Roundtable Recap: Bloomberg Breakaway Think Tank: Setting the Digital Agenda: Prioritizing IT in a Work-From-Home Future

Think Tank: Setting the Digital Agenda:
Prioritizing IT in a Work-From-Home Future
November 18, 2020  

Event Highlights 

Chester Lui, Head of Google Chrome Customer Engineering, Google
Anthony DeChellis, CEO, Boston Private
Charles Giancarlo, CEO, Pure Storage
Dan Hawkins, Founder and CEO, Summit Leadership Partners
Susan Hertzberg, CEO, Brainscope
Greg Hewitt, CEO, DHL Express US
Diane Hoskins, Co-CEO, Gensler
Craig James, CEO, Barrie House Coffee Roasters
Jeffrey Kiesel, CEO, Restaurant Technologies, Inc.
Brad Preber, CEO, Grant Thornton LLP
Dave Seybold, President, North America, Avanade
Barry Sloane
, CEO, Century Bancorp
Tien Tzuo, Founder and CEO, Zuora Inc.
Rodney Williams, President and CEO, Belvedere Vodka

Moderator: Anurag Rana
, Senior Analyst, Bloomberg Intelligence

Click here to view the video of the full discussion. 

Here’s what they had to say:

The Acceleration of Innovation
Chester Lui, Head of Google Chrome Customer Engineering, said that one of the biggest shifts he’s seen has been the development of tools allowing Google Chrome to capture more data about what features clients and customers are utilizing, and how they’re utilizing them. “We didn’t have a lot of these tools that were available to us, so a lot of development initially has then sparked a lot of innovation and creativity around, and we need to see more data, that’s really what’s occurred for us. I mean, we’re seeing this across the board, whether it’s from a software side, all the way down to even specific hardware that we’re looking at.”

Communication, Culture and Clients
Jeffrey R. Kiesel, CEO, Restaurant Technologies, Inc. said that constant and clear communication has been key throughout this process and that technology has allowed him to stay in front of his workforce in a meaningful way. “We have 41 locations across the U.S., and I did virtual depo tours with the head of operations and our chief people officer, just to stay in touch,” Kiesel said. “So, at least once a month, talking to, really, our frontline. The other thing I think, more importantly, is that the rest of our leaders in our company followed suit. So, the communication and the flow really helped.”

Diane Hoskins, CEO, Gensler said that the firm had found continued success despite the pandemic by focusing on three “key things…communication, our culture, and our clients. And technology has been a critical part of all three of those strategies.” The pandemic provided the catalyst to accelerate the ability to leverage technologies that were already in limited use to make rapid adjustments, “meet clients where they are” and bring new tools and services to the marketplace.

Anthony DeChellis, CEO, Boston Private added that the adage “Necessity is the mother of invention” has been proven correct when it comes to communications. His firm has seen improved client and employee engagement scores despite the remote environment. “I can just tell you that it’s been a consistent step up,” DeChellis said. “We’ve been rolling out enhanced communications initiatives, some that were already planned. People seem to be adapting extraordinarily well to working in this environment.”

Charles Giancarlo, CEO, Pure Storage said that understanding virtual meeting fatigue on the part of customers has been a key learning for his business, which has been traditionally driven by hands-on, personal interactions. “We have to accentuate the parts of the personal interaction that are most important, and frankly, eliminate the personal interaction that doesn’t matter,” he said. “And what I mean by that is, anything that can be automated, and where either customers or employees would rather just deal with it on an individual basis electronically, we need to provide those tools, so that it doesn’t require people to engage. And so part of digital transformation is making sure that we can provide the kind of tools, both to our employees and to our customers, so that they don’t have to engage with us on a one-on-one, or on a team basis, to get basic information, or to have basic transactions.” 

Greg Hewitt, CEO, DHL Express U.S., said that moving his backend, support, and sales forces to remote work was a challenge for the IT group, but the reward was quickly apparent as metrics showed increased productivity across the organization. “That did challenge us as executives around the globe to rethink and look longer term. What may have come on as a crisis has kickstarted a future-of-work program, that’s allowing us to look longer term, and saying, ‘What do our people want?’ And the surveys that we sent out, overwhelmingly 98% of the population said, ‘We want that increased flexibility.’ So, now the challenge is back on us to make sure they have the right equipment, and that’s what we’re looking at,” he said. “But we’re in our infancy, there’s this blended era between the COVID time where we’re staying home where we can, and staying safe, and what the future holds, which will be probably 30 or 40% of our population being in the field, or being in their homes at least 50 or 60% of the time, and how do we do that technologically?”

