This year has seen one of the fastest and most dramatic changes in how we work, ever. At the end of the first quarter, millions of people shifted to working from home, aided by digital advances in communications and collaboration. Soon after that, retail delivery, distributed teams, logistics, and planning went through their own accelerations.
Many more aspects of work are likely to change as well, in ways that will endure long after the COVID-19 pandemic is over. As a technologist, there’s never been a stronger proof point that advanced digital technologies are ready for prime time. On a personal level, I feel lucky: There is a long history of pandemics, but this is the first time we’ve had the technology to connect with loved ones and co-workers, work remotely, and entertain ourselves while at home.
As a manager, I’m mindful that leading organizations requires a successful blend of analytic rigor and human empathy. With this in mind, I’m increasingly convinced that 2020’s hybrid and remote work is revealing new and better ways to lead, with increased employee satisfaction and the establishment of a more effective workforce. Let me tell you how.
Commitment to connection
For me and many of my management peers, the current landscape has provided an extraordinary opportunity to reconnect with big parts of a large company. I now allocate perhaps 30% of my calendar to short meetings with people throughout our organization, often many levels down in the organization. They are set up ahead of time on a voluntary basis, though about 90% of people take the opportunity to talk about the company and their work for 15 minutes, directly to senior management. I also use our collaboration technology to drop in on meetings two and three managerial levels below me, giving people direct communication with executives.
This may seem like a large time commitment, but I figure it’s zero-sum compared to the amount of time I was spending in business travel or preparing for all-hands sessions that did not reach people as directly. It’s something I plan to continue long after we resume a more normal work routine.
Building on a legacy of collaboration
Verizon recognized the power of cloud-based collaboration and productivity tools early. This foresight put us ahead of the curve going into the pandemic. Now, we are in the final part of our migration from our older Microsoft system to Google Workspace (formally known as G Suite)—we will soon have approximately 200,000 employees and contractors using these tools.
This has afforded many more ways to communicate, as well as the co-creation of documents, spreadsheets, and presentations across geographies. Equally, it’s enabled me and my team to reset the way we work together, so that we focus on goals while also sustaining each other during a difficult period of time.
Some of this is incidental. It’s amazing how much you learn about your colleagues from the backgrounds of their rooms. In my case, people see the art on my walls, and can tell I’m a “Star Wars” nut. I’ve had conversations about family photos, favorite books we have in common, or people’s mementos. In addition to this personal contact, my fellow managers and I have added some fun exercises, for example, making dance videos by different departments that we show in weekly “competitions.”
It’s also been possible to engineer the human bonding that makes a successful workplace. Our customer call center teams, typically a very tight-knit bunch, have set up virtual movie nights and birthday parties and make extensive use of chat channels during the workday. We also created a “Perpetual Virtual Water Cooler,” where people can break from work to talk about, say, sports and hobbies.
Moving forward together
We’re already seeing the results of this new approach. Attrition from Verizon is at some of its lowest levels on record. Some of this may of course be due to the current employment climate, yet it is nonetheless striking and we will continue to monitor it. We’ve also enjoyed exceptionally high scores in the most recent “VZPulse” employee feedback surveys. In what might have been a time of loneliness and personal difficulty, people are reporting feeling connected and listened to.
This is not to say that we feel like we have the new workstyle completely wired. There is clearly much to learn, particularly as we build out a more distributed workforce, hiring employees on the basis of talent, skills, and diversity, and not simply based on geography. However, it’s good to know that when the current crisis abates, we’ll return from it with some strong positives—not least of which is building a better company.
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About the author:
David Gregory Sly (Greg), Senior Vice President (SVP), Infrastructure & Platform Services, Verizon
Greg is responsible for managing Data Centers, Private Cloud, Storage, Digital Workplace and SRE for Verizon and Verizon Media (erstwhile Oath/Yahoo/AOL). His charter includes driving innovation and operational efficiencies across Verizon’s infrastructure landscape. He is also credited with running extremely efficient data centers that operate the lowest PUE in the industry. Prior to this role, Greg was the VP of Operations Engineering at Yahoo.