Monday, June 1, 2020

Work in a COVID-19 world: Back to the office won’t mean back to normal

Businesses around the globe now face uncharted waters when it comes to planning the new normal for where and how their employees return to work.

The complex maze of risk factors, precautions, constantly changing pandemic impacts -- and the need for boosting employee satisfaction and productivity -- are proving a daunting challenge.

The next BriefingsDirect new normal of work discussion explores how companies can make better decisions and develop adept policies on where and how to work for safety, peace of mind, and economic recovery.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy.

To share their recent findings and chart new ways to think about working through a pandemic, we're joined by Donna Kimmel, Executive Vice President and Chief People Officer at Citrix, and Tony Gomes, Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer at Citrix. The discussion is moderated by  Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Donna, the back-to-work plans are some of the most difficult decisions businesses and workers have faced. Workers are not only concerned for themselves; they are worried about the impacts on their families and communities. Businesses, of course, are facing unprecedented change in how they manage their people and processes.

So even though there are few precedents -- and we’re really only in the first few months of the COVID-19 pandemic -- how has Citrix begun to develop guidelines for you and your customers for an acceptable return to work.

Move forward with values

Kimmel: It really starts with a foundation that’s incredibly important to Tony, me, and our leadership team. It starts with our values and culture. Who are we? How do we operate? What’s important to us? Because that enables us to frame the responses to everything we do. As you indicated, this is a daunting task -- and it’s a humbling task.

When we focus on our culture and our values -- putting our people, their health, and their safety first -- that enables us to focus on business continuity and ultimately our customers and communities. Without that focus on values we wouldn’t be able to make as easily the decisions we’re making. We also realized as a part of this that there are no easy answers and no one-size-fits-all solutions.

We recognized that creating a framework that we utilize around the world has to be adopted based on the various sites, locations, and business needs across our organization. And, as we’ve acknowledged in the past, we also realized that this really means, it “takes a village.”

The number of employees partnering with us across multiple disciplines in the organization is tremendous. We have partnership not only from legal and human resources (HR), but also our finance organization, IT, real estate and facilities, our global risk team, procurement, communications, our travel organization, and all of our functional leaders and site leaders. It’s a tremendous effort to put this together, to create what we believe is the right thing to do -- in terms of managing the health and safety of our employees -- as we bring them back into the workforce.

Gomes: Yes, we’ve tapped the entire Citrix global organization for talent. And we have found two things. One, when it comes to going through this, be open to innovation and answers from all parts of the organization.

For example, our sites in the Asia-Pacific region that have been dealing the longest with COVID-19 and are in the process of returning to the office, they have been innovative. They are teaching the rest of our site leaders the best ways to go about reopening their sites. So even as the corporate leaders are here in the US, we’re learning an awful lot from our colleagues on the ground in the Asia-Pacific region.
Ready They're Not--Survey Reveals
Employees Reluctant to Return to Office
Two, be aware that this process is going to call upon you to have skills on your team that you may not have had on your team before. So that means experts on business continuity, for example, but also medical experts.

One of the decisions Donna and I made early on is that we needed to bring medical expertise to our team. Donna, through her relationships and her team, along with a top-notch benefits consultant, found great medical resources and expertise for us to rely on. That’s an example of calling upon new talents, and it’s causing us to look for innovation in every corner of the organization.

Gardner: Citrix has conducted some recent studies that help us understand where the employees are coming from. Tell us about the state of their thinking right now.

Get comfortable to get to work

Kimmel: Citrix did a study with one poll of about 2,000 US workers. We found that at least 67 percent of the respondents did not feel comfortable returning to the office for at least one month.

And in examining the sentiment of what it would take for them to feel comfortable coming back into the office, some 51 percent indicated that there has to be testing and screening. Another 46 percent prefer to wait until a [novel coronavirus] vaccine is ready. And 82 percent were looking for some kind of contact-tracing to make sure that we could at least connect with other individuals if there was an issue.