Brad Preber, CEO, Grant Thornton LLP said the pandemic had raised an interesting but heretofore unasked question. “Going remote just cut to the core of our brand promise, and it raised an interesting question for me, and that is, what is our digital culture?” he said. With a culture built on interpersonal relationships and collaboration where you have thousands of professionals literally working in client offices, Preber said they were forced to answer that question. “And we came down to this, simple, modern and secure. That’s what we leaned on to get ourselves through this. We had the technology capabilities, but what we didn’t have is the mindset around culture, and then that allowed us to basically move into a set of five remote-working changes that worked for us. First, we improved firm-wide decision-making, second, we bolstered our systems. Third, we shored up security, and again, by nature and profession I’m a forensic specialist, so fraud is extraordinarily high on my mind right now. Fourth, we provided new collaboration methods, and fifth, we decided not to accelerate everything. Our initial flight was to move all these applications for sharing onto our laptops, which created tremendous security problems for us. So instead of opening that aperture, we actually narrowed it, so that we narrowed in on a few technologies that we know really worked well for us.”

Barry Sloane, CEO, Century Bancorp said that he’s thankful that the shift to remote work has been largely painless from an employee standpoint though operations are a different story. “So, of course, for us in our business, which was all face-to-face, relationship-based, everything has changed,” he said. “I have 140 officers working from home, who are all pretty happy, their children are happy, their dogs are thrilled, and they would like to stay there, even in some cases, in exchange for reduced compensation over time. I think there’ve been extraordinarily efficient savings, the commuting that at one time was of course gridlocked in greater Boston, now it’s quite easy. You know, when this began, we had only, I think, 21 officers on VPN, and it was for a hurricane, it was for a blizzard, now we have 170 officers on VPN, and I must say very effectively, without a breach, thank heavens, so far.”

Managing Expectations When You’re Living at Work
Dave Seybold, President North America, Avanade said that it was important to give his teams the tools they needed right away so they could continue to do the high-touch work they were doing in a remote environment. “Because our work environment used to be to go to conference rooms and interact with clients, and now all of that is occurring virtually at home, there was just a lot of uncertainty around the expectations that we have” for employees, Seybold said. “And so what we really tried to focus on is managing those expectations, and of course, giving our people the tools and leading technologies, so they can be the most productive, and feel the most impactful, so that they’re confident in interacting with our clients. We just really spent a lot of time on work practices, and how to enable our folks to feel confident in what they do in this new virtual world, which we believe is gonna be here for a long time. We are 100% virtual across well over 30,000 people, all over the world, every day of the week.”

Extreme Prioritization
Dan Hawkins, Founder and CEO, Summit Leadership Partners said that his company found a bright spot among the pandemic turmoil — management teams cutting through the noise to maximize efficiency. “You don’t find a lot of success stories from COVID, but I’d say that [management team development work has] grown pretty rapidly, because the management teams are spending a lot more time on what I call, like, extreme prioritization,” he said. “You don’t have the luxury of the longer meetings to kind of vet out 10 things or 12 things, so we’re seeing extreme prioritization surfacing where there’s alignment much more quickly.”

Transferring Best Practices Back to the Office
Craig James, CEO, Barrie House Coffee Roasters said that given the smaller size of his company and a limited IT budget, most of their remote solutions have been off-the-shelf and they’re looking to transfer those back to the office when people do return. “I thought it was really important for us to leverage the technology that was out there, not being a large company with a huge IT budget, and really, we’ve gone through quite a bit of organizational change in the last two and a half years, we’re really looking at off-the-shelf solutions,” he said. “So when it comes to security, and how do we really protect our data, we’re really reliant on the large players, in order to provide that protection for us.”

Susan Hertzberg, CEO, Brainscope said that figuring out the endgame for the technological adjustments has proved a challenge. “How do we use all of these great technologies that we’ve been layering in, that we did out of necessity to start, because of the pandemic, that now have been becoming more and more part of our culture, to the point that people are getting fatigued and burnt out using some of them, right?” she said. “And trying to figure out, where do we wind up? Because I think flexibility will be key, but then to that question of the nature of work, and then, who do you need to be present, at what times, and what are the personal circumstances behind that? So that we don’t see a real reduction over time in productivity, because the fabric starts to fray apart a bit. It’s clear to me from a technology perspective that we’re gonna need these tools, we want these tools to stay. There are just automation and virtualization technologies that I think literally will have changed the nature of that type of work. But I think it is an open question.”

The Known Unknowns
Rodney Williams, CEO, Belvedere Vodka said that learning on the fly during the pandemic has been challenging for a business that’s as reliant on socialization as his. “We thought we were good collaborators until the pandemic hit,” he said. “And this has been a sobering sort of experience, as so many others have articulated, in terms of the impacts of it on our culture. We’ve done a great job of inculcating people, in terms of working remotely, and the collaboration tools that we’ve been able to avail ourselves of, but where we have admittedly struggled, is on the front of culture and integration. And being a social business, and not being able to physically socialize, has been a challenge.”

Tien Tzuo, Founder and CEO, Zuora, Inc. said that uncertainty about the future has overshadowed initial concerns about the shift to working from home. “Most people want certainty,” he said. Employees are asking “‘Where’s my life gonna be six months from now, or 12 months from now, so I can plan it?’ And it’s hard as a leader to tell them where it’s gonna be. Are we gonna be back at work, are we not gonna be back at work? Are we gonna be at 25% or we’re gonna be at 75%? How’s that work actually gonna get done? Some people are completely bought in, but some people are looking for the answers that we might not have. And so how do you manage through that uncertainty?”

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