Article: Many companies see hybrid work as a permanent fixture: Abe Smith, Zoom Video Communications

Life @ Work

Many companies see hybrid work as a permanent fixture: Abe Smith, Zoom Video Communications

In an exclusive interaction with us, Abe Smith, Head of International for Zoom Video Communications, shares how the pandemic has shown businesses the possibilities of a future of remote and hybrid work, with more productive employees, who are working the same or fewer hours and enjoying better work-life balance.
Many companies see hybrid work as a permanent fixture: Abe Smith, Zoom Video Communications

Abe Smith is the Head of International for Zoom Video Communications. An industry-decorated technology executive, Abe is recognized for building high-growth global teams at leading enterprise cloud companies such as Oracle and Cisco where he held senior roles. Bringing almost two decades of experience in SaaS, Smith is an authority on scaling operations in Europe, Asia, and Latin America. Drawing on over 8 years of leadership at WebEx, where he was responsible for pioneering the web-conferencing category across emerging markets globally, Abe joined Zoom in 2019 to accelerate revenue growth while delivering happiness in all markets outside of the USA and Canada. Abe graduated with the highest honors from the University of Massachusetts, Amherst where he studied Political Science with a certificate in International Relations.

The year 2020 is over and but we still have uncertainty. How do you see the current business landscape and organizations’ rebound strategies?

The pandemic has shown businesses the possibilities of a future of remote and hybrid work, with more productive employees, who are working the same or fewer hours and enjoying a better work-life balance.

With vaccinations enabling us to shift into a post-pandemic world, it’s clear that many companies see hybrid work as a permanent fixture – HSBC announced long-term plans to halve its global office space, while Twitter has allowed employees to work from home indefinitely.

We believe that workplaces across different verticals like finance, education, and healthcare will be able to seamlessly transition to hybrid work by utilizing video-conferencing platforms such as Zoom.

Looking at finance, an industry that relies heavily on human interaction, firms are utilizing digital tools such as video-conferencing platforms to build a network of partners and external advisors for video banking and wealth management.

For education, 2020 showed us the potential of hybrid learning and how technology can enhance the learning experience, drive interaction and encourage real-time collaboration no matter where students dial in from.

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Additionally, with telehealth growing in prominence due to the pandemic, its emergence will help to strengthen public health systems and equity, with underserved populations enjoying increased access.

Do you the toughest leadership test is looming now that businesses are striving hard to rebound from the crisis?

With the vaccinations heralding an end to the pandemic, business leaders can no longer sit on the fence when it comes to hybrid work, which is fast becoming part of the very fabric of how businesses are run. Consequently, many now have to grapple with what the new normal of work will look like as they prepare their offices for a safe return to work, experiment with a permanent shift to hybrid work, and its implications on office culture.

To transition successfully, companies need to look into recalibrating their offices and investing in technologies that enable an effective, safe hybrid workforce. For example, solutions such as video-conferencing technologies and hardware allow employees to work and collaborate from anywhere, anytime, and across any device.

Our Zoom for the Home category of software and hardware devices was developed to support remote work cases, as we recognized the need for users to select the hardware they need to create the perfect work-from-home communications experience.

Businesses also need to commit to building an inclusive, equitable culture for employees throughout the organization – regardless of location. After all, the ability to work remotely is fast becoming a key consideration for new employees, and productive remote workers will leave organizations that do not implement processes and systems that enable effective collaboration and have new measurements of success that reflect the next normal of work.

How can HR help leaders create transparent, inclusive, diverse, and psychologically safe workplaces built on trust, equity, and a sense of belonging? What’s new for HR they should focus on this year?

Pushing for Diversity and Inclusion (D&I) is incredibly complex work, and there is a need to approach it with both the head and heart. Particularly in data-driven organizations where there tends to be a heavy focus on quantitative numbers for D&I and a primary motivator for behavioral change, there needs to be equal focus on the ‘heart’. Organizations need to recognize that building a diverse and inclusive workplace takes time, and cannot be rushed.

Developing a transparent, inclusive, and psychologically safe workplace starts with the creation of safe spaces for employees to discuss D&I concerns openly, and feel supported at work.

