Unlike many other roles, one of the goals of Information Technology staff is to have their work go unnoticed. When there are no issues to fix or questions to answer, this generally means that everything is running smoothly and employees throughout a company can do their jobs without interruptions or problems.
However, to get to that point requires a lot of work, both during and after standard business hours. Day-to-day business requires constant management from IT to make sure that software, hardware and servers are running smoothly and that employees are equipped with whatever information they need to get their work done.
Add a pandemic to the mix, where suddenly entire businesses, schools, health care offices, and others need to work remotely, and it’s easy to understand how 2020 has been one of the most challenging times that IT staff have faced. Nonpartisan think tank, the Conference Board, conducted a survey and found that before COVID-19, 77% of companies had less than 10% of employees working from home. Now, that number is expected to increase to 30% and higher, challenging IT professionals to keep things running smoothly into the new normal.
Continuity in Action
During the pandemic, IT needed to ensure adequate bandwidth to cover remote access to information. For some companies, VPN access went from 20% usage up to 100%. The challenge was ensuring ample infrastructure to support that activity, and without proper planning, access could take long periods of time, or systems could crash.
Scaling hardware was another big challenge during COVID-19, especially if IT resources and budgets didn’t account for 100% remote staff. Some companies adapted a BYOD (bring your own device) policy to utilize employee’s own phones, computers, and printers in cases of equipment shortages. In these situations, IT needed to ensure the equipment was securely connected to their network and be able to remotely service any issues employees experienced throughout the process.
Creating a Seamless Transition
These days, almost all business documents and processes are handled by technology. If technology fails or something is missing, business activity comes to a halt. Consider medical, accounting, and other industries that rely on large databases of important information to function. When processes need to change, it may mean critical documents aren’t found, checks aren’t printed and delivered, and any number of tasks that keep the flow of business moving are suddenly interrupted with no clear way of how to accomplish objectives.
During the pandemic, IT helped businesses and organizations through these kinds of changes not only by supporting and maintaining technology, but also through constant communication with employees about processes, equipment, and making sure they knew how to accomplish what was needed.
In general, IT is responsible for finding workarounds to accommodate usual tasks. Without IT there would be no one to help facilitate remote activity and it would be very difficult to keep business running as usual, pandemic or not. If a goal of IT is to remain unnoticed, they were the unsung heroes during the pandemic.
IT Starts with a Plan
If anything, COVID-19 was proof that IT professionals need to be prepared for the unexpected, and companies and organizations need to support that effort. The best way to be prepared, pandemic or otherwise, is to have a solid Business Continuity Plan (BCP). These plans help create systems of prevention and recovery in the event of any kind of disaster and could be the difference between how long it takes a company to recover, if it can at all.
For IT professionals, having to unexpectedly enable teams of people to work remotely, with the right equipment and access to information, couldn’t be pulled off successfully without a solid BCP in place. It should cover supplies and equipment needs, the location of data backups and backup sites, and contacts for emergency responders, key personnel and backup site providers.
While putting a BCP into action certainly requires lots of improvisation and on-the-spot decision making, starting with a plan will help companies and organizations better navigate pandemics or other disasters.
While IT’s presence is certainly known when having to transfer teams of people to home offices, successful IT work makes it seem like just another process, rather than a panic situation.
The Office of the Future
The experience of the pandemic has helped IT departments evaluate what equipment they need (type and quantity) and invest more in their business continuation plan. Every industry has different challenges, but the solutions generally come down to what budget IT has.
As employees come back to the office, one of the larger challenges for IT will be reintegrating everyone to the office environment. Because of social distancing, open concept offices or dual workstations won’t work anymore, so office layouts might change or go away entirely.
There will be more focus on infrastructure, with many companies moving to cloud based platforms instead of VPN. With this change will come more focus on internet security to ensure there are no breaches as people continue working from various locations.
Ways to Support Your IT Heroes
Ultimately, through the experience of COVID-19, IT has helped enable people do their jobs from anywhere when leadership might not have assumed that was possible previous to the pandemic. Companies may now even reevaluate the need for offices and minimize resources to save money. Money saved through property sales can potentially be reinvested into high speed internet and hardware for staff as part of the new normal. In this scenario, IT can focus on improving and managing access instead of managing equipment.
Whatever happens with businesses going forward, companies will need to invest further in continuity plans and work with IT professionals to ensure they remain prepared for business-as-usual, however it looks.