This was an external study, but as we talk with our own employees -- our own surveys of roundtable discussions, group dialogues, and feedback we get from our managers -- we are finding similar results. Many of our employees, though they would like to be able to come back to the office, recognize that coming back immediately, post-COVID-19, is not going to be to the same office that they left. We recognize that we need to make sure we’re creating a safe environment, one conducive for them to be productive in the office.

Gardner: Tony, what jumped out to you as interesting and telling in these recent findings?

Gomes: Donna hit on it, which is how aligned the results of this external study are coming in with our own experiences; what we’re listening for and hearing from our global workforce and what our own internal surveys are telling us.

We’ve been taking that feedback and building that into the way we’re approaching the reopening decision-making process.

For example, we know that employees are concerned about whether the cities, states, and countries they live and work in have adequate testing. Is there adequate contact-tracing? Are the medical facilities capable of supporting COVID-19 patients in a non-crisis mode?

So we built all of that into our decision-making. Every time we analyze whether an office or campus is ready for a phased reopening approach, we first look for those factors, along with governmental lifting and governmental lockdown orders.

We’re trying to be clear, communicating with employees that, “Hey, we are looking at all of this.” In that way it becomes a feedback loop. We hear the concern. We build the concern into our processes. We communicate back to the employees that our decisions are being made on the basis of what they express to us and are concerned about.

But it’s really amazing to see the alignment of the external study and what we’re hearing internally.

Kimmel: What Tony is acknowledging is right-on about understanding the concerns of our employees. They want to have a sense of confidence that the setup of the office will be appropriate for them.

We’re also trying to provide choice to our employees. Even as we’ll be looking at the critical roles that need to come back, we want to make sure that employees have the opportunity to self-select in terms of understanding what it will be like to work in the office in that environment.
Back to Office Won't Mean Back to Normal.
Poll Shows Workers Demand Strict Precautions
We also know that employees have specific concerns: Maybe they have their own health concerns, or family members that live with them have health issues where they would be at greater risk, or they’re not back to normal societal functioning so at-home caregiving is still an issue. Parents just came through homeschooling, but they still may need to provide summer day camps or provide other support for elder care.

We also recognize that some people are just nervous and don’t feel comfortable. So we’re trying to put our employees’ minds at ease by providing them a good look at what it will be like -- and feel like -- to come back to the office. They should know the safety and security that we’re putting into place on their behalf, but still also providing them with a feeling of comfort to make a decision on what they think is right based on their own circumstances.

Gardner: It strikes me that organizations, while planning, need to also stay agile, to be flexible, and perhaps recognize that being able to react is more important than coming up with the final answer quickly. Is that your understanding as well, that organizations need to come up with new ways of being able to adapt rapidly and do whatever the changing circumstances require?

Cross-train your functionality 

Gomes: Absolutely, Dana. What Donna and I have tried to do is build a strong cross-functional team that has a lot of capacity across all of the functional areas. Then we try to create decision-making frameworks from the top down.

We then set some basic planning assumptions, or answer some of the big questions, especially in terms of the level of care that we’re going to provide to each employee across the globe. Those include areas such as social distancing, personal protective equipment (PPE), things like that, that we’re going to make sure that every employee has across the globe.

But then it’s a different decision based on how that gets implemented at each and every site, when, where, and who leads. Who has a bigger or smaller team, and how do they influence or control the process? How much support from corporate headquarters versus local initiatives are taken?

Those are very different from site-to-site, along with the conditions they are responding to. The public health conditions are dynamic and different in every location -- and they are constantly changing. And that’s where you need to give your teams the ability to respond and foster that active-response capacity.

Kimmel: We’ve worked really hard to make sure that we’re making faster, timely decisions, but we also recognize that we may not have all the information. We’ve done a lot of digging, a lot of research, and have great information. We’re very transparent with our employees in terms of where we are, what information we have at the time that we’re making the decisions, and we recognize that because it’s moving so quickly we may have to adapt those decisions.

