The 49ers Gain a Home-Field Advantage

The NFL season is just around the corner and like all of us, the San Francisco 49ers have been working remotely and finding ways to prepare both on and off the field. Hear from ace defensive lineman Arik Armstead and Hannah Gordon, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel on how they’ve embraced this remote world, and how it’s nothing like they have ever experienced in the football.

PODCAST | 20m
June 10, 2020
S1:Ep5

Executive summary

  • Exploring a unique industry that has enabled their employees and players to work remotely
  • Calibrating your workplace technology to encourage collaboration, teamwork, and efficiency
  • Giving employees their choice of environment to succeed in any type of role

Featured voices

  • Melanie Green, host
  • Arik Armstead, DE, San Francisco 49ers
  • Hannah Gordon, Chief Administrative Officer and General Counsel, San Francisco 49ers
  • John Lynch, General Manager, San Francisco 49ers

Melanie Green (Host):

Hey, Mel here, before we begin today's episode, I have a personal favor to ask. This is the first podcast I've recorded completely remotely. So believe me when I say I understand just how lonely remote work can potentially be. Our disparate team has come together to produce this podcast. The work is out there. Our story is being told. Yet, we don't have a chance to hear directly from you, our listeners, about what you really think of what we've done. We want to hear your thoughts. Your input could inform the next story we choose to tell, or even help other listeners like you to find us.

Plus, it makes us feel good to hear from you, so give us your feedback on the remote works page on Apple podcasts or tweet your favorite episode with the hashtag #Citrixremoteworks. We look forward to hearing from you, but enough of that, let's get to the show.

Remember when we used to leave the house and go to work, getting ready, strapping on a helmet, lacing up the cleats, sacking the quarterback. Those were the days.

SFX – NFL game commentary:

Will run him down from behind. Armstead comes through and buries him. He fumbled the ball. Armstead with another sack. Boy, did Armstead just devour him. Here's Armstead. And they bury Goff. That is all power by Arik Armstead.

Melanie Green (Host):

That's the sound of ace defensive linemen, Arik Armstead, doing his job. Last season, his 10 quarterback sacks helped San Francisco 49ers get to the Super Bowl. But things are different now.

Arik Armstead:

Yeah. I mean, in this, you really got to stay self-motivated the best you can. And we're all competitors, we're all professional athletes. So, we get paid to stay ready and fight through adverse situations. So, I think that's what everybody's mindset is now trying to find ways to continue to get better, even though everything is kind of crazy right now.

Melanie Green (Host):

When you're a star defensive lineman for the San Francisco 49ers, you have a lot to live up to. Teammates, coaches, fans who depend on you. Despite the crazy times, Arik has to make sure he focuses on the start of the season, mentally preparing and staying in top condition, ready for what's to come no matter what. Imagine those players, very much used to practicing together as a team, still practicing and preparing, but apart, as we all have been.

Arik Armstead:

Last year around this time, we were all together as a team, working out, doing OTAs, meetings, practice, lifting, running, so we're altogether working hard trying to become better players and become a better team.

Melanie Green (Host):

My name is Melanie Green. You're listening to Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix.

So how do the 49ers keep the team working like a team? To answer this question, you need to go far away from the stadium lights into the 49ers back office.

Hannah Gordon:

I'm Hannah Gordon. I'm the chief administrative officer and general counsel of the San Francisco 49ers. It has been unlike anything I've ever experienced in 20 years of working in football. It's very strange because we are a place that largely depends, especially for what happens on the field, obviously, being together. And when you think about schools and the way that teachers have had to shift from teaching kids in the classroom to teaching remotely, the off season program is very similar.

Melanie Green (Host):

Yes. But the thing is there's you and me who are regular people. And then there's the 49ers who have a big job ahead of them training for the upcoming season hot on the heels of their exceptional performance in Super Bowl LIV, that's got to feel pretty daunting.

