IT, Work-from-Home and the New Workday
A few months ago I, like most people, commuted to work each day. That commute created a clear demarcation between my “workday” and my “time at home.” Sure, I sometimes took a call in the evening, and I was as addicted to my Gmail/Slack/Zoom/Web Ex/Teams feed as the next person. But when I was at the office I was mentally and physically “at work,” and when I was at home, I experienced work as an interruption in my home life.
That all went out the window when the lock-downs began.
Now that so many of us are working from home, I’m seeing that—for me and many others—the workday is not “9 to 5” anymore. When your office is down the hall from (or in) your bedroom/kitchen/living room, it’s easy to turn any time into work time. But if you say “yes” to every meeting, you can find yourself working at all hours of the day and night.
I think the toughest thing for me is that taking an hour in the middle of the day to handle a personal task (such as grocery shopping) still seems wrong, while taking an hour in the middle of the night to take an important conference call with India seems right. But, logically, if you’re going to make yourself available for work outside of “normal office hours,” you shouldn’t feel guilty taking more time for yourself during what used to be the traditional workday
If you thought striking a work/life balance was hard back in the old days when you worked at an office, how will you reconcile to the idea of the “workday” disappearing? And what is IT’s role in all of this?
Responding to Disruption.
I recently attended a two-day virtual conference on “Corona virus: The Road to Recovery.” One session, “CIOs: Responding to Disruption” was of particular interest. The three panelists discussed a variety of issues related to how the IT organization has contributed to and been impacted by the shutdown, including this work/life balance issue that has been vexing me.
In case you were not able to log in to the conference yourself, I thought you might be interested in what your peers are doing.
The pandemic expands the IT organization’s role.
One of my key takeaways had to do with the fact that “work at home” might become the new normal, “work at the office” might become optional, and “work at home” doesn’t happen without significant support from IT. The IT organization has a great deal of visibility into business processes, which makes IT a source of knowledge that can feed into the strategy part of the business. For example, many companies were initially concerned that sending everyone home would kill productivity. As Russ Soper, CIO of Finastra pointed out during the conference session, the issue has turned out to be that employees are working too many hours per day. It’s that work/life balance problem I’m struggling with myself. At Finastra, IT’s contribution in this area has been to download data from team members’ Microsoft apps in order to monitor work patterns, and then use this data to provide insight that management can use in devising solutions.
Companies are thinking more holistically about their employees.
Paul Chapman, SVP, Global CIO, Technology & Trust, Box shared that Box IT has expanded support to include support for lifestyle apps that people are using at home. They’re not just troubleshooting the standard things they’ve always helped team members with. Now they’re also providing support for things like, “how do I Zoom into my exercise class,” or “how do I get this meditation app working on my cell phone”? It’s no longer just about keeping employees productive. Now it’s also about helping them with the technology that helps them achieve work/life balance.
Both Chapman and Michael Santiago, CIO/VP IT, Cytiva (formerly GE Healthcare Life Sciences) spoke about issues related to isolation. As Santiago pointed out, “The work environment is more than the place where we work. It’s also our community.” How do we provide the psychological or interpersonal support that our employees need, especially for those who live alone and have relied on their work life to double as their social life?
The idea here is to look at how you can support your employees as whole people, not just as workers.
Now’s a great time to be in the cloud.
If, prior to the pandemic, you had already implemented a “cloud-first” or “cloud native” strategy, congratulations! Sending everyone home, and supporting them while they’re there, is now much easier.
If you’ve moved to the cloud and someone is having problems with Microsoft Office on their laptop, your IT help desk does not need to “telnet” into their laptop to troubleshoot the problem. Now the software is in the cloud, and since you know that Office 365 is not down, all your help desk needs to figure out why the connection to Office 365 is not working. It’s a much easier IT support process.
IT security has gotten even tougher.
As you have probably noticed, malware attacks have gotten even more frequent and insidious. IT needs to stay constantly vigilant and remind everyone to exercise extreme caution before opening or clicking on anything. Be especially wary of things labeled as “URGENT COVID-19 information” that appear to be coming from the government or from within your company. Frequent refreshers about everything that you teach in your IT security classes are in order here.
Striking the balance – enabling the integrators and supporting the segmenters.
In her talk on “The Future of the Workplace,” Wharton management professor Nancy Rothbard freely admits that she’s hanging out in her kitchen while working from home during the coronavirus pandemic lockdown. “I’ve had many meetings where my kids walk behind me and get a snack out of the cabinet,” she said. “It doesn’t bother me.”
That’s because Rothbard is a self-described “integrator,” a term she uses for people who don’t mind blurring the boundary between work and home. Integrators are the opposite of segmenters—people who have a strong desire to separate business from personal life. When segmenters work from home, they don’t lounge around in their yoga pants all day. They like to get dressed with a purpose and sit down to work in a dedicated space, such as a home office, preferably with a door that can help keep out dogs, cats, kids and spouses.
“In this new work-from-home reality that we’re living in, it’s particularly challenging for segmenters, people who like to keep a sharp line between work and home. We can’t do that right now, even if we want to. This is where the rubber hits the road, and our two worlds are colliding like crazy,” Rothbard said.
As leaders of the IT organization, we can help both populations stay productive and stay safe.challenging for segmenters, people who like to keep a sharp line between work and home. We can’t do that right now, even if we want to. This is where the rubber hits the road, and our two worlds are colliding like crazy,” Rothbard said.
As leaders of the IT organization, we can help both populations stay productive and stay safe.