Why the future of work is going to be hybrid: How IT leaders and tech talent can prepare

Why the future of work is going to be hybrid: How IT leaders and tech talent can prepare

As remote work becomes the norm for developers and project managers, what technologies will companies need to support these growing ranks of teleworkers? We’re talking to someone with a lot of answers on this episode of Dynamic Developer.

I’m your host, Bill Detwiler, and I’m speaking with Maureen Jules-Perez, head of HR technology for Capital One, about how companies can effectively hire for and support highly skilled, remote teams, such as software engineers. Maureen, thanks for joining us. The following is a transcript of this interview, edited for readability.

Listen to the podcast version of this Dynamic Developer episode on SoundCloud

Maureen Jules-Perez: Thank you for having me. I was excited about just meeting you. I’ve read a lot about you, and you’re awesome, but then this topic is a passion point of mine. So excited.

Bill Detwiler: Well, thank you. You’re too kind. So, we’re here to talk about the future of work and what companies should be doing to manage distributed teams, hybrid teams, this new normal that we’re in. Although I can remember 20 years ago using the term new normal. But let’s jump right into it. As head of HR technology at Capital One, you straddle two really interesting worlds, you straddle IT and tech, and then you also straddle the soft human side of the organization or HR.What can tech, corporate and HR leaders do right now to set up the right tools, norms and framework for a successful hybrid or distributed team?

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Maureen Jules-Perez: Sure. This is a topic that I think we’re all humbled by, but also excited about. I think the main thing is truing back to, what is success to you? And that is in partnership with, I think, a lot of parties, one, our customers are our number one priority along with our associates and safety and health is paramount, but then also thinking about the business, what are those needs? And my favorite thing is, how can technology do some good or at least improve the collaboration or work opportunities? So first, I always say as a leader, myself, and as a person going through the pandemic in these challenging times, is to just pause and listen. And sometimes it’s just a matter of what are the needs right now that are urgent or pressing and what is the long-term end game. And that tends to just call me.

And I always give that advice to my leaders and then ask the more important question of the why, why are we doing this? And there’s usually a few things that pop up. We want to make sure we maintain our values. We want to maintain a healthy business, but also have a healthy associate or partnership with our customers or our vendors. So, we have a vision in success measure or measures that says, this is what healthy thriving, flourishing looks like. And I love that because that then makes it a little simpler and calms, I call the emotions of having to balance if my cat’s going to run into the room or if there’s going to be someone at the door. And then my favorite thing is focus. You can’t do everything and we have to also be open that this is an evolving thing called hybrid work.

I think it’s a great thing as an engineer. We’re naturally curious, we want to solve a problem, but it’s not about me, it’s about the mission of those values I just mentioned before. And so I think starting with the values, identifying the key most important things to work on and then my favorite thing is don’t do it alone. Everyone is going through it, whether it’s peer companies or associates. And so having the wherewithal to pause, be open and also think that you are here to help lead folks forward through that transition. So, I always start with, what are we trying to do? We want our associates to maintain their productivity, if not go up. And we know the data shows that you can, and we’ve been tested that we can continue to be productive in a hybrid state or right now remote, hopefully, forward to hybrid.

The second point, I think it’s always turning  back to what are the needs of the associates? I, as a leader, remember what a year and a half, I think I remember what a year and a half looked like, and there was just a lot of scrambling, a lot of, how do I maintain? And then I realized, again, let’s do this together. So partnering with my stakeholders, partnering with my associates and saying, how do we maintain some sort of normalcy before we pivot back to the new normal? And so I think those similar attributes apply to the tools we use, whether it’s for interviewing candidates still, we haven’t stopped hiring folks. So we had to both digitize and virtualize a lot of that experience. Virtual Zoom interviews, all the way to feedback. So, we streamlined that. That’s a great example.

We talk a lot about just collaboration tools on the cloud, how we see each other, but then that requires a new way of thinking, should my video be on or off? I can’t tell you how many meetings I come in and there’s a guilt there. So, sort of setting as a role model, I’ll say, “Today I’m not going to do video. I’m an introvert. I’m going to take a break.” And I think that’s important because we as leaders have a lot of impact of how people feel normal at work. And so I think that’s more sensitive. And then the reality is, our life is forefront on video or on Zoom and so having a lot of grace and empathy as compassionate leaders and saying, well, we’ll put technology where it makes sense. We’ll set up the right environments and the right meetings to say, when should we be hybrid? When should we be in person?

