As we approach three years since the world first encountered the trials and tribulations of the COVID-19 pandemic, it’s worth considering how these events affected the workforce, specifically the IT sector. There’s no question that earlier ways of working have been challenged, and new normal ways of working have been established.
The IT world has long been ahead of the curve regarding remote working. Even still, traditional approaches to working existed pre-2020 in the tech sector – notably that effective teams need to share the same physical workspace. While remote working existed, it was far less common, especially for those responsible for security, infrastructure and network management.
When COVID hit New Zealand, bringing lockdowns, organisations were forced to look at their entire way of working. Teams couldn’t come into the office or work close to each other. Organisations have had to fast-track transformation into the cloud to maintain business continuity. Despite the peak of the pandemic long behind us and the ability to work together again, there’s still a long-lasting effect – the popularity of remote or hybrid working teams.
In this blog, we’ll look back at some of the changes we’ve observed in the tech sector due to this paradigm shift.
Teams are better at having video meetings
If you’re anything like us, you’ll have gone through a period where the back-to-back video meetings started to get quite exhausting. While video meetings existed pre-2020, they were only complementary to preferred in-person meetings. In addition, there were significant teething issues when the industry suddenly had to rely solely on digital communications during the pandemic. These included difficulty focusing on the topic, inability to have a free-flowing conversation, and lack of body language, creating very transactional communications and technical issues.
Over time the workforce adapted to maximise the value of video meetings as the organisation depended on these to get things done. In today’s world, IT teams are collaborating via video calls with little to no thought on the medium. We’re conditioned now to hold meetings virtually. If anything, there is an adjustment to in-person meetings after long periods of working remotely.
The video meeting approach is crucial for a team based in multiple locations and remote workers. Losing out on context or key information by not being there physically is difficult for the staff member, and bad for the business as inefficiencies creep in, such as having to redo work.
And it’s not just work in progress (WIP) meetings that video calls are being used for. Job interviews, performance reviews and even Friday drinks have been adapted for remote teams.
Network infrastructure and security are managed with cloud solutions
Cloud-based infrastructure has been evolving for several decades, with many organisations having long-term programmes in place to migrate to this way of working. The ability to keep operations running in the face of civil defence emergencies, hardware faults and, more recently, lockdowns are just some of the reasons cloud architecture has become a priority. In today’s world, functions such as the implementation and management of firewalls, internet security, WAN and data warehousing can all occur on the cloud with close to the same level of performance as on-site infrastructure. In events like those mentioned above, reliability can be better.
At the time of writing, New Zealand has moved on from using lockdowns (for this pandemic), and there’s now the understanding that similar events can create a reality where we can’t get to the workplace. This has influenced businesses to ensure that their technology stack can withstand a remote workforce, with all IT staff able to access and maintain these systems from anywhere.
Employers are offering more flexible working arrangements
The IT sector at its core requires a computer and, in most cases, a combination of internal networking and internet access. For technical roles like development, there isn’t necessarily a requirement to be in the same building as everyone else. Code can be compiled, tested and version-controlled using web-based applications, and communication has never been easier between team members.
Even people-focused roles are manageable virtually for at least some of, if not all the work week. Nevertheless, Project Managers have had to adapt to the new way of working to keep projects delivered on time and within scope.
As teams incorporate more remote-based members, employers are opening their minds to different ways of employing talented individuals. Many job descriptions outline the flexibility of where the job needs to be based. It’s common for tech employers to offer ‘hybrid working’ arrangements where the work week is a combination of on-site and work-from-home.
Access to talent is less dictated by where in NZ people live
More tech employers are embracing a national search for talent, which is already in short supply, and are open to 100% remote staff. This provides businesses with far more options for hiring than they may have had previously, although this approach is not right for every role, team or business.
It’s common in this modern era of IT for a CTO to be in Auckland, a Senior Developer in Christchurch, and a UX Designer in Wellington – all working cohesively together, enabled by digital-based work practices. When the right person for a role is disqualified simply due to location, the business (and the project) can miss out. However, as businesses adapt to this as normality, job seekers and employers have plenty of new opportunities.
Project and workflow management software is crucial
There can be challenges around keeping track of what each team member is working on. For example, less information slips through the cracks when a team sits together and shares casual communications about work. Split that team up across the city (or country) and those micro-comms disappear. This means that managers need processes and systems in place to ensure everyone understands their responsibilities and the status of work at any given time. Examples of systems include instant messaging (e.g. Teams or Slack), Gantt chart project views, digital Kanban boards (e.g. Monday, Asana, Trello) and shared task lists.
There’s more effort required to build and foster interpersonal relationships
Without the dynamics of a team that sits together each day, tech professionals have to make more of an effort to get to know their colleagues. This favours the more extroverted amongst us, making this a slow process for the entire team to become well acquainted. It’s a common belief that staff that know and like each other produce better work and feel more comfortable with healthy challenges and debate.
It’s a good idea for managers to facilitate relationship building wherever possible and for staff to meet each other in person as regularly as possible. Even video calls don’t compare to the value of in-person contact. These relationships don’t just exist between staff at the same level but for management and their reports, senior leaders and business units.
Reliance on technology for informal communications
Emails, Slack, Teams – whatever the software, any remote-based IT team will need to find ways to communicate throughout the day. The challenge organisations face is the etiquette around the immediacy of instant messaging and the need to concentrate on daily tasks. This has led to teams developing agreed upon best practices for communications.
Clearer direction from management
The relationship between managers and their team members is important to get right and certainly a dynamic challenged by the evolving realities of remote teams. In person, trust is built daily, with multiple interactions and conversations across the week building to strengthen the relationship. With team members working remotely, the managers of IT teams have to manage the communication of tasks and expectations carefully . There is not the convenience of quickly clarifying something with a leader or co-worker as there may be in person. Working apart from teammates requires direction and checks by leaders to ensure the right outcomes are being worked towards. Lack of information rarely yields the right results – especially in the tech industry where detail matters.
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