Computer and infrastructure giant Dell Technologies has found itself rethinking its own assumptions about the world of work and redefining all expectations, says Jennifer Saavedra, the company’s human resources director. “I heard people say early on, ‘I can’t wait to go back to do things the way they were.’ It is never a strategy for success, ”says Saavedra. “It’s about thinking about these last 18 months. What have we learned? What are some of the great things we want to convey? What were some of these challenges or obstacles? How can we renew our expectations? ”
Saavedra sees many “big things”: opportunities to be more efficient, productive and inclusive, as well as ways in which a re-imagined workplace can achieve goals that were previously impossible.
For example, Dell’s sales force of more than 25,000 could never meet in one place at the same time – let alone an army of human resources, finance and marketing staff supporting them. Like many companies, Dell has held personal training and leadership events for all sales managers, believing that the strategies and sense of purpose shared at these meetings will reach rank and file.
The pandemic changed all that. Suddenly, managers could not meet in person, but they could all meet virtually, on video conferencing platforms such as Zoom. While it was a great opportunity to connect and communicate, figuring out how to involve so many people in a virtual environment was a challenge, Saavedra says. “You’re not just trying to repeat what you did in a live experience or in the classroom.”
Resources for developing skills or adopting new material, which in the old days were often delivered in group or class settings, were moved to the Internet at Dell Learning Studio, where people could visit individually in their spare time. The group component of the events, which are now being held virtually, focuses on collaboration and networking. “Instead of a leadership program or training program, it is now a training experience or leadership experience,” adds Saavedra. “That change in language actually reflects a change in design.”
Dell has redefined its overall training function: for example, individualized learning plans have been expanded, increasing group training for each of its 15,000 engineers, across multiple job functions, to address specific knowledge gaps and requirements.
Accepting technology and culture, together
Redefining the workplace to be independent of physical location required fundamental changes in technology and organizational culture. For the most part, this has not meant redefining “work” as such, which continues to focus on outcomes such as productivity, innovation, communication, customer experience, and other key performance measures. But for many employees, these rapid and necessary changes have shown that the work environment can be flexible, collaborative, and location-independent, and still do the job, perhaps even better than before. Their performance – achieving goals – has greatly altered working time as the primary indicator of performance.
Deloitte, a global consulting firm, calls the new paradigm “distribution by design.” His research reveals that 77% of employees say they can be just 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 emails and focusing on culture and well-being,” said Alex Braier, executive director and U.S. public sector leader for organizational strategy, design and transformation at Deloitte.
Dell’s data also reflects improved working conditions, including less stress and better connections with colleagues. For example, more than half of organizations that introduce a “hybrid” work model — that is, include a mix of office work and telecommuting — report increased employee satisfaction and well-being.
While many experienced managers don’t like a distributed workplace because they feel they can better manage people when they see them, Braier says it’s a myth. “The percentage of workers you can see at any given time is very small. Doing business with virtual collaboration tools can allow you to gather vast amounts of data, and you can better understand how the work is actually done by getting that data. ”
Managers in an organization can use metadata created on collaborative platforms to see a general pattern of employees collaborating and being left out, leading meetings, and attending. They can monitor whether different groups and interests are represented in all relevant teams, promoting the diversity, equality and goals of their organization. Adherence to metadata, rather than tracking individual activities, preserves the anonymity of data mining, while allowing leaders to monitor the overall health of their distributed workforce.
Black Friday at Dell — as for many vendors, the biggest sales day of the year — has always been a personal event under high pressure, with “war rooms” set up around the world to monitor and respond to each individual’s progress, and hundreds of employees working 24 hours a day daily. Dell’s chief digital and chief information officer, Jen Felch, says the pandemic has forced a major overhaul – moving all control panels from centralized war rooms to individual team members’ screens at home and setting warnings to keep important information or opportunities to go. actions in case of resignation.
The transformation was so successful that, although the company could consider at least partially returning to the one set for 2021, it decided to continue “through the pandemic”. That way, “People can stay at home. They can have dinner with their families, ”and continue to be efficient, says Felch.
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This content was produced by Insights, the hand-adapted content of the MIT Technology Review. It was not written by the editorial board of the MIT Technology Review.