In the new model, IT can be a leader in keeping people engaged and productive.
There’s a scene in the original Star Wars movie known as the Binary Sunset. It’s one of my favorite scenes of the entire saga – not only because it’s visually striking, but also because it marks a turning point in the story. With the twin suns of Tatooine visible on the horizon, Luke Skywalker has a moment of reflection and determination – and the audience senses that an important shift is occurring from which there is no return.
As companies start planning to move back to office spaces, we’re in a Binary Sunset moment of our own. While we can’t predict the future, we are pretty certain that our workplaces are going to be different moving forward.
For most of us office workers, the future will be a Hybrid Work scenario combining onsite and remote work. Some workers will continue to work remotely, others will return to the office with a fixed workspace and a commute, and a third group, likely the majority, will split their workweek between home and the office.
Optimizing for Hybrid Work Model
This Hybrid model will present some challenges. How can a workforce be productive, collaborative, and engaged when we can no longer count on everyone gathering in the same location or time zone?
As CIO for a leading tech company, I’ve seen how the IT team played a critical role in managing last year’s pivot to remote work. Now, as we move into our post-pandemic future, I see interesting opportunities for IT to continue its leadership role in helping our colleagues be at their best in the new model.
In this blog, I will share a few things I’ve learned that might help other IT teams face the same challenge. And, in the spirit of dialogue, I don’t want to do all the talking – I’d like to hear what other CIOs and IT teams are doing to take their companies into the Hybrid Work future.
Any good company-wide plan should be grounded in the values of your organization. At VMware, we decided our Hybrid Work plan would be optimized for employee success. This means most employees have the freedom to choose where they work best. This was consistent with our corporate values of giving employees as much choice and control as possible over how and where they work.
Let’s start with what is generally considered the top corporate concern over a Hybrid Work style: how to keep people as productive working from home as working in an office. When my company moved 95% of our 30,000-employee workforce to remote work in March 2020, we assumed there would be a drop in productivity. We were surprised to find the exact opposite.
Via an internal survey conducted last summer, 58% of our employees reported being MORE productive working remotely. Now, some of this could be a function of self-reporting or reflective of job security concerns. Additionally, there was the benefit of no commutes, no business travel, and fewer in-office distractions.
But we knew there were things IT could do to support employee productivity, so we took some key steps. I can’t say this made the entire difference, but I’m fairly certain it helped.
- Home office gear. We shipped or subsidized the equipment – monitors, ergo chairs, standing desks – that our colleagues needed to be productive at home.
- Online tech support. We moved our on-site Help Desk staff to work online; we also added staff and enhanced our local language support.
- New behaviors. Did you know the calendar settings in Outlook can be changed? We set the default for meetings to end at :50 and :25 to give everybody a 5-min break in between – very popular. Some teams followed up by declaring certain days to remain Zoom-free and, in general, people have gotten bolder about asking if a meeting is necessary at all.
All of those measures have helped, but there is one step that may be the most productive of all, especially for companies with global workforces: ensuring a fast, reliable Internet connection for every employee.
With so many people working remotely, it’s likely that some of your co-workers are dealing with shared, unreliable, or low-bandwidth connections. Our IT department adopted a practice of reaching out to employees we could see struggling with connectivity. Just a simple email asking if they wanted help.
If they said yes – which was virtually 100% of the people we contacted – we used a combination of hardware and software that optimize network connectivity, assure app performance, and protect against service disruptions. It’s easy to take a good connection for granted – until you read the thank-you emails from those whose service went from spotty to rock solid.
Maybe it’s not a surprise that we can be productive working remotely – we can get a lot done with no office distractions. But what about collaboration which requires working together? If collaboration can’t happen virtually, this hurts every organization especially those that depend on creativity and innovation.
As a software innovator, my company had to find a way for our people to get together and make magic. And, again, our IT team took a lead in finding a solution.
Looking to simulate in-person collaborative experiences? Get creative. Our IT team started a loaner program for virtual reality gear.
We launched a virtual reality loaner program allowing any team in the company to borrow VR headsets and hand controllers – not for light-saber battles, but to meet with colleagues in 3D virtual space. It’s been used by two dozen teams so far and has been great for immersive training. VR also works for campus tours and new hire onboarding.
We’re not at physical whiteboards these days, but we’ve adopted whiteboard apps for people in different locations to come together for real-time brainstorming. These apps are good for asynchronous collaboration across time zones, and you don’t need to worry about someone else coming into the conference room and erasing your board. My advice: choose apps that integrate with your other workplace apps and are accessible to your differently-abled coworkers.
Of course, tools are only as good as their adoption. That brings me to this last recommendation: encourage your IT teams to focus on the experience they’re delivering. We have IT colleagues who are passionate about sharing best practices and providing how-to guides for every new service or app we recommend. They know that the successful adoption of new tools is really a change management project, and how a bit of handholding with your stakeholders can be a good thing.
What does the data say? In an external poll we sponsored of 5,700 global decision-makers on the subject of Distributed Work*, 62% of respondents said collaboration under pandemic virtual-work conditions was equal to or better than before. That’s not everybody – and there’s room for improvement – but it shows that virtual collaboration is definitely a thing.
Next Time: Talent and Culture
So, I just covered two of the key pillars – productivity and collaboration — around how IT can help teams optimize for Hybrid Work scenarios. I’ll cover the other two pillars – talent and culture – in the next blog. In the meantime, if you have a technique to share or a comment to make, send it on. I can’t promise a personal reply, but it might show up in a future blog.
For more executive insights on the Future of Work – Listen to the CIO Exchange Podcast with Massimo Rapparini, CIO at Logitech
*Source: The New Remote Work Era: Trends in the Distributed Workforce; survey of 5,700 global respondents by Vanson Bourne sponsored by VMware July 2020
Image by Reimund Bertrams from Pixabay