4 tips for leading IT into the digital-first work world

Support your IT team’s shift toward moving toward a more productive and effective business environment, regardless of location.

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The increasingly widespread preference many employees have for flexible work arrangements can be overwhelming for IT departments. IT workers in companies of all sizes are feeling spread thin, as support tickets flood into their queues.

During the COVID-19 pandemic, it has been important for IT leaders to support their workforces throughout the transition to working from home full-time. In March, 2020, after the coronavirus took hold in the U.S., Spiceworks polled its IT community and found that 45% of companies were actively encouraging employees to work from home, and an additional 32% were considering similar options. I expect those numbers have since gone up, as many organizations are adopting remote-first and flexible work options.

How can IT leaders respond to support their front-line teams and broader organization? First, it’s important to lead with empathy. That means ensuring that workers across the business get the resources they need to stay comfortable and be as productive and effective as possible.

If you’re an IT leader, you also need to stay proactive, and communicate with executive leadership every step of the way, which is especially important with a dispersed workforce. Below are a few ways to support your IT team and broader business now, as well as some thoughts about setting them up for newfound agility and resilience in the future.

Two critical types of security

When most of your workforce is working remotely, two types of security should be a top priority for the IT team: security of information, and the physical security of devices. At Smartsheet, we have a thorough vetting process for software-as-a-service (SaaS) providers, in addition to building security directly into our platform to protect customer data.

When Smartsheet switched to full-time remote and flex options, our IT team continued to share helpful reminders and instructions with our employees regarding best practices for productivity, security, and software upgrades. These specific tips and tricks related to single sign-on (SSO) and key elements of functionality regarding our use of multi-factor authentication.

At Smartsheet, we trust our vendors’ security and our multi-factor authentication as much as possible to keep things from being bottlenecked by a virtual private network (VPN). We believe in anchoring to strong credentials, password management, multi-factor authentication, and solid client hygiene, as opposed to relying solely on VPNs.

The physical security of devices is more of a challenge to monitor when your company transitions to remote and flex work options. As many workers are home-based, and potentially moving around during the day, physical security of devices could become more of an issue. IT leaders should make sure that all devices are encrypted and tracked in an asset management system just in case an employee’s device is lost or stolen.

Make sure you regularly communicate with your organization. Remind them of where to find troubleshooting resources and emphasize security rules. With all that is changing and uncertain, make certain your teams are keeping security front of mind.

Recalibrate existing IT workflows

Some IT tasks need to be completed at the office. For example, imaging new computers for new employees must be done on site, even if your company has pivoted to remote or virtual onboarding. Historically, the imaging processes for Mac and Windows laptops required large data transfers, dealing with account setups, and boxing and shipping the device. Moving to a zero-touch deployment model can increase efficiency for end users, save on shipping costs, and alleviate burden from your IT support team.

In the past at Smartsheet, new team members would go through orientation at the office, get their devices directly from IT, and then head to their seat assignment. That all changes when you onboard remote employees; you need to ship items directly to new team members.

Since IT does need some team members on site, you need to be very mindful of keeping those communities quite small — even if everyone is fully vaccinated.  Still, some employees might experience issues with their machines that can’t be resolved during a virtual meeting or with remote desktop software. If something goes wrong, those people need hands-on support. As it is business critical, create a process for in-person equipment drop-offs.

You also need to connect people to the technologies that are critical to their roles. Normally, you could walk them through the programs in person and give them real-time answers to their questions. With a digitally dispersed workforce, those processes and walkthroughs take longer, and that time adds up fast when your IT team is solving a higher volume of technical problems for employees.

Be patient with your end users

It's key to understand that many of your end users working from home don’t have a space that’s conducive or comfortable for a long-term remote setup. Speak with your company’s leadership about potentially offering full or partial reimbursement for people to acquire technology to make them successful at home. This could include computer monitors, adapters, noise-cancelling headphones, and other technologies.

Since many IT departments have a walk-up Help Desk, you should invest in a remote access control tool to help perform live, virtual troubleshooting. These programs come in handy in a pinch, and will help your organization through worldwide issues, like pandemics. This way, your team can pinpoint what the worker’s issue is, and work directly on fixing it while keeping a safe distance.

Organize your projects and processes in cloud-based platforms

We use Smartsheet for many critical business processes already, regardless of if we’re working at the office or from home. For example, our employee onboarding process and account provisioning starts and stops with desk setups, and we’re using Smartsheet for all of it. It has been a tremendous benefit for us, as we’ve needed zero changes to the way we collaborate in support of those processes.

If your company shifts to a digital-first or flexible work arrangement, it’s more critical than ever that our employees have access to cloud-based platforms. When we hire someone new, they’re added to a specific set of sheets, which kicks off task workflows that multiple teams take action on, whether it’s human resources or IT, to ensure that the employee has all the tools they need. We’re already leveraging Smartsheet to do all of the heavy lifting.

The impact of having our teams remote doesn’t change our business processes so much as it changes how we socialize and prioritize work, considering how much our employees’ lives have changed with this new work/life reality — balancing kids, work-from-home spouses, elder care, and other deeply important priorities that disrupt or impact the workday.

Develop a plan to prepare and practice

I’ve worked at organizations during past virus outbreaks, including SARS and H1N1, but those didn’t have the same global impact as COVID-19. During my time at the Nordstrom corporate offices in Seattle, we often prepared and conducted practice tests in case of a shutdown.

Back then, we primarily used an on-premises data center model, and we ran tabletop tests to exercise the capacity of our systems in preparation for contingencies such as heavy snowfall in Seattle. When we get snow and icy roads here, many employees must work remotely, due to Seattle’s hilly topography.

The challenge for businesses that rely on an on-premises work model is that, without plenty of advance preparation, they’ll be testing everything live in the midst of the emergency. That adds a tremendous amount of pressure, and greater potential for failures, both in security and productivity.

If the COVID-19 pandemic has taught us anything, it’s the tremendous value of an IT organization that plans ahead for the worst, building security and flexibility into the processes and systems that our employees rely on to get things done.

The Smartsheet platform is built for the enterprise with the flexibility teams need and the security IT expects. Smartsheet Advance builds on the power of the platform to arm both the business and IT with powerful capabilities to scale innovation across the enterprise.

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