Shaping the future of hybrid work

Computing and infrastructure giant Dell Technologies found itself reexamining its own assumptions about the world of work and redefining every expectation, says Jennifer Saavedra, the company’s chief human resources officer. “At first I heard people say, ‘I can’t wait to go back to doing things like before.’ That is never a strategy for success, ”says Saavedra. “It is about reflecting on these last 18 months. What have we learned? What are some of the great things we want to do? What were some of those challenges or obstacles? How do we renew expectations? “

Saavedra sees many “great things”: opportunities to be more efficient, productive and inclusive, and ways for the reinvented workplace to achieve goals that were previously impossible.

For example, Dell’s sales force of more than 25,000 people could never come together in one place at the same time, much less the army of HR, finance and marketing personnel behind them. Like many companies, Dell used to host in-person leadership and training events for all sales managers, confident that the strategies and shared sense of purpose at those meetings would reach everyone.

The pandemic changed all that. Suddenly, managers couldn’t meet in person, but everyone could meet virtually, on video conferencing platforms like Zoom. While it was a great opportunity for connection and communication, figuring out how to engage so many people in a virtual environment was challenging, says Saavedra. “You are not just trying to replicate what you did in a classroom or face-to-face experience.”

Resources for developing skills or absorbing new material, often handed out in groups or classes in the old days, were moved online to the Dell Learning Studio, where people could visit individually at their leisure. The group component of events, now held virtually, focuses on collaboration and networking. “Instead of having a leadership program or a training program, it is now a training experience or a leadership experience,” adds Saavedra. “That change in language is actually a reflection of the change in design.”

Dell has reinvented its entire training function: for example, individualized learning plans have been expanded, increasing group training for each of its 15,000 engineers, in more job functions, to address specific knowledge requirements and gaps.

Embracing technology and culture, together

Redefining the workplace to be independent of a physical location has required fundamental changes in technology and organizational culture. For the most part, it hasn’t meant redefining “work” as such, which is still focused on results, such as productivity, innovation, communication, customer experiences, and other key performance measures. But for many employees, these quick and necessary changes proved that the work environment can be flexible, collaborative, and location-independent and still get the job done, perhaps even better than before. Its result, goal achievement, has largely displaced time spent as a primary performance metric.

Global consulting firm Deloitte calls the new paradigm “distributed by design.” Their research reveals that 77% of employees say they can be as productive, or even more, working from home (although most think they are productive about 58% of the time). “Employers should focus on improving the workforce experience by reducing mandatory meetings and email and focusing on culture and wellness,” says Alex Braier, managing director and US public sector leader for strategy, organizational design and transformation at Deloitte.

Dell’s data also reflects better working conditions, including less stress and better connections with colleagues. For example, more than half of organizations that are instituting a “hybrid” work model – that is, incorporating a combination of office and remote work into employee schedules – report increased employee satisfaction and well-being. .

Although many seasoned managers aren’t comfortable with the distributed workplace because they feel like they can better manage people when they can see them, Braier says that’s a myth. “The percentage of workers that you can see at any given time is very small. Doing the work with virtual collaboration tools can allow you to collect huge amounts of data, and you can understand much better how the work is done by extracting that data. “

Managers in an organization can use the metadata created in collaboration platforms to see the general pattern of which employees collaborate and which are left out, which are leading the meetings, and who attends them. They can keep track of whether various groups and interests are represented on all relevant teams, furthering your organization’s diversity, equity and inclusion goals. Meeting metadata, rather than tracking individual activity, maintains the anonymity of data mining, while allowing leaders to monitor the overall health of their distributed workforce.

Black Friday at Dell, like for many retailers, the best-selling day of the year, was always a high-pressure face-to-face event, with “war rooms” set up around the world to monitor and react to individual performance. promotion and hundreds of employees working day and night. Dell’s chief information and digital officer Jen Felch says the pandemic forced a major overhaul: moving all dashboards from centralized war rooms to individual team members’ screens at home and setting alerts so they don’t miss essential information. or opportunities to take action should they drift away.

The transformation was so successful that, although the company could have considered at least partially returning to the face-to-face configuration set for 2021, it chose to continue “the pandemic path.” That way, “people can stay home. They can dine with their families ”and remain effective, says Felch.

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This content was produced by Insights, the custom content arm of MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial team of MIT Technology Review.

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