Monday, June 8, 2020

How IT modern operational services enables self-managing, self-healing, and self-optimizing

General digital business transformation and managing the new normal around the COVID-19 pandemic have hugely impacted how businesses and IT operate. Faced with mounting complexity, rapid change, and striking budgets, IT operational services must be smarter and more efficient than ever.

The next BriefingsDirect Voice of Innovation podcast examines how Hewlett Packard Enterprise (HPE) Pointnext Services is reinventing the experience of IT support to increasingly rely on automation and analytics to help enable continued customer success as IT enters a new era.

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

Here to share the HPE Pointnext Services vision for the future of IT operational services are Gerry Nolan, Director of Portfolio Product Management, Operational Service Portfolio, at HPE Pointnext Services, and Ronaldo Pinto, Director of Portfolio Product Management, Operational Service Portfolio, at HPE Pointnext Services. The discussion is moderated by Dana Gardner, Principal Analyst at Interarbor Solutions.

Here are some excerpts:

Gardner: Gerry, is it fair to say that IT has never had a more integral part of nearly all businesses and that therefore the intelligent support of IT has never been more critical?

Nolan: We’ve never seen a time like this, Dana. Pretty much every aspect of our life has now moved to digital. It was already moving that way. Everyone is spending more hours per day in various collaboration platforms, going through various digital interactions, and we’re seeing that in our business as well.
That applies to whether you are ordering a pizza, booking time at your gym, getting your morning coffee -- pretty much your life has changed forever. We see that dramatically impacting the IT space and the customers we deal with.

So, yes, it’s a unique time, we have never seen it before, and we believe things will never be the same again.

Gardner: So, we are reliant on technology for commerce, healthcare, finance, all across many of these scientific activities to combat the pandemic, not to mention more remote education and more remote work -- basically every facet of our modern life.

Consequently, how enterprise IT uses services and support has entered a new phase, a new era. Please explain why a digital environment requires more tools and opportunity to the people delivering the new operational services.

Nolan: The IT landscape is very dynamic. There is an expanding array of technology choices, which brings more complexity. Of course, the move to cloud and edge computing introduces new requirements from an IT operations point of view.
Then we got hit with COVID-19 and a whole new set of challenges -- huge increases in remote workforce, and all creating problems with networks, performance, and security.

For example, a retail customer that I just met with -- they don’t even have a four-walls data center anymore, most of their IT is distributed throughout their retail stores -- and another customer, a large telco, is installing edge-related servers on their electricity pylons on the sides of mountains in very remote areas. These types of use-cases need very different operational processes, approaches, and skills.

Then we got hit with COVID-19, and that brings a whole new set of challenges, with locking down of IT environments, huge increases in remote workforces, all creating problems with network capacity, performance, and security challenges.

As a result, we are seeing customers needing more help than ever while they try and maintain their businesses. At the same time, they need to plan and evolve for the medium- to long-term. They need solutions both for today -- to help in this unique lockdown mode -- but also to accelerate transformation efforts to move to a digitally enabled customer experience.

Gardner: Ronaldo, this obviously requires more than a traditional helpdesk and telephone support. Where does the operational experience, of even changing the culture around support, kick in? How do we get to a new experience?

Pinto: Dana, many people associate traditional support to telephone support, but today it needs to be much more. As Gerry described, we are moving toward a very distributed, remote, low-touch to no-touch world, and COVID-19, the pandemic, just accelerated that.

To operate in such an environment, companies depend on an increasing number of tools and technologies. You have more variables today, just to control and maintain your performance. So it’s extremely important to arm the people that provide technical support with the latest artificial intelligence (AI) tools and digital infrastructure so they continue to be effective in the work they do.

Gardner: Gerry, how has the pandemic and emphasis on remote services accelerated people’s willingness to delve into the newer technologies around automation, AI, predictive analytics and AIOps? Are people more open now to all of that?

Nolan: No question, Dana. Consider any great customer experience that you have today -- from dealing with your mobile phone provider to, in my case recently, my utility company. The great experiences offer a variety of ways to access the information and the help you may need on a 24-7 basis. Typically, this has involved a whole range of different elements -- from a portal or an app, to some central hub -- for how you engage. That can include getting a more personalized dashboard of information and help. Those experiences also often have different engagement options, including access to live people who can answer questions and provide guidance to solve issues. That central hub also provides a wealth of helpful, useful information and can be AI-enabled to provide predictive alerts via dashboards.

