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The employee experience has become a new priority for IT leaders as they revamp their infrastructures to support remote workforces, a new report finds. Other top priorities are reducing IT costs and ensuring that their teams’ IT skills are aligned to the digital transformation agenda, according to the report, The Changing Role of the IT Leader, conducted by Forrester for search company Elastic in February.

The key to building resilience to deal with uncertainties is to develop an adaptive business model with employee experience at the core since this will create a sustainable competitive advantage, the report said. This will help them to continually evolve and pivot in times of disruption, the report said.

The shift to remote and hybrid work since the start of the COVID-19 pandemic has become a more permanent model for many global organizations. The study found that nearly 60% of IT leaders believe enabling employees to work flexibly will improve the adaptiveness of their organization, and they are investing in technologies to improve employee experience and productivity.

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On the flip side, 57% of global IT leader respondents said they have seen their budgets cut over the past year, with 35% experiencing budget cuts of 10% or more.

Further, while the IT organization is typically measured on its ability to provide the right technologies to improve employee experience, only 40% of global IT leaders reported having the right tools (e.g., collaboration platforms), policies (e.g., remote work eligibility) and procedures (e.g., establishing safe procedures to return to the office) to support a distributed workforce.

One thing 57% of respondents are doing to amplify the employee experience is to collaborate more closely with their HR counterparts, the report said.

Organizations are becoming more adaptive by improving employee experience through expanding enterprise collaboration tools and investing in cybersecurity, scalable foundations and remote workforce technology.

“One year into the COVID-19 global pandemic, the data shows it’s time for IT leaders to put employee experience at the heart of every technology decision they make,” said Kim Huffman, vice president of IT at Elastic, in a statement. “They must quickly and dramatically evolve and accelerate their programs as they work to support their employees and adapt to the next normal and a completely different way of working.”

“A deep partnership between HR and IT leaders is crucial when it comes to enhancing employee experience, and that partnership has never been more important than it was over the past year,” added Leah Sutton, senior vice president of global human resources at Elastic, in a statement. “The combined insight and expertise that both leaders bring ensure that employees aren’t bouncing around from IT, to HR, to finance, and more.”

Instead, employees have a holistic corporate experience that ensures they are supported, informed and empowered to successfully do their jobs with access to the tools and resources, Sutton said.

Pandemic has forced enterprises to reinvent themselves

The vast majority of IT leaders (92%) said they remain in survival and maintenance mode, the report found. This means they saw steep reductions in demand that led to significant revenue declines, or they experienced some disruption to ongoing operations and are conserving resources to wait out the pandemic, the report said.

Less than 10% of interviewees and respondents said there is rising demand for their services and products. At a country level, IT leaders in China (21%) and Japan (16%) said their enterprises are in growth mode, while around three in five IT leaders in Europe said their businesses are fighting to survive.

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The pandemic drastically changed IT leaders’ key focus areas and business priorities to reflect a shift to digital businesses and customer experience. They now prioritize adjusting the speed with which their organization responds to market changes (67%), accelerating a shift to digital business (59%), improving customer experience (54%), focusing on better compliance with regulations (52%) and improving employee experience (41%).

These new IT priorities require a shift to align IT skills to the organization’s digital transformation agenda while reducing costs. Acceleration to digital business has become essential now that people cannot engage in person for B2B and B2C models, according to the report.

IT leader respondents said their most important agenda items are reducing IT costs (78%) and ensuring IT skills are aligned to their organization’s digital transformation agenda (77%) to continually support the shift to digital.

Tips for becoming an adaptive enterprise

Organizations have faced an unprecedented shifting landscape that includes accelerating digital transformations to pivoting to entirely new business models. As IT leaders adapt, Forrester recommends that they:

  • Be empathetic and place people at the heart of decisions.

  • Align business and employee outcomes to shared goals and KPIs with other business leaders.

  • Enable insights-driven, decision-making organization-wide.

  • Invest in tech platforms with an open and flexible architecture.

  • Partner with vendors that offer flexibility and support speed to market.