Embrace The Opportunities Of Hybrid Work

New ways of working are opening up new chances to build a strong IT work culture and develop a better balance of soft and hard skills, says Ryan Hicke, CIO of SEI Investments.
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The growing world of hybrid work creates challenges for IT teams but Ryan Hicke, executive vice president and CIO of SEI Investments in Oaks, Pennsylvania, is focused on the opportunities it creates as well.

Hicke spoke with StrategicCIO360 about how his team is building communications skills, why it matters and why it’s important to think about your clients as human beings beyond their technical needs.

How do you approach culture building with your IT team when managing hybrid work schedules?

The transition to a hybrid work environment forced us to step back and challenge our conventional thinking about how we both assemble teams and engage our employees. In a hybrid environment, our geographical constraints have been lifted and we are able to assemble teams with the strongest talent, and most diverse skillsets, perspectives and personalities. 

The pandemic also forced us to be more strategic about how we communicate with our employees since we’re not seeing each other every day, which is why we are taking steps to reinforce our collegial work environment virtually. With confidence that our employees will manage their responsibilities effectively, we’ve been, for example, actively encouraging them to find five minutes at the beginning or end of a virtual meeting to catch up on what’s happening in each other’s lives. 

We also encourage everyone to stay connected to our broader north star of supporting our clients. It is easy to get hyper-focused on the technical aspects of the job, which is why it’s crucial to remember that our clients are human beings whose lives will be made easier because of our solutions. And making their lives easier helps to lead to better financial outcomes for their clients too. Keeping this purpose at the center of the work helps our team remain engaged and find passion in their work. 

What have been some of the most surprising opportunities that have come out of hybrid and continued remote work? 

Prior to the pandemic, we were operating Open Talent Challenges, a new-age, always-on hackathon, offering our technology team a harm-free environment to experiment with our solutions, learn new skills, and build new products and services. These challenges were meant to empower the team to consider our offerings, fill gaps, identify creative solutions and expand their horizons. 

Transitioning to hybrid work has allowed us to supercharge the effort by adding new potential projects to a broader base of employees interested in exploring the technology challenges outside of their day-to-day. The Open Talent Challenges help us identify impactful solutions to often vexing problems, and more importantly, foster new relationships between teammates who would not otherwise work together. It has been a great opportunity to empower our employees to try new things and develop skills that will benefit them throughout their careers. 

You believe the most successful IT teams are led by those who equally prioritize the hard and the soft skills. How do you maintain that balance day-to-day for yourself and your employees?

It is all about authenticity. If we as leaders are not working to maintain a balance of soft and hard skills, how can we ask our employees to do so? With the onset of remote work, we took a look in the mirror and saw a need for our leaders to sharpen their soft skills, so we developed a course on Executive Communication. 

Some people in the course had to really step outside of their comfort zones to apply their new skills during meetings with their teams, yet every leader recognized the importance and value of strong communication, especially in a remote environment. 

We also offer a variety of learning and development classes for our employees to improve both their hard and soft skills. Employees can use these classes to, for example, fine tune their coding, or enhance their public speaking. We want to augment our employees’ technical skills so they can do their jobs, but we also want to help them build up a well-rounded skillset so they can both succeed in other areas of their lives and be prepared for future roles. 

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