Conn\u2019s HomePlus CIO Todd Renaud spent the early days of the COVID-19 pandemic\u2019s office shutdowns and store restrictions \u201cjust trying to get through the next day.\u201d One month later, he\u2019s setting his sights on what the next new normal might be, and what it will mean to the appliance retailer\u2019s IT strategy over the next year.\n\n\u201cI\u2019m going to assume that our remote workforce will be a larger percent than it is today,\u201d he says. \u201cHow will that impact the company, assets and data? I\u2019m thinking about the impact in our stores if we continue to have restrictions on the number of people\u201d inside and other safety requirements. For example, Renaud is considering videoconferencing capabilities that could enable customers to virtually walk through the store with a sales rep serving as a guide to simulate an in-store sales experience.\n\n \u201cThe unspoken expectation is of me staying as far ahead of the curve from a technology and an impact perspective as I can,\u201d Renaud says.\n\nThat same expectation has been heaped onto most CIOs as organizations look to technology to help them pivot quickly. The coronavirus pandemic is affecting IT leaders\u2019 roles and priorities, and forcing them to consider its long-term impact on their IT organizations and on business as a whole.\n\nAn IDG survey of 414 IT leaders in April found that most budgets will either hold steady or increase in the next 12 months. They also expect a renewed emphasis on operational efficiency, expense management and cost controls. Meanwhile, business collaboration, hiring and training will take a back seat in the coming months. CIO.com compared these responses to its 2020 State of the CIO Survey, which posed similar questions to IT leaders in September 2019 about their organizations\u2019 IT budgets and priorities for the coming year.\n\nHere is a deeper look at how IT priorities have shifted since the coronavirus upended business operations \u2014 and how several IT leaders are responding to the challenge of uncertainty in the months ahead.\n\nBudgets hold mostly steady \u2014 while initiatives accelerate\n\nSome 40 percent of IT leaders say their IT budgets will hold steady. Only 25 percent say their budgets will still increase in the next year, down from 59 percent who believed so in September.\n\nSome of the budget increases are being used to ramp up remote work capabilities. At mortgage servicing firm NorthMarq, CIO Dan Ritch suddenly had to enable 500 employees to work from home on infrastructure that was set up for only 165 remote users. In three weeks, the firm put $150,000 of core infrastructure in place, extended its Citrix environment, added a new Citrix VPN, and purchased 50-plus laptops for remote users, a capital investment that was planned to take place over 18 months. \u201cWe\u2019ve been able to put a sense of urgency into the infrastructure investment,\u201d Ritch says.\n\nMore than one third of IT leaders (35 percent) say their IT budgets will now decrease in the next year compared to the past 12 months, as a result of COVID-19 disruption. That\u2019s up from just 7 percent who had planned to decrease IT budgets when surveyed in September 2019.\n\nWith no clear timeline for a return to \u201cnormal\u201d business, IT leaders say they\u2019ll focus long term on cost control and expense management (45 percent), up from 29 percent in September 2019. With that, IT leaders also expect a bigger emphasis on increasing operational efficiency, according to 37 percent of survey respondents, compared with 24 percent in September.\n\nOperational efficiency had always been on CIO Bron McCall\u2019s mind at Extra Space Storage, especially when it came to enabling remote lease-signing for its storage units to save additional paperwork and physical steps. \u201cI\u2019ve been talking about that for years, but we had become hesitant to change processes that were already working well,\u201d McCall says. \n\nBut when COVID-19 temporarily shut down offices, executives quickly came on board. \u201cWithin three days we were able to deploy remote lease-signing capabilities for customers,\u201d from development to testing to releasing code into production. \u201cThat cycle time is what people hope to have with DevOps, and we\u2019re actually realizing it,\u201d McCall says. \u201cI also realized that if we were all onboard with doing something, how quickly we could do it when we took down all the barriers.\u201d\n\nOverhauling business processes, rethinking the future of work\n\nMore than a third of IT leaders (36 percent) say they\u2019re now redefining what business processes will look like going forward, up 13 percent from September, even though much of the new normal has yet to play out.