And again, having that be a partnership with our associates or our customers. And then my favorite thing is continuing to share and evolve that idea. Otherwise, at least in my opinion, it’s going to sort of not feel right if it just feels right to you and not to others. It is truly, I think, a great time to more and more talk about flexibility and individual needs. Who doesn’t want to work in a place where they feel comfortable? And so I love the idea that we’re driving it forward with our values, safety, flexibility, optionality, and then continue to watch that productivity measure. And we’re actually seeing it maintain and go up because our associates are happier, our customers are happier. So it’s a good thing, but it’s not an easy thing. It’s an evolving thing, is what I see.

Bill Detwiler: Yeah, it’s definitely something that I think is been evolving. We were forced into with the pandemic and now it’s become more of, as you say, an evolution of what work is going to look like in the future. So I think for people who are still grappling with it and grappling with that, how do we maintain corporate culture? How do we maintain cohesion? How do we maintain productivity but also allow this flexibility. I’m sure they would love to hear some lessons that you learned and Capital One learned from basically having to make this shift for 50,000 individuals. So what lessons can you share? What were some of the things that stood out over the last year that worked well maybe and that didn’t work well.

Maureen Jules-Perez: First of all, I always chew back to where my mom tells me the luck favors the prepared. So, the fact that Capital One had been on its tech transformation for five, six years before I joined, was a benefit. And I think if you’re today wondering how you can continue to maintain your success, always think forward on what else do I need to do? What’s part of my strategy? And I think, again, things like, am I modern? Am I innovating in a safe, secure manner? Things like that matter. And again, I think that was one of the things that we had in place. So I would give that a positive. What I think was a challenge is none of us were ready. I think a lot of us thought, this will be a three- to six-month thing. So try not to predict the future too much, but you can have scenarios in mind.

And so the other lesson I had was, just thinking about things in different horizons, again, in next six months, next year or two, and then beyond. And that tends to calm, again, the problem-solving and the focus helps, but then it allows others to come in to decide what is most important to them. Some of us like to work on things that are short term, some of us like to work on things that are long term and just allowing that space as a leader is something else that I realized I had to pivot on.

The other thing I remember that happened, I think this is March of 2020, I’m trying to remember the exact date of where I was, it didn’t matter, I remember I felt comfortable because we had been on this journey and we were ready, but then you never know how it’s going to play out.

So, a lot of us fall into different camps. Some of us are first adopters, that’s me. Some of us are wait-and-see, some of us just wanted to work. And so I saw a lot of folks play that different persona. And that was okay too, allowing people to share where they are and saying, this is what I need. And so I learned how to check in a lot. Every meeting, or if not every other meeting, I’m always saying, “Hey Bill, how are you today?” And usually you’ll be like, “Fine.” Now I’m hearing, “Actually, my cat needs to be fed or I need to do so and so.” And so allowing grace and space to say, “Do you want to still meet now or later?” In a time of crisis, obviously, we had to get on a call, but I say that because I learned how to reconnect with my team who are in many locations in different time zones, by the way.

And so that was also a lesson of being aware, checking in and confirming, is this the right moment? Is this the right format? The last thing I want to call out is on the technology front. A lot of things that we were thinking about doing long term, quickly came into must-do-now. I mentioned interviewing, I’m sure a lot of other companies are doing that, but we also invested heavily in how we build our joining experience. We call joining Capital One, an experience, and so end to end all the teams weighed in and we refactored some code, we made sure we optimized what we had to, to make sure there was not a miss when it comes to campus recruiting or professional recruiting. And I’m proud of that. But again, that’s a mindset more than the work. And that was because we were willing to have flexibility.

And that’s why I go back to the scenario plan. Always just have your ducks in a row from a short, medium and long term, and don’t be surprised or upset if that long term becomes immediate. And then really being open about telling people, “Hey, I’m thinking about this,” and seeing what others are doing, whether it’s within the company or beyond. This is not the time to be shy. Actually, this is the time to have some fun with it and trying solve some critical problems for our customers and our associates. And then you’re going to find that many people have the same problem, too. And that’s why I think it’s a great time to be in tech, to be honest.

What can tech, corporate and HR leaders do to set up for a successful hybrid or distributed team?

