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The future of work is hybrid

I used to think in-person collaboration drove productivity. The pandemic changed my mind.

hybrid workplace

If the pandemic has taught me anything, it’s that business leaders need to rethink old assumptions about what drives productivity and how work should get done.

I’m no exception. Like many of my peers, my path to the C-suite came by delivering results—but also by committing to more hours in the office, building in-person relationships with mentors and mentees, and being physically present even when it perhaps wasn’t necessary.

In the early months of the pandemic, just a couple months after I started at ServiceNow, I was reluctant to accept a future workplace that required anything less of my team. I believed changes we had made to the day-to-day running of the business during COVID would be temporary. I wanted my team to collaborate and solve problems together, ideally in the same room. I couldn’t wait to get back into the office to see everyone and get back to normal.

Yet more and more, I heard my team say they needed flexible working arrangements indefinitely. Digital workflows and collaboration tools could connect them effectively. Choice was a motivator.

A hybrid workplace model needn’t impede productivity.

At first, I didn’t buy it. But as the pandemic carried on, I learned that a hybrid workplace model needn’t impede productivity. Far from it. Our 13,000+ employees have all been working remotely since March 2020. Yet our engineers have continued to build and ship great products. Our sales teams have continued to close big deals. My finance team has continued to fund innovation all over the company. And we’ve achieved record results. ServiceNow revenues grew 31% last year, in one of the most challenging business climates ever.

All this success was possible because we run our business on a digital platform that enables remote work and virtual collaboration. Last year, for example, we used our digital onboarding solution to welcome more than 3,000 new employees into ServiceNow. Our hiring managers hadn’t met most of these people in person, and new employees hadn’t met their extended teammates. Thanks to digital workflows running on the Now Platform, however, they were able to join us and ramp to full productivity without missing a beat. I’ve seen this in my own finance organization and all over the company.

[Read also: Is your office due for a post-COVID makeover?]

The takeaway: Recruiting great talent doesn’t require in-person meetings. In fact, virtual recruiting accelerates time to hire because it eliminates the overhead of scheduling in-person interviews and arranging travel. Getting to know someone personally will always be important, but the pandemic has taught us that you can do that digitally.

We all look forward to the day when we can meet our newest team members in person. But we also see how productive we are now, and how effectively we can work together while staying apart. In short, the “new normal” is also a new opportunity to create value.

The great experiment

COVID-19 has forced companies to conduct the greatest workplace productivity experiment of all time. Millions of employees who once clocked in at offices are now working remotely. They depend on digital workflows and virtual collaboration tools to stay connected and get work done. We must take the best of what we are learning during the pandemic and use it to drive innovation and productivity going forward.

Looking across our global customer base, we see many organizations testing hybrid work models to learn what works across different teams. For example, St. Jude Children’s Research Hospital is on a mission to advance cures, and means of prevention, for pediatric catastrophic diseases through research and treatment. In 2020, COVID-19 created a significant headwind to that mission. With much of the hospital staff required to work from home, the need to digitize manual workflows became more important than ever.

In less than four weeks, the hospital leveraged ServiceNow’s low-code App Engine and Integration Hub to integrate disparate systems and build custom end-to-end workflows, ultimately allowing them to ensure seamless delivery of critical services.

Now that we have effective vaccines, many organizations look forward to reopening their physical workspaces. Even so, I think flexible work models have proven their value and are here to stay. Digital transformation enables hybrid models that combine virtual and physical interaction. By adopting the best of both, we can unlock productivity while attracting, motivating, and retaining great talent.

The pandemic accelerated many business trends that were already underway, including work-from-anywhere models enabled by digital platforms. By forcing a remote environment for everyone, it broke old paradigms and challenged assumptions about what truly drives productivity and value creation. We need to lead differently going forward, learn from this global experiment, and become even more productive in how we work.

While I believe the future of work is hybrid—and that productivity doesn’t require in-person interaction—every company is different and must define its own version of success. Here are five principles that any organization can apply to develop the workplace model that’s right for them.

1. Build a metrics dashboard

Leaders need to understand the different factors that can facilitate an effective work-from-home or hybrid model. It’s important to track core productivity metrics to understand how different models are working and to know which levers to activate to improve performance. ServiceNow’s workflows and processes are digitized, so our leadership team can see the flow of work to identify opportunities. Digitization is key to maintaining our productivity and culture.

2. Uplevel employee development and performance management

Every organization can benefit by providing learning opportunities for employees to grow at work, no matter where they work. Our research shows this is a challenge globally. Almost two out of every three executives we surveyed with Wakefield Research said company training programs are still not available online.

Alongside training comes evaluations. No matter where they work, employees need clear performance expectations and growth tracks.

3. Create innovation and collaboration experiences

Innovation happens in lots of ways, and we’ve learned that people don’t need to be together to come up with great ideas. Our ServiceNow Safe Workplace and Vaccine Administration Management solutions were developed by engineering teams working completely remotely.

We need to make sure there are both physical and digital environments that can foster idea development, and that employees are equipped with the appropriate tools to take action. Communication and access to important information must be streamlined, automated, and even predictive.

4. Track customer success

Employee experiences need to facilitate best-in-class customer experiences. Our research with ESI ThoughtLab suggests this should happen: companies that invest in employee experience have improved customer success and, ultimately, higher revenue.

5. Meet your community where it is, and add value

We all need to be responsible stakeholders in our global community and environment. This is, ultimately, what it’s all about. A McKinsey survey reported that 70 percent of companies think remote work will allow them to increase diversity in their hiring, open up more opportunities for existing employees, and decrease their carbon footprint.

In the end, no company can succeed without investing in employees and growing its talent pool—no matter where or how they work. As we move past the pandemic and into the future of work, I look forward to leveraging diverse talent and digital platforms to build safe, healthy workplaces where productivity and innovation can both flourish.