There are companies that still provide only a single channel, such as, for example, the utility company I had to call yesterday, which kept me on hold for 45 minutes until I hung up. I tried the website, and they had multiple websites. I sent an e-mail; I am still waiting for a response!

The great customer experiences have multiple elements and dimensions to them. They have great people you can talk to. You have multiple ways of getting to those people. They have a great app or website with all sorts of information and help available, personalized to your needs.

That’s the way of the future. Those companies that are successful and have already started on that path are seeing great success. Those that have not are struggling -- especially in this climate. Now, not only is there more need to go digital, the pressure on revenue limits the investment dollars available to move in that direction if you haven’t already done so.

So, yes, there’s a multitude of different challenges here we are dealing with.

Gardner: It’s amazing nowadays when you deal, as a customer, with companies, how you can recognize almost instantly the ones that have invested in digital business transformation and are able to do a lot of different things under duress -- and those who didn’t. It’s rather stark.

Ronaldo, dealing with these complexities isn’t just a technology issue. Oftentimes it includes a multi-vendor aspect, a large ecosystem of suppliers. Pointing fingers isn’t going to help if you’re in a time-constrained situation, a crisis situation.

How do the new operational experiences include the capability to bring in many vendors and even so provide a seamless experience back to that customer?

Seamless collaborations succeed 

Pinto: HPE has historically collaborated. If you look at our customers today, they have best-of-breed environments and there are many emerging tools that make those environments more efficient. We also have several startups.

So, it’s extremely important for us to serve our customers by being able to collaborate seamlessly with all of those companies. We have done that in the past and we are expanding the operational capabilities, including tools we have today, to better understand performance, integration between our products, and with third-party products. We can streamline all of that collaboration.

Gardner: And, of course, the complexity extends across hybrid environments, from edge to cloud -- multi-cloud, private cloud, hybrid cloud. Is that multi-vendor and multi-architecture mix something that you’re encountering a lot?

Nolan: Today, every customer has a multi-vendor IT landscape. There are various phases of maturity in terms of dealing with legacy environments. But they are dealing with new IT on-premises technologies, they are trying to deploy cloud, or they may be moving to public cloud. There’s a plethora of use cases we see globally with our customers.
The classic issue is when there's a problem, the finger-pointing or blame-game starts. Even triaging and isolating problems in these environments can be a challenge, let alone the expertise to fix the issue. The more vendors you work with the more dimensions you have to manage.

And the classic issue, as you point out, is when there’s a problem, the finger-pointing or the blame-game starts. Even triaging and isolating problems in these types of environments can be a challenge, let alone having the expertise to fix the issue. Whether it’s in the hardware, software layer, or on somebody else’s platform, it’s difficult. Most vendors, of course, have different service level agreements (SLAs), different role names, different processes, and different contractual and pricing structures.

So, the whole engagement model, even the vocabulary they use, can be quite different; ourselves included, by the way. So, the more vendors you have to work with, the more dimensions you have to manage.

And then, of course, COVID-19 hits and our customers working with multiple vendors have to rely on how all those vendors are reacting to the current climate. And they’re not all reacting in a consistent fashion. The more vendors you have, the more work and time it’s going to take -- and the more cost involved.

We call it the power of one. Our customers see huge value in working with a partner who provides a single point of contact, that single throat to choke or hand to shake, and a single focal point for dealing with issues. You can have a single contract, a single invoice, and a single team to work with. It saves a lot of time and it saves a lot of money.

Organizations already in that position are seeing significant benefits. Our multi-vendor business is growing very, very well. And we see that moving into the future as companies try to focus on their core business, whatever that might be, and let IT take care of itself.

Edge to cloud to data center 

Pinto: To your question, Dana, on hybrid environments, it’s not only hybrid, it’s edge to cloud and to the data center. I can give you two examples.

We have a large department store customer with the technology in each of the many stores. We support not only the edge environments in those stores but all the way through to their data center. There are also hybrid environments for data management where you typically have primary storage, secondary storage, and your archiving strategy. All of that is managed by a multitude of backup and data-movement software.

The customer should not be worried with component by component, but with a single, end-to-end solution. We help customers abstract that by supporting the end-to-end data environment and collaborating with the third-party software vendors or platform vendors that will inevitably be a part of the solution.

