By Patrick Hubbard, Head Geek™, SolarWinds
The stereotype of IT workers spending their working days secluded in a small dark room in the distant corner of the office may have evolved over the years, but communication and interpersonal skills are still rarely seen as key attributes for the modern IT pro. However, all that is about to change.
IT departments and professionals have already identified the need to adapt to the rapidly evolving business landscape. In fact, the SolarWinds IT Trends Report 2020: The Universal Language of IT found more than a third (35%) of IT pros are now taking on additional non-IT responsibilities such as presentations, public speaking, and business planning. Soft skills like critical thinking (57%) and communication (53%) are seeing increasing importance among employees in Singapore. This is further supported by the LinkedIn Future of Skills report.
In 2020, the escalation of the coronavirus (or COVID-19) has driven many companies to adopt remote working arrangements for their employees. With staff no longer working near each other, efficient and effective interpersonal communication between departments become even more crucial to the success of an organisation. For example, IT teams need to clearly communicate to employees on how to effectively and securely use video conferencing apps to protect themselves from unexpected vulnerabilities. So, how can businesses ensure IT pros can enhance the way they communicate to facilitate collaboration with departments?
The rise of DevOps—a relatively new methodology that marries development and IT operations to build, test, and release reliable software faster—has been one of the key drivers of the changing trends in Asia Pacific. An effective DevOps strategy requires an agile relationship between the software development and IT operation teams, from communication and collaboration to integration of tasks and functions.
DevOps culture is based on a cycle of continuous development, feedback, and improvement. For this feedback loop to be effective, the collaboration and communication between individuals, teams, and departments become crucial. When IT pros are unable to effectively articulate technical challenges to a non-technical audience, this creates misalignment in goals or strategy, unrealistic expectations of what technology should (and can) achieve, and the pervasive sense of IT as a roadblock to digital change. Broken communication can be extremely frustrating, and ultimately hinder the organisation’s rollout of an effective DevOps culture.
The development of interpersonal skills is thus vital to IT pros’ changing roles within their organisations. IT managers increasingly find themselves perceived as the default owners of new digital services rolled out within the organisation, including running self-service websites, data analytics, automation, and chatbots. Being able to empathetically communicate with end users—especially those facing frustrations with the implementation of these new technologies— will soothe tensions and speed up digital adoption and buy-in amongst the broader organisation.
Evidently, strong interpersonal skills help IT pros better understand what their users want. By learning what different individuals want, need, or expect of technology, the insights gained help create more nuanced digital strategies.
To improve soft skills in this area, IT pros can consider focusing on three key elements:
So how can IT pros begin to obtain these skills while juggling their hectic schedules and existing commitments? For starters, look for peers with similar goals to partner up and learn with. This approach helps IT pros remain accountable to their education, while also giving them valuable safe zones to practice their interpersonal skills. They could also tap onto online courses teaching the necessary communication skills, allowing them to learn at their own pace and ability.
IT pros should discuss their need to become better communicators with their leaders or managers. There’s a powerful business case for doing so: with stronger interpersonal skills, barriers between IT and other business teams can be removed, allowing collaboration and innovation to accelerate at a smoother pace. For many IT pros, those discussions will be the first exercise of their growing interpersonal skills.
While a virus outbreak may have inadvertently cast a spotlight on the need for effective cross-communication skills within an organisation, they should continually strive to incorporate this approach into their work cultures even beyond COVID-19 remote working arrangements.
The more IT and the rest of the business understand each other’s roles, the better they can adopt a common language and platform for education—not to mention the organisation can improve its efficiency and better achieve its goals because everyone is unified. Keeping the two worlds separate, though, will only cause the organisation to fall into a vicious cycle of “broken telephone.” Communication takes time and effort and building a seamless loop doesn’t happen overnight, but once you get it down pat, the results can be outstanding.