Remote work and tech jobs: How CIOs are changing their priorities

Most of us have got used to working from home in the past 12 months. CIOs can use that new-found trust in remote working to source talent from around the globe.
Written by Mark Samuels, Contributor

The IT skills gap gets bigger all the time. Almost all IT decision makers had at least one job they couldn't fill over the past year, while 69% still have multiple unfilled positions.

Filling those gaps is unlikely to become easier any time soon. But there is one new factor: the enforced working from home that has resulted from the coronavirus pandemic has shown that you don't have to sit next to your boss to work effectively. 

SEE: Working from home: The future of business is remote (ZDNet/TechRepublic special feature) | Working from home: How to get remote right (free PDF) (TechRepublic)

During the past 12 months, IT professionals have demonstrated that they can not only stay productive but can exceed expectations when they work from home. 

So how will CIOs use this new-found trust in remote working to find the in-demand tech professionals their business needs? Four digital leaders give their views on filling the IT skills gap with talent from afar.

Embrace the shift towards home working 

Laura Dawson, CIO at the London School of Economics, is adamant that organisations will permanently change how they organise work as a result of the pandemic: "I think the sky's the limit now, I really do."

She says her IT team has proven they can work effectively at home pretty much 80% of the time, and in some cases 100% of the time, and still be productive, collegiate, collaborative, and social members of the team.

Dawson says CIOs should "embrace" that shift, especially as it potentially provides a way to snare hard-to-find digital talent.

"I can't compete with the banks in London for talent, so I have an opportunity. If I'm struggling to recruit, why am I only looking in London and why shouldn't I recruit people in other parts of the country?" she says.

"COVID has made that shift happen. I think we will have flexible working going forward. There's absolutely no reason why my service desk couldn't be able to recruit people who cannot come into the workplace, for whatever reason. That move makes us a more accessible employer and I think that is a really big plus."

Use remote working to extend your labour market virtually

Capital One Europe CTO Joe Soule says there's a now a cadre of people across tech who think remote working is best – and CIOs will have to find ways to appeal to these skilled professionals.

It's not for everyone but he says, but it's significant – in the realms of 15% to 20% of people would be interested in that type of offer. "So we need to explore those things," he says.

Soule also agrees that remote working presents an opportunity for CIOs as well as their staff. His firm has offices in Nottingham and London, but home working gives Capital One the chance to extend its labour market virtually. 

The company has learnt some valuable lessons during the past 12 months. The IT department ran its internship programme for a dozen interns remotely through 2020, and the graduate intake was also on-boarded remotely. 

"The office is historically one of the deal-clinching elements of joining Capital One – you feel the culture the moment you walk through the door. But we didn't have that in our armoury last year, so it's interesting. Hopefully we've recreated something that's at least comparable for the kind of remote-world option we now all face," he says.

Focusing on supporting staff as part of a community

David Walmsley, chief digital and omnichannel officer at Pandora is another tech chief who has had the opportunity to put new models of working to the test through 2020, helping the jewellery firm establish its global digital hub in Copenhagen. While some IT professionals have joined virtually, others have moved to Denmark.

"It's a huge challenge and we've thought very creatively about all the ways we can do it. We've had people relocate with their families from around the world," he says.  

About 120 people work for the hub in total. The company looks for ways to create a culture for new joiners, including running boot camps for remote workers. "They still feel like they are part of the community and it's really important for us to make that start," he says.

Walmsley himself is proof that remote working is a viable option, even at the upper echelons of business. He lives in the south-east of England, and has had to manage the hub from afar during lockdown. The distance hasn't been a problem and Walmsley is keen to make remote working a viable option for others in the future.

"It's all about whatever the opposite of presenteeism is," he says. "It's very important to me that we're a family in the digital hub and we focus on supporting each other and working hard, but actually location isn't the critical factor for us."

Remember that close proximity can be key for creativity

Rich Corbridge, CIO at high-street pharmacy and retail chain Boots, believes his organisation will take advantage of new sourcing opportunities to some degree, but he also thinks geographical proximity is a really important part of human connection.

"There is so much that's key about being close to where you're delivering, particularly in retail, so to not be in the UK and be trying to lead digital transformation of a big retailer I think would be really challenging. You don't need to be in the same town – until you want to push creativity. So you have to be able to travel and get into that office space as well," he says.

More generally, Corbridge believes no one wants to work remotely on video calls forever, as so many people have done for the past 12 months. However, he does believe this prolonged period of enforced social distance has helped to build approval of remote working – and many managers will use this flexibility as they look to the future.

"The trust of people is absolutely there now to not have to go into the office 24/7. I think it's about that blended capability of 'work where's right for you to be the most creative and to be closest to your team'," he says.

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