Shaping the future of hybrid work

Computer and infrastructure giant Dell Technologies found itself re-examining its own assumptions about the world of work and redefining all expectations, says Jennifer Saavedra, the company’s human resources director. “At first I heard people say,‘ I can’t wait to get things back to the way they were. ’This is never a strategy for success,” says Saavedra. “It’s about reflecting on the last 18 months. What have we learned? What are some of the great things we want to do? What were some of these challenges or obstacles? How do we renew expectations? ”

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

For example, Dell’s sales force of more than 25,000 could never come together in one place at a time, let alone the human resources, finance, and marketing staff that supports them. Like many companies, Dell used to organize in-person training and leadership events for all sales executives, trusting that the strategies and sense of purpose shared at these meetings would get it to the grassroots.

The pandemic changed everything. Suddenly, executives were unable to meet in person, but everyone was able to meet virtually, on video conferencing platforms such as Zoom. While it was a great opportunity for connection and communication, figuring out how to involve so many people in a virtual environment was a challenge, says Saavedra. “Don’t just try to replicate what you’ve done in a face-to-face or classroom experience.”

Resources for developing skills or absorbing new material, which were often given in groups or classes in the old days, were transferred online to the Dell Learning Studio, where people could visit them individually to their liking. The group component of the events, now held virtually, focuses on collaboration and networking. “Instead of having a leadership program or training program, it’s now a training experience or a leadership experience,” Saavedra adds. “This change in language actually reflects the change in design.”

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

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 has not meant redefining “work” as such, which still focuses on outcomes such as productivity, innovation, communication, customer experiences, and other key performance measures. But for many employees, these quick and necessary changes have shown that the work environment can be flexible, collaborative, and location-independent and still get the job done, perhaps even better than before. Its result, the achievement of goals, has largely displaced facetime as a core performance metric.

Global consultancy Deloitte calls the new paradigm “distributed by design.” Their research reveals that 77% of employees say they can be as productive, or even more so, working from home (although most believe they are productive about 58% of the time). “Employers should focus on improving work experience by reducing mandatory meetings and e-mail and focusing on culture and well-being,” says Alex Braier, general manager and leader of the U.S. public sector for Deloitte’s organizational strategy, design, and transformation.

Dell’s data also reflects improved 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 mix of work in the office and remotely into employee schedules, report increased satisfaction and employee welfare.

While many experienced executives are not comfortable with the distributed workplace because they feel they can better manage people when they can see them, Braier says this is a myth. “The percentage of workers you can see at any given time is very small. Doing work with virtual collaboration tools can allow you to collect huge amounts of data, and you can do a much better job of understanding how the work is actually done by extracting that data. “

Managers in an organization can use the metadata created on collaboration platforms to see the general pattern of which employees are collaborating and who are being left out, who is leading meetings, and who is attending. They can keep track of whether diverse groups and interests are represented on all relevant teams, fostering the goals of diversity, equity, and inclusion in their organization. Adhering to 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, as for many retailers, the biggest sales day of the year, has always been a high-pressure face-to-face event, with “war rooms” set up around the world to monitor and react. to the performance of each individual. promotion and hundreds of employees working all day. Dell’s chief digital information officer and director Jen Felch says the pandemic forced a major overhaul: moving all control panels from centralized war rooms to individual team members’ screens at home and set up alerts so that essential information is not lost. or opportunities to take action in case they stray.

The transformation was so successful that while the company may have considered returning at least partially to the face-to-face setup for 2021, it chose to continue “the pandemic way.” In this way, “people can stay at home. They can have dinner with their families, “and still be effective, Felch says.

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

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