Early in March, executives in global organizations based in North America began to prioritize the need for a work-from-home environment. The magnitude of the COVID-19 crisis became clear, and IT leaders knew that innovations were necessary to accommodate the short and long-term effects.

Premier technology leaders assembled for the 2020 HMG Live! Denver CIO Executive Leadership Summit on May 27 discussed their teams’ initial reactions, the skills needed to lead through a crisis and the success derived from the recent innovations they have seen.

When the social distance and self-quarantine implications of the pandemic first began to affect major industries on a large scale, IT leaders worldwide worked tirelessly with their teams to react, according to executive speakers at the summit.

Considering the health and safety risks for employees and customers, Margot Sharapova, CIO of Incitec Pivot Ltd., said the first question for her organization was "How do we utilize our existing safety culture, and adapt?"

Proceeding with a reactive plan in some cases meant making large-scale decisions more rapidly than executive teams were previous accustomed to.

"I have to give credit to our CEO,” Sharapova said. “She considered bifurcation very early— earlier than leadership was ready."

It became important to quickly decide which roles and responsibilities were conceivable in the remote work environment and how to equip the work-from-home teams for success. More importantly, it meant deciding how to keep essential on-site staff protected.

"It's not too difficult to send home IT and salespeople, but we had to come up with a way to be safe in the warehouses without shutting them down," said Brenda Horn, Global CIO, Enterprise Computing Solutions at Arrow Electronics.

With circumstances changing daily, leadership is tasked with optimizing operations, keeping a pulse on the organization’s activities and responding effectively to fluctuating needs.

"Every day you need to look at your demand and inventory, and every day you need to adjust,” Horn said. “The more you do it, the better you get at it."

Michael Spandau, SVP, Global IT and CIO at Fender Musical Instruments, said at first, demand forecasting has been a challenge since the beginning of the pandemic.

"The biggest challenge for us has been keeping the factories up and running efficiently, while instituting social distancing," he said.

Keeping an open forum to express needs, concerns and ideas has been the only way manage a crisis of this scale, according to Spandau. “You really can't over-communicate when it comes to the well-being of the business," Spandau added.

A unique consequence of this particular crisis has been a leveling of the playing field. Small businesses and large corporations alike have had difficulties staying connected to their customers and responding to the worldwide work-from-home initiative.

Incitec is positioned somewhere in the middle, according to Sharapova. "We're a big enough company to have 'big company problems' but not big enough to be able to solve them at scale," she said.

Horn said the pandemic has created a challenging environment, but an educational one. In some ways, she said, it's been very insightful.

"In many cases, our employees are even more productive now than when they were in the office," Horn said.

Spandau said Fender has found similar success in its post-digital pivot.

"We are working very well under the new circumstances and have no immediate plans to bring employees back to our offices,” Spandau said. “Our biggest concern is the health and safety of our global staff and community."

With the right mission and vision squared away, technology leaders and work-from-home employees have both found the bright side of a global business disruption. Molly Rauzi, CTO and Managing Director at Gagen MacDonald, said the innovation born since March was unexpected, but key.

"The pandemic has truly accelerated digital transformation," Rauzi said.

As companies transition into the next new frontier—a hybrid work environment—it’s clear that the lessons learned in agility and accommodation will not soon be forgotten.

Sharapova said, “COVID requires we have more flexible work arrangements than we’ve ever had in the past.”

Listen to more of the incisive strategies and cutting-edge leadership tactics these technology rock stars shared by watching the archived recording of the 2020 HMG Live! Denver CIO Executive Leadership Summit on the HMG Strategy YouTube page.

To learn more about HMG Live! CIO and CISO Summits and to register for upcoming events, click here.