As Tony indicated, that can be based on a site, a region, a country, or medical circumstances and new medical information. So, again, it goes back to our ability to live our values and what’s important to us. That includes transparency of decisions, of bringing employees along on the journey so that they understand how and why we’ve arrived at those decisions. And then when we need to shift them, they will understand why we’ve made a shift.

One of the positive byproducts or outcomes of this situation is being able to pivot to make good and fast decisions and being transparent about where and why we need to make them so that we can continue to pivot if necessary.
One of the positive byproducts of the situation is being able to pivot to make good and fast decisions and being transparent about where and why we need to make them so that we can continue to pivot if necessary.

Gardner: Of course, some of those big decisions initially meant having more people than ever working remotely and from their homes. A lot of business executives weren’t always on board with that. Now that we’ve gone through it, what have we learned?

Are people able to get their work done? They seem to be cautious about wanting to come back without the proper precautions in place. But even if we continue to work remotely, the work seems to be getting done.

Donna, what’s your impression about letting people continue to work at home? Has that been okay at Citrix?

Work from home, the office, or hybrid 

Kimmel: Tony and I and the rest of the leadership team certainly recognized as we were all thrust into this that we would be 100 percent work-from-home (WFH). We all realized and learned very quickly that there were very few, if any, roles that were so critical that they had to be done in the office.

Because remote work is part of the Citrix brand, we were able to enable employees to work securely and access their information from anywhere, anytime. We recognized, all of a sudden, that we were capable of doing that in more areas than we had recognized.
Help All Employees Feel Safe,
It Matters More Than Ever
We’re now able to say, “Okay, what might be the new normal beyond this?” We recognize that there will be re-integration back into our worksites done in the current COVID-19 environment.

But beyond COVID, post-vaccines, as we think about our business continuity going forward, I do think that we will be moving into, very purposefully, a more hybrid work arrangement. That means new, innovative, in-office opportunities because we still want people to be working face-to-face and have those in-person sort of collisions, as we call them. Those you can’t do at all or they are harder to do on videoconferencing.

But there can be a new balance between in-office and remote work -- and fine-tuning our own practices – that will enable us to be as effective as possible in both environments.

So, no doubt, we have already started to undertake that as a post-COVID approach. We are asking what it will look like for us, and then how do we then make sure from a philosophical and a strategy perspective that the right practices are put into place to enable it.

This has been a big, forced experiment. We looked at it and said, “Wow, we did it. We’ve done really well. We’ve been very fortunate.”

Home is where the productivity is

Gomes: Donna’s team has designed some great surveys with great participation across the global workforce. It’s revealed that a very high percentage of our employees feel as productive -- if not even more productive -- working from home rather than working from the office.

And the thing is, when you peel back the onion and you look at specific teams and specific locations, and what they can accomplish through this, it’s just really amazing.

For example, Donna and I, earlier this morning, were on a videoconference with our site leadership team in Bangalore, India where we have our second-largest office, which has quite a few functions. That campus represents all of the Citrix functions, spread across a number of buildings. We were looking at detailed information about the productivity of our product engineering teams over their last agile planning interval, their continuous integration interval, and how they are planning for their next interval.

We looked at information coming from our order processing team in Bangalore and also from our support team. And what we saw is increased productivity across those teams. We’re looking at not just anecdotal information, but objective data showing that more co-checks occurred, fewer bugs, and more on-time delivery of new functionality occurred within the interval that we had just completed.

We are just tremendously proud of what our teams are accomplishing during this time of global, personal, family, and societal stress. But there is something more here. Donna has put her finger on it, which is there is a way to drive increased productivity by creating these environments where more people can work from home.
Ready They're Not--Survey Reveals
Employees Reluctant to Return to Office
There are challenges, and Donna’s team is especially focused on the challenges of remote management. How do you replace the casual interactions that can lead to innovation and creative thinking? How do you deal with team members or teams that rely on more in-person interaction for their team dynamic?

