied on IT’s technical expertise and guidance to make better decisions and came to view IT as a trusted partner vital in successful execution. In addition to preparing employees to stay productive remotely, IT strategized, innovated and executed new services and channels of support for external customers.
Proactive communication and approach
In many organizations, the IT service desk helped to prepare employees to quickly become productive from home offices. IT anticipated user needs and proactively documented and communicated what they needed to successfully work from home. This ranged from emailing answers to frequently asked questions, steps to use collaboration tools and even easy-to-follow training videos.
They streamlined common requests in the service catalogue so that employees could easily submit requests. For example, knowing that employees needed additional hardware and peripherals for remote work, IT created forms with company discounts already added and automated routing for approvals and submissions to vendors.
Companies also tried to make the transition to a physical home office as easy as possible. Google provided a stipend for employees to buy home office furniture. Some companies had a “drive-through” process to pick up office chairs, phones and devices to use in home offices.
Initially, IT support was overwhelmed due to increased volume. Yet, employees showed great appreciation for all support did to make the transition easier. Within IT itself, increased collaboration broke down siloes and helped teams to work better together and deliver better quality services.
Initially, many escalation tiers of support had less project work and more time to answer inquiries from other support teams. As a result, intelligent swarming—real-time collaboration during incident management—happened organically. While working tickets, the first tier interacted with subject matter experts (SMEs) via a chat channel or other collaboration tool. This increased first-contact resolution, prevented the need for transferring tickets between queues and increased employee satisfaction and productivity. Furthermore, it helped to improve ticket documentation, knowledge article creation and real-time learning for support professionals.
Some organizations’ IT support teams offered additional options like text, chat and email to supplement existing channels. They made sure all employees got the support they needed in a challenging situation.
Some organizations considering using chatbots expedited those efforts to help with the increased volume. They optimized collaboration with consistent chat or other tools that connected employees and IT. Together, teams improved processes, services and overall support experience.
Improved employee experience
The employee experience has been at the forefront of many of the changes caused by COVID-19. Companies have asked, listened to and delivered on employee’s needs. In addition to providing needed technology, companies also focused on helping employees to feel connected to the company, their leaders and colleagues while working remotely.
Managers held video team meetings and one-on-ones. Additionally, weekly virtual coffee breaks and happy hours allowed teams to get together with a “no work talk” rule. This helped employees get to know each other in new ways. They virtually visited each other’s home offices and met team members’ pets and families. Individual and team bonds were strengthened and this improved employee engagement and teamwork.
Companies also became more flexible where needed. With schools going virtual, many parents were juggling to work from home and help with their kids’ online education. To alleviate parental stress and accommodate family needs, many organizations provided flexible work schedules. Organizations also increased the focus on emotional and physical well-being, providing offerings like mindfulness, virtual yoga and exercise sessions, or well-being calls and health coaching for employees and spouses. These initiatives have had a positive effect on morale and stress management and greatly improved organizational communication.
Most organizations have now proven it is possible to successfully work remotely. Even traditionally in-office companies like Facebook are considering keeping remote work for some employees. Other companies decided that some roles will permanently work remotely. This increases the hiring pool and allows employees to live where they want.
It has become apparent that some employees are happier working remotely while others would prefer to return to the office. As a result, some companies are considering a hybrid approach. This increased flexibility in schedules and well-being has deepened employee engagement and loyalty, which in turn drives higher productivity and better customer service.
Improved digital experience
Many employees have seen significant improvement in digital experience. Streamlined workflows and integrated technologies allow for seamless navigation across needed tools and easier access to information across the organization. With more efficient workflows, improved access and fewer technology disruptions, employees are less frustrated, more productive and delivering better service to external customers.
We have seen innovation everywhere during these unprecedented times. The NFL held its draft virtually, artists perform virtual concerts, retail stores and restaurants are offering mobile ordering and curbside pick-up and doctors are providing telehealth. Companies are hiring and onboarding employees virtually. IT support groups have provided new ways to deliver desktop or walk-up support, touchless options to drop off or pick-up hardware and new methods for on-demand training.
All of these changes have required IT to provide creative, innovative solutions. These efforts have unified disparate groups, improved working relationships and broken down siloes, making it easier to partner with IT.
Moving forward – The new normal
These are just a few of the high-value changes that have altered business and life. Improved processes, products, services, employee and customer experiences and innovation have emerged. The “new normal” still needs to be defined, but the foundation of collaboration, teamwork, innovation and evolution is laid.
The business recognizes IT as a co-creator of value and a business asset – not just in words – but in execution and results. The employee and customer experiences have evolved through innovation and a focus on the end-to-end experience. IT has gone beyond delivering technology solutions and partnered in delivering business solutions.
Although the world was separated physically, IT connected it more successfully than ever before through technology. Leveraging the lessons learned, improvements made and the ongoing innovation, these positive outcomes will secure IT an early and permanent “seat at the table” as a business partner who is vital for continued growth, innovation and success.
What positive outcomes provided the most value to your organization in 2020?
What do you want to see as part of the “new normal” moving forward?