5 ways today’s CIO can be successful in a hybrid workforce

By Atish Banerjea
July 8, 2021

There is much talk about the evolving role of the CIO — especially now that almost every company is essentially a technology company. Some say CIOs have a unique opportunity to reframe their roles and the value they bring to their organizations beyond IT, while others go a step further, insisting they should be innovators, not order-takers. Since the pandemic began, CIOs have become more and more responsible for culture change and making sure the employees' experience is as great as that of the customers. I believe the CIO role today should focus more on the needs of an organization’s people and less on top-down technology.

This means listening to employees to ensure that they have the support they need to best do their jobs. Yes, we still need to develop innovative tools that enable our employees to build game-changing products for our customers. But if a company is to adapt, grow, and succeed, the modern CIO must understand the problems employees are dealing with on a daily basis, just as engineers in turn must understand the needs of the customers they’re building for. 

As we look toward the future of remote work, the role of the CIO must continue to be agile and people-centric — and the way we support employees in this new world will need to be just as agile. Here are five ways every CIO can accomplish this.

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1. Build and foster community

When everyone feels connected — regardless of location, culture, language, or access to technology — that’s when productivity rises. This means setting people up for community, not just work. When employees are encouraged to collaborate and share their ideas, that’s when new products and services are discovered. And when we solve new challenges together, that’s when potential is realized and success happens. Doing this in an entirely virtual environment, however, presents additional challenges.

At the outset of the pandemic, my team, Enterprise Engineering, worked with a range of teams, people managers, and industry experts to get feedback from employees, partners, and stakeholders across Facebook to understand their problems. Based on these conversations and ongoing partnerships with other teams, we knew employees were feeling isolated and disconnected from one another. To address this, we began working to find ways to foster community while everyone was remote. All our employees were already on Workplace, our internal communications platform, which made the shift to remote work as seamless and easy as possible, but we knew there was potential to do more. We built and deployed a quick survey to help us understand trends in company sentiment, work-life balance, and time spent on doing work that employees enjoy. Early results showed significant increases in optimism across the board and a substantial decline in citing technical resources as a barrier. We also quickly pivoted our event and video production services to be able to host large virtual events, like Q&As and all-hands meetings, without sacrificing quality or professional production.

Community is also vital in an emergency. You may be familiar with Safety Check, which allows people on Facebook to mark themselves as safe during a crisis. Given the need to communicate ongoing important safety updates, such as updating employees on changes in local regulation or return-to-work guidance, the impact of features like Safety Check — which checks in on employees’ safety in an emergency or crisis situation within our Safety Center — became even more important. Our most important work starts with an emphasis on understanding the needs of our employees.

2. Focus on people, not just technology

The pandemic pushed us to ask people-centric questions that informed our development pipeline. For example: How can we evolve our culture in a remote-first world? What tools should be built to help people return to the office in a safe manner? Seeking the answers to these questions focused our work.

We quickly began developing tools to help employees feel more connected to one another, like upgrading our infrastructure for increased remote video collaboration to work seamlessly and shipping our employees Portal devices to enable more connection and additional productivity. The ability to quickly and easily share information about employee benefits and travel policies also became even more important as everyone was working remotely. So we built Knowledge Library, a static hub for company resources, to address the needs faced by companies, employees, and communities alike. 

Thinking about the employee experience not only ensures that the company is running efficiently, but it also maximizes the investment being made in the technology being built and deployed. For example, our team built and refined an all-new product called Manager Landing to help managers connect with their direct reports. By truly listening to our employees, we were able to architect a path forward, setting them up to be their most productive selves. 

3. Be proactive and adaptable

In addressing the needs and challenges of our people, the COVID-19 pandemic proved to be the ultimate test for CIOs, driving home the need to be agile and adaptable. Overnight, our company’s entire way of recruiting and onboarding changed. We knew we had to adapt and quickly build a virtual system that mirrored the experiences they needed to recruit top talent. To solve our inability to connect with new candidates in person, the Enterprise Engineering team reimagined existing tools to optimize virtual interviewing and onboarding to help new employees easily transition into Facebook’s community and culture. This work enabled us to programmatically schedule full loops for coding interviews while balancing candidate and interviewer needs. And it’s worked so far — between April and September 2020, Facebook hired more than 8,000 new employees globally in our new, entirely online process. 

Our Enterprise Engineering team also transformed enterprise logistics with a ship-to-destination model to enable the distribution of thousands of laptops, cell phones, and Portal devices to the homes of employees to enable continued remote work as the pandemic dragged on. This shift meant going from an enterprise supply chain to shipping to people’s homes, essentially pivoting to a consumer supply chain overnight.

4. Put a premium on function over fad

Given how we have grown and hired at an immense rate — not to mention our large, complex, and specialized infrastructure — we needed to quickly figure out a way to roll out devices and tools during the pandemic at a faster pace than ever before. As a result, building and scaling our systems and solutions for tremendous growth became a huge priority for us.

At the beginning of the pandemic, we weren’t able to ship some devices to many parts of the world, but we still needed to onboard and grow our teams. To meet the collaboration demands of a global organization working remotely, we built virtual desktop solutions in a matter of weeks, ultimately powering remote onboarding and work for thousands of employees. We also upgraded our remote VPN capacity by threefold to help support our rapid shift to a 100 percent remote workforce, to minimize loss in productivity.

Videoconferencing was previously hosted on a third-party tool. With around 40 million conference minutes per month at the time COVID-19 hit, scaling proved difficult, so we introduced new ways to videoconference by fortifying existing tools with new features and implementing new ones for large-scale meetings. From March to May 2020, we saw and were able to support a 5x increase in videoconferencing. 

For Enterprise Engineering, our focus has always been on building and scaling products and solutions that our businesses really need at any given point of time, versus building things that are just cool and interesting from an engineering point of view. This philosophy allowed the Enterprise Engineering team to have an outsize positive impact on our business with the solutions that we built during the course of the pandemic.   

5. Futureproof your team for the post-pandemic era

Much of the CIO role’s recent evolution — at Facebook and other companies — has been catalyzed by the pandemic. But the role must remain people-centric and bring empathy into leadership after the pandemic as well. How can we build tools to find, hire, onboard, grow, and retain the best talent in a remote-first world? How can we build a scaled, secure infrastructure to help a distributed workforce reimagine the way they work via improved collaboration and productivity? Most important, how can we create industry-leading product experiences to bridge the gap between remote workers and in-office teams?

We’re working on all of it. While we've experienced different challenges during the pandemic, it has taught us a lot about how businesses should think about the workplace and how we set our employees up for success. For example, we built tech support into our version of Workplace to provide increased remote tech help 24/7 to continue supporting our people whenever and wherever they need it. With the majority of our employees working remotely, we wanted to provide more visibility, availability, and convenience in our help desk services. And we did this quickly, given that we had already been building tools on Workplace.

The pandemic has changed our reliance on technology, as has our focus on employee well-being, and both will continue to evolve along with the workplace. CIOs must also continue to evolve and find new ways to connect their people with the support and tools they need.