Gardner: Gerry, earlier you mentioned your own experience with a utility company. You were expecting a multi-channel opportunity to engage with them. How does the IT operational services as an experience become inclusive of such things? Why does that need to be all-inclusive across the solutions and support approaches?

Have it your way

Nolan: An alternative example that I can give is my bank. I have a couple of different banks that I work with, but one in particular invested early in a digital platform. They didn’t replace their brick and mortar models. They still have lots of branches, lots of high-tech ATMs that allow for all types of self-serve.

But they also have a really cool app and website, which they’ve had for a number of years. They didn’t introduce digital as a way of closing down their branches, they keep all of those options available because different people like to integrate and work with their service providers in different ways, and we see that in IT, too.

The key elements to delivering a successful experience in the IT space, an AI-enabled experience, includes having lots of expertise and knowledge available across the IT environment, not just on a single set of products.
Of course, a digital platform provides that personalized view. It includes things like dashboards of what’s in my environment, ongoing alerts and predictions -- maybe capacity is running out or maybe costs are beyond what was forecast. Or maybe I have ways of optimizing my costs, some insights around updates to my software, licenses or some systems might be reaching the end of their support life. There is all sorts of information that should be available to me in a personalized way.

And then in terms of accessing experts, the old model is to get on the phone, like I was yesterday for 45 minutes talking to somebody, and in my case, I wasn’t successful. But customers, in some cases, they like to deal with the experts through a chat window or maybe live on the phone. Others like to watch expert technical tips and technique videos. So, we have developed an extensive video library of experts wherein you can pick and choose and listen to some tips and techniques about how to deal with certain key topics we see that customers are interested in.

Moderated forums: Customers actually like sharing their experiences with each other. And then our experts get involved and you mix and match with partners and end-customers and you get this very rich dialogue that goes on around particular topics, best practices, ideas, or there could be problems that somebody else has solved.
AI is at the heart of all of this because it's constantly learning. It's like a self-propelling mechanism that just gets better over time. The more knowledge it gains, the more answers are provided.

AI is at the heart of all of this because it’s constantly learning. It’s like a self-propelling mechanism that just gets better over time. The more people come on board, the more knowledge it gains, the more questions they ask, the more answers are provided.

The whole thing just gets better and better over time. It’s key, of course, to have that wide portfolio of help for customers. If they have a strategy, make it work better; if they don’t have a strategy and need help building one, we can help them do that all the way through to designing and implementing those solutions.

And then they can get the ongoing support, which is where Ronaldo and I spend most of our life. But it’s important as a vendor or as a partner to be able to offer customers help across the value chain or across the lifecycle, depending on where they need that help.

Gardner: Ronaldo, let’s dig more deeply into the specifics of the new HPE Pointnext Services’ operational services’ approach, modernizing operations for the future of IT. What does it include?

Meet customers’ modernization terms 

Pinto: We are doing all of this modernization with the customer in mind. What is really important for us is not only accomplishing something, but how you accomplish it. At the end of any interaction the customer needs to feel that their time was used effectively. HPE shows a legitimate concern with the customer success and in feeling positive at the end of the interaction.

Gerry mentioned the AI tools and alerts. We are integrating all of the sensors, telemetry we get from products in the field, all the way up to our operational processes in the back end so that customers can accomplish whatever they need with us on their own terms.

For example, if there’s an alert or a performance degradation in a product, we provide tools to dig deeper and understand why. “Hey, maybe it’s a component in the infrastructure that needs to be updated or replaced?” We are integrating all of that. We see into our back end operational processes so that we can even detect issues before the customer does. Then we just notify the customer that an action needs to be performed and, if needed, we dispatch the part replacement.

If the customer needs someone at the site to do the replacement, no problem. The customer can schedule that visit easily in a web interface and we will show up in the window that the customer chooses.

It’s offering the customer, as Gerry mentioned, multiple channels and multiple ways to interact. For customers, it means they may prefer a remote automated web interface or the personal touch of a support engineer, but it should be on the customers’ own terms.

Gardner: I have seen in the release information you provide to analysts like myself the concept of a digital customer platform. What do you mean by a digital customer platform when it comes to operational services?

