Reimagining Work for the Post-pandemic World
Larry Augustin, VP of Applications at AWS, shares how organizations are reimagining their post-pandemic workforces as part of a new blog series, Reimagining the Workforce.
Eating lunch with a colleague, brainstorming around a whiteboard, kicking off a new project with a full room’s energy, celebrating a significant accomplishment together—these are some of the things I miss. Sitting in traffic and airports, distractions and interruptions when I’m trying to work, office food—these are some of the things I don’t miss. Meeting co-workers’ pets or kids during a video call, watching my cat sleep on my desk, taking 10 minutes between meetings to help my daughter put the finishing touches on her model built of LEGO® bricks—these are some of the new experiences that I’ve come to appreciate.
I’m talking to many people now with similar experiences. They have things they miss, things they don’t miss, and new things they’ve come to enjoy that they didn’t have in the office. Our lists have some things in common, and some differences. But I often find that we’re wondering the same thing: What if, after the pandemic, we could create a workplace where we have more of the things we like and fewer of the things we don’t like?
A time of transformation
Under normal circumstances, making a significant shift in where and how people work in an organization takes a long time. Many stakeholders are usually involved, and organizations need to consider long-term commitments to programs and real estate. However, we’re not living under normal circumstances. I’ve spent my 30 year career in startups, venture capital firms, and enterprises focused on innovation, and I’ve never seen anything like it.
COVID-19 is acting like a catalyst, speeding up the workplace transformation. We’re seeing customers move through three stages of this transformation, which we refer to as “react,” “return,” and “reimagine.” When the crisis first hit, organizations told us that they needed to react quickly and ensure their workers were productive from home (or anywhere). As time has gone on, many businesses are now thinking through if, when, and how to return to the office. And finally, as we look towards the future, organizations want to reimagine what the next phase of business will be like after the pandemic subsides.
AWS is in a unique position during this transformation because, with millions of active customers, we’ve got a bird’s-eye view of it all. And as the VP of AWS applications like Amazon Connect, Amazon Chime, and Amazon WorkSpaces, which enable remote work, I get to speak with leaders from a wide cross section of organizations, from startups to enterprises to schools and governments, about their experiences. And what many of them want to know is what we’re seeing from our vantage point at Amazon.
That’s why I’ve invited leaders from across Amazon and AWS to tell their stories and share what they’re seeing and learning as they react, return, and reimagine in our new Reimagining the Workforce blog series. These pieces aren’t designed to be instructional, they’re designed to help start thought provoking conversations and inspire positive changes to workforces, including our own. For example, we’ll explore the ways different companies and teams reacted to the pandemic and quickly pivoted to a remote work approach, how Amazon and others are planning a return to the office and ideas for keeping employees safe, and how organizations are reimagining the next phase of business.
This last topic is particularly interesting to me because it’s actually how I spent a lot of my time before the pandemic—helping customers dream up better ways to work. But COVID-19 has added an entirely new dimension to this task.
A new reality
I see companies putting into action ideas now that were unthinkable a year ago, like moving a 20,000 person call center from in person to fully remote. At AWS, we’re also learning from our experiences during the pandemic and re-evaluating how we approach many aspects of work.
For example, I’ve found that giving employees the flexibility to decide where and when they work on a particular day, depending on what they’ve got going on professionally and personally, is ideal. Not to mention, having employees regularly log in from home once in a while is better for workforce continuity planning. Because they know what to do and how to act when the office is closed, no real-time training required.
I’ve also realized more than ever just how vital face-to-face time is. Normally, I get the opportunity to meet with organizations, customers, and colleagues all over the world throughout the year. These types of interactions involve debating and building on ideas with an energy that can be different from a virtual discussion. This is definitely in the “something I miss” bucket.
However, we need to be more intentional about time together in person—it needs to be at the right time, not necessarily all the time. For example, getting together in person to brainstorm, celebrate, and establish a relationship makes sense to me. These are the interactions that fuel invention on behalf of customers. But getting together in person for a status update or just to work individually isn’t always necessary.
Organizations are reimaging how they work, too. COVID-19 has shined a light on outdated processes that are labor-intensive in person and almost impossible when remote, like paper approvals and physical signatures. These types of tasks are definitely on the list of things people don’t miss. And the pandemic has forced many organizations to speed up the process of automating them with tools like Amazon Honeycode.
