CIO Roundtable

Building systems for resilience is job one

In a private CIO Virtual Roundtable hosted by ServiceNow, senior IT leaders shared how their companies have responded to COVID-19, and how they’ve looked upon the pandemic as an opportunity to rethink their business.

Today’s CIOs, they say, must expand their purview beyond traditional corporate goals like driving revenue. They now must also explore how to ensure internal business continuity and resilience. For example, they’ve cleared the first hurdle of getting their employees up to speed on working effectively from home. But now, CIOs need to think longer term and deploy digital systems that will enable their organizations to recover from COVID-19—and weather other risks in the future.

Here are three principles guiding their thinking:

1. Keep employees engaged and productive

In times of crisis – when employees may feel disconnected, pressured to be more productive, and even worried about their future – CIOs say their top goal is to keep employees connected, engaged, and inspired to succeed. They want to understand how their employees feel at work and at home, so that company leadership can act accordingly.

That thinking led many of these CIOs to experiment with innovative strategies to improve the well-being of employees. The first step was to simply find out the current state of employee sentiment, then monitor it and find ways to improve it. Several companies created an “employee effort score” that reflects how long it takes for an employee to get access to something or to be productive. Companies may place a lot of focus on automation and self-service, for example, but the complexity behind these processes can often be hidden.

To generate the employee effort score, workers are surveyed every four months (in the same format) to get their feedback on where they’re spending their time, which tools and capabilities they’re consuming, and how much easier it is for them to get things done. Once management has those key metrics, they can prioritize their responses and create a seamless and impactful employee experience. As one of our CIOs put it, “As a company, you need to make it super frictionless for all employees to work effectively, wherever they are.” The employee effort score gave a more insightful look at the employee experience and journey than typical NPS scores.

2. Make remote work really work

The pandemic has pushed many organizations into an all-remote (or mostly-remote) mindset. How do these CIOs empower teams to succeed in such a challenging environment? First, they focus on digitally managing complex workflows to provide employees the services and experiences they need to do their jobs seamlessly and efficiently. Then, they must plan for the eventual return to the workplace and determine what that will look like.

To manage these complex workflows tailored for remote activities, leaders will need to have the full support of technology behind them. That includes systems for communicating needs, filing requests, logging complaints or errors, and even reporting when they are ill. Companies can provide guidelines for ergonomically compliant equipment at home and roll out digital collaboration tools to ensure consistent employee engagement. The CIOs add that steps should also be taken to support employee wellness, including video-based “water cooler” meetings and online skills training opportunities to keep individuals motivated.

[Read also: How remote work can bring us together]

3. Partner with CHROs

CIOs say collaboration with their CHRO will be critical to orchestrating a seamless and consumer-like experience for employees. Many in this group created a new partnership between IT and HR that simply didn’t exist in the past. It’s not “HR or IT,” as one CIO put it, but “HR and IT,” and one of the silver linings of the pandemic was the opportunity to accelerate the pace of that partnership.

The group shared some diverse tactics for cementing the CIO/CHRO relationship. Some created a steering committee of executives to ensure a viable long-term plan for supporting employees. One created a huge cross-functional “return to work” task force, putting employee safety and well-being front and center. And another CIO illustrated the importance of alignment to create a unified strategy, enhance the quality of the output, manifest the right culture, and co-create the ideal employee journey.

From a pragmatic standpoint, a good partnership yields a more productive employee experience. For example, employees can easily find answers to important questions like how to get mobile email set up or how to check the status of a help-desk ticket. Or they can accomplish tasks quickly, like ordering hardware assets, fixing office equipment, or reporting technical issues. From an HR perspective, employees are empowered by the digital platform to readily find vacation and benefits policies, onboard new hires, or report workplace issues, among many others. The employee portal consolidates approvals from all apps in one place and makes it easy to make new requests and check ticket status.

For this assembly of CIOs, the COVID-19 crisis created a series of learning moments where they were able to experiment, innovate, and find new ways to keep their employees engaged, satisfied, and productive. Collaboration among key stakeholders was a key, as was soliciting regular feedback from employees themselves to stay engaged. Employee engagement and productivity are two sides of the same coin, both critical to unlocking workforce performance and resiliency.