For all the attention the pandemic has shone on flexible working models, some considerations transcend the virus.
ARTICLE | 5m read
January 19, 2021
As the pandemic took hold, an entire cottage industry sprung up around the question: Will “business as usual” ever return? It’s not without merit; a recent Gartner poll noted that 48 percent of employees expect to work remotely at least part-time after the pandemic subsides, up from 30 percent before COVID-19. But while the pundits debate, far-sighted organizations haven’t waited around for an answer.
In separate phone conversations, Fieldwork by Citrix recently spoke with Hope Bear, Chief People Officer at AWeber, and Jenna Geigerman, Director of Real Estate and Strategy at Citrix, about new strategies they’ve implemented to guide their businesses through the pandemic. While both have undergone radical changes, they’re also employing time-tested principles to steer their organizations into the future.
Drawing off of their experiences, we’ve detailed three principles that each organization has embraced as they transition toward more flexible work cultures. We hope these insights help your organization craft its post-pandemic workplace experience.
AWeber, an email marketing firm based outside Philadelphia, was one of the first businesses in its area to lean into a startup, campus-y feel, with ping-pong tables and endless in-office perks—a complementary deli and two towering slides among them—for its rapidly growing team. But after the pandemic hit, the approximately 100-person company made the strategic decision to shutter its office for good.
There’s a handful of reasons that the decision was right for AWeber, but a significant one was leadership’s desire to decouple company culture from a physical location.
“I've always said that the building doesn't define the relationships; the relationships define the culture,” Bear says. “And I think it was very easy for us to equate the culture with the building when we were there on a daily basis. But as we've transitioned to a remote-first company, it's really been rewarding to see how strong our culture has remained, and how we're iterating on it in an ongoing, virtual way.”
Citrix made the pivot to flexible work in March, a transition that Geigerman now describes as seamless.
“Citrix is taking the opportunity to revamp and look at how we work,” she says. “We're looking at even more of a hybrid, or flexible model, going forward. We want to understand human behavior and reasons people want to come to the office.
“It helps to be part of a company that has the technology, culture, and collaboration already in place,” she continues. “In a way, you feel more connected now that everyone is remote, together."
I'VE ALWAYS SAID THAT THE BUILDING DOESN'T DEFINE THE RELATIONSHIPS; THE RELATIONSHIPS DEFINE THE CULTURE.
Chief People Officer
“Whether we're in the building or we're remote,” says Bear, “We're still finding ways to communicate.” Both she and Geigerman agree that clear communication is vital to the employee experience, or EX, when teams are remote.
But it’s not just that. Communication also makes EX an office-wide goal. “Had we just been in the office and gone to a water cooler, so to speak … team members might not have been privy to that information,” Bear says. “Now ... the majority of the team is focused on iterating. Finding those ways of making it happen in an even better way.”
In a remote setting, an open dialogue relies on technology to be heard. According to Geigerman, enabling tech is top of mind at Citrix. “IT has had to be very intentional about supporting people in a remote environment,” she says, “Providing tools to support a different type of work. Exploration and adoption of digital whiteboarding tools, more rapid rollouts.”
Ensuring access to the digital tools that help employees get the job done was essential for AWeber in the early days. But equally important was documenting best practices. “Once the conversation happened, it was really about emphasizing the tools that we have: Slack confluence, JIRA, etc.,” she says, “and encouraging the team to communicate in different ways, whether it be informally or formally.”
“Now … it's amazing to see the ideas, suggestions, and best practices that team members are actually putting out there for all of us to use,” she adds. “We're just continually iterating.”
HAD WE JUST BEEN IN THE OFFICE AND GONE TO A WATER COOLER, SO TO SPEAK … TEAM MEMBERS MIGHT NOT HAVE BEEN PRIVY TO THAT INFORMATION…NOW ...THE MAJORITY OF THE TEAM IS FOCUSED ON ITERATING. FINDING THOSE WAYS OF MAKING IT HAPPEN IN AN EVEN BETTER WAY.
Chief People Officer
To manage a flexible work model, teams must respond to the challenges of every individual. This has been a big part of AWeber’s remote-first strategy. “There is no one-size-fits-all solution,” Bear remarks. “Not all of our team members have the same families or setups. All of us have different stressors. And we all process things very, very differently.
“It’s about being accessible, being understanding,” she adds. “Being able to listen and being able to empathize with what individuals are feeling. We're really trying to remove as many barriers as we possibly can.”
Case in point: When AWeber’s leadership made the decision to go remote, they also decided to offer a monthly internet stipend. The company also is providing equipment for team members, ensuring home workstations are dialed in for comfort and productivity. AWeber is now beginning to make strides in the realms of childcare and eldercare.
In essence, AWeber has reallocated its old, office-oriented resources to serve its remote workforce. “We've been able to come to a really good compromise, so that everybody feels well supported,” Bear says.
For its part, Citrix has been conducting regular pulse surveys to get a sense of employees’ well-being and how supported they feel in this flexible work model. “We look at demographic data: parent, single, etc., by department, since there's variability among teams,” Geigerman says. “And by individual: introvert, extrovert.” The takeaway? “People are saying they want flexibility.”
WE LOOK AT DEMOGRAPHIC DATA. PARENT, SINGLE, ETC. [WE LOOK] BY DEPARTMENT, SINCE THERE'S VARIABILITY AMONG TEAMS. AND BY INDIVIDUAL: INTROVERT, EXTROVERT. PEOPLE ARE SAYING THEY WANT FLEXIBILITY.
Director of Real Estate and Strategy
Post-pandemic strategies still need tinkering, let alone shaping. But these three principles can help prepare organizations for success—whether the team commits to long-term remote work, embraces a hybrid model, or takes a wait-and-see approach.
“Team members [just] want to hear the truth,” says Bear. “They want to hear what has been solved for, and what still needs to be figured out. The more we can keep the human element in the forefront of our minds, the better we can understand … how to make the best of it. As humans, we all want to do our best.”