New research: Lack of recognition burns IT during lockdown

IDG Connect coronavirus research looks at how the lockdown is impacting IT - part two looks at the comments

IDG Connect research polls 476 global IT decision makers to discover how the coronavirus lockdown impacts their work. In the second of this two-part deep dive into the findings, we analyse the 103 verbatim comments submitted, and discuss what they reveal about the current mood in IT.

Research is a strange thing. Surveys, like this one, are self-selecting - only certain people ever choose to take part in them - while the numbers only provide a tiny sample of the vast pool of people they are meant to represent. Verbatim comments are even more of a problem, as these often come from people with an axe to grind. I find Glassdoor absolutely fascinating for this very reason. The people on there either love or loathe their organisation. Yet they are just a minute fraction of the overwhelming majority, who mainly take a fairly stoical approach to work, and would simply never get around to committing their thoughts to the internet.

This has proved an interesting survey though, because the times we're living through are a massive departure from anything approaching normality. People who wouldn't normally bother, are suddenly keen to document their experiences; big news outlets are at pains to cover as many ordinary perspectives as possible; jobs which have previously been overlooked are suddenly at the forefront. And I even heard a poet on the radio the other day describe how, although she and her peers are usually rather snobbish about anything even vaguely current, they're now all clamouring to share their Covid chronicles.

In total this survey generated 103 verbatim answers of varying lengths. This meant just over a fifth of people who took part in the tick box research section, which we've covered in a separate piece, chose to share their experience. Two key things leapt out for me.


Pandemic IT is remarkably global

What was striking throughout this research was how similar responses were around the world with fewer truly regional stories than you might expect. One individual detailed connectivity experience in China, another talked about power problems in Zimbabwe while another wrote about SMB issues in New York, but for the most part, dividing the comments by region didn't reveal anything striking. There was plenty of stuff about layoffs - often from North America, admittedly - and plenty of variations of "the challenge is largely on connectivity at home", but this was all still peppered from around the world.

There was quite a bit about VPN use - from the volume of traffic running through them to increased security concerns. Plenty about how business has remained more or less the same. And some interesting comments about budgets, with one individual writing: "I've found that business management have offered an open budget to upgrade and purchase whatever is necessary to make the 'work from home'." But what really stood out from the comments was the need for recognition.


The very emotional response to recognition

During this pandemic recognition has suddenly become a serious business. Here in the UK, every Thursday at 8pm people leave their houses to clap for the NHS health workers risking their lives at the front line of the service. The noise, where I live at least, is deafening. The only thing comparable was when England were winning at the World Cup in 2018 and the roar of response to goals reverberated round the neighbourhood.

Gradually, this public recognition has extended to include all overlooked key workers who are doing important jobs outside, such as bus drivers, delivery people and retail staff. But what about IT? Now obviously, the majority of IT people are not risking their lives to go outside while others stay in. However, they do perform a vital service and are, perhaps, working at another kind of front line. IT needs to stay up and running because, for the businesses that are still going, it's the one thing keeping them going.

This is reflected in our survey. And what emerges from the tone of responses is an intense professional pride in work and pleasure in recognition, which quickly turns to anger if the sweat and long hours are ignored.

"I have been very proud of how my team have responded and adapted," wrote one individual. "The department is doing well in managing in challenging times and has received recognition for this across the business," wrote another.

On the negative side one stated: "We are working seven days a week 12 hours. We don't really get to rest." Another described their experience as an outsourced employee, "Management are more concerned about maintaining the terms of their contract with the client, than my personal safety. They are also remiss in providing remote troubleshooting tools."

Yet perhaps the comment which best summarises the ongoing problem for IT - one which is ramped up exponentially in these difficult times - is:

"Unfortunately I do not have a happy anecdote. Monster effort and successful ramp up to support 95% WFH within two weeks has not received recognition or praise from the business. But the team stayed committed and continues to do so with grace. That is the beauty of IT people."