The Evolution and Opportunities of a Flexible, Connected Workplace

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When Monique Bonner moved back to the U.S. after working many years in Europe, she and her manager agreed to try something that was very out-of-the-ordinary in 2009 for Dell executives in the U.S. She decided to work remotely.

Bonner, vice president of Dell's Global Digital, Technology and Marketing Innovation efforts, leaned on technology for things like video conferencing and partnering with colleagues working onsite, to help her drive big projects from her home office—including Dell’s fairly complex brand transformation.

This was also the dawn of Dell’s workplace transformation, Bonner says. Some employees were working from home now and then. Some were working early or late in order to talk with team members on the other side of the world or meet family commitments. Bonner, her manager, and many other executives were becoming increasingly supportive of remote and flexible work arrangements.

“In Europe, you are in a flexible work environment by nature. You work with more people in different time zones. So I had spent seven years in an environment where everybody knew how to communicate effectively on email and when to pick up phone, or how to best use IM (instant message),” Bonner says. “Back in Austin, I realized we were still honing those skills. But there was a real appetite for infusing our culture with the tools and support to work more effectively.”

Technology can enable people to do their best work at any time, from anywhere in the world. So, Bonner says, it only made sense that Dell was an early adopter of flexible work arrangements for its own team members. And, in a recent Dell-commissioned survey, 83 percent of organizations said they expect the number of remote workers in their organizations to increase in the coming year.

Today, Dell employee feedback confirms a flexible work culture is a smart move. In 2015, 93 percent of respondents to the Dell engagement survey said they believe work flexibility makes them individually more successful and Dell more successful. Leaders also notice how remote workers gain skills vital to growing a successful, global workforce as communicating remotely takes a deft touch.

Bonner recalls her own experience in Europe—and realizing the importance of such skills.

“There is an art and science that goes into working remotely. I would watch other leaders in Europe build up their teams and create interaction in a virtual way. In person you can communicate satisfaction through verbal cues, nods, smiles—and you can’t do that when you’re not there. Being a clear communicator is really important, wherever we’re working from,” Bonner says.

In 2009, Dell took the leap and put its formal flexible work program in place—telling its employees and the world that it believes in a global work environment that promotes creativity and collaboration outside of traditional office hours. Flash forward to 2016 and, we've received a prestigious Work-Life 2016 Seal of Distinction, given to companies that have a supportive culture for their team members both at work and at home.

Dell calls our program “Connected Workplace.” Now, seven years later, one in four eligible Dell employees work remotely, at variable hours or in some other flexible capacity that fulfills the needs of both their job and their lifestyle. Dell was recently recognized in the top 10 of Forbes Top 100 companies for remote jobs.

Bonner says by expanding its hiring pool to candidates who may not live near a Dell facility, the company is using Connected Workplace for greater reach to “great global talent.”

While the flexibility to work has clear and obvious benefits for Dell and its employees, effective management is key.

“Trust and commitment and engagement—those are critical to your success when you work remotely,” Bonner says. “Trust is foundational. At the end of the day trust comes down to how you deliver. It’s being sure people get visibility to and understand what it means to deliver. You have to remember people are not going to naturally see things if they are not around. So we all have to work to be very transparent about successes and challenges.”  

Bonner has been with Dell for 16 years. As a parent of two and wife to a busy entrepreneur, she says her flexible work arrangement is imperative to her work-life balance—and to staying with Dell. It’s also crucial to her role in caring for her aging parents. This sort of honesty—especially at the executive leadership level—has been important to Connected Workplace’s widespread adoption.

While flexible work has proven extremely popular, Bonner says the concept is still new enough that she and other executives must continually show team members that they trust them to organize their work in a way that meets both their personal and professional priorities.

And the results are worth showing too. Retention and overall team member satisfaction are up. University hiring is up. Dell’s ongoing research into the use and results of its Connected Workplace program even shows that less employees driving means less emissions.

Bonner adds she prefers managing a global team with the strong skillset that a flexible work culture can help grow. Her team has grown accustom to one-on-one time with Bonner by phone, ongoing virtual coffee breaks to chat about weekends, complemented by in-person time whenever possible.

She says, “A lot of it isn’t really magic. We’re using foundational skills in what is today’s workplace.”

What’s your perspective on flexible work?  Share your thoughts!

Check out the recent Entrepreneur.com article about flexible work featuring Dell.

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