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We will never go back to the way we worked before - say Ireland’s IT leaders

‘We will never go back to the way worked before’, is the message from Ireland’s top CIOs who met remotely at the Irish Computer Society to discuss their concerns and share insight on the prospect of remote working becoming the new normal for Irish workers.

So, how have Ireland’s CIOs and their teams coped with the overnight move of entire organisations to remote working?

“The Covid-19 pandemic has accelerated the move towards more remote working by 10 years in the space of a few weeks,” said Jim Friars, CEO of the Irish Computer Society.

“Digital tools allow staff to keep connected to each other and have enabled many sectors of the economy to continue their work. However, shifting work patterns onto new digital tools at such a rapid speed has had serious implications for organisations.”

So what are the biggest challenges IT teams have faced during the sudden shift to remote working? Irish CIOs report an increased focus on additional security especially with regard to the use of remote desktops and VPN connections.

CIOs also realise that systems need to be more resilient, leading to backlog issues that were not a priority before now getting fixed. Networks need to be optimised to get the most from services such as WebEx.

Supporting staff working remotely has meant an increase in the amount of process documentation and optimisation particularly for helpdesks and those with poor digital office skills.

The varying quality of broadband services, home routers, Wi-Fi dongles and services means that all users need a certain level of bespoke support, increasing pressure on support teams.

Insights into online collaboration

Central Bank CIO, Louise Dennehy and Head of IT Strategy, Linda Harmon led the survey research on behalf of the ICS CIO Forum. "Overall, Irish CIOs report that the move has been a positive one. IT systems have enabled IT teams to hit the ground running and have worked well”, said Dennehy.

“Most CIOs mentioned that the core infrastructure was already in place and networks and firewalls were already set up for remote access. It is really useful for CIOs to know how others are dealing with these challenges, you never stop learning in IT.”

So what tools do top Irish CIOs choose when it comes to online collaboration? Four tools dominated the responses (MS Teams – 66%, WebEx - 33%, Zoom - 32% & Skype - 32%) with most CIOs citing multiple tools in use across their organisations, however it’s worth noting that even tech leaders point out that ‘you can’t beat the phone sometimes’.

“The unimaginable speed of the move to working from home for many office workers has meant that a patchwork of software options came into use,” said the Chair of the ICS CIO Forum, Kevin Cooney.

“A number of CIOs mentioned the use of multiple video conferencing solutions with an overlap for different use cases. This has impacted their ability to offer streamlined support and has led to issues as users struggle to adapt to meetings on different platforms.”

People and process

Due to the nature of video communication, time in meetings has increased. There’s no longer a chance to pop over to someone’s desk, so meetings offer a chance to be ‘face-to-face’.

The people and process side of remote working has had mixed results. On the whole, employees reported to be productive when working from home.

“The pandemic has offered teams a chance to ‘reset’ their communications and there has been an increased emphasis on engagement with staff, including surveys, regular check ins and topic based chats which has let to morale being kept high in teams,” said Friars.

“However, communication in meetings such as traditional stand ups is more difficult. As we are all experiencing, the pace of conversation has slowed and team chats are more stilted as we end up talking over each other.”

Some staff also reported struggles with home broadband or mobile coverage and their facilities not being suitable for working from home.

CIOs are also acutely aware of the wellbeing of their staff, as employees are experiencing fatigue with less chance for downtime during the working day and feeling pressure to be ‘always on’.

What is next?

Overall, the opportunity to keep dodging the commute is appealing to staff. As reported in the recent TechBeat survey, two thirds of employees expect to continue to work from home.

CIOs are well aware that continued working from home will be a core part of future business plans. Remote working has placed a higher reliance on VPNs and firewalls than originally designed for. But CIOs are well prepared for the unexpected, and these kind of issues are not insurmountable.

CIOs are also preparing for the challenge of replacing staff and on-boarding new recruits in the ‘new normal’.

Overall, CIOs have shown that IT teams have great resilience and ability to cope with such a different situation.

The pandemic may have pushed us to innovate differently and earlier than may have been originally planned but coping under pressure is what IT does best. As one of the CIOs mentioned, “there is nothing like a crisis to force through some innovation and changed ways of working.”

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