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Addressing common issues CIOs face when managing entirely remote workforces

Addressing common issues CIOs face when managing entirely remote workforces

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COVID-19 has posed an abundance of challenges for business leaders which they must face head-on as the pandemic takes hold. Prasad Ramakrishnan, CIO, Freshworks, explains how CIOs are adapting in order to offer flexible working and to maintain smooth business operations during the current circumstances.

As global economies continue in the fight against COVID-19, millions of people around the world are working from home indefinitely to slow the spread of the disease. No business leaders would have been able to predict these trying circumstances and they are having to adjust at a rapid pace. Many CIOs are now managing entirely remote workforces and this highly unusual scenario has presented some unprecedented challenges.

The global nature of the pandemic is unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetime, affecting companies across multiple locations and regions. Organisations usually create Business Continuity plans for regional disasters, but to have entire workforces sent home is incredibly unusual and will quickly show CIOs where there are weaknesses in their technology strategy.  

From a surge in employee expense claims for noise-cancelling headphones and green screens, to a shift in IT helpdesk support hours and a growing security threat to corporate assets, CIOs are having to adapt quickly to maintain their businesses operations. So, what are the key considerations for CIOs during this period and how can they overcome these challenges?

1. Onboarding and offboarding employees

COVID-19 is not going away anytime soon. Many businesses will continue to operate remotely – even when lockdown restrictions begin to ease – until it is deemed completely safe for their workforces to travel. While many businesses have put a freeze on hiring for now, some are still recruiting and as remote working becomes the norm, efficiently enrolling new joiners and enforcing protocol for leavers virtually will be key.

Businesses must use endpoint mobility management systems to remotely set up new starters. This will ensure that all the required security software including anti-malware software is downloaded on their company-issued laptop and that they can securely access the network.

For off-boarding, CIOs will need to ensure they have shipping and logistics processes in place to securely courier machines back to their facility. If this is not possible, the ex-employee will have to hold on to the device until working life gets back to normal. And, if this is the case, the CIO should use EMM (enterprise mobility management) and tight asset management to ensure the device is wiped and the account disabled.

2. Securing company assets

When the whole team is working remotely, it is vital that CIOs can manage company devices virtually and push antivirus software and other relevant upgrades, to employees’ machines. There are various applications available that help businesses sync their mobile and computer devices into their asset management. Once integrated, CIOs can view the current configuration of their end-user machines, as well as the relevant health information of all devices, and perform actions such as wiping systems, rebooting and retiring assets.

Why is mobile device management so important? Firstly and most importantly, it gives a company’s IT operation the ability to secure all employee endpoints, whether that’s company-issued smartphones, tablets or laptops. It also gives them the freedom to control and enforce policies on these devices when needed. Secondly, it gives IT teams better visibility into any issue being faced by the end-user, meaning they can respond and fix any issues in the most efficient way.

3. Managing technology that’s below par

In an office environment, the CIO will have control over all the technology that the employees use, yet with so many staff members working from home for the foreseeable future, this is no longer the case. Some employees may not have been issued with company laptops, leaving them having to rely on personal desktops at home that might not be compatible with company systems. Others will be dealing with performance issues on their home broadband due to a spike in activity on the network (children streaming TV services or doing schoolwork online) and others may not have access to home Wi-Fi at all.

To address this at Freshworks, we issued all our India-based staff with MiFi dongles at the beginning of the crisis to ensure everyone could work from home without any access issues. CIOs can also set up Virtual Desktop Infrastructures (VDIs) with their cloud provider to give their employees robust IT infrastructure that can cope with high demand on services.

4. More self-service required

IT support teams are under unprecedented pressure with so much of the expectation of seamless adaptation to working from home falling on their shoulders. Service tickets have significantly increased and in many instances, IT teams are stretched to the limit of their resources. It is the responsibility of business leaders, specifically CIOs, to relieve this burden and find ways to ensure employees are more self-sufficient.

CIOs and IT teams should develop knowledge-based articles and videos that educate staff on how to troubleshoot issues themselves. If done effectively, employees will be able to refer to these as guidelines so they are not having to rely on IT service teams so heavily.

5. Ensuring Business Continuity

Remote working policies have proven essential to maintaining at least some form of continuity during the pandemic and companies cannot afford to overlook the massive paradigm shift that has occurred in Business Continuity overall.

Even in normal circumstances, best practice dictates updating Business Continuity plans on an ongoing basis. However, now is the time to thoroughly scrutinise existing plans. This will vary from company to company, but there are plenty of imperatives that apply across the board. Any weakness in technology strategy will quickly show and it is down to the CIOs to address this and ensure they are better prepared for events occurring in the future on a similar scale.

These are exceptionally trying times for the CIO of any organisation and those who are equipped to flex quickly and adapt to deal with the changing environment will ultimately be those that can get through this difficult period and continue to operate as normally as possible. The advice laid out here is simple to follow but integral to the Business Continuity of any company. All organisations will be facing unique problems of their own, but those who look ahead to how they can thrive in the ‘new normal’ working landscape stand the best chance of remaining successful through these turbulent times.     

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