The plans executives designed at the start of the year now look different for the rest of 2020. Next year, too, is uncertain as coronavirus spikes spark questions about when some normalcy will return.
In determining new priorities, tech executives seek alignment with business goals. IT budgets are set to grow for 56% of companies, according to data from Xerox. On executives' shopping lists is the technology that can move operations forward, including cloud-based systems and collaboration tools.
"Digital transformation is no longer a luxury, it's a necessity," said Nancy Coblenz, CEO at Rebel Role Model, speaking Thursday at a Women in Tech Virtual Summit session.
Technology is the consistent thread uniting the new realities of work, serving as a backbone for contact tracing apps, remote work and the migration of in-person processes to the digital space.
Here are 7 traits of tech in the new work reality:
Onboarding processes that leverage automation
While some companies have paused hiring amid economic uncertainty, others are in need of talent as they respond to spikes in demand.
Infusing automation into the onboarding process is an important application of the technology, said Liz Beavers, head geek at SolarWinds, in an interview with CIO Dive.
Automation helps leaders "make sure standard business processes are efficient, and you have a way to streamline that for visibility" while employees are unable to access physical locations, Beavers said.
Expanded reliance of devices across the organization
Take away an employee's remote work gear — laptop, phone, headset — and their ability to perform is likely down to zero. Companies have centered their work processes around technology in years past, but that trend accelerated as the pandemic hit, Beavers said.
"We're using our devices as a medium for everything," she said. "We need the physical assets to connect with our people, and need a channel to connect with users." It challenged companies to rethink how to best serve end users.
The sudden pivot to remote work put pressure on companies' IT, and their ability to outfit teams with the technology needed to operate from home as supply chain disruptions made PCs a hot commodity. As lockdown orders began to ease, supply chains restarted and worldwide PC shipments grew 2.8% in Q2 2020, according to Gartner.
A hybrid work life powered by tech
Until the outcomes of the pandemic are better understood, global organizations will need to align their policies to ensure their workforce remains safe and productive.
This will call for a hybrid work scheme that relies on technology to mix in-office presence with work from home, according to Coblenz. For 80% of business leaders, employees working from home at least partially will be acceptable as offices are allowed to reopen, according to Gartner.
Leadership is planning to invest in tech that makes this mixed model possible, with collaboration tools top of mind in the investment priorities ahead. Internal collaboration and communication tools were a priority for 45% of executives according to a Pulse survey.
Tech is also essential for guaranteeing the safety of workers returning to the office where local regulations allow. Software powers applications for managing a phased return to headquarters and companywide contact tracing programs.
As the hybrid model begins to set in, automation processes will give IT teams visibility into "who is coming in, what do they have and what their schedule will look like," Beavers said.
Knowledge hubs help employees stay productive while remote
When remote work is the norm, knowledge hubs — software platforms that manage company knowledge — can guide a workforce as it adapts to new work protocols. The technology gives workers an effective way to get access to the information needed to do their job.
"We went from having one hub of support to 99 [hubs]," said Beavers. "How will a 5 to10 person support staff be able to provide workers with white-glove treatment?"
IT teams are now in charge of keeping companies connected while distributed, with the additional burden of having to troubleshoot incidents with little to no visibility into employee's home networks. Two-thirds of IT decision-makers said they project automation budgets to grow, according to a survey of 503 U.S.-based IT decision-makers published by Inference Solutions.
Upskilling with a focus on tech
Tech talent market has been tight in years past, with 90% of hiring managers saying finding tech pros was challenging in 2019. With in-person processes moving to the digital realm, the demand for tech talent will increase, Coblenz said.
"There's now a huge opportunity and demand for you to fill with all of your engineering and technical skills," Coblenz said, speaking to the remote attendees.
Upskilling programs are likely to expand as companies seek to leverage existing talent to fill their tech needs. Amazon, Microsoft and Salesforce are among top names in tech that have devoted resources to upskilling programs.
Leadership leverages tech to lead in a virtual setting
Managing a distributed company brings difficulties. Managers must become a unifying presence for employees whose workplace culture is beginning to erode.
"It's really hard to have a leadership role in a company and to somehow empathize and lead and guide your team through a camera, on a screen," said Coblenz. "There's going to be now an evolution of leadership roles and characteristics to be able to really connect with your team members."
Augmented and virtual reality can play a role in this dynamic, Coblenz said. As leaders seek a more tightly knit workforce, the technology can help reframe what remote meetings and one-on-ones look like.
A focus on efficiency over hours
Tech workers will focus on output, not hours logged, as the impact of the pandemic plays out.
"Now we're focusing on productivity and valuing the product work more so than clocked hours that we have staying in front of the screen," said Coblenz. "This will revolutionize the micro-management type of role that mangers play as well."
At the height of the pandemic, one-third of software developers (31%) admitted to feeling less productive, according to a survey from InfluxData.
The focus on productivity comes as leaders look to artificial intelligence to sustain their competitive advantage in the market. By 2022, six in every 10 employers expect AI or advanced automation tools to be part of their company's tech stack.