Employers are increasingly looking for ways to help employees with the impact of isolation as they continue to work apart. IT teams are playing a bigger role in coming up with solutions.

“The dialogue on business continuity dramatically changed in the last few months,” said Wayne Feyer, Principal Corporate Account Manager with Citrix Systems, at a recent ITWC virtual roundtable. “We have to design a new normal that keeps people in the centre of the discussion.”

Almost 20 IT leaders from western Canada took part in the discussion. A poll during the session showed that, prior to the COVID-19 crisis, 86 per cent of the participants’ organizations had less than 25 per cent of employees working from home. Now, in 64 per cent of their organizations, more than half of employees are working from home.

“It hit us hard how much it affected individuals,” said an Account Manager in a technology company. “There is a huge need to focus on the safety of people. There is a bigger opportunity for an ongoing partnership between HR and IT to take care of people.

Strategies to engage work from home employees

With some “heroic effort,” most of the participants said they were able to make the transition to working from home quite quickly. At the same time, several participants said they tried to limit the amount of technology change during this period. “We just identified the critical areas and fast-tracked technologies, like Teams, that had already been introduced,” said a Vice-President in shipping industry. “We wanted to reduce risk as we upended people’s lives.”

Many of the participants are finding interesting ways to deal with the lack of personal interaction and conversation that normally occur in the office. They also want to make sure people are “doing okay from an emotional perspective,” said an IT leader in the energy industry.

“We have a weekly IT happy hour, but (spoiler alert), there’s no drinking,” said a CIO in the education sector. “It’s not meant to be a work chat.”  Similarly, another IT leader said his group created a bridge that remains open all day. “Everyone can jump in at anytime,” he said. “It’s an ongoing informal meeting and if someone pops in for a quick chat, everyone is notified.”

One participant said she uses Teams for quick conversations with people and there is always a “check-in” at the end of the day. Another executive said he’s having virtual lunches with new employees where they don’t talk about work. “The onboarding of new employees is harder because they miss out on the informal development where you get to know someone and develop a human bond.”

Several participants noted that, although it helps to see faces on video conferences, they’ve made the use of cameras optional. “Not everyone wants to share their home,” said the CIO. “Some might even have their office in their bedroom. It can cause discomfort and invade people’s privacy.”

An opportunity for better communication

Participants are also developing strategies to improve communication in the remote work environment.

“We began broadcasting to the entire audience, looking for ideas and feedback,” said the energy sector IT leader. “We used polling to set priorities. Now people are better aligned to what’s happening.”

Weekly calls by the CEO have been working well, said a Technology VP in the travel sector. “Our CEO is very honest about the situation and staff can ask questions directly or send them in anonymously,” she said. “Despite the fact that our sector has been decimated, our engagement score is the highest ever. This is an opportunity to build communication and team spirit.”

This was the third of three roundtables sponsored by Citrix.

Roundtable 1: Why you’ll never look at continuity planning the same way again

Roundtable 2:  The work from home experience will be a differentiator for organizations