When the COVID-19 pandemic precipitated a global lockdown in March, many believed that remote work was a temporary solution. But with almost five months behind us and an uncertain future ahead, it is clear that the nature of work, and the role of technology executives, has changed dramatically. As digital workflows, resilience and agile work environments grow in importance, success hinges on the adaptability of organizational leaders. 

This type of flexibility will be paramount as organizations begin to shift to hybrid work environments. According to a survey of more than 150 CIOs, CISOs and technology executives conducted by HMG Strategy, 75 percent expect most work to continue to be done remotely as of 4Q 2020, with some expecting a 70/30 split between remote and in-office staff.

Continuing HMG Strategy’s Digital Summit series, the company hosted the 2020 HMG Live! New Jersey CIO Executive Leadership Summit in partnership with the SIM New Jersey chapter on July 16. The summit featured a variety of prominent CIOs and technology rock stars 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.

For leaders looking to grow from this crisis, the difference between survival and success will be agile and people-focused solutions.

“Whoever thought that being agile would be so exhausting!,” said Cecilia McKenney, SVP & CHRO at Quest Diagnostics. “It’s been incredibly humbling to relearn how to lead.”

Reimagining the Business and the Future of Work: Picking Up Speed

With the future uncertain and continuing waves of COVID-19 likely in the coming months, remote work has been quickly accepted as a new normal- not just as a temporary measure, but as a permanent practice. 

Many companies have seen cloud migration timelines shrink. Almost overnight, CIOs shifted from investing in operations to investing in transformational solutions to serve customers on a digital platform.

Remote work has also allowed several unforeseen changes, particularly in efficiency. Automation has become more important in shared collaboration tools and tasks like tracking virtual event requests. Meetings are faster and to-the-point.

“People aren’t showing up late, sidebars are happening prior to the meeting,” said Gerard Insall, CIO at Avis Budget Group. “The productivity of meetings has gone up.”

For processes like financial advising, a generational gap in technology is growing. Baby Boomers may be used to sitting across from an advisor; digital natives may prefer the ease of remote communication, and we are likely to see a hybrid of both methods in the future.

Opportunities for Tech Executives on the Move

While many companies have put off key hiring decisions until markets become stable, there have also been opportunities for unprecedented growth, particularly in services necessary during COVID. Although many search industry clients took a pause to focus on survival and viability early in the pandemic, searches have returned with a vengeance in the past several weeks. 

Social distancing has required significant changes to the search process, as many organizations conduct searches in which both candidates and clients never meet in person.

“I did a search where we didn’t meet the candidate, the client didn’t, and my client paused in March to figure out ‘How do we do that?’,” said Mark Polansky, Senior Partner, Technology Officers Practice at Korn Ferry. “If I’m talking about remotely onboarding someone, there are security risks. But it can be done.”

In a time of crisis and remote work, companies are looking for technology executives who can be adaptive and flexible in an increasingly front end, customer-facing role. 

“Get your digital resume and LinkedIn profile ready, practice interviewing on video,” said Polansky. “Yes, today is the best time to be an executive, but this Fall will be even better.”

Securing the Future of Work

Going remote has revealed the strengths and weaknesses of security practices. With endpoints traditionally in a secure building now spread all over the globe, threat landscapes have increased. But whether leaders are returning to fundamentals or implementing new projects, the important thing to keep track of is people.

To support the shift in the security landscape, companies must focus on education- the dos and don’ts of at-home security- as well as awareness around pandemic-related attacks. 

While companies build resilience, flexibility and agile delivery models, it is important that security teams stay continuously involved in the growth process. 

“If we don’t have a seat at the table from the beginning, then it’s not going to be successful,” said Roota Almeida, CISO at Delta Dental of NJ and CT. “There can’t just be checkpoints along the way. We need to be there every step.”

The Takeaway: Thriving in a Crisis

“You’ve got to have a plan and start there,” said Jim Fowler, CTO at Nationwide. “You’ve got to know that plan is going to be wrong and then pivot quickly.”

In a time of crisis, it’s easy to be surprised by what doesn’t work- or what does work. Although many companies experienced decreases in productivity, there were also remarkable gains attributed to remote working. Fast-thinking executives are jumping on opportunities to make changes, increasing permanent work-from-home capacity, reducing physical spaces and meetings, and revisiting recovery strategies. Companies are benefiting from digitization and automation, and customers are demanding it. 

Ultimately, technology leaders must learn not only to be agile as leaders, but to embrace their seat at the table.

“These are becoming board discussions,” said Brian Brockway, VP and CTO at Commvault. “That’s what makes it so exciting.”  

To learn more about the 2020 HMG Live! New Jersey CIO Executive Leadership Summit, click here.

To learn more about HMG Strategy’s upcoming 2020 HMG Live! Boston CIO Executive Leadership Summit on Sept. 11 and to register for the event, click here.

To learn about HMG Strategy’s 2020 HMG Live! Washington, D.C. CISO Executive Leadership Summit on Sept. 15 and to register for the event, click here.