5 tips for leading IT remotely

By Bob Violino

With WFH and hybrid workplace strategies stretching into 2021, IT leaders must settle in to new work habits to ensure success in leading IT from afar.

Many people have had to adapt to working from home and other remote locations — at least part of the time — in the hybrid workplace that’s emerging because of the pandemic. That includes CIOs and other IT executives.

Whether executives are working remotely for one or more days per week or full time, leading IT has change significantly — and perhaps permanently.

The new working model affects many facets of management, including developing IT strategies, maintaining culture, driving change, and collaborating with business colleagues. The situation presents challenges, but it also offers growth opportunities for technology leaders.

Here are some suggestions from home-working IT leaders on how to make the most of the new environment.

Put IT staff tech needs first

One key to leading a technology team from afar is to engage staffers as much as possible, says Lonnie Johnson, CIO at KVC Health Systems, a nonprofit child welfare and behavioral healthcare organization.

“Ensure that they have everything they need to be successful,” Johnson says. “I allowed people to go into the office and get monitors, staplers, and even their office chair if they wanted to. Our transition to working from home required us to issue a lot of equipment across the [organization] quickly, but I made sure that the tech staff had the all the devices, access, and additional tech services they needed first.”

That included hotspots, internet boosters, virtual private networks (VPNs), cameras, and other equipment. “I didn’t want any points of failure on our part to keep us from being able to deliver services in a world that was starting to depend mainly on technology to function,” Johnson says.

KVC in mid-March 2020 made the decision to have all employees across the five states it serves start working from home as a safety measure in response to the coronavirus pandemic. The initial time frame was only two weeks, but like many organizations KVC has extended its work-from-home program. Currently, anyone who wants to work from home can do so at least until the end of this year, at which time the organization will reevaluate the situation.

“Our experience has been surprisingly positive,” says Johnson, who has worked from home since March and expects to continue doing so through the end of the year. “Our technology staff did a fantastic job at transitioning our workforce to a remote environment in a very short period of time.”

Keep connected

Touching base with IT staff is that much more important when leading tech teams from afar. An especially good reason to keep in regular touch with staffers is to help people cope with the stresses of these times.

“I would encourage leaders to be very sensitive to the mental well being of your tech teams,” he says. “By nature most tech people are introverts, but we all require human intervention. Working from home in isolation can take its toll on any employee.”

Because of this, Johnson has made it a point to check in on staffers and insisted that other technology leaders at KVC did the same. The team conducts virtual social hours and had a barbeque on the company parking lot while adhering to safety guidelines.

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