When the world screeched to a halt in March, a return to work as we knew it still seemed a possibility. But with four months behind us and an undetermined future ahead, it is clear that the nature of work must shift dramatically to adapt to these uncertain times. 

When asked where work will be conducted as of the fourth quarter of 2020, 75% of CIOs, CISOs and technology executives surveyed by HMG Strategy said they expect most work to continue to be conducted at home, with some percentage of employees working part of the time from a dedicated office.

Continuing HMG Strategy’s Digital Summit series, the company hosted an HMG Live! Philadelphia CIO Executive Leadership Summit on June 30. The Summit featured a variety of prominent CIOs and technology leaders who shared their experiences and insights on reimagining and securing the future of work along with the state of executive search amid the COVID-19 pandemic. 

While the sudden transition to remote work and its necessary technologies presents challenges, the shift has created opportunities for CIOs and other technology leaders to create positive change. 

“One of the most frustrating responses we get [as technologists] is, ‘Well, this is the way we always do things’,” said James Kurek, Chief Technology and Innovation Officer of Brandywine Realty Trust. “I think now...everybody sees that there is a need to change things for the better.”

Making Change, Fast

As companies rapidly switched to remote work in March, it became clear that adaptation and innovation required a change in business processes, even when traditional IT technologies for working from home were already in place. Employees could still connect to corporate systems via VPN, access cloud platforms, and perform many other essential tasks; but they couldn’t gather by the water cooler or run into coworkers in the elevator. 

While the ease of using traditional technologies may not easily and immediately replace organic interactions in the office, there is an opportunity to leverage these existing technologies in newer ways, and to recognize the role of CIO as not only operational, but transformational.

“As we approach a hybrid model of at-home and in-office, we have to ask, what can we do? It’s not necessarily utilizing new technology,” said Kurek. “For example, we may take our warehouse technology that would monitor forklifts, so we’ll be able to monitor [social distancing].”

Within some industries, the standard work environment had been brick-and-mortar, even with other options available. But regardless of whether the world returns to a pre-COVID state, virtual meetings and care opportunities will be an expectation. 

“We’ve gotten comfortable,” said CIO of Cancer Treatment Centers of America Jennifer Greenman. “We’re not going back.” 

The role of CIO, in addition to taking on these transformational tactics, involves not just the selection and deployment of collaboration tools but the processes which surround them. When services like telehealth go from tens of patients to thousands, CIOs must increase the speed at which they support that technology, whether through leveraging communication tools, standardizing technological processes for remote employees, or addressing the IT challenges of access and system availability when more employees are online.

“We must assess what the need is and innovate a solution as fast as humanly possible,” said Lawrence Bilker, EVP & CIO of Pyramid Healthcare. 

Executive Search in a Pandemic

In the era of COVID-19, the executive search industry has not been exempted from disruption.

While Zoom and other technologies were often used pre-COVID to connect with candidates, the big change has been on the client side. With travel deemed risky, and Zoom meetings increasing in popularity and necessity, executive search leaders are connecting clients and candidates without meeting either side in person.

While the overall search business has taken a hit due to the crisis, search requests for technology executives have stayed relatively strong. The need for technology executives has remained, particularly for CIOs who are able to drive a digital journey. 

“I think this may be the best time ever for a CEO to find a CIO,” said John Fidler, Managing Director of Retained Search at Fidato Partners, LLC. “Every company is now a tech company. There’s lots of uncertainty in the market, but strong leadership teams are the folks who will guide and lead out of the pandemic.”

This is also an ideal time for CIOs and technology executives to get their brands out there as thought leaders and to demonstrate what they’ve been able to achieve as change agents, said Aileen Alexander, Managing Partner at Korn Ferry. 

Securing the Future

Moving to remote work quickly has placed strain on information security. Companies have added services, moved the storing and accessing of information, and opened channels to work remotely- a significant transformation.

Michael Iwanoff, CISO at iconectiv, recommended evaluating threat models. “Look at the most important information you have, the keys to the kingdom- who do you think your attackers are?”

Given the speed of recent changes, analyzing security also includes third party remote access capabilities, which must balance enabling business with ensuring security. In addition, concerns about productivity must go hand-in-hand with ensuring employees are working securely. Even something as simple as educating employees on at-home security and best practices is a simple step towards securing the processes of remote work. 

As this movement to the cloud presents advantages in the current environment, companies have accelerated their efforts; transitions that would have taken a year have been undergone in the past three months, a testament to the adaptability of industry leaders. 

The Takeaway: Communication, Connection, and Culture

“Never give up a good chaos,” said Gary Sorrentino, Global Deputy CIO at Zoom. “Take lessons learned from this crisis.”

There is always a need to adapt technology and operations in the midst of a crisis; but company culture and communication remain the true fabric of success. Both of these elements have taken a hit during the pandemic, as employees and executives learn to balance work and home life in new ways. 

Ultimately, it is up to leadership to establish a company culture that prides itself on communication, collaboration and a positive outlook on trying times. 

To view more of the thought leadership shared he 2020 HMG Live! Philadelphia CIO Executive Leadership Summit, click here.

To learn more about upcoming HMG Live! CIO and CISO Summits, including our upcoming 2020 HMG Live! Atlanta CIO Executive Leadership Summit on August 13, click here.