Arik Armstead:

It is pretty weird. We would all be together and right around this time, we're kind of get tired of the off season and looking forward to getting back to football and back to what you love doing. And so, we're all still separated and we're not able to do that. And we do want to get back on our mission of getting back to the Super Bowl and that's kind of being delayed and stalled right now. So I'm sure everybody's getting a little antsy. I mean, guys connect in their various ways. I mean, reaching out to teammates, staying connected through social media.

We've actually been having some meetings on Zoom, so special teams meetings, individual position meetings too. So those have been good fun times, I guess, to get on there and use technology to connect with your teammates and still try to have somewhat of a normalcy and meetings and watching film. So that's been fun.

Melanie Green (Host):

Connecting virtually has allowed the 49ers to watch films of past games, to focus on what worked so well to get the team to the Super Bowl and to hone their on-field strategies.

So you can keep your brain in shape, but what about your body?

Arik Armstead:

We've done some quarantine workouts together and I've been fortunate enough to get to a place where they allow me in there to work out and access some weights and stuff. So just been working out on my own and with my fiance doing quarantine workouts here in the living room or in the basement, and then going to this facility every now and then where I can get in there by myself.

Melanie Green (Host):

Something tells me that I wouldn't be able to keep up with Arik Armstead's living room workout, and probably collapse on the couch after about three minutes. But while Arik's doing his heavy lifting at home, the back office is doing their own heavy lifting, but a different type. They're maximizing the remote technology to keep everyone connected.

Hannah Gordon:

If this pandemic happened 10 years ago or 20 years ago or 30 years ago, how different it would be because we would not be capable of doing so much of the work that is happening from the home right now. Now there's still plenty of essential workers and jobs that unfortunately cannot be performed remotely and so we're really seeing that difference in the economy. But for those of us who are so fortunate that we can work from home, it really is because of the technology. We use Citrix ShareFile for sharing large documents securely.

I mentioned GoToMeeting, which is great for people like me who have terrible cell phone reception at home so that we can depend on our wifi, so it's really quite critical.

Melanie Green (Host):

Okay. So you don't get to play in the Super Bowl without overcoming obstacles and the 49ers and every other NFL team had to figure out how to hold the NFL Draft in the middle of a pandemic. The NFL Draft is a massive gathering. Every year, thousands of prospective players, agents, coaches, supporters, and owners gather in a bigger arena. It's part celebration, part graduation, part ritual, and all spectacle. It's emotional, exciting, and a huge part of football culture. And for a while, it looked like it might not even happen, but it did online.

And it was pretty amazing. This is John Lynch, general manager of the San Francisco 49ers. This is from a Skype recording Lynch made of himself at home for a press conference earlier in the spring.

John Lynch:

I think one of the big challenges has been the challenge for the whole world right now in midst of this, where you play deep into the season. Now they tell you, you can't go into the facility anymore, but maybe in retrospect, that might've been a blessing. I feel like our preparation, our teamwork, and that's why you work so hard to build a team. I think it was kind of cool during this draft. I mean, typically we're in the draft room, our wives aren't there. [inaudible 00:09:14]. She stayed off the camera the entire time, but she got to sit in and she said, John, really proud of the way your team works.

I think the quarantine actually helped them particularly in a year where we played late into the season and that's a big hurdle getting caught up to speed. I thought they were as prepared as ever. And I just felt like I feel really good about the way we functioned as an organization throughout this time in an effort to get better. And all you want to do is give yourself an opportunity to do, and now these players all got to go do it. Then I think we can be a better team and that's really exciting. There's a lot of people that are responsible for that.

And I think that's the coolest thing I've seen through this process.

Melanie Green (Host):

For the draft to work in a way it had never been done before as with countless other remote work experiments over the past few months, it depended largely on technology working. I mean, if you'd been in charge of that, how nervous would you have been waking up that morning?

Hannah Gordon:

I think the great thing about the drafts that made it well suited to that outcome is that it's actually always been a giant teleconference. So you actually have 32 different locations that are really calling in their picks. And so from that perspective, it was already, I think, well structured and suited to being remote.