Bill Detwiler: Yeah. And I’d love to build on something you said just there. Which you talked about grace and space, you talked about the tools for connecting people and I’d love, as someone who manages a distributed team, who is spread out all over and who is using technology to stay connected? How have you or have you tried, what’s been successful for you in keeping them connected to each other? In keeping the team cohesive? In keeping up morale and the sense of just team that you get in an office that maybe you don’t get with a distributed team, what’s worked for you there?

Maureen Jules-Perez: I think a lot of it is partnering with my associates, and I like to use the word balance because sometimes we would just meet too much or meet too little. And so just asking and polling and frankly checking in on virtual basis, like, “Are you feeling that we should meet weekly or monthly?” So, my entire team of hundreds of folks said, let’s meet weekly for now, at the beginning of the pandemic. And I was thinking not to do that. And so that was just a great way to continue to balance what works for most. And then we would say things like option in the meeting titles, not everyone wants to meet as well, every week. So, we offered other channels, whether that was in slack or in chat, I even had some office hours. So, I pivoted quickly based on the need of what our associates care about.

And you mentioned culture earlier. Culture is about tying back to those values and those needs, because this is how we work, this is how we partner and engage with each other. So, you have to be very humble and aware of, you’re here to make sure that we’re creating an environment or space for our associates to thrive and to apply their superpowers. So, I’m always just checking in on that. And there’s something else that happened, either we were talking about work too much, or we were having too much fun. I know this sounds odd, but we started again going back to the word balance for every time we met, maybe one week would be fun, one week would be serious work or topics about what’s going on in the industry or what is the CDC saying nowadays. It was just a mixed bag of topics, but that was bubbled from what I call the associates up to me and saying, this is what matters to us this week.

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Whereas the following week, we may be working on a terrarium or a painting, whatever made us feel connected, we did that. We ultimately over time, because now it has been over a year and a half, we now have shifted to monthly, but we stayed connected in those different channels. I mentioned a Slack, one associate had a great idea, what if we broke out into three and four folks and just had a hangout or a Zoom breakout with each other, almost like we would simulate what it was like to run into each other in the hallway, or when we say water cooler, I’m a Seventies baby, so we say that. And I love that because there’s someone who I’m not going to know I’m going to meet with and that’s going back to that new normal, where we missed that spontaneity that, “Hey, did you hear or hey, would you like to go to the cafeteria together? Or would you like to have lunch?”

We also, on a quarterly basis, just check in on our goals, our OKRs, our projects. Usually, it will be a team meeting or a status meeting, but we know people are distracted or they’re trying to focus on the work at hand. And so we had specific forms identified, again, with the vote and input from our associates to say, I would like to engage in this manner. Meanwhile, I continue what I call certain norms or routines that keep the business going. And it was OK. I just think we need to just recognize or acknowledge that it’s a different time and maybe it’s a time for us to lean in more on some things and to allow other space based on flexibility on other things. And so those are just a few things I would share.

The importance of diversity (in perspective, skillset and location) when building remote tech teams

Bill Detwiler: Yeah. And I’d love to build on that too, because one of the things you mentioned a little earlier was, what works for most? And I know when you have a large team, hopefully, it’s a fairly, especially now with hybrid and remote work, you’re going to have a diverse team. You’re going to have diversity in perspectives, you’re going to have diversity in skill sets, you’re going to have diversity in regions and ethnicities and just all different types of people. When you’re building a remote tech team especially, how does that come into play? With the remote work, it seems like we’re able to create more diverse teams because some of the old barriers of geographic location no longer apply, but that can also lead to new challenges. If you are a leader or if you’re a team manager, you may not have experience leading teams all over the country or all over the world. And I don’t see that changing anytime soon. So, how did you navigate that? And how important is it to build a diverse team in the new normal?

Maureen Jules-Perez: Sure. I think we are all human beings from different walks of life, which makes us diverse. I call a group of people and sometimes it’s different lenses, I mentioned time zones earlier. I was lucky that I’ve had global teams before that work in Australia or in Asia or in South America. So, I had a lot of misses that I now think have been refined. So I bring those to the table. I also just, again, pause, as I mentioned before, and check in and see what are our top priorities or our key values that we must maintain? And in making sure whether that’s time zones or flexible hours, which is one of my favorite things that we did early on, we had single moms, or we had folks who are taking care of their elderly parents or whatever the case would be.

