Pedestrians wearing protective masks in a New York subway station.
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How can companies best support the masses of people still working remotely? And what strategies and technologies will be needed to bring employees back to offices and factories safely? Those questions are top of mind for CIOs playing a crucial frontline role in companies’ responses to the Covid-19 pandemic.
To address them, Forbes recently brought together three top tech leaders for a video discussion: Atish Banerjea, the CIO of Facebook, who leads the social media giant’s enterprise-engineering team; Kim Anstett, the chief technology officer of information-management-and-storage company Iron Mountain; and Nikolaj Sjoqvist, the chief digital officer of Waste Management, which handles everything from the collection and disposal of waste to recycling and the generation of renewable energy.
A key theme that emerges from the video, which is embedded just below, is the pressing need for further innovations to help remote workers feel more intimately connected to businesses. The recording took place a few days before Facebook CEO Mark Zuckerberg announced he anticipates half of the company’s workforce will be working from home by 2030. Banerjea’s team has already developed online knowledge libraries to make it easier for new employees working remotely to tap information that would otherwise be hard to access. It’s also exploring ways to make remote video-conferencing experiences far more immersive.
The executives have also been collaborating with colleagues in HR to create more effective means of checking in on remote staff. Anstett’s team at Iron Mountain has used an agile development strategy to build an HR dashboard to monitor things such as employee sentiment and where Covid-19 is impacting demand for workers’ time. The project, which would normally have taken months to complete, was finished in a matter of weeks.
In terms of managing a progressive return to corporate buildings, employee safety is the top priority. Waste Management’s Sjoqvist says his team is working closely with the company’s facilities unit to ensure social distancing requirements can be implemented effectively. Like Iron Mountain and Facebook, the company is also looking at ways in which technology can be used to help keep workers safe inside buildings, such as deploying cameras in conference rooms specifically to monitor the number of people gathering in them.
A fourth theme that resonates is the importance of dealing with the risk of burnout at a time when the business landscape is changing dramatically. The leaders say it’s more important than ever to be clear about priorities, to communicate more frequently with staff and to look for virtual opportunities to enjoy downtime together. One of the few silver linings of the current situation is that attendance at events such as happy hours and baby showers has become easier because people no longer have to factor commutes into a decision of whether or not to attend gatherings that have gone virtual. As Facebook’s Banerjea puts it in the video: “Distance has brought us closer.”