December 3, 2020

New Fear Arises During Covid-19’s Contingency Planning Season In Higher Education

Leaves are changing colors, temperatures are dropping and, for those currently commuting beyond bed-to-home-office, daylight drive times are lessening as darkness arrives earlier and earlier. It’s fall!

This is traditionally the season chockfull of superficial banter separating those with and without a penchant for all that is pumpkin spice. Remember those days? Those lighthearted days? Seems like a lifetime ago.

Hamilton’s King George sings, “What comes next?” We know it may be hard things. On college campuses what comes next could very well mean quarantines, persistent feelings of isolation and disconnectedness, early closures, overnight shifts to all virtual and, as is always possible during Covid-19, much, much worse. Those are the hardest things.

There are certainly other difficult things for leaders to think about as they are equally important. Also entirely manageable if we work on them together. Beyond the outside forces, many CIOs now worry about about their team members themselves. These colleagues, head down working, didn’t have time to pay attention to the outcry over change and associated posturing this past summer.

As a reminder, big decisions were made prior to the start of fall semester. Despite deep deliberation and deeper intentionality, social media exploded as virtually all higher ed decisions and diverse paths forward were – in too many instances – viciously attacked.

We know another level of pivot may occur any moment. Will the outrage repeat and, given we’re in more of a proactive mode, how might this impact morale, mental wellness and our best and brightest’s well-earned sense of accomplishment?

Unmatched dedication

University IT teams know their value, now more than ever. With a love for our institutions and support of higher education’s mission, tech staff recognize impact and take pride in ensuring faculty are able to deliver their curriculum in a satisfying way, supporting students’ ability to receive quality teachings in a new normal that is at times both rewarding and tumultuous and improving staff capacity for managing business in the most seamless way.

A solid education improves employability, closes equity gaps, increases opportunity and is able to destroy generational socioeconomic barriers. Technology facilitates higher education and these teams are dedicated to continuously improving campus access and capabilities.

Growing skillsets

Rapid delivery shifts forced a focus on what matters and, possibly more importantly, what doesn’t matter. We’ve empowered our professionals to rock their specialties and drop their weaknesses.

The past eight months have been spent reimagining systems and services to improve delivery to all, everywhere, always. In many institutions, escalated strategic plans and prioritized projects resulted in rapid implementations and integrations. Tech teams learned new things and dropped old habits, exponentially increasing their skillsets and attractiveness to workforces beyond higher education.

Our teams are so tired

Very few on college campuses have luxuriated in a break since last spring. IT has been relentless. Recognizing signs of burnout is critical and forcing self-care is important. Especially in an industry that is notorious for culture and benefits first, pay scale dead last.

While culture may eat strategy for breakfast, morale is the chef herself. Critical players, exhausted from an untenable pace, tied to university mission, are now just coming up for air. Many of our colleagues are in the most fragile state of their lives. Throw in unfounded outrage over conspiracy theories where suddenly technology is the bad guy?

The biggest fear for CIOs without a doubt is losing our best and brightest people – the human beings that introduced near-magic for institutional benefit – due to a final straw of outside hysterics while exhausted. It’s demotivating and unnecessary.

Preparation is key

Be prepared, higher education. You must continue to focus on and refine those contingency plans and be prepared to execute on them in the face of strong headwinds. Remind yourself that, effective Covid-19 2020, every avenue of student success is underpinned by the services and solutions IT provides.

And never forget, the headwinds, the outrage, the attacks on change are all rooted in others’ fear and anxiety. How you respond matters, your services matter and, most importantly, your people matter. Shield them from the inevitable ugliness and never forget, a university’s success relies on these players to supply and support the foundation.

CIOs, take care of your teams.

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