CIOs are finding a number of positives in the lockdown caused by the Covid-19 pandemic, especially around increased levels of collaboration, productivity and innovation.
Organisations which have invested heavily in cloud appear to have the advantage, with many citing minimal disruption as a result.
"What the lockdown has demonstrated is that once you crack the holistic use of cloud services, you can run your entire business very happily over home broadband and associated technologies," said Nick Folkes, Group CIO at G4S. "I believe this will change the shape of how our business looks at telecommunications infrastructure, everything from how we connect our offices together through to how we deliver WiFi services will need to be reviewed," he added.
Remote but closer
Whilst mass remote working means that most offices remain empty, heavy use of unified communications and video conferencing tools has meant that collaboration both within and between teams has actually increased in many organisations.
Working home will be the default position for most of our engineers and product and delivery managers
"What we have found since we moved to working from home is that productivity has stayed the same with our engineers releasing code as many times a month as we did when we were all together in the office," began Cait O'Riordan, CIO at the Financial Times. "We have shipped new features for our customers and as you can imagine we are seeing incredible amounts of traffic at the moment and our services have remained robust.
"We have people in London, Sofia and Manila and having all of us working from home means everyone is on a screen and no-one is ‘remote', which has brought us closer together.
"What we are looking at post lockdown in Product and Technology at the FT is that working home will be the default position for most of our engineers and product and delivery managers. But working from home all the time does take its toll particularly for those with caring responsibilities - so for some that won't be possible. But generally we will think carefully about what we go into the office for and that will be around collaboration - workshops, ideation sessions and talking to customers for example," she explained.
Sharper and more focused
Trevor Attridge, CIO at Young & Rubicam, is seeing the same phenomenon at his organisation, with staff interacting more with people in other areas of the business.
"We're seeing increased communication and interaction with the broader community, rather than just direct reports," he said.
"Covid has made person to person interactions more frequent as we all strive to keep connected, this has meant our culture has been maintained, our personal connections are stronger and as a result we continue to deliver for the business and clients. We have seen benefits of everyone remote working, meetings are sharper and focused, certain functions have benefited from the ability to focus more without the distraction of the office - for example programme board meetings with significant pre-read and technical review.
We have seen more innovation in the past six weeks than the past 10 years
"We have seen more innovation in the past six weeks than the past 10 years. We are completely rethinking how we work as an organisation and the opportunities this provides to us."
Attridge also cites the benefits cloud technologies have brought to the ability to work remotely, thanks to his organisation's digital transformation programme.
"The technology has always been in place, we have been on a transformation journey for the past five years now. 95 per cent of our 107,000 workforce is at home and working successfully. I see homeworking continuing, our talent pool accessibility has just become even more of an asset as the barrier of location is now something proven not to be a barrier (timezones still being recognised).
"We did need to make some changes to allow for provisioning technology and capability and onboard people remotely, there is no reason to remove this capability rather lean into it more as it provides us with agility and scale - while being cost effective. No surprise this is cloud based, high performant and has to operate with the constraints of downstream connectivity to the users," he explained.
The same is true at FMCG firm Mars, with increased collaboration, and heavier use of its Microsoft tool suite.
"In a strange way, the lockdown has unlocked a new way of working and thinking for me and my team," said Amitbh Apte, global director, digital, data and analytics at Mars. "We are meeting everyday for virtual coffee. Just casual chat of a few minutes. We are more aware of each other's thinking, it's a sneak peek into our lives, how events impact us and how we think.
It's been liberating not to always talk about work
"It's been liberating in a way not to always talk about work as we are moving away from project status update only conversations to genuine connections. We are more productive, as we cut on commute times, fewer visits to cafes or canteens and more time on face to face chats and we are lot more reflective. Microsoft Teams helps tremendously. O365 has become second nature. The days of local documents, offline backups and lot files are a distant memory as we all work on OneDrive and OneNote.
"Obviously we all miss the actual meetings, whiteboards and the communication subtleness which in-presence meetings bring. But these are strange times and we all are doing our best and in the process new ways of working which probably have changed ‘office work' forever!"
Whilst the pandemic has caused huge disruption to governments, organisations and individuals globally, it's comforting to hear the positives which will more than likely roll through to our working lives as the world gradually shifts to its new normal.
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