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IT Leadership Skills in the Virtual Workplace: Roadmap for Development

IT managers will need to harness the power of team building and collaboration skills to manage outcomes more effectively in the era of hybrid work.

As hybrid and remote companies become commonplace, IT managers need to adapt their management styles to be successful.

Now more than ever, it is critical to manage outcomes and to allow teams to figure out how to reach those outcomes in the most effective way.

This will require strong managers who must support and measure progress without micromanaging or creating excessive reporting burdens.

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There are many facets of effective communication, but one key IT leadership skill to hone when working with distributed teams is having a presence on their company's instant messaging platform, such as Slack or Microsoft Teams, according to Mark Schnittman, co-founder and CTO of Owl Labs.

"With the serendipitous, overheard, and water cooler conversations missing from remote teams' interactions, the way a leader can keep a finger on the pulse of their organization is by 'overhearing' public channel chats, especially in all types of channels," he said.

Participating — without being overbearing or micromanaging — is a powerful way to show your team that you are engaged and they are supported, Schnittman said.

Uri Haramati, co-founder and CEO of Torii, agrees that it's critical that IT leaders communicate with their teams, especially in decentralized workplaces that scatter knowledge, application ownership, and data.

"Without effective communication between IT and the rest of the organization, there is the rise of information silos, blind spots, and misalignments," he said. "These all make it virtually impossible to move business forward because they result in wasted time and money, stymied innovation, and increased security risks."

SaaS Sprawl Adds to Management Challenges 

IT managers spend an inordinate amount of time wrangling the ever-growing stack of cloud applications, including chasing shadow IT, manually provisioning apps, tracking down app owners and licenses, and tracking spiraling software-as-a-service (SaaS) costs, Haramati said.

"They need tools that automatically gather all the information they need and make it easy to take the right actions," he said, pointing to SaaS management platforms (SMPs), which are purpose-built for this.

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IT managers use SMPs to automatically onboard and offboard employees from applications; illuminate SaaS spend and where to cut costs; discover every application used by employees in real time, including all shadow IT apps; compare redundant applications; and automate complex workflows.

"By providing all this information in a central dashboard, SMPs enable IT managers to play a more strategic, consultative, and collaborative role," he said.

By removing these important but time-draining manual tasks from their laundry list of responsibilities, SMPs free IT managers to hone their IT leadership skills in areas that require specialized attention, bettering the enterprise.

Battling 'Over-Centralization' of Management Processes

In the past several years, "over-centralization" has taken over IT management processes, according to Ian Stendera, vice president of product at Ardoq.

This has been especially true for the virtual or dispersed office — and with the recession impending if not already here — leaders have used centralization liberally to consolidate enterprise architecture or business design teams down to one or few business technologists or "IT master manager" roles, he said.

"Unfortunately, over-centralization does not work," Stendera said. "Instead, many organizations are transitioning from a project-centric to a product-centric structure to increase agility and get the most value out of their investments in knowledge workers."

From his perspective, democratization of business decisions makes more sense to keep pace with the evolving, dispersed, and digitized world of work — he calls democratized decision-making the modern, bleeding-edge mode of management.

"By enabling their dispersed teams within the digital business, IT managers won't have to make every decision themselves," he noted. "This allows them to transition from the ultimate authorities on enterprise architecture to collaborators that encourage data-driven change across the enterprise."

Communications Tools Keep Everyone in Sync

Schnittman said digital tools can help a good manager stay organized and keep things from falling through the cracks, pointing out that there's no one-size-fits-all solution here, as the best set of tools is a personal choice with no right or wrong answers.

"What's most important is to recognize that being a great leader requires fundamental human skills and without those, tools have little to offer," he said.

Related: 5 Must-Have IT Leadership Skills That Go Beyond Technical Expertise

A relatively complex tool like Jira is an excellent way to stay organized and keep track of big goals, particularly when working with a team, he said.

On the other end of the spectrum, a simple feature like "/remind me…" in Slack can be a great way to prevent personal tasks from falling through the cracks.

"When introducing new tools to your organization, it's important to explain in clear, simple language why the tool is being added," Schnittman said. "What problem is it meant to solve? How is this new tool going to solve it effectively?"

One effective approach, he said, is to give a light overview at an existing all-hands meeting.

"A recap can be posted and pinned to your instant messaging platform," he said. "Detailed reference material should also be posted to your internal archive for future review, whether that's on a Wiki or shared drive."

Building a Free — and Organized — Flow of Data

Haramati calls the modern IT manager "a builder and facilitator," regardless of where employees are located or what tools they use.

He believes modern IT leadership skills will need to focus on building connective and critical infrastructure essential to the free flow of data, communication, and collaboration across every sector of the company.

"It's critical that IT leaders are able to communicate with their teams, especially in decentralized workplaces that scatter knowledge, application ownership, and data," Haramati said.

Stendera added that with the remote workforce being the new norm, it's critical that each member of a team feels that they are part of a network of social and technical tools that fits their needs.

"For management, that means ensuring that each staff member has access to, or can search for, the solutions they need from anywhere," he explained. "In the near future, that will mean democratizing access to software, workflows and hierarchies so that each employee can become more self-sufficient in their work."

For example, if a user needs assistance with an HR tool, they can simply use their enterprise search software to locate and contact the internal authority on that application for assistance.

Managers will also need to pave the way for these enterprise architecture directories, which will allow for more efficient interactions across departments.

"For IT managers to be effective, they need the soft skills and the data to help guide their decisions and influence," Stendera said. "If IT managers are to position themselves and their teams as enablers, they need to have answers that have been traditionally challenging to arrive at quickly and with high confidence."

About the author

Nathan Eddy headshotNathan Eddy is a freelance writer for ITPro Today. He has written for Popular Mechanics, Sales & Marketing Management Magazine, FierceMarkets, and CRN, among others. In 2012 he made his first documentary film, The Absent Column. He currently lives in Berlin.
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