What is more, organizations are re-evaluating many of the applications their employees traditionally use. Most workforces have been using the same digital workspace tools for the last 10-20 years out of inertia. With the pandemic, organizations have been forced to learn new ways to work and connect with customers, whose behaviors have also changed radically. They’re overcoming this inertia and making disruptive, transformational changes to how people work.
For example, Caremonitor, a real-time remote monitoring and population health management solution, built a telehealth audio and video solution in under one week using Amazon Chime SDK, a set of real-time communications components that developers can use to quickly add audio, video, and screen sharing capabilities to their applications. Adding this capability to their solution enabled their medical professionals to care for patients during the pandemic, but it’s a service they’ll continue to use well after it’s over.
In changing the applications they use to get work done, they’re also reimagining what they can do for customers. Because as they move to the cloud to solve practical problems, like reducing costs, scaling workloads, or quickly setting up a remote environment, they’re starting to experiment with new technologies. Now they have the breadth and depth of the cloud to experiment with—tools they wouldn’t have had access to otherwise.
For example, Mindbody, the world’s leading technology software for the wellness industry, leveraged the Amazon Chime SDK to introduce a virtual wellness solution. In just a few weeks, they integrated secure, scalable, livestream capabilities into their existing software. Now tens of thousands of global wellness businesses can use the app to deliver services to millions of consumers around the world virtually. Although they pivoted to livestream out of necessity during the pandemic, it’s created a valuable new capability that will help the wellness industry grow and serve customers better in the long run.
It’s not just the tools we use. How we conduct meetings is also changing. I used to think that allowing remote participants to join an in-person meeting was the most inclusive way for them to be involved. But that’s not true. During the pandemic, I’ve realized that meetings are better when everyone is either in person, or everyone is remote, but mixing the two almost always leads to a poor experience for remote participants.
It’s also in meetings that I’ve noticed a shift in how people view the divide between their work and personal life. The pandemic has forced us all to become more comfortable when the two merge. We’ve all heard and seen barking dogs, laughing children, family members, and more in the background of a work call. Before the pandemic, it might have been more taboo, something to stress about and hide.
Now that we’re all experiencing the chaos together, it doesn’t seem like such a big deal. In fact, I’ve really come to enjoy these human moments. Because what I’ve found is that empathy, flexibility, and patience is just as important to a productive work environment as an internet connection.
Stronger in the long run
In his 2020 letter to Amazon shareholders, Jeff Bezos shared a quote from Theodor Seuss Geisel: “When something bad happens you have three choices. You can either let it define you, let it destroy you, or you can let it strengthen you.” It’s our hope that as organizations make changes to the way they work and serve customers in response to the pandemic that those changes position them better in the long term.
Not only do we want to support our customers with our tools and services, we want to support them with information. That’s what we’re hoping to accomplish by sharing what we’re learning at Amazon in the Reimagining the Workforce blog series. Although we can’t change office food, our hope is that the information will help organizations re-think their overall workforce strategy and architecture so they can innovate in the long term.
If you’re interested in making changes to your workforce but aren’t sure how to get started, I recommend asking some questions. The following are five questions I ask myself as I consider better ways to get work done:
- Am I empowering my workers to connect with my customers the way they need? In many cases the traditional ways of connecting with customers aren’t optimal or even available anymore. Think about what technology and processes employees need to connect with customers remotely.
- Am I bringing in the best people from anywhere? Although remote work isn’t always possible, I think we’re all realizing it’s possible for more roles than we originally thought, and can help increase your potential pool of talent when feasible.
- Am I keeping my employees in work/life harmony? Empowering employees to structure their day in the way that works best for them can help them achieve more work/life harmony.
- Am I mindful in my use of ‘the office’? It’s important to understand why you have an office and what your workforce does when it’s there. Check the pulse of your workforce and find out where they feel most productive and when.
- Are my tools and processes right for a remote workforce? Make sure employees have what they need to be productive from anywhere. Tools that are flexible and scalable will better position your workforce for fluctuations in demand and remote work.
There are no right or wrong answers to these questions. But asking them can help organizations reveal areas of their workforce ripe for change. So, hopefully, we can all get through this journey more agile, more productive, more inventive, and ready for the next phase of business.