Business Leaders Have a Strategic Opportunity to Reimagine Work – Are We Brave Enough to Take the Leap?
As leaders, we strive to innovate and continuously bring value to our customers. We stretch our thinking to create new strategies, expand our product roadmaps, and deepen our talent.
Today, we have an unprecedented opportunity to take these efforts to the next level – to elevate our leadership in how we embrace the future of work. The pandemic has changed every aspect of our lives. How we work, live and communicate will never be the same. Which leads us to ask:
“How should we adapt and thrive in a new reality?”
This is not a conversation about “hybrid” environments. In fact, conversations about how many days people are in the office or at home, are missing the point. On a strategic level, we know that “work” is not about where people work, but instead, about the greater value they can create through their work.
Opportunity for New Models
As leaders, we have an opportunity to build new models for high-performing teams and solve persistent issues around equal representation, productivity, recruiting and flexibility.
Instead of focusing on matching the way work used to be, let’s look ahead to establish new ways of working that allow our teams – and thus our companies – to succeed in this new world.
I get it – when things change so dramatically, we cling to what is comfortable and known – what we can (or think we can) control. Seeing people in offices makes us think that “work” is happening. Yet, relying on accidental or ad hoc interactions (i.e., the examples of running into people in the hallway or by the watercooler) to innovate, create culture, develop connection and provide mentoring, is a weak strategy.
When it comes to our innovation strategies, that sort of status quo thinking gets checked at the door – so why shouldn’t we do the same when considering something as important as how our teams live, work and collaborate?
Instead of thinking that only in-person collaboration can achieve these outcomes, shouldn’t we challenge ourselves to develop ways to achieve them more intentionally in a distributed, virtual environment? Won’t this create a more consistent and engaging experience for our teams?
We have learned a great deal since the beginning of the pandemic and it’s our job to adapt to these changes – incorporating the positive components and understanding the limitations so that:
“We can build new models to empower our high-performing workforce.”
Our Somos Plan: Virtual First
At Somos, we have moved beyond the concept of the “hybrid” (including those packaged as “work from anywhere” but are essentially an office/not office dichotomy) to the “virtual first” model. A virtual first model makes virtual interactions (i.e., video, audio, messaging, social) the first and preferred mode of working, collaborating and communicating. Our belief is that anything short of a virtual first model will unintentionally create two classes of teammates (those in the office and those not) that will be detrimental to true collaboration and parity on our teams – limiting their ability to work and collaborate effectively. We are working against strong muscle memory that the office is preferred or better than not being in the office – so truly scalable models will need to directly counteract this belief head-on.
What does becoming virtual first look like in practice? One example is our onboarding program. The goal of the program is to increase the knowledge share about Somos and build upon employee social collateral. Even prior to the pandemic, the program was customized so that all new employees, in-office or not, feel connected to our company. The program consists of meetings with multiple leaders within the company to discuss company strategy and how their role fits into the bigger picture. All of these meetings are virtual, so the experience for every employee is the same. By having critically important programs virtually, we set the tone for all employees to feel comfortable in an environment where their important meetings and collaborations are all virtual first.
I often get asked, “so will you ever see each other in person?” Of course! In-person interactions are still valuable and should be leveraged, but only as a strategic tool for intentional collaboration. Instead of assuming that collaboration happens because people are in the same building, we will plan and bring people together for strategic reasons such as team-building, customer collaboration, training and development.
3 Core Benefits of a Virtual First Strategy
A virtual first strategy drives greater democratization than can be achieved within physical environments. When we are all squares on a screen, we have the same opportunity to influence and be engaged. It doesn’t matter where you sit or what your title is, but rather what you have to contribute and how you perform. This can truly even the playing field for so many who have been systemically left behind in our workplaces.
A virtual first strategy expands our horizons to recruit diverse talent from anywhere not just the commutable distances to offices. This not only allows us the ability to find and retain great teammates but it also allows us to truly diversify our teams – tapping into amazing talent across geography, yes, but more importantly across gender, race, ethnicity and background.
And most importantly, a virtual first strategy contributes to a better life for our teams and allows for true flexibility to control when and how they work. Life-changing experiences, such as this pandemic, remind us of what is truly important and put into sharp contrast what is not important. Connections to our family and friends, the significance of our health and wellbeing, our responsibilities to others in our community and society – they rise to the top and compel us to ask ourselves: how do we want to live?
In a society where we spend a majority of our lives working, we should extend this question to how we want to work as well. We have an opportunity to improve the day-to-day lives of our teammates, their families, friends and communities – as well as our planet, with the opportunity to address the climate impacts of our work models.
As leaders, we should seize that opportunity.
None of this is easy, of course. Visionary work never is. As leaders, we need to rise to the occasion and be bold in the development of these new ways of working. It will not only strengthen our teams and prove clearer paths to success for our companies – but also give us an opportunity to dramatically improve how to live and work in our society.
Are you up for the challenge?
Gina M. Perini
Chair of the Board of Directors & Chief Executive Officer