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What Tech Leadership Looks Like During COVID-19

Putting employees first, being transparent, and communicating daily.

Ever since technology companies have been ordered to work from home (WFH), I’ve seen examples of great leadership. During the second week of WFM, Todd McKinnon, CEO of Okta hosted a one hour “ask me anything” (AMA) with 6,100 employees.

I’ve also heard about a lack of leadership with WFH employees unsure of the direction of their company, the security of their job, and the fiscal state of their employer. So I reached out to c-level executives of technology companies to learn how they are leading their employees, their developers, and their clients. Here’s what I learned from 20 executives.

Employees First

As I communicate with my company, I make it my intent and purpose to focus on their well-being. That is what matters ultimately. I want them to hear the truth but also feel confident: so combining optimism and realism as I speak with them is a balance I strive to draw every day. -- Melissa Di Donato, CEO, SUSE

We have navigated this crisis with clear communication about our priorities: the health and wellness of our people, our systems, and the business. We start all calls with a quick check-in to make sure the members of our teams are well, both physically and emotionally, and have the resources they need before moving on to any business-related discussions. From a customer standpoint, we are proactively checking in to offer assistance with managing changes to their environments. In many cases, our support teams are working alongside client teams to turn on new features or troubleshoot more complex requests, such as reconfiguring traffic steering policies to support their own remote workers. -- Kris Beevers, Co-founder & CEO, NS1


The biggest issue we are facing from both clients and employees is fear. Clients are afraid of losing their businesses, employees are afraid of losing their contracts, and everyone is afraid that they or someone they love is going to die. Allow people to express their fears, letting them know that their emotional responses are natural and normal, and allow them to be part of forming the solution that applies to them gives them back some control over their circumstances, which reduces feelings of helplessness. -- Jane McCormick, McCormick Consulting Group

Mobilize and Overcommunicate

It was important to me that employees knew what we were doing as an organization, this wasn’t the time to be silent or hide behind templated emails. I wanted to be transparent and let employees know exactly what the task force was doing and the issues we were tackling to help ensure their safety and the longevity of the business. -- Jeffrey Tiong, CEO, PatSnap

Transparent Communications

In our company, transparent communication has become essential to effective remote leadership. The C-suite is focused on keeping our employees informed about how corporate strategy and workflows are changing and what each of them can do to contribute to our common success. To ensure better productivity, you need to be clear about the priorities with your employees and explain why certain tasks are more critical than others. Transparency also fosters a sense of community, which in turn contributes to psychological and social well-being. -- Ilia Sotnikov, VP of Product Management, Netwrix

I’ve been transparent about my work schedule to meet the needs of my family so that every employee similarly feels comfortable doing the same. We’ve tried to ensure everyone has flexibility in their work schedule, given the need to support families at home.

I’ve tried to cut the confusion and make decisions swiftly without taking ownership away from my teams and the rest of the leadership team. I’ve convened a weekly all-hands where we share all the company news, and keep things as normal as they can be. It is a joy to see everyone together and applaud each other as we try to navigate these times.

We’ve always been transparent to employees about the company’s performance and direction, and we’ve stayed true to our values during these times. We share openly with all employees the issues we’ve run into due to Covid-19, what we are doing to get ahead of these, and the results from our efforts. I’ve put in more effort to ensure I provide support to my leadership team, and not take ownership away from them. -- Vikas Gupta, Founder & CEO, Wonder Workshop

The best way to lead in times of crisis is to be transparent. We made it a tradition to start each company meeting with the update on how the company is doing and we plan to stick to this idea. Your employees deserve to know what’s going on so they can be hopeful in these dark times. -- Dmytro Okunyev, Founder, Chanty

Communication is a rich, virtual fabric that represents the company. I believe that richness is the substitute for the hard walls that we have in offices. Not supporting and growing those relationships created in an office is a mistake—teamwork, shared experiences, and openness are all things that leaders can bring to the table during the crisis to keep employees motivated and feeling supported.-- Francois Dechery, Chief Strategy Officer, CloudBees

