CIOs worry about people, capacity and security as COVID-19 crisis grows

IT leaders in Canada say their top priority is the well-being of employees after the quick transition to remote work due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We were all prepared for the technology,” said one IT leader during the first-ever virtual CanadianCIO roundtable. “But the human side is important. People need to reconnect and find some sanity in isolation.”

The CIOs discussed via videoconferencing the challenges they’ve faced during the opening weeks of the crisis. “This is an important way for people to share what we’re going through and what we’re learning,” said Jim Love, CIO for IT World Canada (ITWC). “I can’t emphasize the personal connection enough.”

While the CIOs say their business continuity plans generally allowed for a smooth transition, they worry about issues beyond their control. These include Canada’s telecom capacity and cybercriminals who are taking advantage of the situation.

Focus on people

The CIOs reported that almost all of their employees are working from home, except for a few that are going into the office out of necessity or preference. “Our focus now is on making sure people are healthy and connected,” said one CIO from the construction industry. “We have a big focus on mental health and support.” It’s especially important to reach out to colleagues who live alone, noted an IT leader from the finance sector.  “We have to help them cope with the doomsday news and try to keep them in good spirits.”

Various techniques are being used to build morale, starting with good communication.  One CIO said her company had to consolidate messaging on remote work from IT and Human Resources to avoid bombarding employees. As well, she said that managers are conducting personal “check in’s” at the start of meetings. Several CIOs said they’re beefing up their collaboration tools, with one participant adding that his company has already set up a non-work chat group so that “workers can share a laugh.” “People need routine, normalcy, and they need to be listened to,” said Love. “They need to talk about things other than the crisis.”

Can Canada’s telecom system handle the load?

Many of the CIOs say they’re experiencing capacity issues with Canada’s national carriers and that it’s having an impact on productivity. Remote workers have to rely on the Internet, which is being “strained.” As well, not all employees have sufficient Internet access to handle the increased workload. Several CIOs said they’ve also had difficulty making calls this past week. “Even the telephony network is saturated and calls are dropping,” said a CIO from the transportation industry. “It’s beyond our control, but we have to manage it.”

While the issues are out of their hands, one CIO commented that “it’s at least nice to see I’m not alone.”

The ‘bad guys’ are taking advantage

While everyone is rushing to work remotely, the “bad guys are leveraging weaknesses to do some phishing,” said a security expert. Companies must be careful when they are expanding their footprint in this way,” added a consultant. “Adding so many remote workers can be a risk factor. Bad actors are trying to exploit the situation. There is no end to the depths of depravity.”

It will be important to share the message on security threats with employees and with smaller companies, the security expert said.

Despite the security risks and the need to do more to improve the tools available to employees and managers, the CIOs were positive about their progress on the transition to remote work. “There has been a shift away from the rapid fire of business,” said a CIO from the hard-hit restaurant business. “People are more relaxed on conference calls and everyone is gracious. I’m hoping this makes us better as people.”

For more information on ITWC’s Virtual Roundtables contact [email protected]


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Jim Love, Chief Content Officer, IT World Canada

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Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker
Cindy Baker has over 20 years of experience in IT-related fields in the public and private sectors, as a lawyer and strategic advisor. She is a former broadcast journalist, currently working as a consultant, freelance writer and editor.

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