Technology Leaders Roundtable: adopting, adapting, transforming

Friday November 13th, 2020

The latest event in Jumar’s Technology Leaders Roundtable series focussed on resilience, the challenges experienced during the Covid-19 pandemic, the lessons learned, and the impact on future strategy. The speaker, an executive from a large systems integrator, discussed how they responded to government to support key initiatives which ultimately allowed government to respond effectively.

Key challenges

The roundtable discussion began with some of the key challenges that organisations have faced since the pandemic began:

Time pressure – For a number of attendees, one of the biggest challenges was time pressure in delivering critical systems. The consensus was that by bringing together all decision makers, identifying priorities and focusing on the minimal viable product, organisations were still able to deliver mission critical systems at speed.

Supporting employees – when the government told people to stay at home in March, organisations largely moved to remote working where possible. Ensuring employees could work from home effectively was a key consideration for all our attendees. Equipment provision, ensuring staff had the optimum environment to work at home, developing shift patterns that worked around personal circumstances, running wellbeing courses, and providing training for managing people remotely were some of the initiatives highlighted to maintain employee wellbeing.

Supporting local communities – a number of initiatives were shared, including giving employees the opportunity to support their local community by volunteering at food banks, printing PPE equipment on 3D printers, providing support for the Folding@home initiative. Attendees discussed their experience of such schemes and their ability to give employees a greater sense of purpose.

Lessons learned

The roundtable attendees all agreed that the most valuable outcome, is the appreciation of how much can be achieved by the ‘new way of working’. This is based on the following:

Trust and empowerment – organisations need to trust employees to work efficiently from home and empower them to focus on the work that needs to be completed. Trust and empowerment through the pandemic have actually led to increased productivity.

Flexibility – being able to move capacity from technology projects which were put on-hold to more critical projects, allows organisations to use the best talent available and keeps those employees interested and motivated.

One delegate highlighted the benefits of:

“Adopting the lessons that we have learned, adapting new ways of working, and transforming the way we work together for the good of each other, the good of our clients, and the good of our environment.”

Maintaining momentum

One of the key questions discussed in the roundtable was what can be done practically to maintain the momentum generated by this new working culture. It focused on what can be put in place to ensure the benefits of remote working continue, as it becomes the new normal. It was equally important to ensure that those benefits are translated into tangible deliverables that provide enhanced experiences for customers, employees and communities.

One attendee highlighted that, during the pandemic, their whole team seemed to instinctively know what needed to be done. The team members were driven by a sense of urgency, created by their newly imposed way of working and an understanding of the impact the task had on society – they rose to that challenge. Sometimes, a crisis such as this brings out the best in people, and drives them to go that extra mile, even considering scenarios and outcomes that they wouldn’t have otherwise done.

Shifting employee expectations

With all, or the majority of, teams working from home throughout the pandemic, employees’ expectations around their work life in the future have fundamentally shifted.

The ability to work remotely gives organisations the opportunity to recruit people from a wider pool as they are no longer limited by location. One attendee spoke of an increase in the number of applicants by a factor of 15, with a broader spectrum of potential candidates. Additionally, the quality of some applicants was above and beyond any that have applied to previous positions. This was identified as a real opportunity, although it comes with a caution as an increase in applicants inevitably slows down the recruitment process. Another attendee questioned whether there is an opportunity to recruit people with strong skillsets, or whether the strongest candidates are staying in their current roles because of the increased uncertainty in the market.

Agile delivery teams

One attendee asked whether agile delivery had improved in productivity and innovation now that teams are typically not co-located. This evolved into a discussion on how to best support agile delivery teams who are now working remotely, and apart from each other.

The group discussed various successful new methods adopted by their agile teams during the pandemic, including the scrum master clearly setting out how the team was going to work, organising regular check-ins, making use of collaboration technology like Microsoft Teams, creating virtual skillset courses and adding a facilitator to the team to support the scrum master.

As we look to the future and organisations continue to offer flexibility in allowing people to work in a way that suits their personal circumstances, there needs to be careful consideration around how the agile lifecycle will work in a hybrid environment. A key question was how teams can operate a scrum virtually and in the office at the same time.

Supporting entry-level employees

This question asked how entry level employees can be bought into the organisation remotely where home working is the new normal.
In terms of recruiting, practical elements are easily transferable to remote options, the challenge arises around cultural fit. It is more difficult, and more important, to ensure that the person is right for the organisation and has the right soft skills. This is a particular challenge if you’ve never actually met.

With entry level employees, much of their personal development is around softer skills that they pick up from observing how leaders and senior team members interact with other people in the office. It is difficult for new starters to see that engagement and learn from those conversations if they are happening remotely. Organisations need to put an onus on senior team members to invite junior members of the team to virtual calls and meetings simply to observe.

If you would like to join us in our technology Roundtable Series, please get in touch. Upcoming roundtables will cover topics including supporting the next generation of women in technology, realising the value in technology partnering and business models within mutual societies.

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