Lockdown learnings: Business leader lessons to mark the lockdown anniversary

Lockdown learnings: Business leader lessons to mark the lockdown anniversary

As we mark a year since the first lockdown announcement in the UK, we hear from industry experts who discuss the things we’ve learned over the past year, the ways we’ve adapted, and how to apply a new-found approach to working life moving forward.

It’s hard to believe that it has been a full year since the UK first went into lockdown. With everyday life changing almost overnight and great loss felt by individuals and businesses alike, it’s hard to imagine what life will be like in the future even as restrictions begin to soften.

As businesses prepare for employees to return to the office in the summer and the timeline of the reopening of society draws closer, it’s important to reflect on the last 12 months and draw on the positives.

Here are some of the learnings to consider which the country’s top technology leaders will be taking into the future to support their businesses whatever the year ahead may entail:

How to lead after the crisis, because of the crisis

Rob Walker, MD UK&I, Cognizant

“I’ve had the unique experience of joining a global company right at the very peak of the pandemic which means that I have still not met any of the thousands of UK&I employees, my direct reports or the executive team in person.

“This means I’ve had to adapt my leadership skills from my very first day to be able to provide my team with the support they need by solely relying on video calls and internal systems to communicate. For many of us, this was a new, daily way of working we had to get used to.

“Under these circumstances, it has been essential to acknowledge the difficulties we’re all operating within and explain how the company is addressing these concerns. Being sensitive to specific employee circumstances, taking the time to thank individuals for their contributions and personalising messages rather than cascading corporate communications has also been key. 

“To build rapport with my senior leadership team, I’ve had much slower, in-depth conversations, tuning into the nuances of conversations and practicing active listening. Prior to the pandemic, this was far easier as I would have been able to quickly assimilate what makes an individual tick over a relaxed, informal setting like coffee or dinner. But remote working requires a more creative and patient approach.”

How CIOs can prepare for a long-term remote working future

Jonathan Bridges, Chief Innovation Officer, Exponential-e

“Businesses are responsible for ensuring their workforces have a productive home office environment in which they aren’t held back by poor technology causing connectivity issues or security concerns. And this responsibility largely falls upon the shoulders of the CIO.

However, the underlying technology that many businesses have used as a sticking plaster during the pandemic needs to be refocused strategically with the long-term in mind.

“Cloud-based services are already well-known and widely used to overcome many of the home working issues organisations have experienced during the pandemic, which is why we have seen such a huge uptake in the past 12 months. And thankfully, the rise of hybrid cloud means there is now an appropriate cloud model out there to meet every business need. This flexible approach is all about smoothing customers’ path to cloud. It delivers peace of mind because it addresses the challenges of handling growth in volumes of data, allows them to rapidly scale to support innovation and fluctuations in demand and enforces a proactive stance on issues like privacy, security and compliance.” 

Compliance isn’t optional

Anneka Randhawa, Partner, White & Case

“It has been widely reported that the pandemic has accelerated a shift towards remote/hybrid working, but businesses need to make sure that they aren’t overlooking the shifting and increasing compliance risks associated with this. 

“Today, businesses face a threefold challenge when it comes to compliance including: personnel risk, outdated compliance frameworks, and increased data theft and leaks due to the blurring of lines between personal and business devices.

“Now, more than ever, it is vital businesses ensure they have clear compliance processes that all employees know about and understand. To have the best chance of mitigating risk, the first thing a business can do is carry out a thorough risk assessment of the changed working landscape. Once businesses have fully understood the new risk profile resulting from the move to hybrid/remote working, the priority should be making the necessary changes to compliance policies and procedures and then communicating these changes to employees.

“Staff should be clear that compliance isn’t optional and that, no matter where the workforce is based, policies and procedures must be adhered to. With a clearly defined whistleblowing process in place, businesses are more likely to have the ability to identify and then investigate any issues promptly and effectively.”

Our relationship with data

James Fisher, Chief Product Officer at Qlik

“Over the course of the past year, our relationship with data has drastically changed. Ever since Coronavirus took centre stage in our lives, we’ve seen data become increasingly prominent in public discourse. We quickly adapted to a world where the R-number would dictate many of our civil freedoms as we transition to and from lockdowns, transforming the way in which the general population engages with data: suddenly it underpins almost everything we read, conversations we have and decisions we make.

“The way data is communicated has become incredibly important and we’ve seen both good and bad examples of how the data that has informed political decisions has been communicated. The powerful ability to articulate the story that data is showing and how it has informed subsequent decisions was exemplified by Angela Merkel early last year, when a clip of her explaining the cautious optimism behind her decision to lift some German lockdown restrictions was shared hundreds of thousands of times.

“Any previous misconceptions that data is only for data scientists have undoubtedly been debunked. As our exposure to visualisations and statistical analysis increased, we witnessed a growing army of armchair epidemiologists. The appetite for access to trusted data has never been greater as its relevance to the decisions we make every day became increasingly clear.”

Upskilling and taking a balanced approach to digital and soft skills

Sean Farrington, SVP EMEA, Pluralsight

“When COVID-19 hit, companies were forced to digitally transform at pace, and with a freeze on headcount had to look inside the business at the talent already in place to rollout new projects, spin up new revenue generators and manage new technologies. As such, upskilling became a necessity, not a pipedream. In fact, when Pluralsight made its library of courses freely available last April, over 1 million people used it to learn new skills in areas like cloud, AI and Javascript – reflecting the world’s appetite to learn. 

“A year on, businesses accept that fast Digital Transformation is imperative for survival, prosperity and competitiveness, and see learning and development as key facilitators. Going forward, it’s clear that the skills gap will continue to grow as Artificial Intelligence (AI), robotics and other technologies advance, while the very nature of jobs change. Therefore, the focus on upskilling must continue, both from individuals pushing their own development forward and companies providing their staff with the tools, support and investment needed to advance long-term skills development strategies.”

Faisal Abbasi, Managing Director Western & Southern Europe, MEA & LATAM, Amelia, an IPsoft company

“The events of the past year and the pivot to homeworking emphasized the importance of digital skills in today’s economy. This has emboldened the role of digital skills on the national agenda, for example with the launch of Help to Grow: Digital. However, with innovation continuously shifting job profiles and business models, it’s important that we take a balanced approach.  

“Many companies found that their teams’ success over the past year was not just a result of technology investments, but also the focus on leadership and soft skills that helped us adapt to new ways of working with our employees, many of whom faced additional challenges, like home-schooling or elderly care responsibilities. So, as we start to look beyond the pandemic and how the next generation of business will evolve to become a truly hybrid workforce – not only with distributed working practices, but increasingly also with digital colleagues – we need to take a balanced approach to skills, valuing both hard STEM competencies and soft skills, such as analytical thinking and complex problem-solving.” 

Sometimes the best learnings come from the worst situations

We can all safely say that we don’t want to have to go through anything like the Coronavirus pandemic again, but knowing we can survive it by pulling together as a country will hopefully be a sign of better things to come. If we take anything from the experience, let’s make it some positive learnings for the future.

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