Technology Leaders, Ready For The New Normal?

July 23, 2020
Technology Leaders

Some countries are ready to ease lockdowns. Others are introducing measures to encourage trade and commerce amidst the crisis. For them, the post-COVID era has, in some ways, already begun. It’s important for top talent in the industry to start preparing for a post-COVID scenario. Here, we explore if technology leaders are ready for the new normal. And if not, how they can adapt the changes that lie ahead.

Expect More Automation

Technology leaders have been at the forefront of shortening processes. And adding the element of automation across several industries. Coding is one of them. The abruptness of social distancing forced many other areas into the automation box. This wasn’t just an outcome of dealing with the crisis. It was an emergency response that’s here to stay.

With fears surrounding contagion, technology leaders went into overdrive developing contactless processes. E-commerce experienced double-digit growth, increasing the appetite for supply chain automation. This report says logistics industry leaders will invest in automating supply chains to:

  • Improve speed
  • Decrease turnaround time and
  • Meet the increasing demand brought on by online sales.

Smart application of robotic processes in “human” work presents in other ways too.

In South Korea, robots have assisted with COVID-19 related testing. (Measuring temperatures etc), facilitated retail with contactless delivery, and more.

The new normal will reflect interventions brought on by automation vis-à-vis robots. A McKinsey report predicted automation of 30% American jobs by 2030. (With corresponding figures for China). We may see those numbers rising in the wake of new social rules. And the increased cost of maintaining a completely human workforce.

Robotic Process Automation (RPA) is already making inroads. It has absorbed the administrative aspects of work for healthcare workers. It is bringing down the time and expense of claims processing and much more. COVID-19 taught the technology industry that it’s much better at dealing with a crisis than it thinks.

Remote Work Will Be The Norm

Microsoft has already announced its plans of letting employees work from home through October 2020. So did Google, with employees not returning to ‘office’ until 2021. They’re not the only ones. Other technology leaders are realizing the actual business benefits of remote work. These include:

  • Saving on expenses (overheads and administration)
  • Increased productivity
  • Increased flexibility
  • Autonomy leading to improved work-life balance and personal wellbeing

Even processes previously dependent on collaboration have found new executional means. Virtual collaboration is one of them.

What remote work needs from technology leaders is a change in mindset. For many technology leaders, remote work initiatives are a temporary “adjustment”. They see it as a concession against an ungovernable force. Data suggests otherwise. According to one report, many employees will not want to go back to ‘full time, onsite jobs’ in the new normal.

In some cases, remote work will need to be built into new JDs to attract and retain top talent.

Hence, planning ahead is crucial. For technology leaders who managed their teams F2F, the psychological impact of remote work is real. These are the leaders who need to fortify their internal resources the most. Increasing the number and variety of remote meetings is one way of recapturing onsite energy. Collaboration software is another, simultaneously addressing trust issues and productivity concerns.

From a functional point of view, this will mean the demand for collaboration software will experience an upward curve. We’re already witnessing the entry of new virtual meeting tools, email automation, and collaboration software. For technology leaders, this creates new avenues—developing tools and plugins that bridge the gap between existing tools or offer value in ways the former do not.

Fewer, More Enriched Jobs

We’re already witnessing COVID-19’s impact on the job market. Layoffs, downsizing, retrenchment all over. Over 38.6 million Americans have filed unemployment claims, according to the most recent reports.

This doesn’t mean there aren’t enough jobs out there.

Xperti, for one, is hiring top talent and continues to seek out experienced technology professionals, especially those working in Java development.

What this does mean is that the nature of hiring, especially IT recruitment has changed.

Right now, campus recruitment is out. Custom webinars are in. The post-COVID era may see an aggressive surge in on-campus activity, which could work two ways for IT recruiters:

  • Well-attended technology recruitment events on campus OR
  • Competing more aggressively for stall space with other recruiters, driving up BTL costs

It’s also worth asking if this fresh talent is what IT recruiters want.

As we mention in an earlier Xperti blog, the technology job market is not a linear space, and probably never has been, either. Demand does not always equal supply.

The ‘new normal’ era will usher in many important shifts:

Restructured Teams:

Existing team members will be required to take on the responsibilities of talent made redundant. This, in turn, will require rapid upskilling.

Downward Mobility:

In a depressed market, necessity calls the shots. Neither can hiring managers aspire for ideal talent. Nor can top talent expect a surplus of employment choices. Stakeholders on both ends need to make tradeoffs. In the case of the latter, this will mean taking on projects tantamount to underemployment.

Whether this becomes a short-term tactic or a long-term decision depends entirely on their performance as a function of the technology talent market. This will mean that experienced technology professionals will opt increasingly for projects, as an alternative to jobs. Possibly, many simultaneous ones. For technology project leaders, this calls out for redesigning contracts aimed at competitiveness and stability.

Unpaid Internships:

This is a throwback to the last time the American economy experienced such a significant downturn. During the 2008-09 recession, university students and fresh graduates had to accept unpaid internships. Could such practices be on their way back? The challenge for technology leaders is to balance fundamental employee rights with productivity and resource expenses.

