CIO Roundtable WORKshift

I was delighted to be invited to participate in a series of CIO roundtables hosted by a former client, Long View Systems around key cities in the US and Canada.  Long View invites small groups of executive-level IT professionals to come together to discuss common challenges and trends in the industry in an intimate setting.

The topic of these particular sessions was “Extreme weather and disaster recovery and preparedness”. Given the recent “atypical” events including the floods in Calgary, Denver and Toronto, Hurricane Sandy and a number of ice storms, it seems like weather events are becoming an increasing threat to businesses across North America. IT of course plays a critical role in supporting communication with staff members (ensuring safety) but also in considering how the infrastructure remains intact to support key business functions.

Naturally, being in the business of promoting the adoption of flexible work practices (including remote work, as a business continuity strategy) I was interested to understand the perceived importance of mobility as a business continuity and disaster preparedness strategy.

The overall response from the attendees was mixed. Some CIO’s remarked that remote work is critically important for “key team members”, while others suggested that it’s a natural part of their organizations DNA and that team members work in a distributed manner on any given day but they were taxed to support “everybody logging in remotely on the same day”. Kind of reminds me of our road systems. We have plenty of infrastructure if people would just stop commuting during peak hours!

Of particular interest to me was that the nature of the “extreme” events in many cases, meant that other than supporting core business function, businesses just accepted that there would be productivity impacts. In the case of Calgary, for example, emphasis was placed on “helping our neighbours” rather than working from home to maintain “business as usual”.  Others suggested that it was important for key members of the team to physically come together during times of crisis as it supported a more collaborative environment.

I confess, given my role as Executive Director of a national organization dedicated to workplace flexibility, my bias has been that WORKshift-enabled organizations are better equipped to (pardon the pun) weather the storm, than their counterparts.  Is it not intuitive that during an extreme event, employees that can work from home, should?  I have left these sessions less single-minded.

We live in a country with regular weather events (think of your run-of-the-mill 2014 blizzard) that just don’t make commuting to central downtown offices practical.  There are few things we do that are more unproductive than commuting. I like to remind people that you don’t get richer, fitter or happier sitting in traffic.  Employees are already working differently; typing away on their devices during their kids hockey game, working from home when they are under the weather (rather than coming in and making their peers sick), working on an airplane (this blog was written at 20,000 feet).  Organizations that have embraced this change are logically better equipped to maximize employee productivity on any given day.

However, perhaps during “extreme” events like the floods, maybe the focus should be less on seamless business operations and more on helping our communities.

After these roundtables, I am convinced that it’s time to change the conversation. It’s less appropriate than ever to talk about “remote workforces” and more and more critical to recognize that in the normal course of a work week and during emergencies, people will need and desire the flexibility to determine how they will best and most productively contribute – or to work where and when they are most effective (we call this “WORKshifting”). The world is after all changing, and mobility gives organizations and people more options than ever before.