Lessons From the Pandemic: Working Virtually Works for This Global Med-Tech Leader

Sponsored by Zimmer Biomet

Andrea LaBarbera and Monica Sullivan

Photos courtesy of Zimmer Biomet.

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When the COVID-19 pandemic hit, Zimmer Biomet, a global med-tech leader, was able to quickly adapt to the changing world of work and implement a  global virtual workplace policy thanks to innovative company leaders like Sr. Director, Global Talent and Engagement, Andrea LaBarbera and HR Vice President, Monica Sullivan.

Both women were working onsite at the company’s headquarters in Warsaw, Indiana prior to the pandemic, and were instrumental in helping Zimmer Biomet shift to a new global policy, in part by strategically identifying roles as 1) on-site 2) partially remote or 3) fully remote, based on role requirements. 

As the HR leader for Zimmer Biomet’s corporate functions, Sullivan is attuned to what leaders need to feel comfortable with change. “We spent a lot of time helping leaders understand how to measure work output, not the amount of time someone is in the office,” she explains. The collaboration between HR and company leaders ultimately led to a synchronized global policy that now embraces flexibility while setting clear expectations.

While our team members’ health and safety during the pandemic was the catalyst for change, the broader benefits were clear. “Our leaders very quickly recognized the opportunity to become a more flexible workplace permanently,” LaBarbera explains. A growing suite of collaboration tools, best practices, guides and communication platforms have helped Zimmer Biomet stay agile with a hybrid workforce while setting up all team members for success.

Of course, another reason that this program has worked so well is the Zimmer Biomet team members themselves. As Sullivan puts it, “flexible work arrangements do not lower the bar; they simply let me control my day a bit more. We hire amazing talent at ZB, and we empower and trust individuals to manage their workload and responsibilities and advocate for ways we can continue to strengthen our team member experience.”

To learn more about the flexible work program at Zimmer Biomet, tips for other companies looking to create similar programs and more, we sat down with LaBarbera and Sullivan.

What was it like for you when Zimmer Biomet moved all roles that could be performed virtually to remote positions during the pandemic?   

LaBarbera: For me, it was an answered prayer. As a working mom of five, I have always struggled with balancing my time at work and home; I worked late often. My justification was that if I just stayed an extra hour or two, I would finish critical work and go home with a clear plate able to be fully present for my family. However, I was coming home really late most nights… missing dinner with my family and my children’s activities and events. I missed first steps, first words, funny antics, creative crafts, meltdowns and all. This tore me up inside for many years. Then the pandemic hit — in an instant, I was able to work from home. Yes, it has its own set of challenges, but I get to see more smiles, hear more giggles, get more kisses and I never, ever, miss dinner.  

Sullivan: I have been passionate about flexible work arrangements long before the pandemic. Before my current role, I spent some time leading ZB’s diversity strategy. What I found most appealing about that role was helping to shift our culture. With the pandemic, it was an opportunity to help ZB become even more flexible than what it had been historically. 

I live about one hour from the office, so I tried to work from home one day a week before the pandemic and encouraged my team to do the same. When the pandemic hit and everyone had to work at home, I already knew I would be equally productive as when I’m in the office because I was already doing it periodically. 

A few months before the pandemic started, I had some changes to my personal situation; I went through a divorce, and am now the primary caretaker of my two young kids. If I didn’t have the flexibility I do now, my current job, as a single mom simply wouldn’t be possible. I’m incredibly thankful for the senior leaders at Zimmer Biomet who are supportive of team members’ personal situations — whatever that may be. 

Could you provide a few more details on how Zimmer Biomet is focusing on employee well-being during the pandemic?

LaBarbera: While the flexibility of working from home has brought many benefits, the challenges have elevated the importance of well-being for our team members. Workload, burnout and meeting fatigue quickly became important concerns for our team members. To address these, we recently implemented “Meeting Free” Friday afternoons globally to allow team members to look back and celebrate the tremendous work accomplished during the week, catch up on work yet to be done and plan for the upcoming week.  

This initiative has been supported and modeled by our leaders and positively received by our team members. We also provided resources to help manage meeting fatigue through simple meeting structure and best practices. In an effort to prevent and manage burnout, we have provided guides to leaders and team members to help spot signs, assess and neutralize burnout. Additionally, we are currently leading an effort to conduct workload workshops, designed to stop work that does not add value or align to our priorities, look for ways to make our work more efficient and continue and share best practices throughout the organization.

For other companies that are looking to implement flexible work programs, what are your suggestions in terms of best practices? 

Sullivan: It’s important to have a clear policy in place to protect team members and the company, and to make sure everyone understands expectations. We also learned that the change management piece of flexible work is significant. Even though it’s increasingly more common, not all people leaders are advocates, and it’s important to help them see the benefits. 

Looking ahead, what do you see as the future of work?

LaBarbera: The future of work will continue to evolve at a rapid pace. People want to work for a company where they align to and can contribute to a greater purpose. For most, that is not new. With turnover rapidly increasing in a growing job market, the competition for top talent is about to get fierce. Leaders need to embrace a mindset shift —from “what can the team member do for me” to “what can we offer our team members” —if we want to attract and retain the very best. I believe flexibility in where and when work is done will be a key employer differentiator. I also believe team members are looking for more than just a paycheck. More than ever, they want to feel valued, cared for and connected.

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