Technology Talent Will Change

The impact higher education will have in the ‘new normal’ technology industry is already visible: Many universities announced a postponement of on-campus classes till at least Fall 2020. Across the world, universities have canceled examinations, delayed admissions, and made cautious, passive responses to the current crisis. Although online classes were introduced at the onset of their crisis, their adequacy has come into question more than once.

This means that hiring managers, especially IT recruiters, will have a scarcer talent pool to choose from. With labs and other on-campus resources indefinitely inaccessible, the quality of testing also becomes questionable. For students specializing in hardware-centric concentrations, like robotics, or bio-engineering, the educational price of the lockdown goes up manifold. Technology leaders need to prepare for this new normal by working with their own L&D teams to devise onsite candidate evaluation.

Of course, these methods will have to be far more detailed and thorough than their pre-COVID counterparts.

It would help to engage a talent partner like Xperti to oversee other aspects of candidate validation, like:

  • Basic competencies
  • Problem-solving
  • Analytical ability and
  • Cultural fit

So that existing L&D teams can focus on other testing areas previously regulated by university exams.

Technology talent will also change in the sense that certifications will become more important. This will create some imbalances—as experienced professionals isolated at home (with idle capacity), will be competing in emerging skills with fresh graduates or current students. But certifications, will nonetheless, become more important.

They’ll level the talent field by giving validation to skills candidates profess to have. Better, these certifications are issued keeping global talent in mind, i.e. more competitiveness.

The changing talent landscape will also mean professional networks will become more important. They’ll become the equivalent of social word of mouth for technology talent. So the choice of a professional network, and an applicant’s acceptance into such a network will send a signal to the hiring manager.

Professional networks won’t just be about prestige and identity anymore. They’ll be important sources of exchanges between policymakers, practitioners, experts, and exceptional fresh talent. Xperti, which selects from within America’s 99th percentile of technology talent, offers such an opportunity to ambitious tech talent.

Technology Talent Management Will Change

With the nature of technology talent changing, it’s inevitable that its management will also change.

Many of the foreseeable changes in the new normal are visible now: Technology leaders’ new responsibility towards dispelling anxiety with active interventions. In fact, mental health will be a major focus point for managers seeking to lead teams in the post-COVID era. With remote teams, onsite gestures like team building activities and F2F counseling will be less effective. Instead, technology leaders will need to borrow from other disciplines. Social sciences emerge as a healthy partner on the path back to recovery. As early as 2015, Silicon Valley stated the need for more liberal arts degrees in the midst of dyed-in-the-wool programmers and data scientists. It isn’t just about balance and the human touch. Cross-disciplinary creativity is good for business.

Along with mental health challenges, technology leaders will need to preemptively address productivity imbalances. As we mention in another blog, this will mean adjusting checkpoints to focus on milestones, without expecting uniform, standardized output from team members.

This can be tough, especially if you’re working with a distributed team. (Or if your team had disciplinary challenges before the COVID-19 crisis).

It can be tempting to instill additional monitoring tools. In some cases, it may even be needed. But experts warn of the tradeoff between the need to monitor and employee privacy. Popular word has it: If you can’t trust your team to work remotely, you can’t trust them to work onsite either.

This isn’t just about work and productivity it’s about setting the right organizational culture. In the new normal, businesses will have to make overt, material gestures to reinforce corporate values. Gestures will aim at either enforcing discipline or incentivizing high performance. In the absence of corporate ceremonies, it can be hard to imagine such gestures taking shape.


Nonetheless, “surprise sprints” offer one way of communicating care, without violating social distance. Discount cards, unscheduled paid leave, employee gift cards (or gifts)! Work well as healthy reminders of what the company stands for, and how it appreciates its people.
Disciplinary gestures can be harder. Previously, the office grapevine served as an unsavory but handy tool to communicate the backstory behind disciplinary outcomes visible to all. In the new normal, the grapevine’s impact will go from being unhealthy to toxic, as employees grapple with existing uncertainty, job insecurity, and a lack of accessibility to their teams.

How should technology leaders address this?

Transparent, organization-wide communication is key. One message broadcast to all employees, with the option to post questions anonymously to management can do a lot in dispelling rumor-mongering and setting expectations.

Tectonic Industry Shifts

Technology jobs in ground transportation have been badly hit by COVID-19. The post-COVID era may see a resurgence (or curtailed demand)? The impact on air travel is even more dramatic, with some airlines already declaring bankruptcy.

Commercial real estate, entertainment, and hospitality have also taken a hit and may continue to do so. This, in turn, will affect industries like construction and chemicals.

In other industries, though, the need for:

Has already made itself evident and will continue to do so. Healthcare is one of them. For technology leaders, this means moving towards industry-specific specialization. i.e. the generalist approach will take a backseat.

In Conclusion

Technology experts ready for the new normal combine:

  • Flexibility
  • An emphasis on milestones, and
  • Long-term goals.

For many, it will mean a departure from accepted ways of managing software projects and teams. For others, re-educating themselves on the interaction between people, industry, and technology.



Nayyara Rahman is a management and technology professional with a focus on digital services. Her work in integrating marketing and technology is aimed at making organizations more efficient, accountable and transparent. She is also an award-winning author and researcher whose contribution has been acknowledged on several prestigious international forums.

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