Meaningful Connection

I start each meeting with a verbal check-in. We ask our developers, our salespeople, and everyone in the company how they are doing and how we can further support them. You would be surprised how much we uncover things we can do to help in all aspects of their lives. It also goes a long way in showing your employees you care and are sensitive to their needs in this difficult time. We have also instituted a new practice when it comes to our clients where we more regularly reach out and call them to see how we can help. Every day multiple people call our partners and clients to connect and offer our additional support and services for anything they may need. -- Vadim Vladimirskiy’s, CEO, Nerdio

Deal in Facts Not Opinions

It's easy to want to generalize but it's a dangerous game. There's a reason in the hospital they ask patients to score their pain on a rank of 1 to 10. Not everyone has the same tolerance. The same holds true in difficult times. Communicating with numbers is far more helpful than just words. For example: saying we are 60% sure this will be an issue is different than saying we are fairly certain. -- Karolyn Hart, Founder & President, InspireHUB Inc.


Honest communication is key to building confidence and trust during uncertain times. How we lead and inspire employees in the midst of these extraordinary times is key to secure their commitment to each other, the company, and our clients/partners. It is important to help reach peace of mind in spite of all the uncertainty we are dealing with, through the communication of the good, the bad, and the ugly. By sharing the data - including the bad news - the detailed plan to mitigate risk and be part of the solution through necessary sacrifices to move forward, you maintain their mental health and confidence. The sense of unity and a common goal drives focus, teamwork, and thrive to succeed as a team which is the mother of all achievements. -- Shahrokh Shahidzadeh, CEO, Acceptto

A Unified Platform

Most of us used Slack, but we had a few “Slaggards,” who had never taken the time to get comfortable with the platform. They’re not Luddites; they just preferred Skype or other tools. But when everyone is remote, there has to be one platform that you know everyone can access and be accessed on. Skype, Zoom, and WhatsApp are all fine if that’s what people want to use in one-on-one or small group meetings. There has to be one real-time platform where everyone can be found. -- Rich Petersen, Co-founder & President, JetStream Software


Ensuring that I am setting the context and helping managers in the organization help employees understand the value of their work is just as critical. It is critical that employees understand how they fit into the broader company strategy – a heightened challenge when we are working remotely and having to adjust our working conditions. I want to make sure that across the organization, employees continue to derive a sense of belonging and satisfaction in the role that their day-to-day assignments play in the big picture. -- Ali Siddiqui, Chief Product Officer, BMC

Making sure teams are aligned is the most important task at hand right now. We need to make sure not only that everyone is driving towards goals and priorities, but also that they keep company values in mind. -- Francois Dechery, Chief Strategy Officer, CloudBees

Delivering on Commitments

What differentiates a good company vs an amazing company is leadership and staff who demonstrate the commitment needed for the success of their clients at all times, especially in times of crisis like we’re currently seeing with the COVID-19 Pandemic. Providing a path to new or extended services while delivering on existing commitments reflects your ability to serve as a true partner. -- Shahrokh Shahidzadeh, CEO, Acceptto

What’s Working and What’s Not

Best practices around DevOps, infrastructure, automation. This all makes working distributed and from home, work well. What doesn’t work is pretending that nothing’s changed and we don’t really follow the best-practice we say we do. -- Antony Edwards, COO, Eggplant

The Future

Solutions that enable businesses to maintain the culture, as well as offer remote work capabilities, have become essential in response to the global COVID-19 pandemic over the near-term; however, this shift in the way we engage with customers, partners, and our own employees will remain to some extent over the longer-term, guiding brands’ behaviors for years to come. -- Michael Ringman, CIO, TELUS international

Covid-19 has changed how we work. Companies that adopted remote working before the pandemic are well-positioned now because they have a strong communication ethos, sense of accountability, and community in the DNA of their companies. Being part of something bigger does not mean sitting together in a big shiny office. Encouraging responsibility and fostering an open communication model combined with self-service technology empowers individuals, regardless of location. -- Andrew Stevenson, CTO,


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