Leaders also need to be intentional about mentoring and developing all team members – as we transition to a hybrid workforce, they may face greater barriers when thinking of someone beyond their immediate network of go-to people. They can increase the transparency of opportunities by asking the whole team for volunteers, and also experiment with new ways to allocate opportunities and expand their circles.

Priorities of businesses have been shifting, and Purpose is becoming increasingly recognized as a 'must-do' for corporations. Can you share your thoughts on how to put your purpose to work in 2021?

At Zoom, delivering happiness has been a core tenet from Day 1. It’s something we embody every day for our customers, employees, and the broader community - and this has paid off for us. We pride ourselves in always listening to our customers, relentlessly focusing on building quickly to serve their needs. This is why when there was a sudden need for video-conferencing, we saw a whopping 30-fold increase in our user base as we transitioned from enterprise app to household name in a matter of months.

By rallying our employees behind the notion of creating the best product that we can, and always having our finger on the pulse, we’ve been able to drive our explosive success in recent years. This commitment has resulted in fantastic growth for our company, with a 367 percent increase in revenue year-on-year for Q3 FY21. We were also named a Leader in the 2020 Gartner Magic Quadrant for Meeting Solutions for the fifth consecutive year, as well as a Leader in the 2020 Magic Quadrant for Unified Communications as a Service, Worldwide.

However, we’re only able to offer that level of service because we’re able to provide a productive, inspiring work environment for our employees, managers, and executives - we consistently come in the top for workplace surveys on happy employees.

Employees now have the autonomy to decide where they want to work. A trend like this has implications for employee policies. Ensuring data security is one. What kind of policies and practices should organizations revisit in 2021?

We are seeing three core focus areas as businesses update their employee policies for the new normal of work. Namely, the importance of ensuring technological readiness, securing data across multiple workspaces, and ensuring an even playing field for remote/hybrid workers.

2020 saw businesses scrambling to invest in IT solutions that could support a remote workforce. Technological readiness should be a key component of future business continuity plans, as it will help to reduce friction. Moving forward, companies should also understand the infrastructure and software needs required to ensure a smooth transition to remote/hybrid work.

There is also the issue of shadow IT - many employees turned to free, user-friendly solutions that were not approved and difficult for IT teams to track and manage, jeopardizing company data. Now is the time for businesses to understand what employees really use regularly - and adopt a “best of breed” strategy that ensures team members can access their apps wherever, whenever, and however they need them. 

This is why we are working on introducing Zoom Apps - it helps employees to choose apps that best meet their needs, while powering their workflows before, during, and after meetings - enhancing productivity.

The pandemic has also made businesses realize they can now tap into global talent pools due to the rise of the remote worker, and as more adopt a hybrid workforce - companies are likely to revisit policies around hiring, employee advancement, and culture.

Do you think the year 2021 will see businesses focus on sustainable innovation?

Between rising numbers of COVID-19 cases, unpredictability around business operations, and the economic fallout – 2020 was a huge pressure cooker for workers, who found themselves dealing with increased stress, anxiety, and burnout as they learned how to navigate uncertainty.

The pandemic has shone a spotlight on ensuring the mental and physical wellbeing of employees, and the human cost that comes with breakneck innovation and growth. Companies are starting to realize that sustainable development includes having a respectful and inclusive environment for employees to thrive.

The pandemic has also underscored the need for collaboration to meet global challenges. Businesses, governments, and individuals rallied together to help their affected local communities, donating time, money, and supplies to protect their health and safety.

At Zoom, we recognize that every company has an effect on the world, and we care about making our impact as positive as possible. This is why we introduced Zoom Cares in 2020, our philanthropic entity that strives to create a future where people and the environment are cared for. We are focused on creating a meaningful and lasting difference in three core areas: education, social equity, and climate change.

Just last year, education was a huge focus for us as the pandemic threatened access to education, in particular for students from under-resourced communities. That’s why we provided our education service to over 125,000 schools in 25 countries for free during the pandemic. We also provided training and resources to help 35,000 educators teach remotely on Zoom, and invested over $1.5 million in back-to-school remote learning grants for organizations all over the world to ensure students are connected, safe, and learning during these times.

Read the April 2021 issue of our magazine on the theme 2021: The Year of Continuous Reinvention

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Topics: Life @ Work, Employee Relations, #HybridWorkplace, #ReinventToReimagine

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