We could all be forgiven for looking back on the past year and saying, ‘this isn’t what I signed up for’.

As IT leaders, we’ve faced the unique situation of going, almost literally overnight, from operating as single locations with multiple users to working as multiple locations, each with a single user. The challenges have, of course, been formidable and legion. And although, thankfully, some semblance of normality is returning, for many of us they still are.

With hybrid working becoming increasingly normalised, CIOs still face endless demands, from above and below, for rapid solutions to pressing technical and practical problems. Right now, security and compliance is probably the biggest headache for our clients, particularly those with impending ISO and Cyber Essentials Plus audits; but major concerns also persist around bandwidth and internet speeds, accessibility, device control – proper nuts-and-bolts stuff that really affects people’s ability to work easily and effectively wherever they are.

Streamlining logins, making it easy for people to locate and share files and data, providing robust security are all obviously crucial to a smooth, positive UX, which in turn boosts productivity and satisfaction levels. Complex, time-consuming and potentially costly to deliver? Sometimes. Not as quick and easy to fix as people seem to think? Almost always. Though ultimately, they’re generally issues that can be resolved given the right technology and appropriate resources.

For our own IT teams, seeing these things in purely practical, technical terms is fine; that’s their job. But for CIOs, there’s a wider human issue, too. As leaders, we need to ask ourselves: does our overall approach to technology allow staff to remain connected to the organisation as people, not merely as users? How do we ensure they feel as much a part of a community when they’re working remotely as they do (or did) when they are (or were) working on-site? Clearly, there’s some crossover here with what line managers, HR colleagues and employees themselves are doing to maintain cohesion and team spirit. Our role is to provide technology that facilitates those efforts and, wherever we can, prevent issues arising in the first place.

For me, the key principle is ‘seamlessness’: there should be no difference (as far as possible) in the UX whether people are working on-site or remotely. People’s expectations have changed as they’ve become accustomed to new ways of working, and we need to start thinking beyond the technology itself. What can we do to humanise our processes and systems, so people feel they’re more than just a login ID and a contacts list entry? With Teams and Zoom, people can hold meetings; but are there ways we can use IT to provide those lost informal, unplanned ‘water cooler’ moments that create connections, build relationships, prompt discussions and generate new ideas

One simple thing we can do is check with people that our IT services and support actually meet their needs. Sounds obvious? You’d think so… Except that in our recent survey of CIOs – we’ll be publishing our full report soon – almost a third said they made no effort to measure the employee experience last year. Which ought to raise an eyebrow in any year: given the new salience of IT in people’s lives over the past 12 months, it seems like an opportunity missed?

During the pandemic, our focus as CIOs was, rightly, on tackling unforeseen, rapidly emerging problems. Technically, those are now largely addressed. Now we have to deal with the new reality. The old relationships between organisations, individuals and technology have been profoundly altered and are still developing. We need to ensure that, in seeking lasting technical solutions, we never lose sight of who really matters.