And so we had five different options on what the teams would decide are schedules that work for them. Still being productive, if not more productive, but there was something about, “I need a two hour lunch because my little one under 5-years-old needs a nap.” Had a lot of that. Or I’m a morning person and my entire team works in the evening and let’s look at shifting that. And so I think it’s just about truly checking in on how do you maintain that output or if not increase that, but seeing what engagement model works for that team and it’s going to evolve as people’s lives are changing or new events are occurring. I’ve had associates who had new babies during the pandemic. Clearly, we’re going to check in and adjust so that they can get some sleep or checking on how we’re delivering as a team and seeing if that meets their needs while meeting the business needs.

So, it is truly something that I call a bit of a balance and constant check-ins, but it’s not heavy. It really is driven by the agreement that we want to do the right things. And I have a saying, and I always turn back to my mom, it’s easy to do the right thing; it’s hard to make sure everyone sees that’s the right thing. And so how do we continue to have a vision together? I also want to call out that as a leader, I was also going through some things. So I also got used to sharing some of those vulnerabilities. Like, “Hey, I need to do a certain thing. Or this meeting is not going to work for me.” Also role modeling that openly, it was hard, but I had to do it because I didn’t want either a mom who has a small child or someone else feel guilty, that they need to leave at 4 o’clock.

So, I would purposely say, “I have to take my son to a doctor,” “I have to do this.” Or “today I’m off video because the introvert in me cannot take video all day long.” And so saying that, I would see the chat just go off in the Zoom saying, “Me too,” or “I need a break” or “I would love to have a conversation about this topic.” So, just continue to, I can say, stay on the pulse of the need, but also reiterating why certain things are important, whether it’s business deliverables or certain things for our customers. And most people tend to want to help solve that problem. So, I’m really enjoying what we’ve done and I’m proud of how Capital One has rallied around its associates. But again, it’s an evolving thing. And sometimes I will probably push on something or an associate may push on something. And I think it’s a healthy problem-solving mode that we’re in now, and hopefully we’ll continue to do that. That’s my hope.

And in going back to the remote scenario, I think we’re all focusing now more on the talent and the skillset as well as the work. And so staying focused on the strategy of what we’re trying to accomplish a year out, two, three years out, tend to naturally focus on what the tech strategy should be. And then from there, it’s easy to rationalize the skillset and doesn’t matter if the skillset is in Arizona or in California, usually it doesn’t. And then we’re starting to really rally around the work itself and what the value proposition is around, should something be location-based or not. And usually we’re seeing that it’s not, but again, I’m not saying it doesn’t feel great to be back in an office space or in a conference room whiteboarding. I miss that, personally, but it depends on the kind of work we’re trying to do.

And so I’m really excited that we’re starting to break down some of those barriers and seeing that we can have balance with both flexibility and individual needs while still optimizing productivity, if not accelerating on our delivery. So, I’m thinking this is something that will be historically looked back on and I think it’ll be a good thing.

How to keep teams motivated, cohesive and connected despite working at a distance

Bill Detwiler: So, was that a hard transition for either you or for other leaders that you’ve talked to at Capital One to make in terms of, I think something that has been a challenge for people that I’ve talked to around this, is the reshaping around KPIs and what it means to work. So, for example, in my business and with my team, it’s pretty easy, we’ve always had a remote, distributed workforce. We have daily, weekly, monthly deliverables and me as a leader, it’s never really mattered whether somebody wrote a story at 8 a.m., unless it was breaking news or whether they wrote a story at 5 p.m., as long as the output was there every day and the output was there every week, but I know a lot of managers and some I’ve worked with, it was more about just being in a location for a set amount of time every day and that’s what they saw as output, as being productive.

It sounds like what I’m hearing from you and I think what I’ve heard from other folks just saying, we have to think differently about those deliverables and the KPIs that we have for people. And it sounds like you made that transition or were already there, but was it a challenge for the organization as a whole? And if it was, how did you overcome that reluctance sometimes?

Maureen Jules-Perez: I think the mindset and the culture was ready for the ship, whether we knew it or not. I think again, just thinking forward and being for different scenarios, helped with that muscle of adjustment and change management. I think for me, it was difficult. For others it was difficult, but for different reasons. As a mom, as someone who wants to commute into the office, because I just love to see people and I get energy that way, it was difficult being at home in my office all day. That’s one example. And then I knew that my son was next door trying to work and be productive in school. And so I was sort of distracted. I’ve heard from other leaders that it got quieter and more focused and that they felt very productive being at home. And they loved the different ways that their team was connected on screen.