A focused digital platform 

Nolan: It’s all of the things that Ronaldo just mentioned coming together in a single place. Going back to my bank example, they give you a credit card where you typically have a single place that you go from a digital point of view. It’s either an app and/or a website and that provides you all of this personalized information that’s honed to your specific needs and your specific use case.

For us, from a digital point of view and from a customization platform, we want to provide a single place regardless of your use case. So, whether you are a warranty level customer or a consumption customer, buying your IT on a pay-as-you-go basis, all of the help you need, all of the information, dashboards, all of the ways of engaging with us as a partner, it’s all through a single portal. That’s what we mean when we say the digital platform, that central place that brings it all to life for you as a customer.

Gardner: Why is the consumption-based approach important? How has that changed the game?

Pinto: It’s the same idea, to provide customers the option to consume IT and to use IT on their own terms. HPE pioneered the hybrid IT consumption model. Behind that is Pointnext through all the services we provide -- whether the customer chooses to consume or not, on an as-a-service basis, consuming an outcome, or if the customer wants to consume the traditional way, where the customer takes ownership of their underlying infrastructure. We automate those more transactional, repeatable tasks and help the customer focus on innovation and meeting their business objectives through IT. So that is going to be consistent across all the consumption models.

Nolan: What’s important to recognize here is, as a customer, you want choice and choice is good. If the only option you have is, for example, a public cloud solution, then guess what? Every problem you as a customer have, then that public cloud provider has one toolbox. It’s a public cloud solution.

I have just been speaking with a large insurance company and they are moving toward a cloud-first strategy, which their board decided they needed. So, everything in their mind needs to move to the cloud. And it’s interesting because they decided the way they are going to partner to get that done is directly with a public cloud vendor. And guess what? Every problem, every workload in that organization is now directed toward moving to public cloud, even where that may not be the best outcome for the customer. To Ronaldo’s point, you want to be assessing all of your workloads and deciding where is the best placement of that workload.

You might want to do that work inside your firewall and on your network because certain work will get done better, more cost effectively, and for all sorts of security, network latency, and data regulatory reasons. Having multiple different choices -- on-premises, you can do CAPEX, you can do as-a-service -- is important. Your partner should be able to offer all those choices. We at HPE, as Ronaldo said, pioneered the IT as-a-service mode. We already have that in place.
 Our HPE GreenLake offering allows you to buy and consume all of your IT on a pay-as-you-go basis. We just send you a monthly bill for whatever IT you have used. Everything is included in that bill -- your hardware, software, and all of the services, including support. You don’t really need to worry about it.

You care instead about the outcomes. You just want the IT to take care of itself, and you get your bill. Then you can easily align that cost with the revenue coming in. As the revenue goes up, you are using more IT, you pay more; revenue goes down, you are using less IT, you pay less. Fairly simple, but very powerful and very popular.

Gardner: Yes, in the past we have heard so many complaints about unexpected bills, maintenance add-ons, and complex licensing. So, this is something that’s been an ongoing issue for decades.

Now with COVID-19 and so many people working remotely, can you provide an example of bringing the best minds on the solutions side to wherever a problem is?

Room with a data center view 

Nolan: One that comes to mind sounds like a simplistic use case, but it’s valuable in today’s climate, with the IT lockdown. Inside of HPE, we use multiple collaboration environments. But we own our own collaboration platform, HPE MyRoom.

We launched a feature in that collaboration platform called Visual Remote Guidance, which allows us to collaborate like we are in the customer’s data center virtually. We can turn on the smart device on the customer side, and they can be enabled, through the camera, to actually see the IT situation they are dealing with.

It might be an installation of some hardware. It could be resolving some technical problem. There are a variety of different use cases we are seeing. Of course, when a system causes a problem and the company has locked-down their entire IT department, they don’t want to see engineers coming in from either HPE or one of our partners.
Visual Remote Guidance allows us to collaborate like we are in the customer's data center virtually. We can turn on the smart device on the customer side and they can be enabled to see the IT situation that they are all dealing with.

This solution immediately became very useful in helping customers because we now have thousands of remote experts available in various locations around the world. Now, they can instantly connect with the customer. They can be the hands and eyes working with the customer. Then the customer can perform the action, guided all the way through the process by their remote HPE expert. And that’s using a well-proven digital collaboration platform that we have had for years. By just introducing that one new additional feature, it has helped tremendously.

