In the quiet time between Christmas and the new year, a group of 25 leaders working in IT gathered for a few glasses of wine with Larry Schaffer, the founder and expert at Tercero Wines to share their stories and advice from one of the most intense years in their career. Naturally, the session was hosted over Zoom – a brand that has now possibly become the strongest byword and biggest indicator of the changes that have unfolded in IT in 2020.
Those present included leaders from some of the biggest airlines, delivery companies, hotels and energy providers in the world – all rocked hard by the pandemic – as well as smaller and medium-sized organizations in the education, manufacturing and finance sectors.
Over a couple of hours, attendees talked about some of the unprecedented challenges they faced, especially in the first half of the year. They also offered their advice to their peers as preparation for 2021 continues.
More visibility, please
The dramatic shift to distributed working was difficult in lots of ways: some attendees told tales of having to print out instructions for remote working and mail them to employees. One even said that a quarter of all employees didn’t even have an active internet connection at home, making that transition even harder.
One topic that stood out as a consistent gripe was visibility. As workers were no longer working on company-managed networks and were largely operating outside the traditional perimeter, understanding how to better support and enable them became a bigger priority.
Though the sample size is small, the conversation around the real-time poll was certainly revealing. By far the biggest desire for the group was to get better diagnostics on issues encountered by remote works. Troubleshooting is significantly harder without the telemetry data to support it. Remote workers calling into the helpdesk from their homes is normal practice for most companies now, but IT teams can’t always identify the source of the problem, let alone resolve it. Tools, technologies and processes that can help with this root cause analysis will be an important part of plans going into 2021.
Other areas of interest were increased visibility into the security posture and productivity of distributed workforces.
Making things better
Ultimately, this year was a reminder that IT’s job is to make things better for workers. The scrutiny placed on its ability to deliver that has never been higher, as every single member of the workforce suddenly had a whole new set of requirements from an IT perspective. So, while security and compliance remain important priorities, it quickly became clear as the lockdown began that the end user experience would be a crucial focus. Providing software, hardware and policies that helped users rather than hindering them was a core philosophy shared by the whole group.
Experts were then asked, partly jokingly, about a magic bullet to improve the user experience. Based on what they had learned in 2020, what instant improvement do they wish they could make to improve the experience, morale and productivity of remote workers?
Over half of those present pointed to the network. Employees have moved from working on primarily one network entirely managed, secured and delivered by their employer to a blend of cellular and home networks – mostly entirely blind to the IT organization. Network administrators and IT teams have to effectively support thousands of unknown and unmanaged networks, while still trying to maintain high standards of performance. These concerns outweighed the desires to improve applications, devices, security and cloud projects combined.
Words of advice
Asked to reflect on the year, attendees then took a moment to provide wisdom to those listening. Perhaps surprisingly, the overwhelming majority of these words were not on the technology or the practices of the industry, but the attitude.
The common theme was simple: have patience. Patience in your own actions, but also patience with those around you.
“Patience will turn a nay-sayer into a yay-sayer”
Some more practical suggestions were also shared. With hindsight, the importance of training, of course, came to the fore – especially retraining and taking a human (and patient!) approach to ensuring everyone feels comfortable with how to work remotely.
Another attendee shared how he felt like having standardized equipment and good instructions would help stop headaches in the future.
One idea that was met with a chorus of support was to select a smaller group of advocates to roll out new innovations and technologies to. Having these champions helps generate bottom-up advocacy for new initiatives, which encourages adoption and can assist in the education levels across the company.
Finally, by far the most important thing was to look after yourself. IT professionals have probably worked more hours this year than ever before, and stories of burnout are rampant. Self-care is vital, and only by making sure your own mental and physical wellbeing is in a good place can you effectively support those around you. Take breaks, go outside and spend time on your own health. “You can’t help anyone if you’re dead” as it was eloquently put by one attendee.
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