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Why tech leaders are key to a post-pandemic workplace

December 10, 2021
By Frank Attaie

Photo: conceptcafe/Adobe Stock

In March of last year, for many companies, the shift to remote work happened almost overnight amid new COVID-19 restrictions and mounting uncertainty.

Business leaders across the C-Suite, particularly Chief Human Resource Officers (CHROs), stepped up to establish new flexible policies and ways of working.

But it was the Chief Information Officer (CIO) and the technology function that became essential to ensuring employee productivity during that period, supporting everything from cloud-based collaboration tools to new digital communications tools like AI-enabled chatbots.

According to the global CIO study from the IBM Institute for Business Value, 77 per cent of CIOs reported that their teams played a vital role in their organizations’ response to the pandemic, and 83 per cent said they implemented remote work strategies.


Pandemic-driven change

The pandemic has driven permanent changes in employee expectations of their employers, especially with regards to flexibility in their work locations and schedules.

As per the study, nearly two in three (65 per cent) employees surveyed said they would prefer to work exclusively remotely or in a hybrid model, if given the choice.

More than half (56 per cent) of employees that have already or plan to voluntarily change employers in 2021 cite the need for more flexibility in their schedule or work location as a main reason for making the move.

However, this study also found only 23 per cent of CIOs expect remote workplace changes from the COVID-19 pandemic to become permanent.

In the current fierce war for talent, this possible blind spot could be a make-or-break issue. The hybrid work environment will be profoundly different than more traditional workplaces where location and presence are paramount.

As hybrid workplaces evolve, CIOs must be at the centre of efforts to establish a productive, supportive, and enriching work environment.

Put the employees at the centre

CIOs are championing for progressive end-user experiences.

They are designing productivity and collaboration tools, many based on the cloud, to serve and enable the employee first, whether they’re working in an office, traveling or at home.

CIOs are also integral for companies to meet business objectives.

Pre-pandemic, CIOs were found more behind the scenes working on issues and providing counsel as needed. Today, more than ever, they are part of business strategies from the beginning.

Use technology to empower people and innovation

Many leading CIOs are embedding exponential technologies like artificial intelligence (AI) and automation into the core mission-critical processes of the enterprise, across key functions like human resource (HR), finance, and the supply chain.

These intelligent workflows are designed to break down silos and empower the employees using them to be more productive and prioritize the strategic work that matters most for the organization.

For example, York University in Toronto established an AI-driven virtual assistant called SAVY that gives customized answers to a wide range of student questions about university life, from what’s for lunch to career advice.

The number of CIOs surveyed by IBM reporting high maturity in AI-enabled workflows increased 560 per cent compared to two years ago. In addition, 37 per cent of CIOs surveyed cite process automation as the top opportunity for positive impact within their organizations.

In December 2020, CIBC introduced conversational AI-based virtual assistant that performs banking transactions and answers questions about everyday banking.

Drive employee engagement at every level

CIOs in the IBM study reported that ethics, diversity and inclusion, continuous learning and career development, and a collaborative environment were among the most important organizational attributes to engage employees.

Top CIOs are developing tools and systems that can help drive the right company culture that serves employees’ needs and aligns to the company’s purpose. They are increasingly focused on how they can personally drive employee engagement across the enterprise.

In this recent CIO study, when asked which C-Suite members will be most critical over the next few years, 39 per cent of CEOs surveyed named their tech chiefs (CIOs and CTOs) — perhaps due to their critical role in enabling talent in this new era.

So, what does it take to keep your top talent or attract new candidates in this period of The Great Resignation? A proactive strategy with strong leadership from the CIO will be key to enabling a sustainable hybrid workplace.

Part of what makes the CIO role so interesting is the combination of people and technology, of soft skills and hard skills.

Whatever the future holds, the ability to adapt to the unknown, enable people and culture, and transform risks into opportunities will be indispensable.

Frank Attaie is vice-president of technology sales at IBM Canada in the Greater Toronto Area.



The IBV 2021 CIO study surveyed 2,500 CIOs from over 45 locations and 29 industries. It was conducted in cooperation with Oxford Economics and benchmarked against nearly 20 years of IBM’s C-suite surveys. The full study is available at https://www.ibm.com/thought-leadership/institute-business-value/c-suite-study/cio.

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