Article: We need to evolve our work practices and work culture: VMware's Betsy Sutter

Strategic HR

We need to evolve our work practices and work culture: VMware's Betsy Sutter

Betsy Sutter, Chief People Officer of VMware, spent two decades with the company designing a culture that builds upon a great in-person experience. Now the last two years have created a powerful impetus to evolve that culture.
We need to evolve our work practices and work culture: VMware's Betsy Sutter

Betsy Sutter, the Chief People Officer of cloud computing company VMware, is optimistic about 2022. She and the leadership team at VMware spent 2021 working very hard to support the company's 31,000 employees around the world, paying attention to their needs and expectations, and trying to match company policy to the changes going on around them.

Sutter joined VMware in January 2001, and built the company's HR function almost from scratch. Over the last two decades, she grew VMware's HR team into a global organisation that's been responsible for creating, maintaining, and growing a strong organisational culture, which she believes is the single greatest advantage in making a company sustainable. She has overseen dozens of VMware's acquisitions and led the integration of the acquired teams into the company's culture. Now, with the pandemic having drastically changed work experience, the evolution of that culture has become one of her top priorities.

Here's what she told us about what she sees in the coming year and how she plans to move ahead.

Now that 2022's finally underway, what's your summary of the year we've just left? What do you see on the road ahead?

Over the past year, I think we did a solid job paying attention to and working hard to support our people. We wanted to really enable them to contribute while navigating enormous challenges in their personal lives. For many people, COVID-19 created an opportunity to reassess priorities and think deeply about what they want from their careers, which has led to the infamous 'Great Resignation.'

At the same time, younger people are entering the job market with different expectations around how and where they want to work. This means that companies that want to position themselves for success now and in the future should be taking this time to look inward and figure out how they can show up and be there for employees in new and better ways.

We’re spending a lot of time thinking about not only how we can attract more of the best and most diverse talent into the organisation, but also how we support the needs of our existing workforce head on, whether that’s through offering workplace choice and flexibility, fostering well-being, or supporting their career development and mobility inside the company.

On the topic of expectations, boundaries between work and life have diminished at a tremendous rate. What pros and cons do you see?

Many of us really appreciate a better work/life balance that hybrid work affords us. I’ll personally never go back to working in the office full-time. On the other hand, people can feel a sense of isolation and Zoom fatigue, and data suggests that we’re working longer hours, so I worry about burnout. We’re intentionally giving our team additional days off to recharge and providing reimbursement for almost anything related to wellness.

I also worry that distributed work is shrinking networks and creating deeper silos and we need to intentionally bring our senior leadership team together to drive connection and innovation. We are re-thinking our work practices, our cultural tenants along with science and art of how to manage people in this new era.

With all that, we’ve seen tremendous benefits from our distributed work environment. It has levelled the playing field and given all our team members an equal opportunity to contribute regardless of where they sit in the world – and it’s removed barriers that some people have experienced working in an in-person workplace. We’re also better able to find diverse talent outside of our hub locations.

Distributed work is here to stay so we need to develop work practices and norms that harness the positive attributes and circumvent the negatives.

As leaders script the story of 2022, what's the underlying driving factor? What most needs to be prioritised and/or changed?

Hybrid workforces and work are the next great disruptor. We are living it. The workforce is not going back to the pre-pandemic ways of working, so we need to evolve our work practices to meet employees where they are. I am thinking a lot about work culture too. I’ve spent 20 years at VMware designing a culture that was anchored to an in-person experience. Now, a significant portion of our workforce has been added since the pandemic that hasn’t been part of the pre-pandemic VMware culture.

We need to continue establishing a strong culture that is inclusive of all communities to drive collaboration and innovation and foster a sense of belonging.

Engaging the workforce is also top of mind for me. Post-pandemic, employees are looking for more than a job. They want renewed and revised sense of purpose in their work.

And while we’re attracting new innovators to the company, we’re adjusting our norms and processes to give everyone room to take risks, make mistakes, adjust and keep moving forward. Underlying all of this is our continued investment in diversity, equity and inclusion. DEI is being woven into the way we do business, but we have opportunities to do more, including harnessing the momentum of the change agents across the company, enabling our manager population to drive ownership and accountability, and continuing to support our Power of Difference affinity groups.

Where do you see the greatest uncertainties in the coming year?

The shifting nature of the pandemic is an ongoing challenge for everyone. We recently announced that we will be opening all VMware offices globally by February 1, unless there are specific country or local guidelines prohibiting a re-opening. 

Working from a formal company office will remain 100% voluntary for the foreseeable future, but the option will be there for those who want it. Choice and flexibility are here to stay for us.

We’re going to rely increasingly on our 'regional communities' to create strong inclusive cultural ties and to re-invent and nurture the collaboration that has broken down a bit during the pandemic.

Like many companies in the tech industry, VMware is going through a transformation, and we need everyone to be in the boat and rowing toward the same goal.

What's your own level of optimism for the months ahead? What are you looking forward to?

I’m optimistic and even excited about the future. The pandemic has been a once in a generation event that rattled our foundation, exposed flaws in our systems, and forced us to look at almost everything in new ways. It was a painful time and we’ve suffered a collective trauma, but I think humans are resilient and we’ll see a period of growth once the worst is behind us.

We’re extremely fortunate in the tech industry to have gone through this without too much disruption and I think it created new opportunities for us to explore and then enjoy in the coming years.

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Topics: Strategic HR, Culture

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