As the persistent pandemic makes a combination of in-office and remote work the norm, technology chiefs are identifying signs of isolation, anxiety and fatigue among their staff. Alleviating those feelings is now part of a tech chief’s role as a corporate leader, they say.
Chief information officers, in true techie fashion, are using an array of tools to monitor time on company devices, make video meetings less depleting and automatically kick off celebrations for work well done.
CIO of cybersecurity firm
Absolute Software Corp.
The company employs about 550 people, many of whom are technologists working remotely. Some have been putting in long hours and feeling overwhelmed, she said.
There is no mystery in why pandemic work has hit the IT group hard: Technology teams have taken the lead in helping their companies function in a remote environment. They have helped accelerate digital initiatives and deployed tools to make possible new ways of getting jobs done. Now they are tired, said Daniel Sanchez-Reina, vice president analyst at technology research firm
“IT is one of the departments that are suffering the most,” he said.
Signs of burnout include feeling exhausted, lonely and mentally distant from their job, and perhaps being quick to anger, according to a Gartner report.
Employees are facing increased anxiety levels during the pandemic. Data compiled in December by the U.S. Census Bureau and the National Center for Health Statistics found that more than four in 10 U.S. adults had developed symptoms of depression or anxiety by the end of 2020, a sharp increase over the results of a comparable survey conducted in the first half of 2019, The Wall Street Journal reported.
Asking employees more often how they feel sometimes fails to yield useful information, so some IT leaders have found automated tools can provide insights.
When employees began working remotely last year, Absolute Software’s Ms. Lapierre worked with the human resources team on a “dark device report.” The reports, based on analytics from an Absolute product, showed staff who weren’t using their company-issued computers and phones as frequently as they should have been during the workday. “When we all went home, there was a real concern, are people able to do the work they need to do, is it working, and do they have the tools they need,” she said.
That has changed, at least for some. In the past three months, Ms. Lapierre has identified employees working up to 12 hours a day, on average.
“We know particularly in technology and IT and cybersecurity, you’re going to have weeks like that,” she said. But consistent long days could indicate a problem, she said.
Whether an employee is on a device too little or too long, she said, the goal is to conduct a wellness check with each person. Employees know their work devices might be monitored, she added.
At software firm BetterCloud Inc., CIO Thomas Donnelly recently deployed an automated bot on the company’s Slack chat platform to get anonymous feedback from attendees of some meetings. The idea came from the company’s chief financial officer, Bart Hacking, and executive assistant Erin Kruhm.
After some internal IT and leadership meetings with three or more employees, the chatbot sends attendees a Slack message asking how productive the gathering was and whether it was necessary. “We’ve trained our managers not to be offended,” Mr. Donnelly said.
A few weeks ago, he oversaw the development of a system where a notification is automatically sent to the company Slack channel when an employee finishes a big project, so that colleagues can offer praise. “Technology is typically a thankless job,” Mr. Donnelly said.
At Cambridge, Mass.-based software company
David Vidoni, vice president of IT, is trying to lighten the mood and keep IT staff engaged during video meetings. He encourages people to spend the first few minutes displaying their talents. He holds contests in which employees can rate each others’ rooms and dinner recipes.
Andrew Rivera, a software developer at the company, recently played guitar. Others have performed magic tricks and showed off their skills with nunchucks. The performances and contests sometimes break down barriers that have built up during the pandemic, Mr. Vidoni said.
“After those meetings, people will reach out to whoever was doing the performance and they identify something they have in common or comment on their skills,” he said.
Gartner’s Mr. Sanchez-Reina advises IT leaders to foster an environment where their employees feel comfortable being vulnerable and sharing concerns. Making technologists aware of the impact of their work can stave off burnout, he said. “In times of crisis, human beings need more recognition than in times of normalcy,” he said.
Write to Sara Castellanos at [email protected]
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