By Sara Castellanos 

The new hybrid way of working in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic, with some employees at home and some at the office, will force technology leaders to think more strategically about workplace culture, said Chris Bedi, chief information officer at ServiceNow Inc.

Remote work "leveled the playing field....Everyone was a little box on a video screen," said Mr. Bedi, who oversees IT for the software company's approximately 14,000 employees across about 80 locations world-wide. But hybrid work runs the risk of creating a new digital divide between those in the office and those still working from home, he said.

Mr. Bedi is among many IT executives developing technologies and business processes to help usher the new combination of in-office and remote work. The pressure is on for IT leaders to develop easy-to-use technology to ensure that employees feel safe, such as through daily health checks before entering an office, and to feel included, after much of the workforce saw each other only on video, Mr. Bedi said.

Companies such as Alphabet Inc.'s Google, Microsoft Corp. and Salesforce.com Inc. have recently adopted hybrid-work policies, with employees able to work remotely for part of the week. Google will allow a fifth of its staff to work from home permanently and another fifth to shift to a different geographic location. Google employees who aren't working from home daily will move to a hybrid workweek, with about three days at the office. Other companies, such as JPMorgan Chase & Co., expect their employees to come back to the office full time after the pandemic.

Mr. Bedi went back to ServiceNow's Santa Clara, Calif., headquarters last month, his first trip to the office since the pandemic forced its staff to work remotely over a year ago.

"It sort of felt like the first day back at school after summer break. You don't know who you're going to run into," he said. The company's employees are able to return to its San Francisco Bay Area offices at 25% capacity and employees world-wide have the choice to stay home through at least Sept. 7.

Some tasks were completed much faster at the office than they would have been remotely, thanks to spontaneous collisions in the hallway, Mr. Bedi said. For example, he ran into the company's chief financial officer, Gina Mastantuono, and, in a few seconds, got her opinion on a customer-related issue. "That probably would have gotten lost in the tyranny of the urgent," he said.

The headquarters now has more collaborative spaces for teamwork, brainstorming and group meetings, which will be one of the main uses for the workplace going forward, he said. "Sitting there to bang out some code probably isn't the best use of coming to the office. That part has definitely changed," Mr. Bedi said.

Certain cultural changes brought on by the pandemic need to be kept in the new hybrid mode, he said. For example, he is making a conscious effort to make sure everyone has an equal voice in meetings, whether they are in the office or not.

He is helping develop a data analytics app that will match new hires based on special interests they shared on their public LinkedIn profiles, as part of the new-hire onboarding process. The optional service is aimed at helping create connections between employees. The company hired about 5,000 employees globally since remote work began in mid-March 2020.

Technology is playing a critical role in the new hybrid work environment, and it must be as easy to use and intuitive, he said.

Mr. Bedi said his IT teams and the company's product-development teams spent the past year writing and testing several Safe Workplace apps in part to help companies verify that they meet workplace health requirements. ServiceNow has been selling the apps to clients for about a year and they are being used by more than 1,000 companies.

Similar apps are being developed by other IT leaders of software companies. Jo-ann Olsovsky, who leads Salesforce.com's internal IT department, has helped develop apps that enable employers to stagger work shifts and provide staff with daily health checks before entering a building, among other measures.

Cynthia Stoddard, senior vice president and CIO at software-maker Adobe Inc., has overseen the development of an app called Adobe Life. The app allows in-person and remote employees to access various health and wellness tools as well as book meeting space, order food from the office cafe, and make appointments with IT staff.

"There have been such tremendous ideas that have come into the organization from people who didn't speak up in the past. What we're trying to do as we move into hybrid is make sure we don't lose that," Ms. Stoddard said.

Write to Sara Castellanos at sara.castellanos@wsj.com

 

(END) Dow Jones Newswires

May 07, 2021 17:21 ET (21:21 GMT)

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