Gartner Research

What CIOs Need to Know About Managing Remote and Virtual Teams Through the COVID-19 Crisis

Published: 02 April 2020


As a result of rapid, necessary workplace adjustments due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many organizations are implementing remote work and virtual teams for the first time. CIOs are looking for expert insights, recommendations and examples to help IT and enterprise managers through this learning curve.

Strategic Planning Assumption

To retain staff in recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic response in late 2020, organizations should expect that 75% of their staff will ask to expand their remote work hours by 35%.


In response to the current pandemic situation resulting from COVID-19, organizations are rapidly implementing work-from-home policies and practices. For managers, supervisors and staff accustomed to on-site work arrangements, this presents a significant challenge on a number of levels. There are logistical and process issues to quickly develop or change, work performance and engagement challenges to address and personal and social interaction adaptations required. All of these need to be managed during a time of high anxiety, disruption and unpredictability. Adding to this already complex environment, enterprise leaders are looking to the IT organization specifically for support, assistance, guidance and expertise to make this transition happen. The pressure and escalating workload on functional and team IT managers has never been greater. To keep IT performing and delivering for the enterprise, CIOs must recognize the impact of these changes on the IT management team and provide guidance, advice and direction for managing their own teams and for supporting other enterprise management needs.

The initial recommendations that CIOs should be providing to their managers involve how to rapidly establish and implement remote work policies. Once that’s done, managers must change their own practices and expectations to deal with team members remotely, ensure engagement and drive performance. Gartner has developed research recommendations on remote work and virtual team best practices, and research data and expert insights that can help IT managers navigate in this unfamiliar territory and develop confidence in working with remote and virtual teams.

Figure 1. Questions That Determine Remote Work Program Success

Research Highlights

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Deploying and implementing a remote workplace involves a number of technology and business process changes. In many instances, the practical aspects of establishing connectivity and operations takes precedence over the impact on individual workers. Managing the implementation of this new way of working is only one aspect of the responsibilities of CIO and IT managers. More critical and challenging is the need to address individual engagement and performance by managing the learning curve for new practices, raising awareness of stress and anxiety and helping team members prioritize their daily activities while maintaining a healthy focus. The following research documents and toolkits help CIOs guide their IT managers in understanding how to introduce and lead teams under challenging and unfamiliar conditions created by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Employees are increasingly working remotely due to the new coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak. This article provides recommendations for CIOs to help managers at their organizations successfully lead remote teams by establishing clear expectations, setting attainable performance outcomes and creating open communication. This research provides a checklist for developing manager-employee trust.

CIOs need to take the lead to help managers and other stakeholders overcome their fears of implementing a remote work program. The many benefits of such a program must be embraced because it can bring to the organization a competitive edge in the recruitment and retention of highly valued IT talent.

Providing the tools and structure are only one small part of implementing remote work. CIOs can help their application managers understand that creating an environment of mutual trust and establishing clear expectations leads to empowerment and accountability. This research describes the essential first steps of creating a successful remote work program.

To be successful in implementing a remote-worker or teleworker program, CIOs must ensure that “out of sight” is not “out of mind.” This research will help CIOs assess what jobs and which individuals are suitable for remote working and provide strategies for effectively managing the remote worker.

As organizations plan to make provisions for remote work, they also need to consider managing their remote workers’ experience. To effectively manage these experiences, CIOs must help their IT managers understand common challenges faced by remote workers and work toward overcoming them. CIOs can use the seven tips provided in this research to mitigate the challenges remote workers face, and thus enhance the experience of employees working remotely.

CIOs in midsize enterprises can use remote work technology to drive organizational resiliency against world-impacting events like the COVID-19 pandemic. CIOs must take the lead in helping their IT manager build remote work strategies in the organization. This begins by helping the C-suite overcome assumptions that remote work will damage working relationships or degrade performance.

Once introduced, most employees prefer the flexibility to work remotely. Organizations that have implemented work-from-home policies as a COVID-19 response might be expecting employees to go back to on-site work when the pandemic situation is resolved. CIOs should challenge this assumption on an economic, employee engagement and performance management basis.

Remote work programs benefit from having well-designed policies that clarify employee and manager responsibilities. CIOs can help their IT managers responsible for digital workplace initiatives by providing this template for creating remote work policies.

In addition to traditional team leadership skills, managers of virtual teams need specialized skills to succeed. CIOs must provide IT managers with the tools and techniques needed to build trust and communicate precisely, while maintaining engagement and managing performance. This manager workshop introduces simple tools and techniques to succeed as a manager of a virtual team.

The tools in this workbook help managers adjust to virtual team management, communicate with and engage virtual teams, assess team progress and promote team unity. These tools included in the workbook will help managers to prepare to manage a virtual team, understand virtual employee expectations and build trust remotely.

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Suzanne Adnams

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