\n\n\u201cThere\u2019s more tolerance now\u201d for new business processes, says Ann Joyce, who has spent the past 17 years as a CIO, most recently at Chico\u2019s FAS and Aeropostale, and before that as a VP at Ralph Lauren. \u201cThere is more of a speed-to-market, fail-fast type mentality today,\u201d she says.\n\nThe quick shift to remote work is another example. In March, Blue Shield of California was able to mobilize its 7,000 employees to work from home within four days. Until that time, \u201cpeople were worried about work from home,\u201d says CIO Lisa Davis. They lamented that they needed to have workers in the office and feared its impact on service levels. It would also lead to a loss in productivity. But so far, working from home hasn\u2019t impacted the insurance provider\u2019s services levels, and productivity has actually improved, she says. \n\n\u201cIt has us all rethinking the future of work,\u201d Davis says. \u201cWhen we\u2019re allowed to come back, do we really need that many people in the office? Do we really need the real estate we thought we needed?\u201d\n\nThe answer gets complicated when considering enterprise risk management and compliance issues, she says: \u201cOur attorney said this morning that there are zero compliance complaints filed. You would think this is a good thing, but nobody is seeing anybody in the office, so nobody is reporting things that aren\u2019t being done correctly. It\u2019s being done remotely, so that\u2019s not necessarily a good thing.\u201d\n\nA majority of IT leaders say their organization\u2019s current work-from-home situation could permanently change how they work, with 71 percent agreeing that the work-from-home mandate over the past few months has created a more positive view of remote work policies and will likely impact how they plan for office space, tech staffing and overall staffing in the future. In fact, CEOs have made \u201cimproving the remote work experience\u201d a new top priority for 37 percent of IT leaders, tied with leading digital transformation initiatives.\n\nBusiness-IT collaboration finding a new balance\n\nRenaud knows he must now be pragmatic about what IT spends its time and resources on going forward. That means \u201cI might have to make hard decisions in partnerships with the business and say, \u2018This is what we can and can\u2019t do,\u2019\u201d Renaud says. \n\nIn the survey, just 23 percent of IT leaders are now focusing on aligning IT to business goals, down 21 percentage points from September. \u201cSome projects could be valuable, but not as much now,\u201d Renaud adds.\n\nPlans to collaborate with business units in general are declining. Just 18 percent of IT leaders expect to spend time cultivating IT and business partnerships, but remote work could be part of the reason why.\n\nRitch joined NorthMarq in October as CIO and senior VP. Just as he was making headway with collaboration, employees had to retreat to working from home. \u201cI have 65 managing directors and all our new associates. I made a list and called every single one of them,\u201d Ritch says. \u201cI had a chance to say where we were, what we\u2019re doing, here\u2019s where we\u2019re going.\u201d But for now, all meetings are handled remotely, he says.\n\nSome CIOs are being hired by companies in the midst of stay-at-home orders. \u201cI spoke to a colleague last night who is onboarding remotely, so if you you\u2019re thinking about how you\u2019re going to influence and build those relationships, that can be difficult,\u201d Joyce says. But for veteran CIOs who have already built relationships with the business, \u201cif you\u2019re moving faster and making policy decisions as quickly as you are \u2014 those relationships are actually more important than they\u2019ve ever been.\u201d\n\nDavis agrees: \u201cIt is critical for organizations to have an IT and business integrated partnership.\u00a0Opportunities for automation and digital transformation have become must-do\u2019s in this work-from-home mandate.\u201d\n\nJoyce sees a potential silver lining to all the uncertainty brought on by the pandemic. \u201cThe new normal is going to mean a big business shift that will create opportunities,\u201d Joyce says. \u201cThe Great Recession of 2008 brought much innovation and new normals that built some pretty big companies, so what will come out of this?\u201d Determining what those opportunities are, and who takes advantages of them, is up for grabs.