change on a wall
PHOTO: Nana B Agyei

If there’s one lesson John Drummond’s IT career has taught him, it’s this: Embrace change. A motto befitting a pandemic year, he gained this insight years ago, while working with a global warehouse logistics company. He had six-month-old twins at the time, and was offered an IT director job with a startup.

“It was a big change because I worked at a company with 26 offices around the world, and 3,000 employees. And then there was this startup with about 50 people and one office,” he said. “At the time, stability was very important to me, but future stability was even more appealing. So I took the leap of faith, embraced the change, and have carried that lesson with me throughout my career.”

Drummond is senior director of network services, IT at VMware, an enterprise software maker headquartered in Palo Alto, Calif. The company is a sponsor of Simpler Media Group's Winter Digital Workplace Experience (DWX) Conference, held online Thursday, Feb. 11. He and his colleague Brian Madden, senior lead field technologist for end user computing at VMware, will present “Building an Anywhere Workforce.” We spoke with Drummond about measuring the employee experience, managing the remote workforce and transforming the office into a place of collaboration.

Holding IT Teams Accountable for the Employee Experience

SMG: How have you seen the role of IT change since the start of the pandemic?

John Drummond: Once we entered the pandemic, with no one coming into office, we had to change our mindset. Before, we had always been very reactive. People would come to us with problems and we’d work with them to solve their issue. But now we need to anticipate our colleagues’ needs. We have to focus on automation to speed up the business and reduce the reactive work that typically delays colleagues from getting the outcomes they’re aiming for.

So we've invested in tools to help them better collaborate. For example, with the help of team analytics tools, which show who's running at full tilt in a team, and we can help refine work objectives. Then spread some work around so we’re doing things more efficiently.

SMG: In your DWX presentation, you’ll be talking about how keeping employees productive through great employee experiences is a key performance indicator for IT. Tell us more.

Drummond: We do regular surveys with our employees where we ask pointed questions about tooling equipment, work-life balance and team dynamics. This results in an employee experience metric that we track, which is at the top of everyone's mind. We also take that survey feedback and look for signs of people struggling, and when we see a consistent theme, we dig into it. This helps us get in front of some of these issues, helping colleagues get better outcomes.

Our department used to be called “end user services.” That wasn't a very good name because we don't like to call our co-workers “users.” It's now called colleague experience and technology. We built an entire experience team inside that department called the Experience team that devotes itself to partnering with business units, HR and corporate communications to make work easier for people. We have designers to create the look and feel, and developers to create the apps. So our colleagues get the consistency they want and need.

It's paying dividends now, and more companies I talk to are starting to explore or have already implemented something similar in the last year or so.

Supporting the Remote Workforce

SMG: What are the biggest challenges IT teams face when it comes to managing hybrid and remote workforces?

Drummond: Even prior to COVID, our workforce was 30% remote. So once everyone went remote, we were already used to people being in different spots and supporting them. It was just a different scale. That’s one big thing you need to consider with remote workforces. What does your scale look like? You’ll also need to consider some organizational adjustments. What do you do with people who used to be in colleague-facing roles when colleagues are no longer in the office? Or, how do we continue to accelerate our proactive approach while not bottle-necking, since we only have a subset of the team that's going to support our remote colleagues today?

Once you go remote, you also have more people taxing your services over different areas of the network, and at volumes that perhaps you hadn’t planned for. So you might have to ramp up for that. At VMware, addressing capacity, business continuity and failover is a monthly thing for us. So it didn't have much impact on us, which was great. We continually plan for these congestion challenges.

SMG: What are your top recommendations for IT teams working to improve the digital workplace experience?

Drummond: The biggest piece of advice I can give anyone is to lean in and be a change advocate. Champion that service or initiative you're pushing. Because if you do those things, you'll be excited about your work.

From a people perspective, every company is probably having some real estate pinches. If no one's coming back in the office, do we really need a seat for everybody? So they're thinking about what their office space is going to look like going forward. Those are opportunities that everyone's thinking about. How do we design office space in such a way that it’s fresh, exciting and collaborative when people come back? I think that's what people miss the most when they're remote — the collaboration.

While you can sit on Zoom and see a Brady Bunch of people, if you come into the office, you want to have that collaboration. But if people are still remote, you want to have them as equal participants in that collaboration and not just see them on a screen on the side of your desk. Companies are looking at ways to make everyone inclusive on these collaborative topics. That's one area that will be groundbreaking once we do come back.

VMWare's John Drummond: "How do we design office space in such a way that it’s fresh, exciting and collaborative when people come back?"

Rethinking the Office Workspace

SMG: What are some ways organizations can make employee collaboration more inclusive?

Drummond: While I'm not on that team, I do know it's a heavy focus for us. For example, we're flipping our seat model at VMware, from 70% seats and 30% collaboration space, to 70% collaboration space and 30% seats. That means competition for seats is going to be higher. Now you have to use an app to reserve your seat. It turns our office into a collaborative space. When you go to work, you’ll go there to collaborate. The teams are looking at different tools and technologies so I would say stay tuned on that because as it develops, we'll hear a lot more.

SMG: What excites you most about the future of work?

Drummond: First, I like being remote. Instead of traveling all the time, I get to see my kids grow up. I didn't know I was missing all of that, so I enjoy that we can be remote if we need to be. But it’s not so great for everyone, especially if you live in tight quarters, multi-family homes, or have roommates. And that’s something you also need to consider as you build your employee experiences. I’m fortunate that this is a nice change for me personally.

What most excites me about the future of work is that everybody's in the same boat. If you're on a video call and your child comes up and gives you a hug, it's not a big deal. I was on a customer call with a product manager and his daughter came over and asked him a question. Then she went away and he didn't miss a beat. He just kept on going. And everyone's thinking, “Yeah, that happens to me too.” Your dog's barking, whatever is happening in the background, it’s normal.

I like that people have more empathy now as a result of this. It also helps managers who used to always need to see their staff trust themselves that they can manage people remotely now. Because there was always that manager who said, “If I don't see you, you're not working.” Well, guess what? You're forced not to see these people now. So you need to find other ways to measure their performance.

Join us for the 2021 Digital Workplace Experience Conference Series. Register today for your free virtual pass.