The COVID-19 pandemic is a paradigm shifting event, a crisis of health and a business revelation. The ongoing pandemic has not so much altered businesses environments as it has uprooted them. The pertinent question for digital leaders in the face of such unprecedented change is not how we restore our pre-pandemic work environment, but how we improve it.
This question is, at its core, one of design; we must identify which business structures are weight-bearing and must be reinforced, which systems can be reengineered, and those processes that can be abandoned. This sweeping recalibration will distinguish the resilient from the vulnerable, the flexible from the rigid, and our future leaders from followers.
NextDC and Connect Media recently invited CIOs from all sectors of the national economy to interface digitally and discuss this reinvention of the workplace. From compressing transformation timelines to advancing communication and security infrastructure, we unpacked the decisions digital leaders are making to lead business transformation and secure advantage amidst uncertainty.
INFORMED INSTINCT: OUR HEIGHTENED CAPACITY FOR CHANGE
The sheer pace of the pandemic forced nations and businesses to respond with reciprocal intensity. From international border closures to remote work transitions that, from an aerial perspective, more closely resembled office evacuations, governments and businesses made decisions of severe consequence at unprecedented pace.
These were not acts of transformative ambition, but acts of survival: processes, layers and timelines were reduced by the logic of necessity. The pandemic cut through cultural aversion to transformation on a revolutionary scale and reaffirmed our will to change. And change we did.
The rapid uptake of remote work practices is a shining example of the capacity for business leaders to communicate and act resolutely. But now, the context that enabled this bold decision-making is changing. While the pandemic continues to define our social and business environment, we are adjusting to its presence. Flexibility may well be the new normal, but normality exists to stifle urgency.
In a mass transition instigated by deep crisis, it is vital that momentum for profound organisational change is preserved and we do not revert to pre-pandemic levels of complacency. Business leaders must inject their organisations with a different sense of urgency.
The challenge for business leaders is to dissect the consequences of our instinctive leap to remote work practices, protecting and amplifying new sources of value while mitigating new structural and personal vulnerabilities.
WORLDS COLLIDE: ALIGNING PERSONAL AND PROFESSIONAL PRIORITIES
Businesses are learning to communicate in an operating environment defined by distance. We are all learning how to live in isolation, or at least, how to interact in a world where the human touch has been muted. Whether as a commercial necessity, or an act of collective empathy, businesses have amplified the importance of employee wellbeing.
Communication strategies and the channels our voices and faces travel on have developed to facilitate closer, more authentic connections. Executive leadership have become more visible and accessible, inspiring confidence, reigniting motivations, and connecting separated employees to a shared ambition. As a broader consequence, the spaces separating professional and personal life are shrinking, a collapsing of realms that is at once both an affront to privacy as well as an opportunity to amplify real identities and expressions in the workplace.
Increasingly, employees are being empowered with the tools and trusted with the autonomy to deliver business outcomes – outputs, not inputs, are being assigned value. These are paradigmatic shifts that signifying that technology itself is not the answer – it is the enabler, granting employees the options to be flexible, resilient, and empowered.
RISK REIMAGINED: ADVANCING SECURITY FRAMEWORKS
As the context for work evolves, the parameters for secure work have fundamentally shifted to create new vulnerabilities. We are witnessing a fundamental, digital expansion beyond fixed perimeter defences – an expansion that is particularly fraught because of the very pace at which it is unfurling.
Rapid change breeds exceptional risk, and as a company’s digital footprint expands to lay tracks in new territory, the unmapped attack surface available to cyber actors grows in unison.
Attack vectors are being remapped to directly target home environments, and there is a distinct danger that employees are becoming apathetic towards, or at the least unsure of, expectations around data handling and remote information exchange in this new context. Businesses cannot afford to remain vulnerable to dangers borne from the pressures of expediency.
Responding to these risks requires a whole of organisation approach; a cyber-security lens must be applied to every aspect of the enterprise; risk assessments must be embedded in all cadences of activity; and a deep interrogation of existing infrastructure must take place.
BUILDING NETWORKS TO FORGE A NATION
The rapid transition to distributed workforces has reignited debate on the core capabilities and limitations of the nation’s infrastructure. The Coalition Government has announced a further $4.5 billion investment in the nation’s broadband infrastructure.
It is hard to deny that the NBN has performed admirably during the lockdown. And while using the pandemic as a retrospective justification for the decision to expediate the rollout of the NBN is rhetoric befitting scrutiny, it is clear that improving our nation’s infrastructure will further empower businesses to operate remotely and improve our digital competitiveness as a nation.
The impacts of the pandemic on our environment are not transient – already our CBDs have been challenged by a growing movement towards decentralisation. Australia’s vast ecosystem of corporate and market partners must continuously ask how they can both leverage and advance the fundamental architecture underpinning the way we work.
The pandemic has forced us to remould social and professional patterns. While change has been mandated by forces larger than any single corporation, it is our individual, digital leaders who remain largely accountable for the experience and precise direction of that change.
Enabling remote workforces, not only on a digital and structural level, but on a human level, is a severe but surmountable challenge that can only be accomplished by dual-wielding technical knowledge and emotional intelligence.
Our digital leaders must work to actively resolve security vulnerabilities, adopting a framework that is directly suited to remote work. They must ensure that digital infrastructure is scalable, flexible, and highly responsive, enabling the business to operate with confidence and lead through a climate defined by uncertainty. And they must communicate tirelessly and openly throughout this entire transformative process.
Only with continuous dialogue, collaboration, and the support of trusted partners will businesses be able to lead through this crisis.