Digitization and the new normal: Challenges faced by CXOs and ways to tackle them

During this rapid-moving COVID-19 pandemic, organizations are faced with a unique set of challenges summed up in one word: uncertainty. In such a situation, CXOs are playing a central role in navigating the crisis.

The pandemic has expedited the pace of digital transformation, and technology is playing a pivotal role in reshaping businesses. Several changes transforming how we work and live rely on technology. And because technology ties so much of every company together, CXOs are thinking about what’s really going on and how to manage it. Navigating these uncertain waters requires leaders to be agile and dexterous while envisioning a new normal on the other side.

Some major challenges faced by the CXOs around the globe are

Shift to remote work and performance measurement

The biggest challenge is the shift to work from home. Employees who are not used to remote work may not feel like they’re truly at work. After all, most people don’t associate their homes with work! In such cases, virtual employees may not achieve the same focus and productivity as they do in the office.

Remote work has also brought other challenges for CXOs, where effective performance measurement, management, and accountability are a big one. In this suddenly almost exclusively virtual world, where it’s much convenient for employees to become almost invisible, how can CXOs recognize and reward great performance?

Therefore, it’s advisable to assist the performance of employees on the basis of outcomes rather than the number of working hours.

Virtual meetings

As companies are juggling to pivot their operations at the WFH phase, video conferencing is among the prominent tools which are highly being invested in these days. But mostly at times of virtual meetings, one of the biggest challenges posed is miscommunication. As you can’t have face-to-face communication in person, with your virtual employees, it can be challenging to convey proper messages or to give feedback. In some cases, a lack of defined structure can also put a team at a disadvantage. Since virtual teams require special structure, leaders need to understand how to run this type of workplace properly. A strong CXO also needs to create a structured digital workplace that lets everyone work together cohesively.

Tackling security issues

With the adaptability and efficiency of WFH culture, threat actors are already stepping up cyberattacks to exploit confusion and uncertainty. Due to the usage of electronic devices and applications more often, the possibilities of getting infected with a range of malware into devices or playing with the system remotely become easier as they may face the feasibility of operating with little or no IT support. In response, both CXOs and employees need to take care to protect themselves as well as the company’s confidential information. Also, they must focus on security operations, especially de-risking the opening of remote access to sensitive data or software-development environments, and implementing multifactor authentication to enable work from home.

So let’s see how should CXOs behave in such tough times and what strategies they should adopt to stay afloat:

Empathy towards your people

CXO’s first order of business is to take care of the employees. It’s important to acknowledge that people are focused on caring for loved ones, managing their kids who are no longer in school, stocking up on necessities, and trying to stay healthy, all while trying to do their jobs. It requires empathy and flexibility from CXOs.

Communicate confidently, consistently, and reliably

Uncertainty breeds fear and confusion. CXOs have to combat this reality by developing a crisis-communication program based on being transparent with both the management and employees about what the current situation is and the steps being taken to address issues. Setting up regular briefings and create a specific routine, which builds trust and confidence. Any delays to major deployments need to be planned for and communicated.

Don’t forget to give feedback

During this time, don’t let the absence of organic in-person opportunities to provide feedback slows down team development. In a normal scenario, it’s easy to take a few minutes at the end of a meeting to provide advice or constructive comments. Doing so by phone or videoconference isn’t as easy — that is why CXOs must be purposeful about making the space and time for offering feedback. Having check-in conversations of 5 to 10 minutes regularly with team members, fit in among other scheduled meetings, can help recreate the organic moments that used to happen in person.

Change in culture

CXOs should consider lightly surveying, remote workers to understand what is and isn’t working to help refine capabilities and support levels. New ways of working require a culture change. CXOs can help to drive this change by sharing best practices and providing active learning sessions. They can drive testing and learning from different approaches and communicating them back to the business. CXOs are perfectly placed to facilitate a new way of working. Along with this, they should also bolster online channels to improve customer interactions and solidify retention.

Start anticipating what’s next?

In this high-stress situation, it’s essential to reevaluate priorities, shift resources, and track progress closely. CXOs need to take a comprehensive view and stay committed to broader transformation goals they’ve been leading, such as programs on data, cloud, etc. Cloud migration provides the flexibility to manage the changing employee and customer needs rapidly and cost-effectively. For this reason, CXOs need to keep a steady hand on initiatives and programs that can help the business become tech-forward.

Be available and flexible

At such times, leadership is more critical than ever. Technology is only one part. Be visible to not only your employees but your organization.


Post-COVID is uncharted waters for everyone. Some aspects of functioning would need to change irreversibly while a lot needs to be revived. Therefore, CXOs have a chance to become leaders directing the business on critical decisions during this time of fear and uncertainty. As Geoffrey Moore wrote, “Target the most impactful change you can make within the time period and constraints of the current situation and get on with it right now.”

By Jai Ballani, Managing Partner – Technology Practice, Executive Access  


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