HP exec: There’s no going back to the pre-pandemic workplace

Unlike many companies mandating a return to office, HP has settled on a more relaxed view of hybrid work, enticing workers to come in with the latest technology and letting them and their managers choose when they need to be in the office.

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Shutterstock/WD Stock Photos

While some companies in recent months have been rolling back remote-work policies, HP has been reticent to set any in-office mandate — or even informal goals — for its workers.

Various teams have in-office staff meetings, and employees who live close to an office site tend to come in two or three days a week. But HP sees its path to the future of work as enabling employees to have the same experience in the office as at home, thereby enticing  workers to come back to their cubicles only for specific reasons, such as in-office collaboration.

The company's internal research found that 77% of HP employees like the idea of hybrid work, and they weren't lured into the office with free lunches, new gym equipment, or more open office spaces. What did score highly with nearly nine out of 10 workers? The right technology to do their jobs as effectively and efficiently as they could at home.

Beyond that, as HP looks down the road, it has set itself on a circular path of sutainability — with a mission to reach a point where all of its products are recyclable or reusable in. Sustainability is not only a business goal; it's also a way to keep workers happy, as 66% of its employees indicated they want to work for a company that is environmentally responsible.

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Loretta Li-Sevilla, HP's head of Future of Work, Collaboration and Business Incubation.

Loretta Li-Sevilla, HP's Head Future of Work, Business Incubation & Design for Services, works out of the company's Palo Alto, CA headquarters, which underwent a drastic renovation to support hybrid work. Hot desking, or the ability for any employee to use any available desk, is now the standard. Every desk has identical equipment that makes it easier for employees to dock their computers and get to work when they are on site.

Last year, HP bought workplace collaboration vendor Poly, a move to grow the business and outfit its own collaboration spaces with new videoconferencing software, cameras, and headsets.

Li-Sevilla has worked for HP more than 30 years, beginning her career as an engineering intern and transitioning into marketing and business strategy over her tenure. She has been in her latest role the past eight years. The following are excerpts from an interview with Computerworld.

What is the future of work in terms of home versus office? And do you believe that we will ever return to a pre-pandemic workplace? “It’s unlikely that we will return to a workplace environment resembling what we had before the pandemic. We’re already on this train heading toward a future of work that looks very different and is centered around the employee-employer relationship, which has shifted in the last few years. At the core is a shared sense of purpose — employees want to have a sense of fulfillment and feel that their work is meaningful. When they feel connected to their work and colleagues, they’re more likely to be engaged and motivated.

“To be successful in their future-of-work strategy, companies need to focus on a cross-functional response that takes these three pillars into consideration: mindset, toolset, and skillset.

“The mindset is about providing an environment of trust, flexibility, and equity for people to be their best selves. It includes things like policies, principles, leadership, and work norms that encourage autonomy and psychological safety. When employees feel supported and empowered, they perform their best.

“The toolset enables people to be productive, connected, and collaborative — no matter where they are. This pillar includes things like technology, space, food, and amenities that make employees feel effective and supported. With the rise of hybrid work, it's crucial to have a smooth transition from the office to home or any other location so employees can maintain their productivity.

“Skillset focuses on supporting personal and professional growth and hiring for lifetime potential rather than a role. This pillar includes things like upskilling and re-skilling, attracting and growing talent, and ensuring employee wellbeing. When employees have opportunities to learn and grow, they're more likely to stay with the company and contribute to its success.”

What are the top ways HP is using AI and how do you reassure employees that this isn't about removing their jobs? “AI isn’t about replacing people. It’s about augmenting and improving people’s productivity with repetitive tasks so they can be more efficient. At HP, we’re looking at how we can optimize in the right areas and offer better support to our customers with AI, as well as how we can make the experience better for our customers with our products. Audio and video capabilities with AI-powered technology are a big part of this. We want to make people feel like they’re in a room together, regardless of the environment, with tools that enable noise cancellation, attendee tracking, and so much more.”

How is HP getting employees back into the office, and has it reached its goal? “At HP, we’re adopting a cross-functional approach to solve problems in new ways, working with team members across HR, facilities, and other business functions. We start by continuously listening to our employees via focus groups and experiments while gathering real-time feedback to see what strategy works best for us.