So there are challenges we need to address. But we have also uncovered something I think here that’s pretty powerful -- and we are seeing it, not just anecdotally, but through actual data.

Gardner: As we query more companies about their productivity over the past few months, we will probably see more instances where working at home has actually been a benefit.

I know from the employee perspective that many people feel that they save money and time by not commuting. They are not paying for transportation. They have more of a work balance with their lives. They have more control, in a sense, over their lives.

The technology has been there for some time, Donna, to allow this. It was really a cultural hurdle we had to overcome that the pandemic has endowed us with. Not that a pandemic is a good thing, but the results allow us to test models that now show how technology and processes can allow for higher productivity when working from home.
Will what you are experiencing at Citrix follow through to other companies?

Kimmel: Oh, yes, definitely. I have been on a number of calls with my peers at other companies. Everyone is talking about what’s next and how they design this into their organizations.

We recognize all of the benefits, Dana, that you just indicated. We recognize that those benefits are things that we want to be able to capture. New employees coming into the workforce, the Gen Zs and the Millennials, are looking for flexibility to be able to balance that work and life and integrate it in a more productive way for themselves. Part of that is a bit of a push in terms of what we are hearing from employees.

It also enables us to tap into new talent pools. Folks that may not live near a particular office but have tremendous skills that they can offer. There are those who may have varying disabilities who may not be able to commute or don’t live near offices. There are a number of ways for us to tap into more workers that have the skills that we are looking for who don’t actually live in near offices. So again, all of that I think is quite helpful to us.

Legal lessons for employers

Gardner: Tony, what are some of the legal implications if we have a voluntary return to work? What does that mean for companies? Are there issues about not being able to force people, or not being able to fire them, or flexibly manage them?

Gomes: One of things that we have seen, Dana, during this pandemic, is significant changes in employee relations laws around the globe. This is not just in the United States, but everywhere. Governments are trying to both protect employees, preserve jobs, and provide guidance to employers to clarify how existing legal requirements apply in this pandemic.

For example, here in the United States both the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA) and the Equal Employment Opportunity Commission (EEOC) have put out guidelines that address things such as PPE. What criteria do employers need to meet when they are providing PPE to employees? How do you work within the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) requirements when offering employees the ability to come back to the office? How do you permit them to opt out without calling them out, without highlighting that they may have an underlying medical condition that you as an employer are obligated to maintain as confidential and allow the employee to keep confidential?

Back to Office Won't Mean Back to Normal.
Poll Shows Workers Demand Strict Precautions
Another big area that impacts the employer-employee relationship, that is changing in this environment, is privacy laws – especially laws and regulatory requirements that impact the way that employers request, manage, and store personal health information about employees.

Just recently a new bill was introduced in the US Congress to try and address these issues and provide employees greater protection, and provide employers more certainty, especially in areas such as the digital processing and storage of personal health information through things such as contact-tracing apps.

Gardner: Donna, we have only been at this for a few months, adjusting to this new world, this new normal. What have we learned about what works and what doesn’t work?

Is there anything that jumps out to you that says this is a definite thing you want to do – or something you should probably avoid -- when it comes to managing the work-balance new normal?

Place trust in the new normal 

Kimmel: One, we learned that this can be done. That shifts the mental models that some had come into, that for any employment engagement you would prefer to have face-to-face-only interactions. And so this taught us something.

It also helped us build trust in each other, and trust in leadership, because we continue to make decisions based on our values. We have been very transparent with employees, with phenomenal amounts of communication we put out there -- two-way, with high empathy, and building better relationships. That also means better collaboration and relationship-building, not only between team members, but between managers and employees. It has been a really strong outcome.
It helped us build trust in each other and in leadership because we continue to make decisions based on our values. We have been very transparent with employees, with high empathy, and building better relationships. That also means better collaboration. It has been a really strong outcome.

