IT leaders had to pivot like few other professionals amid the global lockdowns instigated by the pandemic.

From supporting distributed workforces — including their own — and accelerating innovation to cultivating that all-important people factor, empathy, IT leaders have had a crash course in how to get things done in extreme conditions.

Here are some of the lessons they learned that will benefit them moving forward.

Generate breakthroughs with employee crowdsourcing

Avery Dennison was among the companies that increased agility through experimentation during the pandemic. A major contributor to its success: employee crowdsourcing.

To get the job done, the packing materials company deployed a Digital Innovation Center of Excellence to crowdsource ideas from frontline employees directly dealing with persistent problems.

Now it uses the same technique to improve operations throughout the organization.

How does it work? First, employees brainstorm ideas for solving a given challenge. One example from the pandemic was how to stay in touch with customers at a distance.

Next, employees pass their ideas to colleagues, who riff on the ideas to come up with their own.

Finally, the participants rate all the ideas to find the gems.

Three hundred ninety ideas later, the Digital Innovation Center has helped business units through the company create new products and services, improve processes, and create delight for customers and employees alike.

Strengthen decision-making through relaxed chains of command

One result of the pandemic was a breaking down of barriers between rank and file employees and managers at many organizations as all struggled to collaborate away from the office effectively.

For example, people at all levels of Novant Health’s IT organization found themselves in direct contact with whomever they needed to get work done and solve problems. The company welcomed the change as a way to speed decision-making, and much of the resulting informality has remained, to good effect, a company spokesman said.

Now, employees have closer working relationships with colleagues and higher-ups. And those higher-ups aim to keep the dynamic since it helps the organization overcome challenges large and small more quickly.

Liberate resources through automation

Like many organizations, the IT team at Sequoia Capital was forced to automate many business processes to keep operations running smoothly with employees stuck at home.

For example, processes such as onboarding and offboarding clients now benefit from automation, freeing up employees to do higher-level work that can return greater value for the company.

Automated workflows extend to formerly paper-based processes internally as well, for example, streamlining reviews of investments. These changes help all areas of the company foster agility and unlock more innovation as employees focus beyond routine tasks.

Bridge physical distance with meaningful human connection

Meaningful human connections need not occur in person, as the IT organization at the National Board of Medical Examiners discovered.

The pandemic forced quite a shift for the non-profit, as all 500 staff members worked out of a single Philadelphia office pre-pandemic. Face-to-face interactions between those employees were deemed critical for getting work done.

However, recurring online meetings helped the IT group, for one, maintain vital relationships between supervisors and direct reports. A key element: taking time to inquire about families and the health of meeting participants during lockdowns.

Today, online meetings continue to support connection with the human element first and foremost, now leavened with occasional face-to-face interactions.

Help teams thrive by showing empathy

Whether in person or remote, IT leaders have found that their teams do best when shown empathy by their managers.

James McFarlane, who directs IT business services for La-Z-Boy, perhaps put it best when he said, “In the last two years, because of everything going on in the world, we need to act with empathy [and] compassion and really need those attributes when we work with people.”

These lessons should serve organizations well into the future as they continue to build resilience against future disruption.