by Divina Paredes

The NZ CIO’s guide to managing leadership challenges of the ‘new world’

Apr 16, 2020
IT Leadership

Set boundaries but be visible, even if virtually, are some pointers from business coach Steve Griffin on navigating the changes brought by the coronavirus pandemic

A megaphone at the center of a virtual strategy framework.
Credit: Pixtum / Alfadanz / Getty Images

“There is a lot of speculation as to what life in a post-COVID-19 level 4 world will look like,” says Steve Griffin, business coach and trainer. “One thing is certain, ‘normality’ will never be the same again.”

For the foreseeable future, remote working and physical separation are the new norm, says Griffin, as he shares pointers on how CIOs can lead through the changed environment.

stephen a griffin

“CIOs will have the additional management challenge of not only providing seamless services, reliable access, and secure interactions, but achieving all this with a hybrid mix of on-site and remote workers.”

“If you add the uncertainty around the future as well as family pressures, you can see that the role of effective leadership going forward is going to be paramount,” says Griffin, who became a business coach after executive roles in technology firms and as a military commander.

He lists steps CIOs can take now to ensure they are prepared for this new world:

‘Review the organisation’

“At Covid Level 4, we all started to work from home. For some, it will have worked well; for others, the experience will have been less than satisfactory,” says Griffin, now based in Greytown in the Wairarapa Region. “It is time to take stock. Review the organisation and team structure and determine which functions can be operated remotely and which require an on-site presence,” he advises. “Ask, how much space do you have; can you accommodate the separation requirements?” 

“This may not be a binary decision, and some jobs will require a blended approach – ‘one day in the office, four from home’,” he says. 

His advice? “Engage with the teams to determine their preferences. The next stage is to review job content, redefining roles so that they are better suited to a remote or on-site environment. This is a natural extension of optimising the workforce.”

‘Set boundaries and expectations’

Griffin says remote workers will require boundaries to outline their work and personal life. The concept of the 8 to 5 working day may have died in a post-COVID-19 world. Tasks generally take a finite amount of time to complete.“Where possible, allow remote workers to self-manage to meet deadlines,” he advises. “It is important to discuss work schedules with each team member and set clear expectations” These could cover a range of topics such as availability, communication, meetings, and response times, for instance, to emails.”

‘Improve your online communication skills’

Outstanding communication is critical to effective collaboration in the remote workplace, he adds.  “Make effective communication a top priority for your teams. Design your meeting schedule around the new structure. Who really needs to be at each meeting? Is a more frequent, but shorter duration meeting going to be more effective? Use video whenever you can. When you do not see someone in the office every day, having any type of visual clue to what someone is thinking is essential.”

‘Be visible – even if virtually’

“As leaders, we have to be there for our people,” stresses Griffin. He says a study by David Maxfield and Joseph Grenny, authors of Crucial Conversations and Crucial Accountability, indicated that lack of close contact with people inhibits the formation of trust, connection, and mutual purpose. 

“Managers and team leaders have to build trust and rapport with their remote teammates by making time to get to know them,” he points out. “The ‘one-on-one’ meeting needs to sacrosanct – never cancel, only reschedule if you must.”

His final advice is around the importance of ensuring great employee experience.

‘Get the right tools for the job’

Make sure that you have the right collaboration, scheduling, communication and brainstorming/ideation tools available for your teams, says Griffin. “Do not ‘make do’ or cut corners. If you have connectivity issues, fix them. The effectiveness of your teams relies on their ability to do the job and to do it well.”