Yesterday, Dell Technologies SVP of Corporate Real Estate and Global Facilities, Mark Pringle, was invited to testify before the United States Senate Committee on Environment & Public Works to discuss flexible workspace strategies and the ways the federal government might integrate these strategies. Joining him in testimony were Kate Lister, President, Global Workplace Analytics, and Dr. Michael Benjamin, Chief of Air Quality Planning and Science division of the California Air Resources Board.
Chairman John Barrasso and Ranking Member Thomas Carper were present in the Senate hearing room, along with Senator Joni Ernst from Iowa. Other members joined the meeting from their respective offices via teleconference, as well as everyone invited to testify. In many ways, it was a perfect example of how meetings and collaborative conversations can – and do – happen over the internet every day, even more so now that we are responding to the pandemic by allowing for more remote work solutions in both the private and the public sectors.
Read more on the hearing below, and see an update at the end of this blog on Dell Technologies’ expanded Connected Workplace 2.0.
How Private Sector Learnings Can Inform the Public Sector’s Future
Chairman Barrasso opened the hearing by noting that the pandemic has upended Americans’ way of life, including how they work. He stated that small and large businesses have faced devastating hits and are looking to reduce expenses. He shared that one in five CFOs plan to keep at least 20% of their workforce working remotely after the pandemic ends, in order to reduce costs, and suggested that the government should follow the private sector’s lead in trying to cut costs.
Ranking Member Carper noted that millions of Americans have shifted to telework, which has given the federal government an opportunity to examine the effectiveness of remote working. He expressed interest in the use of private space, such as people’s homes. He said that the federal government uses more than 350,000 buildings, and expressed interest in how building space can be used more efficiently and how the federal government’s carbon footprint can be reduced.
During his testimony, Mark focused on the implications a flexible workplace approach might have on the need for physical office spaces and how Dell has approached these strategies. The hearing overall provided real insight into how organizations and government agencies are adjusting to COVID-19, especially in terms of supporting a connected workforce, and how we can look beyond the short term as we shift to a more flexible, connected environment.
Empowering a Connected Workplace
Beginning in 2009, Dell Technologies established our Connected Workplace program as a strategic component of our company’s culture and operations. In his testimony Mark stated, “Connected Workplace allows our employees to choose the work style that best fulfills their needs on the job and in life in a highly mobile, collaborative, and flexible work setting. The program has positively impacted our business, our approach to talent acquisition and our environmental footprint. But more than just a policy, this program is about a change in how we think about work – where work is not anchored to one place and time and instead is focused on outcomes. Earlier this year, before the onset of COVID-19, we had approximately 65% of Dell Technologies team members leveraging work flexibility in their jobs (meaning in the office just a couple of days a week) and 30% of our team members working remotely on any given day.”
Ms. Lister remarked on the rapid adoption that we have seen over the past few months, noting that “the pandemic didn’t start the telework trend, but it is going to accelerate it.” She went on to comment that “we need to break loose of the 20th Century framework that keeps us tethered to the concept of work as place, rather than what we do. Employees are already mobile…and we need to support a 21st Century workforce.” She indicated that leaders who have been intentional about it have already transformed the workplaces into more flexible spaces that support a mobile, hybrid, collaborative workplace.
Mark shared that Dell Technologies Connected Workplace “has been encouraging team members to design their ideal working arrangements, including remote work, flexible hours and job sharing. It also involves supporting flex workers’ needs through enhanced technology infrastructure, training opportunities and an employee resource group.”
Near Overnight Scaling for COVID-19
Mark pointed out that while Dell Technologies has had 65% of our team members working flexibly, the onset of COVID-19 required that we convert, nearly overnight, 90% of our employees to “work from home” status. Our first priority, he stated, “was to assure the health and well-being of our teams, partners, and the customers that we serve. Our second step was to bring a task force together to help us quickly enable our large, globally diverse workforce to effectively work remotely while scaling our infrastructure to help ensure business continuity and availability. At the same time, we continue to help our customers through their digital implementation to enable our customers’ employees to be an effective remote workforce.”
Mark concluded, “At Dell Technologies, our hope is to be a leader in workplace flexibility with more team members in flexible work arrangements or working from home long term. What we have learned is proximity to a specific location will not be a priority post-COVID-19. We are taking a team member-centric approach informed by data to how we bring select team members back to site. In addition to our multiple sites here in the United States, Dell Technologies also operates in multiple locations across the globe. “As a company, we are actively exploring how to not only increase our total work force productivity, but also enhancing the team member work experience that gives them options to adapt their work in ways that reflect their circumstances, but also keeps them engaged and connected to the company. We don’t have all the answers yet, but we find ourselves open to concepts that we just would not have seen a feasible at the beginning of this year. COVID-19 has exacted a devastating public health and economic toll on our country. One of the best ways to recover from both catastrophes is to reimagine work in ways that genuinely improve the quality of life for our nation’s work force. We look forward to that journey.”
The witnesses were asked about the fiscal benefits of reducing office space, and what productivity tradeoffs, if any, might result. Mark pointed out that at Dell Technologies we have experienced higher employee satisfaction as a result of our Connected Workplace initiative, without any loss of productivity. He agreed, however, that there is a need to bridge the digital divide. He said there are questions about how bandwidth can be shared in a secure way, as well as tackling prioritization of bandwidth in a home environment where there are competing demands for work, school, streaming media, and so forth. He said 5G will allow for fixed wireless access points, and stressed the need for government investment in 5G and WiFi 6E.
You can watch a replay of the full hearing here.
Introducing Connected Workplace 2.0
Beginning today, we expanded our Connected Workplace to all countries where we have team members and are empowering them with the ability to choose the work style that best fits them. Any team member who can be successful working in their role remotely can choose to enroll in the program and, upon manager approval, can work in a flexible capacity indefinitely. Once our sites reopen, team members working flexibly can still come into the office for face-to-face meetings and to collaborate with their teams in person. This is not a departure from the way we’ve been working over the past decade. It’s simply an expansion to allow more team members to work in the way that they feel best fits their needs and lifestyle.
We trust our team members and we want them to feel empowered. We know they’ll continue to innovate and collaborate just as they always have. But we do know there are still issues we have to address. For example, preventing burnout in a world where timeframe boundaries are blurred and where working parents are also home schooling, and prioritizing mental health as people deal with stress and anxiety. And there are some issues that need to be addressed more broadly when deploying a remote workforce. While we don’t have all the answers today, we know that we have a strong foundation to build on.
As a company that has built flexibility into our culture for the last decade, we continue to see flexible culture combined with the right technology infrastructure unleash innovation, life/work balance for our people, our future talent and shrink our environmental footprint. There is no going back. Today it’s really about life/work balance, and we’re excited to continue empowering our employees with the choice and flexibility they need to succeed in both life and work.