How IT can take the lead in preserving culture and cultivating talent

The sense of belonging that comes from sharing a common culture – it’s as important to a corporate community as it is to a Star Wars fan club.

For most of us office workers, the future will be a Hybrid Work scenario combining in-office and remote work. Last time, I covered the topics of Productivity and Collaboration while looking at how IT can take a leadership role in keeping teams performing at their best. Let’s pick up the conversation today with a focus on Talent and Culture. 

I’ll share a few things I’ve learned that might be useful to those facing the same challenges. And I’d love to hear from other IT leaders on what you’re doing to take your companies into the Hybrid Work future.

Talent: bigger pools and first-impression opportunities 

From a talent perspective, there are clear benefits to the hybrid model. Typically, organizations have located corporate offices in major cities or industrial hubs. But with the pandemic, home offices became places of business, and every employee location became a workplace. 

This greater geographic diversity has allowed us to pull from a wider pool of talent, boosting the numbers of great candidates and hires, while assisting our diversity hiring goals. It’s helped with retention too, particularly at a time when American businesses are seeing record numbers of resignations since spring 2021. When employees have more choice in where they work and live, their job satisfaction increases, which boosts loyalty and retention, which reduces turnover and increases efficiency and morale.

Hybrid work supports our Equity goals, too, opening up opportunities to create a more level playing field. For example, we know in-person settings tend to favor those who are physically or verbally predominant. Remote work changed that. In an internal survey of our own employees, 65% of respondents felt more empowered to speak up in virtual meetings than in person; 69% said team members are more likely to be candid with leaders.  A more engaged workforce leads to greater alignment and better outcomes.

Given its role in making remote work possible, IT has won a seat at the table in developing workplace policies. I’ve heard this from so many other CIOs: Remote work has raised IT’s profile and given us more opportunities to partner with HR, Facilities, Finance, and others in meeting urgent business needs.    

One place IT can play a critical role with Talent is in those first days when a new hire is coming on board. When offices closed and onboarding became touchless, we knew we needed to deliver a smooth experience without the benefit of in-person contact. Keeping service levels high was going to be a challenge. 

We staffed up our Help Desk and increased local language support to ensure that new employees felt supported even when in-person help was not available. In cases where the new employee did not receive their job equipment by their start date, we used virtual desktop solutions that allowed new hires to easily access corporate systems using their personal devices. Ensuring that each new employee has everything they need to be a contributing colleague from Day One – that’s key to successful onboarding and effective teams.   

Culture: People join communities, not companies 

Our Chief People Officer has a saying: “People join communities, not companies.” I quote it often as a reminder of how important our connection to our co-workers is.    

So what does that look like in a time of less togetherness? At VMware, we had to rethink our cultural building blocks to find the rituals and behaviors that keep us connected. For example, we’re using the Chat and Poll features of Zoom more often to encourage interactions. Our company meetings were moved from the gym at our Palo Alto headquarters to an online event that’s more accessible, less expensive, and has higher attendance. Our annual customer conference, VMworld, is now online too. Going virtual has increased our ability to reach new audiences and made it possible for all of our employees to attend. 

So where can IT take a lead? Our Colleague Experience team knew that many of our coworkers were feeling disconnected because so many interactions are virtual; as humans, we miss seeing real faces. 

VMware colleague photo management tool

Our IT team created a photo management tool that provides employee choice and personalization across corporate systems

In response, our Colleague Photo Management (CPM) tool was born. It’s a self-service app that gives people an extra degree of personal choice in managing the photos that represent them across our corporate systems. For instance, you might choose a formal photo for the company directory but change to a casual shot or even an avatar for the Teams and Slack apps. For employees that choose to opt-out, a gender-neutral image is displayed in place of a profile photo. 

Corporate policies must reflect company values

In my prior article, I underscored the importance of grounding your corporate policies in your company values. Given that our values prioritize employee choice and authenticity, providing options in personal presentation is consistent with those principles. From selfies and avatars to filters and themes, employees have embraced the tool with enthusiasm. To date, 86% of our colleagues are using the CPM tool to display their authentic selves and increase personal connections. 

This concludes my 2-part series on our Hybrid Work future. The last 18 months have shown that IT is a key enabler and engine for gaining strong business outcomes in productivity, collaboration, talent and culture. As IT leaders, let’s commit to building on this momentum and driving continued transformation for the future.

Have an idea you want to share? Want to see an upcoming article address something in particular? Drop a comment here; I can’t promise a personal reply, but I can promise it might show up in a future blog.