And again, that’s part of the empathy, the opportunity for empathy, as you learn more about each other’s families. You are meeting them as they run by on the video. You are hearing about the struggles that people face. And so managers, employees, and team members are working with each other to help mitigate those as much as possible.

Those are some big aspects of what we have learned. And, as I mentioned earlier, we have benefitted from our ability to make decisions faster, acknowledging various risks, and using the detailed information such as what Tony’s team brings to the table to help us make good decisions at any given time. Those are some of the benefits and positive outcomes we have seen.

The challenges are when we go into the post-COVID-19 phase, we recognize that children may be back to school. Caregiving resources may be in place, so we may not be dealing with as many of those challenges. But we recognize there is sometimes still isolation and loneliness that can arise from working remotely.

People are human. We are creatures who want to be near each other and with each other. So we still need to find that balance to make sure everyone feels like they are included, involved, and contributing to the success of the organization. We must increase and improve our managers’ ability to lead productively in this environment. I think that is also really important.

And we must look for ways to drive collaboration, not only when people come back into the office -- because we know how to do that well -- but how do we have the right technology tools to enable us to collaborate well while we are away – from white-boarding techniques and things that enable us to collaborate even more from a WFH and remote perspective.

So it will be about the fine-tuning of enabling success, stronger success, more impactful success in that environment.

Gardner: Tony, what do you see as things that are working and maybe some things that are not that people should be thinking about?

Level-up by listening to people 

Gomes: One of the things that’s really working is a high level of productivity that we are seeing -- unexpectedly high – even though about 98 percent of our company has been working from home for eight weeks-plus. So that’s one.

The other thing that is really working is our approach to investing in our employees and listening to our employees. I mean this very tangibly, whether it’s the stipend that we provide our employees to go out and buy the equipment that they need to more comfortably and more productively work from home or to support charities and organizations or small businesses. This is truly tangibly investing in employees, truly tangibly, in integrated, multichannel ways, listening to the feedback from employees and processing that, putting that into your processes and feeding it back to them. That’s really worked.

And again, the proof is in the high-level productivity and the very high level of satisfaction despite the very challenging environment. Donna mentioned some of them. One of the bigger challenges that we see right now is obviously the challenge of employees who have families, who have childcare, and other family care responsibilities in the middle of this pandemic while trying to work and many times being even more productive than they ever have been for us when working in the office.

So again, it’s nice to say we invest in our employees and we expect our employees to reciprocate, but we are actually seeing this in action. We have made very tangible investments and we see it coming back to us.

Mind and body together win the race 

On the other hand, we have to be really careful about a couple of things. One, this is a long-term game, an ultramarathon, where we are only in the first quarter, if you will. It feels like we should be down at the two-minute warning, but we are really in the first quarter of this game. We have a long way to go before we get to viable therapeutics and viable, widely available effective vaccines that will allow us to truly come back to the work and social life we had before this crisis. So we have got to be prepared mentally to run this ultramarathon, and we have to help and coach our teams to have that mindset.
Help All Employees Feel Safe,
It Matters More Than Ever
As Donna alluded to, this is also going to be a challenge in mental health. This is going to be very difficult because of its length, severity, and multifaceted impact -- not just on employees but across society. So being supportive and empathetic to the mental health challenges many of us are going to face is going to be very important.

View this as a long-term challenge and pay attention to the mental health of your employees and teams as much as you are paying attention to their physical health.

Kimmel: It’s been incredibly important for us to focus on mental health for our employees. We have tried to pull together as many resources as possible, not only for our employees but for our managers who tend to be in the squeeze point, because they themselves may be experiencing some of these same issues and pressures.

And then they also carry that caring sense of responsibility for their employees, which adds to the pressure. So, for us, paying attention to that and making sure we have the right resources is really important to our strategy. I can’t agree more, this is absolutely a marathon, not a sprint.

Listen to the podcast. Find it on iTunes. Read a full transcript or download a copy. Sponsor: Citrix.

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