From 3 Modes of Work to Full Flexibility: How 1 Company Is Committed to Supporting Employees

Sponsored by NetApp

Rosa Carbajal, Lara Owen, and Justin Tomlin. Photos courtesy of Netapp.

Rosa Carbajal, Lara Owen, and Justin Tomlin. Photos courtesy of Netapp.

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April 14, 2024 at 4:32PM UTC

“A lot of companies are trying to find a work arrangement that is unequivocally universal,” says Lara Owen, Vice President of Workplace Experience at NetApp. However, her company recognizes that the future of work should not be a one-size-fits-all approach — so they’re doing something different. 

“We recognized early on that no two individuals are the same,” explains Owen, “so we designed a work ecosystem focused on giving teams the authority they need to create what works best for them.”

The result is NetApp’s Thrive Everywhere, which provides the flexibility for everyone to determine the workstyle that fits them best. Owen’s colleague Justin Tomlin, Global Lead of Flexible Work, notes that this initiative is continuously evolving. For instance, it’s recently been fleshed out with a set of guidelines that “confirm our commitment to flexibility and solidify the foundation upon which all employees will continue to build as we co-create our collective, flexible working reality,” states Tomlin. 

Tomlin shares that these game-changing principles are:

  • Flexibility is foundational — Workplace flexibility takes many different forms (location, ways of working, etc.), and we are committed to maximizing that flexibility for all employees while ensuring we meet business objectives. 

  • United in purpose; diversified in approach — As a large, global organization with employees representing a variety of different job functions, geographies, and team and life situations, we recognize there are unique needs to consider when determining what specific arrangements will work best for each team.

    • Here at NetApp, we have no plans of taking an enterprise-wide approach such as a days per week in office model. We’re empowering our employees to work together as teams to determine how they will customize their approach to flexible work in ways… that are unique to each work team.

  • We are wired to connect — As flexible work allows for more distribution of teams, we must work together to remain connected, while continuing to build belonging every day and care for one another and our communities.  

  • Everyone should be able to Thrive — Your ability to add value to your teams, achieve your career aspirations, and care for your well-being  should not depend on how often you are in an office.  

  • Change is required — We must prioritize progress over perfection and commit to learning from each other, knowing that all of us play an important role and have something to contribute. ”

“It's not easy balancing autonomy with responsibility and individual flexibility with a sense of community,” Owen tells us. But, “in the long run, I think we will have more success than others trying to create one work arrangement that works for everyone.”

In fact, the advantages and subsequent successes of this new way of approaching work are already being seen by employees across NetApp. For example, take Rosa Carbajal, User Experience Researcher for NetApp, Hybrid Cloud Engineering.

“Making the cultural shift to embrace flexible work has really pushed teams to rethink how they work together, how they bond with one another, and how they can support one another in a virtual space,” shares Carbajal. “The adoption of a flexible work mindset is key… When your company endorses flexible work [...], everyone rethinks and implements change to support that culture.”

For Carbajal, this shift has resulted in not only new tools, but the ability to be more intentional with how she’s spent her time, including intentionally scheduling moments to get together with her team without an agenda. “Regardless of where they live in this world, I get to know each of them equally now,” shares Carbajal. “And how great is that? Equitable relationships with no boundaries; it’s pretty cool.”

Here, we’ll learn more from Owen, Tomlin, and Carbajal about how this new plan is benefiting them as well as some of their best advice in making flexible work work for you.

What are the top ways you see your new flexible work plan benefitting employees?

Tomlin: The data has been overwhelmingly clear — employees want flexibility in when, where, and how they work. The benefits afforded to most knowledge workers during the remote-work dominated era of the COVID-19 pandemic has given employees first-hand experience with the benefits that flexible work stands to offer: less commuting time, an even “playing field” where everyone is on Zoom, more time to spend with loved ones, and more. With Thrive Everywhere, employees will be able to continue enjoying many fully remote-work era benefits while also seeing additional benefits from our unique approach:

  • Employees will be empowered to act as owners to work with their managers and teams to customize their approach to flexible work that enables them to both perform and live at their best.

  • The disconnect that some have felt in a remote-setting will be resolved as we hold occasional in-person gatherings intentionally designed to foster connection and collaboration amongst peers and leaders.

  • With quality and productivity of work, results and impact delivered, team development, and embodiment of our values being the true measure of success, an employee’s ability to add value to their teams, achieve their career aspirations, and care for their well-being will not depend on how often they are in an office. 

If we approach flexible work with intentionality and commit to learning from each other as we experiment with new ways of working, we have the opportunity to fundamentally reimagine the way we work, allowing for a more healthy, productive, collaborative, inclusive, and innovative work environment that serves us all.

Carbajal: When “three modes of work” was introduced, many teams started planning for live team meetings. We were just coming out from COVID-19, and people were naturally eager to see each other. There was a dominant voice of “going back to normal”. However, most people were not ready for this change and, therefore, began to be left out..   If you were someone who opted for the “remote” model, that meant you had to work harder at building relationships with people (or even your manager) — that’s just not equitable.

By embracing a single model of flexibility, NetApp has set a different tone. One that reinforces that ‘we must be flexible’, and, with that, teams started thinking about how to build relationships, over the long-term, in a remote environment.

What is your best advice for people who are looking to make flexible working work for them?

Carbajal: Don’t be afraid to evolve your approach. There are many levers you can pull to adjust as you try to be successful. Be intentional and know what is working so that you can adjust the levers that are not. 

I’ve moved my home office workspace maybe three times since COVID-19 began, and I am sure it will move again. I am more intentional about my relationships with coworkers and book recurring appointments to just connect — Zoom fatigue is real. Book your meetings five or ten minutes after the hour to give people time to breathe. 

Set boundaries, too. Make work happen during the hours you want it to happen; be intentional and set your hours for personal time as well. Communicate your intentions to your team and manager. Connect with others and share tips and secrets. Intention is key, do not allow for everything to just wash over you.

Owen: Blocking off time on my work calendar for everything has been key for me when it comes to flexible work. If I need to take my dog for a walk, catch up on emails after I get back from vacation, or work out, it's all on my calendar. It might seem like overkill to schedule everything, but it helps me prioritize my wellbeing and establish boundaries without having to outright say 'no' to people.

Tomlin: We’re at one of the most opportune times in history to transform the way the world thinks about and performs work, unlocking new levels of success for both workers and businesses. The road ahead is full of daunting challenges and exciting opportunities, but I believe if we lean into it with curiosity and intentionality, we have the chance to impact the world of work in a way that democratizes access to opportunity, enriches communities in every part of the world, and allows us to gain a deeper understanding and appreciation of what it means to be a human being contributing to the collective good of our local communities and global society.

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