What keeps SA’s top CIOs awake at night post-Covid
South Africa’s top professional CIOs are grappling with enabling new work models and ensuring the wellness of their teams in the post-Covid environment.
This emerged during the first IITPSA Pr.CIO® round table – a forum for professional CIOs who hold the Pr.CIO® designation.
The CIOs from leading enterprises said rolling out and managing IT infrastructure to enable a remote and hybrid workforce was not their biggest challenge post-Covid-19. Most enterprises had been considering virtual and remote work models before the pandemic hit, and had the resources to enable remote work quickly. However, the real issue now was managing teams effectively, supporting staff wellness, and adapting work models to compete effectively in the war for talent.
The round table, held under the Chatham House Rule, provided a forum for the CIOs to share their experiences freely.
Said one: “There is work to be done around the psychology and connectedness of teams in a remote and hybrid environment. The biggest change we have seen was in the war on talent – talent is a lot more mobile, and people are wanting to work in smaller towns or even – in one instance – from a camper van as they tour the country. You now see location and remote work preferences coming up in interview questions, so it’s dramatically changed where you source skills, what environment you create for them and where you create it for them. Companies that don’t have a great employee value proposition on these aspects are going to struggle with placements in the future. So we are all incentivised to find solutions to these problems now.”
He noted that company culture and connectedness could suffer in remote work environments: “When everyone worked in offices, when they moved between meetings, they had a lot of ‘corridor time’ which supported networking and communication. Now that is missing.”
Another noted: “We have adopted a hybrid model, and we’re now finding that people coming back to the office are sitting alone at their laptops instead of in meeting rooms where they could connect and interact with each-other. I have decided I need to actively connect with them to find out how they are doing on a personal level. We are adapting as we go – we don’t know all the answers.
People are all starting to work longer hours, and we find people are struggling to switch off from work. Instead of work-life balance, we are moving to work-life integration. Many people are finding that they are exhausted, with some saying they don’t even have time for short breaks anymore because they might have 12 or 15 30-minute meetings back-to-back. Some organisations in India have decided they will no longer have 30-minute or one-hour long meetings; they are having 25-minute or 55-50-minute meetings to create breaks for themselves between meetings. In this environment, wellness becomes a concern. There’s a wellness problem hitting us – some are not coping, they don’t know how to shut off, and it’s becoming a challenge.”
Said a CIO in the public sector “One good thing coming out of the pandemic is that it proved remote working can be successful. Many people I interact with say they would prefer to work from home, yet we now see many companies wanting their staff to go back to the office. This points to management styles – why would you need to see staff in person unless your management style is to police, rather than manage people? We need to enable more flexible policies and become more output-driven to accommodate flexible work and even moonlighting – so people could attain the work-life balance they have wanted for years. On the wellness aspect, we find that if we spend too much time working we feel restricted in our own homes. I find if I alternate between working at home and a coffee shop, it’s a good coping mechanism to get a change of scene.”
A CIO and researcher said a recent global study had found that gender diversity had suffered during the pandemic. Many women had to resign to care for children, were impacted by company closures, or lost work because of restrictions associated with the pandemic. “This impacted company diversity targets and strategies. The acceptance of remote working and flexible working hours, and the proven technical ability to provide secure remote workstations can, however, be used post-pandemic to positively impact these strategies. Allowing the continuation of remote work and flexible hours can improve the ability for many to join and re-join the work force. This is just one example where the now proven and accepted technologies can be used to support business strategies post-pandemic. Going back to the way things were means leaving these benefits behind; rather many organisations should build on these developments and reimagine a new world of work.”
Another CIO noted that management styles have to change, with managers paying attention to staff wellness: “The expectation was that the introverts would handle lockdown and remote work better, but it’s turning out not to be the case. In IT, where a lot of people are introverts, they may still want to work remotely but you can see that their mental wellbeing is not good. So we went to two days a week at the office, and we saw their energy starting to come back. To support diversity and inclusion, on top of gender, race and other diversity criteria, there is also psychometrical diversity – people think in different ways and to have a complete team, you need to encourage participation from all of those. Once you start looking at it from that perspective, you realise there’s a lot more at play and it’s a lot more complicated.”
The IITPSA Pr.CIO® designation is awarded only to South African CIOs who have met global standards for competence, ethical issues, social implications, legal considerations, and, most importantly, have the required skills and experience, at the appropriate level of seniority. The designation is IFIP IP3 accredited (SFIA level 7) and is also SAQA registered. For more information on the Pr.CIO® designation, please visit https://www.iitpsa.org.za/professional-cio/?fbclid=IwAR074QhKmSIiVp5c6HWoyxlW1zQh7fJ1durounOndG2R4YO-A7YcF-sUewM