Employers around the world are straddling a bridge between the past, where most employees were physically present at work, and the present, where vaccines or effective treatments present the opportunity for a safe return to the workplace. Yet even when that happens, remote work will have earned a permanent place in the employment mix.
This presents leaders with two challenges: Making the hybrid working environment fair for all and preparing for and optimising hybrid working models, where in-person and remote work will be two ends of a fluid spectrum of options.
In this interview with Pia Rueda, Head of HR, Lenovo- ANZ, we reflect upon the key guiding principles of making the hybrid work model more impactful and efficient.
As Head of HR for Lenovo ANZ, Pia oversees recruitment, retention, progression, and development of employees at Lenovo across Australia and New Zealand. Prior to starting the ANZ role in 2019, she worked for Lenovo for four years between 2012 and 2015 back in Argentina. When she moved to Australia, she held several HR roles at MasterCard and Danish shipping company, Maersk Line, before coming back to Lenovo in my current role.
Reflecting upon her career journey, Pia shares, "Over that time, I have had the incredible privilege of working with some of the tech industry’s most talented individuals and teams. The role has given me the chance to champion career and leadership opportunities for women in tech, set up an internal mentorship program, and improve the return to work process for mothers on parental leave."
She further adds that most of the initiatives were executed during the COVID-19 pandemic, which came with its own set of challenges as the world shifted to remote working.
"Now as the workforce gets back to some form of normalcy, we are working with departments and team leads to make this transition period as seamless as possible – with a strong focus on employee wellbeing and mental health. At Lenovo, our focus is on developing and implementing policies targeted at employees across all levels. We work closely with the senior management to communicate the wants and needs of our workforce," shares Pia.
Here are some excerpts from the interview:
Q: What are some of the challenges you foresee in implementing a sustainable hybrid workplace for the future? What are some forward-looking imperatives that will enable companies to plant the seeds for long-term value creation from a hybrid model of work?
Hybrid working means more multi-tasking. Ensuring success in a hybrid setting requires a combination of formalising practices that were accelerated during the pandemic, as well as the development of new skills like using an array of collaboration tools for project management, file sharing, messaging, etc.
Employers will have to ensure that employees are provided with the purpose-built tools for hybrid working. While these tools can be growth opportunities for employees in a hybrid working environment, the right training and cybersecurity measures must be in place.
It is important to establish and restructure HR policies for hybrid working. These policies should clearly define the ground rules, working hours and expectations for employees. If the employer can find the right balance, it can surely help in maximising productivity, employee satisfaction and business success.
Q: With complete financial and economic recovery appearing still distant, organizations will need to keep cost control measures in effect. With that background, how do you see cost structures impacting a hybrid workforce?
The flexible hybrid model is attractive to both organisations and their employees as it can save in real estate costs and employees can achieve better work-life balance. As companies implement the safe return to work, they may experience increased expenditure for equipping the facilities with infrastructure and IT to adhere to the local social-distancing directives, while experimenting with hybrid work models.
As we try to foster a positive and inclusive workplace through culture and connections, investments of time and creativity will be required to keep the workforce engaged. It is imperative that organisations leverage technology and focus on creative team-building exercises and informal catch-up moments, which are great ways to connect teams and improve engagement, motivation, and creativity among employees.
Q: The potential costs of remote work—especially burnout—are as real as the benefits. How can employers continue to develop programs and policies that create an empathetic culture centred on employee wellness? Can you share some of the policies and practices from Lenovo?
The shift in work culture that we have faced is unprecedented and there is no one-size-fits-all approach to address it. Organisations will have to be very open to course correction as the situation progresses.
We’ve noticed that the hybrid work environment has created some challenges for our team over time. We realised that several features specific to the hybrid environment are driving employee fatigue and putting employee wellbeing at risk. These include digital distractions, working from bed, and ‘always on’ mode. Technology can harm work-life balance if we fail to set strict boundaries and employees can often not recognise burnout in themselves.
At Lenovo, we work across all levels to ensure constant engagement with corporate psychologists, trainers and health experts. All our initiatives around wellness including workout sessions, employee assistance program, wellness sessions, etc were open to all employees. Safety protocols have been implemented to ensure employees feel comfortable returning to the office. We have a QR code for touchless check-in to premises and signages with seating and hygiene guidelines. Pre-empting the lockdown, we home-delivered all hardware assets to all employees along with a special allowance to cover expenses for working from home.
Our approach has very much been led from the top. Our MD, Matt Codrington, has been instrumental in introducing a series of policy changes to ensure the well-being of each employee. He works by the motto ‘switch off to stay switched on’ and is very passionate about the implementation of programs around this.
Last year, Lenovo created a worldwide initiative called - ‘site management’ - which Matt led across ANZ. The objective was to have one voice for everyone across the region regardless of their business units. This helped in providing employees with timely and consistent communications, especially during the pandemic peak. Care packs were sent out to employees during each lockdown, assuring them that the management was conscious of the local situation.
Q: What kind of workplace model are you considering for your organization in the future? Do you foresee any major changes?
Over the last 18 months, we have constantly adapted our ways of working as employee requirements have shifted and health and safety requirements have changed. There is no one-size-fits all approach for businesses - it really needs to be driven by the culture, type of business, and leadership.
All our employees have the option as to where they work or how they arrange their working day. Appreciating that we will not go back to working from the office 100 percent of the time, we are in the process of redesigning the office from a traditional setting to a more open and collaborative space, supported by a modern set-up and the latest technology. Office parking is open to all employees who prefer to drive to work. In New Zealand, we have collaborated with a flexible workspace provider to get our teams to access an office set up across the location of their choice.
I believe that leadership and trust in the team is more critical than ever in a hybrid way of working. Over the last few quarters, our business performance has been testimony to the productivity that is possible through a more flexible, hybrid way of working.
Q: The virus has brought out the best in many organizations, magnifying strong leadership practices. Companies leaned on their purpose to guide decision-making. Moving forward, what is the best way to bottle this coronavirus-forged culture and prevent sliding back into hierarchical, risk-averse, siloed ways of working?
This pandemic has taught all of us a lot and most importantly to be agile. In the future, companies and business leaders will have to integrate the use of personal and professional collaboration technologies to communicate with remote employees. They will need to regularly convey messages that show empathy, build trust and relate to workers who are now in a different work setting. At Lenovo, as a part of our continuous training and development sessions, we recently introduced a program called ‘Leading with Integrity’ to help support the development of our leaders and to ensure that Lenovo’s expectations for ethical leadership are clear and that teams continuously demonstrate their commitment to teamwork within a framework of integrity and trust.
As an organisation, we are guided by our vision of ‘Smarter technology for all’ and intend to use technologies like 5G, AI, VR and AR to solve problems, create opportunities and transform the way we all live, learn, work and heal. The Lenovo ANZ leadership team is actively involved in leading this transformation.
Q: What capabilities or skills would you like to see in prospective candidates for a hybrid future? Out of the pandemic, we have seen a growing demand for individuals with a more diversified profile that are flexible and adaptive.
We believe creative thinking, leadership, communication, agility and having a growth mindset are the skills for the future and would be key considerations for our candidates. As the industry adjusts its operations to embrace hybrid work models, traits like adaptability and agility will be in high demand.
As the industry progresses and skill requirements change, we are committed to building a diverse workforce. We intend to create an inclusive environment with the intended outcome of each employee feeling a sense of value, respect, and belonging.