It was like the democratization of everyone having a voice, whether it’s in chat. So, I think for most it was mostly positive thing, but I think every individual probably would tell you, I didn’t expect it would be this long, I wasn’t ready, there is never a good time. And then there’s something about, I’m not sure what’s next, but I’m more open and more curious about how either I will interact or how I’ll interact with my team. But overall, I would say I’m very proud of how Capital One was proactive on the technology strategy. And culturally was always all about health and support of their associates as number one. I think what’s different and more to be seen there is around, does all this new technology help? Or are there cases where we could be a little bit more exclusive than others?

And so we’re purposely making sure that we’re rethinking our norms. What does hybrid mean? Where are the success measures of successful returning back to the office? And is it Mondays and Tuesdays? All that’s been set up. So, I’m happy with the frameworks, I’m happy with the thinking. Now, it’s continued partnership with our associates and our customers to making sure that we’re hitting the right marks. And that’s what I mean about, it’s good now. I think the transition was very good, if not surprisingly awesome, but there’s more to do in staying humble, staying open, sharing, and then ultimately measuring and keeping an eye on the needs while delivering for the business, is the balance and that’s the challenge, and that’s always going to be hard.

And then as an engineer myself, I continue to make sure I’m solving the right problems. Not the problems that I may think personally works for me, but for the majority, if not all the associates or customers and what they need and making sure that’s the focus. And that tends to really clarify for me that I’m having an impact with tech. So, I hope that’s helpful.

How to prepare for the future of hybrid work now

Bill Detwiler: It is very helpful. And I think in the time that I have left with you, I’d love to wrap up with something you just said, which is the what’s next. As we move into a period where hybrid and remote work is, maybe if not the norm for everybody, it is a larger component of most knowledge workers. How should IT leaders and other folks in tech be helping people prepare for that? What should they be doing now, now that we’ve already had a year and a half of this and we know some of the good and some of the bad that we’ve talked about, what should we be doing now to prepare for the next year and the next two, three or four years in an age of hybrid work?

Maureen Jules-Perez: I love that question. First, just thinking about the future of work, the word future tends to have this secret magic eight ball that will like wonder what’s going to happen. And I actually think it’s not that difficult. I think we know what we know today, and we know where we’re trying to go. The question is, where are the best paths? And so going back, turning back to our values, we care about our associates, as one example, thinking about those different personas is very important. We do that work now, usually in the context of business and problem solving, think more about the workspace. Think more about inviting that feedback. I mentioned that partnership with the associates and truly being more transparent. So more than ever, you had a plan, you felt very confident then the pandemic hit, maybe 80{f5ac61d6de3ce41dbc84aacfdb352f5c66627c6ee4a1c88b0642321258bd5462} of it is still true. Check on that. And really just opening up and saying, “we’re thinking about this” and inviting that input and being actually excited that maybe 20{f5ac61d6de3ce41dbc84aacfdb352f5c66627c6ee4a1c88b0642321258bd5462} of that is no longer valid because of the timing and the times we’re in and just pushing forward.

So, if you continue leaning forward, it doesn’t bother you to invite different perspectives. But again, having the lens on different personas and different needs. And then my favorite thing is, tech is always changing, our work flows or how we work is constantly evolving. And, I think that’s something we’ve always been doing. It’s actually normal for us engineers. The question is, where are the best solutions? Where are the best platforms, best tools? And that is something you’re constantly rationalizing and it’s OK to say, I thought it was going this way, not going that way. So, my advice is having that flexible spirit while remaining open, but being very firm about, this is where I want to go. This is my destination. And here are the things that no matter what, stay true to my values.

And that’s the thing that I see a lot of news and I see a lot of just input and opinions and that’s healthy, but you usually know what you want to do. It’s just making sure that you can do it most optimally and most effectively. So, I say, stay true to your North star. Don’t pivot too much on that, but being open to saying that, “Hey, this could be a better idea.” So all ideas actually are more and more present, which I love. And then again, when in doubt, don’t make a change that’s not going to be for the better, just don’t do that. Just do the thing that will truly optimize all, give all lift, whether it’s our customer or an associate or making our technology solutions better, I think now is a great time for us to think more about it.