Melanie Green (Host):

Like John Lynch, Hannah Gordon saw the upside to doing the draft remotely.

Hannah Gordon:

And so as a result, you had a product and a television program that was really the most exciting thing on TV in quite a while. That and the WNBA Draft were the only live sports events during this quarantine period, at least that I was aware of. And so I think we were all kind of hungry for that. And then beyond that, it was so novel to get to see in everybody's houses. So even for me as somebody who works in the league, like it was really fun to get to see everybody's kids and see everybody working from their home office and peer at what they have on their bookshelves.

So I think it was really fun for fans and it ended up working out really, really well. I think it certainly has been one of the spaces in which technology has enabled something that was kind of even more fun perhaps than what you had before. And so it was also wonderful to get to see the joy of those families. I mean, I think a lot of people have talked about Javon Kinlaw, our pick. His father rolling off the chair when he was selected. So I think that there were so many awesome moments that you got to kind of share with that young man and his family.

So I think that was the other part that people were able to really kind of enjoy and find special.

Melanie Green (Host):

The way Hannah Gordon from the 49ers back office is talking, you might think that the remote draft structure could be back again next year, but ...

Hannah Gordon:

I also think that people are absolutely yearning for not only for sports, but for that live experience. People miss other people right now. Like there is nothing like the energy that's in a stadium when it's full of people, when you are just collectively celebrating, experiencing a moment of victory and even a moment of defeat. And I think people really miss that. I know I really miss that. And so while some things may change, I don't think that the human desire for communal experience and for connection is ever going to change.

And so that part of it, I really look forward to resuming whenever it's safe to do so.

Melanie Green (Host):

Arik Armstead knows the power of human stories. For years, he's been visiting local classrooms and encouraging kids to write as well as read stories. He wants to help kids develop their creative abilities and communication skills - skills which, he says, they'll need to get ahead.

Arik Armstead:

Whoa! He screams. Your trash made me trip.

Melanie Green (Host):

Arik's still bringing that message to young people, but he's doing it all remotely.

Arik Armstead:

I'm sorry, says Joe, but I'm missing it. It's fun watching you do a banana split.

Arik Armstead:

I've shifted some initiatives. Technology has been great. I've been able to actually do some things that I probably wouldn't have otherwise. So it's been cool. I've spoke to students, elementary school students about reading, spoke with my old high school football team about reaching out to their peers and mental health during this time and talk to the University of Oregon football team about various things too. So I think this time has kind of created those opportunities where it might not have happened from a physical standpoint, if things were all normal.

I think us having technology has presented some opportunities that have been great.

Melanie Green (Host):

Hannah Gordon also oversees the 49ers community impact work and the 49ers Foundation. Each year, they bring over 60,000 children into Levi's Stadium to take part in activities that link football and STEAM, science, technology, engineering, the arts and mathematics.

Hannah Gordon:

We're very accustomed to a lot of our outreach being very hands on. And obviously, we have to literally be hands off. Now we've had to completely pivot to making those programs that are now digital.

Melanie Green (Host):

If you want to reach young people in the digital space, you've got to be connecting via social media. Frankly, let's face it, that's true whether you're reaching them remotely or standing right next to them.

Hannah Gordon:

And so then on the prep side, if you're following us on social media, you might see the hashtag #prepstartsnow and there's drills that you can do. You can also just find all of this on the I got your back page, which is 49ers.com/igyb. So we have tons of drills that you can do in your living room, in your backyard and apart kind of in whatever spaces that you may have.

Melanie Green (Host):

So the 49ers are connected with their players, with their employees and with their community. That's more important than ever right now, according to Adrian Gostick. He's a leader in organizational culture and leadership. He says that these types of connections that the 49ers are doing now are so important.