Many customers were struggling with installing complex solutions. Because they needed to get it done and yet didn’t want to bring anybody onto their site, we can take advantage of our remote experts and get the work done. Our experts guide them through, step by step, and test the whole thing. It’s proving to be very effective. It’s used extensively now around the world. All of our agents have this on their desktop and they can initiate with any customer, in any conversation. So, it’s pretty powerful.

Gardner: Yes, so you have socialized isolation, but you have intense technology collaboration at the same time.

Ronaldo, HPE InfoSight and automation have gone a long way to helping organizations get in front of maintenance issues, to be proactive and prescriptive. Can you flesh out any examples of where the combination of automation, AI, AIOps, and HPE InfoSight have come together in a way that helps people get past a problem before it gets out of hand?

Stop problems before they start

Pinto: Yes, absolutely. We are integrating all our telemetry from the sensors in our technology with our back-end operational processes. That is InfoSight, a very powerful, AI and machine learning (ML) tool. By collecting from sensors -- more than 100 data points from our products every few seconds -- and processing all of that data on the back end, we can be informed by trends we see in our installed base and gather knowledge from our product experts and data scientists.

That allows us to get in front of situations that could result in outages in the environment. For example, a virtual storage volume could be running out of capacity. That could lead to storage devices going offline, bringing down the whole environment. So, we can get ahead of that and fix the problem for the customer before it gets to a business-degradation situation.

We are expanding the InfoSight capabilities on a daily basis throughout the HPE portfolio. We also should be able to identify, based on the telemetry of the products, what workloads the customer is running and help the customer better utilize all those underlying resources in the context of a specific workload. We also could even identify an improvement opportunity in the underlying infrastructure to improve the performance of that workload.

Gardner: So, it is problem solving as well as a drive for continual IT improvement, refinement, and optimization, which is a lot different than a break-fix mentality. How will the whole concept of operational services shift in your opinion from break-fix to more of optimization and continuous improvement?

Pinto: I think you just touched on probably the most important point, Dana. Data centers today and technology are increasingly redundant and resilient. So really break-fix is becoming table stakes very quickly.

The metaphor that I use many times is airlines. In the past, security or safety of the airline was something very important. Today it’s basically table stakes. You assume that the airline operates at the highest standards of safety. So, with break-fix it’s the same. HPE is automating all of the break-fix operations to allow customers to focus on what adds the most value to their businesses, which is delivering the business outcomes based on the technology -- and further innovating.

The pace of innovation in this business is unprecedented, both in terms of tools and technologies available to operate your environment as well as time-to-market of the digital applications that are the revenue generators for our customers.

Gardner: Gerry, anything additional to offer in terms of the vision of an optimization drive rather than a maintenance drive?

Innovate to your ideal state 

Nolan: Totally. It’s all about trying to stay ahead of the business requirements.

For example, last night Ronaldo and I were speaking with a customer with a global footprint. They happen to be in a pretty good state, but it was interesting talking to them about what would a new desired state look like. We work closely with customers as we innovate and build better service capabilities. We are trying to find out from our customers what is their ideal state, because it’s all about delivering the customer experience that maps to each customer’s use case -- and every customer is different.

I also just met with a casino operator, which at the moment is in a bit of a tough space, but they have been acquiring other casinos and opening new casinos in different parts of the world. Their challenge is completely different than my friend in the insurance industry who was going to cloud-first.
The casino business is all about security and regulation. They are really not in the business of IT -- but IT is still critical to their success. They are trying to understand all the IT that they have.

The casino business is all about security, and a lot of regulation. In his case, they were buying companies, so they are also buying all of this IT. They need help controlling it. They are in the casino business, they are not really in the business of IT, but IT is still critical to their success. And now they are in a pandemic-driven shutdown, so they are trying to figure out how to manage and understand all of the IT they have.

For others in this social isolation climate, they need to keep the business running. Now as they are starting to open up, they need help with all sorts of issues around how to monitor customers coming into their facilities. How do they keep staff safe in terms of making sure they stay six feet apart? And HPE has a wealth of new offerings in that space. We can help customers deal with opening up and getting back to work.

Whether you are operating an old environment, a new environment, or are in a post COVID-19 journey -- trying to get through this pandemic situation, which is going to take years -- there are all sorts of different aspects you need to consider as an organization. Trying to paint your new vision for what an ideal IT experience feels like -- and then finding partners like HPE who can help deliver that -- is really the way forward.

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

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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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