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A primary concern of businesses at the start of the pandemic and the shift to telecommuting was the worry of how isolative sheltering and working from home could be. Organization leaders overcompensated with too many virtual meetings and soon employees began suffering from what was dubbed “Zoom fatigue,” and company leaders realized they had to dial back the enthusiasm for meetings, which ended up lasting longer than those in office, as participants speculated on the state of COVID-19 and a good deal of “checking-in” with each other. New data from .tech Domains in “.tech Domains IT Leader Survey,” gathered earlier this month from 350 US-based IT leaders in CIO and CTO roles, revealed that 79% of IT leaders said COVID-19 “created a digital divide among employees,” and nearly half (49%) want staff to return to the office full time “once a vaccine is in place.”

It was a challenge for companies leaders to, if not replicate, then to replace, the camaraderie teams had while working together. Office culture in general was affected, as the focus for supervisors went from making sure everyone’s hardware was properly plugged in, assessing productivity in the home setting and eventually having to deal with fallout and exhaustion, as many remote workers were challenged by the need for strict time management and create their own life-work balance.

It was evident that while in office these workers relied on the structure of commuting, prescribed start, break, lunch and end-of-day times, and the weekend designated as off limits for work.

Remote working blurred lines between work and home life and each employee had to learn to be successful in the new normal; the responsibility of structuring a workday and tackling all assignments was entirely up to each remote worker.

The COVID-19 crisis has made IT leaders (45%) “realize they need to improve communication and motivational skills.”

SEE: Ensure traveler safety and comfort with these tech-related gifts (TechRepublic)

Pack your bags

While many work-from-home staff were given plenty of leeway to become accustomed to this new way of working, there were occasions, the report revealed, when an employee just couldn’t find a good fit working from home/in a remote environment.

These employees were just too challenged and their performance and productivity suffered; this resulted in 47% of the IT leader respondents to have to fire an employee.

The enterprise was still “reeling,” the report noted, “from massive bouts of layoffs and other disruptions from the crisis,” [and] tech workers are fleeing cities for more affordable and secure areas.

The report revealed that 43% of IT leaders said that they plan to make layoffs in the next three to six months,” marking even more uncertainty ahead.

Currently, 33% of the US workforce still work remotely—in August, 61% of tech workers were working fully remotely. IT roles center around “access to the right technology and solutions” so telecommuting introduced a new set of concerns.

Lesson plan for tech workers in 2021

A vast majority of tech leaders (85%) said they plan a proactive stance on the monitoring of their distributed workforce more closely in 2021; the primary reason is to evaluate and track remote employee productivity and performance.

Nearly all (91%) of managers plan to increase diversity as engagement wanes; 42% of IT leaders said their team has grown less engaged. Only 16% said team engagement was at a similar level pre-pandemic.

Respondents plan to expand diversity and inclusion programs (47%), focus on diversity in recruitment and hiring (52%), and increased training for managers (35%). The study showed that a diverse workforce “leads to new ideas, increasing an organization’s capacity for innovation, and building resilience to allow it to better survive a challenging market.”

SEE: COVID-19 workplace policy (TechRepublic Premium)

Recruiting post-pandemic

The pandemic has also shocked CIOs and CTOs into rethinking the type of hires they make/will make because “COVID-19 has increased the importance of new skills and attributes.”

When asked to rank the most important hiring criteria in a post-pandemic world, the No. 1 response was “people/communication skills, followed by technical skills, experience, degrees and cultural fit.”

Top 3 fears for 2021

.tech Domains’ research found a three-way tie (21% of respondents for each) between 1. Being victimized by cyberattacks due to vulnerabilities caused by remote work and WFH environments, 2. Lack of support “from leadership that prevents my ability to help my organization adapt to shifts brought on by COVID-19, and 3. The “inability to retain top talent due to challenges brought on by COVID-19.

The state of IT work today

More than one-in-five of respondents said their top fear is a lack of support from their own higher ups.

Respondents (30%) are unsure if they’ll be given the substantial budget necessary to invest in their growth plans, and an additional 18% said “no,” flat out.

Today’s leaders, the report said, are enlightened and understand that “opportunities can only be seized with an engaged and cohesive workforce”; nearly one-in-four said providing a high-quality employee experience is more important to their organization’s recovery/continued momentum in 2021 than it does by the delivery of a high-quality customer experience.