Adrian Gostick:

One of the things with the pandemic right now is we have taken away that physical touch, we've taken away closeness. So what we're finding with the great leaders that I'm talking with is that they are communicating with their people much more frequently, at least once or twice a week with their remote people. And typically, they're asking a couple of questions. The first is how are you doing today? The second is what do you want to talk about? What's on your mind? And the third is as they start talking about things, they start talking about issues, if there's a magic question to increase trust in a team, it is what do you think?

It's a simple question, but really respecting somebody's opinion and soliciting ideas.

Melanie Green (Host):

Adrian says that how organizations react to the pandemic will never be forgotten. How they treat their team members, their employees, their fans, their community, the effects of those actions will remain long after people return to their offices.

Adrian Gostick:

Managers who in the past could be worried about performance and customers and processes now have to change. They have to become a lot more empathetic and a lot more caring. I was just reading this morning, a survey that says somewhere in the neighborhood of 56% of workers say they are feeling considerable more anxiety and stress than they were a couple of months ago before this hit. Well, of course, we're all worrying about job security now, which has now become the number one concern. We're worrying about our families. We're worrying about so many things that we haven't thought about before.

And the problem is managers typically during a crisis tend to get less caring, less empathetic because they're worrying about keeping their businesses going. It makes sense. And the problem is though that our people, if we want to keep them engaged, we want to keep them excited about working and creating value for our customers, we, as a manager, have to be more caring and more empathetic than ever. And this is hard. So one of the things I'm hearing a lot from leaders is they're calling their people a lot more frequently because a lot of their people are remote now.

Now they're asking simple questions like, how are you doing today? It's not just how you doing. It's how are you doing today because today is probably different than yesterday than the day before. And people just need to talk it out a little bit. Oh my gosh, you know, we've been, my wife's having this issue with this and my son's having with that. People just need to talk out for a minute or two. And while it may be some managers aren't driven that way. They need to listen. They need to be empathetic and caring.

Melanie Green (Host):

When it comes to challenges employees have come up against these past few months. Adrian has seen some firsts.

Adrian Gostick:

I just spoke with a employee yesterday. He's a vice president of a big food company and he has been furloughed. Which is a word that we've, we've really never thought about before in the US lexicon. But so he's sitting at home, but he's not allowed to do any work he says, but my boss calls me at least once a week. And he says, the first question he asks me is what can I do for you? And he says, actually I did have some things because he says, I've created this network of people who've been furloughed and we're talking and we're having a webinar once a week.

We're connecting, we're seeing what the company is doing and we're excited to get back, but we understand the need for this because the company has been very clear and my leader has been very caring. And so two simple questions, yeah, how are you doing and what can I do to help?

Melanie Green (Host):

It's pretty cool that the 49ers understand the importance of the power of human connection during a time like this. And I don't mean the sheer brute force of Arik Armstead hammering a quarterback. Although you've got to love that. But Arik too knows that off the field, we're still a team. And we need to know that we can count on each other.

Arik Armstead:

I mean, yeah, I think it's important for people to realize that we're all in this together, for sure. And it's okay to acknowledge how difficult the situation is. But I think there is hope and light at the end of the tunnel and something to look forward to. And I hope that people can take what we learn from these situations and the positive things that I've been seeing, which have been amazing as far as people speaking with their family more, supporting each other more and take those things into the future when we do get on the other side of this.

So I think it's positive. I think it's moving forward, looking forward. I'm excited to get back to normalcy and see kind of how this will shift our mindset and focus and society’s.

Melanie Green (Host):

I'm Melanie Green. You've been listening to Remote Works, an original podcast by Citrix. Next week, lights, camera, nightstand? What happens when a news anchor sets up shop in her guest room?

News Anchor:

So it's one ring light, one backlight and a camera the size of my hand and an iPad as a teleprompter. And if you would have told me that you can more or less replicate a studio feel with those tools, I would have told you three, four months ago that you were crazy. You were out of your mind.

Melanie Green (Host):

That's next week on Remote Works. All the news you can use, plus entertainment, sports, and weather. For more best practices, lessons learned, and the realities of supporting and enabling a remote workforce visit citrix.com/remoteworks.

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