Michael Chetner, Head of Australia and APAC at Zoom, leads a team across Asia Pacific, including Australia, New Zealand, and Southeast Asia. He was the region’s first employee in 2017, and oversees the company's growth strategy across all customer segments, from SMB to mid-market, to enterprise customers. Here, he shares the perspective of a virtual platform provider on how attitudes and practices towards flexible work are changing and how the way we communicate is being affected and shares tips on implementing and improving remote work.
The traditional office environment is changing amid this chaos, but the degree to which it should be shifting is something experts have different opinions on. What's your take on this?
The pandemic and WFH mandates have no doubt accelerated the shift in the flexible work revolution at an unprecedented speed. The way people communicate will be changed forever—we are entering a new era in the way we work and are not going back
Hence, it is crucial that business leaders see and understand what is possible—whereas once remote work might have been seen as a ‘perk’ offered to the few, it’s now become part of the very fabric of how we run our businesses. And I don’t see that changing back in a hurry.
People far and wide have been able to experience the benefits of working outside of the traditional office environment—for example, eliminating long commutes and picking spaces that suit their needs—so there’s no doubt that habits and working practices will change. The office will therefore need to be altered to complement this new style, with a more adaptive use of space and technology.
How do you see the landscape of work and communication evolving in the coming year? Is the future mode of work going to be hybrid?
Many businesses are now weighing up a return to the workplace, a wholesale shift to remote working, or something in between. But as the contrails begin to fade, we are preparing for a transition to a world of hybrid working.
As mentioned by founder and chief executive Eric Yuan, while we will be witnessing more organizations embrace remote work, we believe there is a place for the office too. We are therefore continuously working to improve our platform to enhance user experience and better enable the hybrid workforce.
What have you learned about the current scenario and about the remote mode of working? Will remote working stick around even after COVID-19?
We have always believed that video is the future of communication. This crisis has shown that companies that working from home is both feasible and productive. Geography is no longer an impediment to remote work and avails them to global talent pools. For a diverse, fragmented region such as Southeast Asia, this greater connectivity can support regional business expansion, with sales and support teams on the ground—all from the comfort of home. Companies can also realize savings in business infrastructure. It’s not a stretch to say the future workplace is a remote or hybridized one.
Do you think remote employees can still be productive? What is your advice for leaders on how they should gear up to ensure team engagement and productivity for virtual workers in 2021?
This sudden transition to a remote workforce saw business leaders having to quickly learn how to empower remote teams, as well as help them maintain their productivity, security, and team building. But despite the steep and rapid learning curve, it’s seen great success—and we believe companies will continue embracing the work from home model post-COVID 19.
The proof is there for all to see. In APAC, for example, job listings show an uptick in remote job postings, with Singapore seeing the largest growth in the share of applications. This is followed by India, Australia, China, New Zealand, Malaysia, and the Philippines.
Morgan Stanley meanwhile has predicted that office tenants across Asia will permanently give up between three percent and nine percent of their existing office space over the next three years. And according to Skillsoft, nine in ten employees across APAC are expecting COVID-19-related policy changes to become permanent post-pandemic—these including expecting flexi-hours to become a norm, and wanting more opportunities to work from home.
Here are some best practices for enabling a productive remote workforce:
- Leverage the cloud: Cloud-based solutions can easily replicate the offices’ technology ecosystem and empower the remote workforce
- Stay connected, professionally & socially: Holding daily check-ins to keep employees engaged while hosting virtual happy hours, workout sessions, or other events with colleagues to strengthen bonds
- Help them stay secure: By issuing secure corporate laptops and phones and providing security best practices, companies can protect employee data and prevent unauthorized access while employees remotely work.
How can organizations grow a positive company culture with a remote team? What have you learned from your customers about this new culture?
Organizational culture is arguably one of the most important ways to keep employees engaged, and even more so now that many of us are remote employees. Here are a couple of real-world examples for maintaining morale.
Virtual lunch and learns: Sharing a meal is an excuse to catch up and talk, and one of the few times where people are happy to put aside their work and take time out of their day to decompress. Keep your teams connected and in touch with a virtual lunch or coffee hour.
Organize a company “rendezvous”: Zoom has workers around the world who might never get to meet in person, so once a quarter, leaders / HR can host a “Zoom Rendezvous.” This virtual event is a chance to connect with remote Zoomies and share fun stories and ideas. It’s a great way to put a face to a name and meet other colleagues.
What's your advice on how to best leverage technology to maintain closer, more personal connections with employees?
Here are some best practices and practical tools to maintain those company ties:
- Be available and schedule check-in time: When teams transition to remote work, it is easy for projects and initiatives to get lost in the mix, so it’s crucial for leaders to reaffirm the team roadmap and ensure alignment on priorities.
- Keep things clear: Transparency is key when leading a team remotely. Build trust and confidence with the team with honest communication so team members feel secure. Stay on track by using a team chat, and hosting regular meetings and calls for cohesive communication.
- Don’t forget the human touch: feeling connected when working from home is still challenging. So remember to include some casual and fun elements in your communications. On Zoom, for example, that might mean having a background that sparks a conversation or using filters.
What's one lesson you have learned from this pandemic?
COVID-19 has highlighted the importance of technology—during the past few months, we have witnessed businesses worldwide scrambling to get their IT infrastructure setup in order to maintain business continuity. The pandemic has also taught us a lesson in company agility and made us collectively realize how important it is to be willing to shift gears when necessary. And as the pace of technological development accelerates, the only constant is change.
The pandemic has no doubt accelerated the need to embrace digital transformation. A proactive technology strategy built around adapting operations and building resilience can equip the enterprise with a stronger competitive edge as we move forward in our Next Normal.