Bringing Your IT Staff Back to the OfficeBringing Your IT Staff Back to the Office
We’ve all seen the headlines about IT workers and other professionals digging their heels in the ground about coming back to the office. Here are four ways IT leaders can navigate this sticky situation.
June 17, 2022
When COVID-19 struck in 2020, companies went into “lockdown” mode and many IT workers and other business professionals began working from home. Since then, many have returned to the workplace. Others, accustomed to remote work and maintaining a better work-life balance, have no desire to return to the office.
IT departments have responded with more opportunities for remote work. In highly competitive IT job markets such as the Silicon Valley, offering remote work options was a necessity. In other areas of the country, too, organizations hoping to retain and attract IT talent have offered remote work.
But remote work has its pros and cons.
Remote work pays dividends when IT staff members assigned to projects get “quiet time” away from constant interruptions at the office so they can focus on their project work. However, when project team meetings are called, remote work can be far less effective.
According to communication and body language researchers, up to 90% of human communication can be non-verbal. While this seems like a high number, few of us who have managed IT projects and project meetings will underestimate the power of a user’s smile (or frown) during a requirements definition meeting, or the tell-tale signs of meeting exhaustion (or boredom) that set in when meetings run too long -- nor can we underestimate the value of a team meeting over a pizza lunch.
We also know that online video meetings do not provide the same quality of interaction as in-person gatherings.
“Regular face-to-face interaction, nonverbal communication is quite natural, and each of us naturally makes and interprets gestures and nonverbal cues subconsciously,” noted Stanford Professor Jeremy Bailenson, in a Stanford News article. “But in video chats, we have to work harder to send and receive signals…If you want to show someone that you are agreeing with them, you have to do an exaggerated nod or put your thumbs up. That adds cognitive load as you’re using mental calories in order to communicate.”
What IT Can Do Now
In many respects, the balance between work at the office and work at home hasn't changed significantly for IT. What has changed are people’s expectations of being able to work more from home because of work deployment changes during the pandemic.
Do IT leaders need to adjust based upon this?
Here are four things to consider:
1. Employees want work-life balance
Even before the COVID crisis, researchers at firms like Gartner were uncovering the importance of work-life balance for employees.
The employees’ desire for work-life balance hasn’t waned. It's incumbent on IT leaders to create work environments that help employees achieve work-life balance, and it’s likely that at least some opportunity for working remotely fits into this puzzle.
2. Explain the rules for working from home and working from the office
When my staff first moved to a remote work concept, there were equity questions that some staff members raised because they felt that if some people in IT could work from home nearly all of the time, everyone should have the same opportunity.
The fact was, some jobs in IT were almost entirely task-oriented and could be done independently, but other jobs required interactions with people to accomplish the work.
The people-oriented jobs in IT included management, business/systems analysts, trainers, etc. These positions required continuous in-person interactions with others, while other task-oriented IT jobs (systems programmer, network administrator) were more amenable to extended periods of remote work. Depending upon the role in IT they were performing, staff members needed to know upfront what the in-office (versus remote work) expectations were for the positions that they filled.
That is still true in 2022.
3. Provide remote work options
Although there are people-oriented IT jobs, this doesn’t mean that accommodations can’t be made for individuals in “people jobs” to work at home.
“Telecommuting usually leads to fewer interruptions, less office politics, a quieter noise level, and less (or more efficient) meetings,” according to FlexJobs’ Emily Courtney. “Add in the lack of a commute, and remote workers typically have more time and fewer distractions, which leads to increased productivity --a huge benefit of working from home for both employees and employers alike.”
4. Ensure employee engagement
In my IT remote work strategy, we had a system developer who worked from home, and whom we saw in the office perhaps once or twice a year. The developer’s work was good, but there were also questions about how some of the work integrated with other systems and project work, and even who this “mystery developer” was!
We concluded that even for staff members who worked remotely, it was good practice for them to work onsite at least once per month.
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