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Enterprise Agility
Commentary

The Pandemic Has Changed How IT Teams Collaborate, Permanently

The pandemic accelerated the move to more flexible, distributed IT teams. Ongoing reskilling, flexible work arrangements, and cross-functional roles will remain.

Even before the arrival of an unprecedented, world-changing pandemic the traditional, rigid structure of traditional IT teams was under pressure. Centralized, hierarchical models that featured little cross-functional collaboration had long given way to a plethora of more flexible structures. This evolution has happened over years, if not decades and shows no sign of reversing itself. Whether they are characterized as technology-aligned teams, business-aligned teams, cross-functional teams or tiger teams, all these approaches represent an evolution toward greater flexibility, allowing organizations to rapidly adjust and test, as well as find the right combination of talent and resources.

The upheaval brought about by COVID-19, however, has accelerated these trends. Organizations accustomed to having teams work on initiatives in close physical proximity suddenly found that employees on the same team were scattered across multiple geographies and time zones. The very concept of a typical workday exploded, as employees adjusted their schedules to handle elder care responsibilities, juggle parenting duties or tend to those suffering from illness. Many of these workers, formerly concentrated in high-cost tech centers such as Northern California, have fled to lower-cost locations across the Sun Belt and Midwest or out to ex-urban locations and are unlikely to return, even as pandemic restrictions start to ease.

Adapting on the Fly

At the same time, even companies that were once reluctant about work-from-home, fearful of productivity losses, have been forced to adapt quickly in order to keep the lights on. Though we have long been advocates of flexible work models, like many organizations we had to adjust quickly when COVID hit, putting together a response plan for over 7,000 global employees and swiftly moving 99.5% of our workforce to work-from-home, with employee wellness as the top priority.

In doing so, as a data-driven organization, we also realized that we needed to ensure that we did a better job of creating documentation, assigning work, and collaborating on projects. This required creating new avenues for communication, setting up virtual challenges, doubling up on learning and training initiatives, creating new virtual leadership programs, and enhancing wellness benefits.

The Pandemic’s Lasting Impact

Rather than thinking of their COVID response plans as a series of temporary measures that will fade over time as we return to normality, IT leaders should ask themselves how much of their previous modus operandi has changed permanently as a result of the pandemic and react accordingly. Following are three big shifts that IT leaders will need to adjust to in order to collaborate effectively in today’s environment and ensure that their work product is meeting the rapidly evolving needs of their clients:

  • Provide Remote Reskilling: Software applications are evolving at a breakneck pace that shows no signs of slacking. Today’s college graduate is mastering skills that may be obsolete in five years or less. In this environment, it’s incumbent upon organizations to adopt a mindset of constant improvement, retraining and rapid reskilling. Moreover, they need to make these resources available in real-time, anywhere, to an increasingly distributed workforce.
  • Prioritize Flexibility: Despite an intense national focus on developing more STEM graduates, software developers, data scientists, AI specialists and data engineers are all named among the roles suffering from the greatest talent shortage, especially for small and mid-sized businesses. In this environment, work flexibility is no longer a nice-to-have but a must. Employers who insist on rigid work arrangements will lose out on the best talent and higher compensation won’t necessarily sway employees accustomed to a greater measure of freedom during COVID.
  • Keep Breaking Down the Silos: Teams that that cut across development and operations are rapidly becoming the norm, not the exception. While this has obvious benefits for getting projects off the ground quickly, assembling the right team for the job and accelerating speed to market, it requires changing the operational mindset and getting comfortable with more customized, dotted-line reporting structures.

Rather than thinking about how they can put the COVID genie back in the bottle and return to “normal,” IT organizations should seize the opportunity to take the team collaboration skills and tools they have developed forward into the post-pandemic era. The past year has seen the cresting of a wave of change that has been building for years. Now that it has crashed ashore, those who can build new, more flexible structures will be tomorrow’s winners.

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Since joining Rackspace Technology in 2010 as a Linux Administrator in the Customer Success organization, Josh Prewitt has led numerous teams and functions across Rackspace including global technical support organizations, operations, product management, software development and engineering. In his current role as VP, Public Cloud, Josh oversees Rackspace Technology’s Public Cloud Solutions strategy for services on AWS, Azure and GCP creating innovative solutions for customers. Prior to joining Rackspace, Josh was a customer of Rackspace from 2003-2009 and led a handful of affiliate marketing startups.