“We’ve also launched initiatives across the mindset, toolset and skillset pillars so we can optimize and deliver the best employee experience possible. To empower employees and set the tone for mindset, we have dedicated office days for people to come together and collaborate in-person, host weekly events and lunches, and our leadership team sets the example by creating opportunities that bring people together in-person.

“To ensure people have the right toolset, we pair people with the right device and ecosystem for their workstyle so they can be productive — from high-performance notebooks with long-lasting battery life when working on the go to the right conferencing tools to feel present from anywhere. We also believe it’s important for employees to have the flexibility to come into the office, so we’ve designed our office spaces for building a sense of community and collaboration with communal spaces and hot desks that have docking displays with built-in webcams that allow connection with one cable so people don’t have to re-learn how to set up their environment every time they come into the office.

“We’ve also established learning cohort programs for people training and developed onboarding resources to ensure employees have the right skillset, in addition to various career growth opportunities.”

Why is it important that employees return to the office? What evidence is there that office workers are more productive than at-home workers? “Our research shows that employees and our customers’ employees believe the office is key for building collaboration and a feeling of comaraderie. But productivity means different things for different people, so we can’t take a one-size-fits-all approach to the return to office.

“Our research shows that 77% of people prefer a hybrid work model, but only 22% of hybrid workers feel like they’re thriving in their environment. So we looked at what is most important to people for returning to the office, and we found that having the right technology is number one — even more so than a beautiful office design or free food. If you don’t have the right technology in the office for your workers to be productive and collaborate seamlessly, that becomes a major pain point.

“At HP, we’ve identified personas based on individual roles and their workstyles. And what we’ve found is that an engineer or specialist may need to be in the office more often versus a mobile trailblazer out on the road every week, like a sales rep or executive. We need to ensure that, regardless of where and how they work best, all employees are effective and feel supported to do their best work. Digital and collaboration equity is key.”

What percentage of workers are required to be in the office at least part of the week at HP? “There is no official HP corporate mandate because we want to enable flexibility while also encouraging people to come into the office. But we’re seeing people come in an average of two to three days per week.”

How is IT helping to manage a more diverse workforce? “IT’s role has become extremely challenging; 62% of ITDMs feel their job is harder and faster than ever with a massively distributed workforce and the macro climate. They need to be able to manage a fleet of devices, have the right telemetry to maximize employee productivity, and have support available and at the ready, no matter where their employees are. If a worker is working from home, they can’t just walk up to the help desk. We saw this challenge during the pandemic. IT also needs to be able to deliver equipment quickly and easily to remote workers. As we see an increasingly diverse workforce across various spaces, it’s even more critical for IT to provide a secure environment.”

What are the top initiatives HP is pursuing to ensure sustainable practices and how important is that to employees today? “Sustainability is very important to employees across industries. Sixty-six percent of workers want to work for companies that care about giving back to the planet and environmental impact. That’s at the core of who we are at HP.

“We’re continuously innovating with recycled materials and new methods to build a more sustainable PC portfolio. We think about sustainability across the product lifecycle, sustainable design and eco-friendly materials. We’ve integrated recycled materials in our PCs like ocean-bound plastic, used coffee grounds and used cooking oil, and all outer packaging for our PCs and displays are 100% sustainability sourced. Since 2020, we’ve also had more EPEAT Gold and Silver Personal Systems products globally than any other PC vendor.”

How does sustainability fit into how HP designs and builds products? “We think about sustainability from the design standpoint, in terms of the materials that we use, the ease of repair, what kind of end of life a product has. How do we make sure that that we have a circular economy?
“So, we've made great strides in this, like, in the personal system side; 100% of our PCs and displays launched in 2022 and 2023 have contained recycled materials, so pretty much 100% [have some] recycled materials. That applies to our packaging as well. So, 100% of our paper packaging comes from recycled and sustainable sources.
“We have the HP device recovery service. It provides a secure and sustainable device repurposing and recycling capability [for HP products]. That includes free pick up, free recycle and also a certificate of destruction so that you can have confidence and the transparency of what's been done with those.”
How important is sustainability to your employees? Is it attractive to potential talent? “I think it was 66% of workers [in HP’s survey] said they want to work for a company that cares about sustainability and environmental responsibility."

Copyright © 2023 IDG Communications, Inc.

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