Why the ‘workplace as we knew it’ is no more

The shift to remote work in March 2020 posed significant logistical challenges for most organizations. Software as a Service company Lifesize–which provides enterprise and business-class video, audio and web-conferencing solutions–had an added layer of complexity: It had just days before finalized a merger.

“We were all together maybe three or four days and then we went remote,” recalled Lifesize Chief People Officer Gayle Wiley. So, in addition to all of the considerations that went into a new remote-work strategy, Wiley’s HR team also had to set up introductions and coordinate cross-functional meetings to map out new work responsibilities in the wake of the merger.

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Wiley has taken the challenges of the last year, however, in stride, viewing them as just part of the job for a career HR professional. She joined Lifesize in 2015, just after it divested from Logitech. “I tell people I came on just as were becoming a born-again start-up,” she says.

Before Lifesize, Wiley led HR at medical device companies including ArthoCare Corp. and Boston Scientific and software company Vignette. She also held HR roles in IBM and Tivoli.

Wiley recently shared with HRE lessons learned throughout her career as well as her outlook on HR trends.

Gayle Wiley

HRE: What was your main focus at the start of the pandemic? And how have your priorities changed, now nearly a year later?

Wiley: My main focus then was the health and safety of our employees, and that still remains our focus today. We went all-remote the second week of March; we wanted to make sure our people were in a safe place and also that they had the tools to do their work remotely. We have since opened up our space to 25% capacity on a voluntary basis. Very few people come in; I live close, so I’m in and out of the office.

When we initially went out in March, I thought, “Oh, we’ll be back in the office by Easter,” which was in April. Then it was “Maybe Memorial Day,” and that passed. Then “Maybe before the summer’s over.” And obviously, it has continued, and, for all intents and purposes, we’ll be going through at least mid-year like this. So, one of our focuses is really how to replicate and repeat that collaboration that happens when you’re working face to face. How do you keep people connected? We’re fortunate to be in the business that we are but, at the end of the day, nothing takes the place of being in-person–walking in with someone from the parking lot and talking about your weekend, meeting someone getting coffee and talking about a project. We’re like one big family here–it’s just part of our culture, that connection. So, we’re trying to keep that strong.

HRE: Has Lifesize seen an increase in demand in recent months, given the nature of your solutions? If so, how has that impacted your workforce?

Wiley: We felt it was our duty to the community to offer subscriptions for so many months of free service, so our subscriptions went up significantly and, out of that, we got new customers of course. It’s leveled out now but still higher. So, it’s clearly put a demand on our support and service team. But more importantly, we’re in the business of connecting people and I think [the pandemic] gave our people a greater sense of purpose and meaning. We’re more than just a software company providing a subscription service, the hardware and the camera. We are in the business of teaching the world how to work differently, and remotely, and to be successful in that.

HRE: What is your forecast for remote and hybrid work once the pandemic subsides?

Wiley: My personal opinion is that the workplace as we knew it before COVID will probably never, ever exist again going forward. Some companies have already announced they’re going all remote from now on, and others are talking about some sort of hybrid situation. Another scenario people are talking about is doing your day job at home and having offices reconfigured to really facilitate group projects, meetings and times to come together face to face. We here haven’t landed on what it’s going to look like for us yet. Clearly, health and safety come first. Flexibility is important, as everybody’s situation is a little different. It’s also about getting input from our people about what works best for them. That will all be considered as we make our decision plan.

HRE: What do you think is the antidote to the integration of work and life that so many remote workers have struggled with in the past year?

Wiley: I think it’s being scheduled and organized. Personally–I’m a little embarrassed to say this–but when we first went remote, I found myself getting up early to walk the dogs and then I’d plop down at my desk, take the dogs out again at some point and look up and see, “Oh my God, it’s 9:30 at night and I’m still hard at it.” I quickly realized I needed to have a plan just as I did in the office. My significant other lives in Boston and has twins who are in college and they ended up putting signs on their doors that said, “Do not disturb. We’re in class.” I think it’s really all about managing your time and managing it with your family as well so they know that, even though you may be physically at home, it’s work time. I even had to do that with my dogs. They didn’t know what to think when I started being home all the time. And usually when I’m at home, they’re front and center of everything, and now I had to be on the phone and doing work and they were like, “OK, you’re supposed to be with us now!”

HRE: How are you working to keep issues like DEI or gender inequality at the top of your agenda, despite all of the disruptions from the pandemic?

Wiley: This is a topic my CEO and my colleagues and I all talk about as a team with some frequency. The conversation has to start at the top in terms of belief and philosophy. We feel our workforce should mirror our community and our customer base. One of our core values is really that people make the difference. We encourage not only the diversity of folks from a gender and ethnicity perspective but also from the perspective of experiences, differences in industries they’ve worked, differences in thinking.

We talk about it from a value perspective but this is something we as a leadership team have metrics about and share those with our team. Because, even though we’re in the middle of a pandemic, we’re hiring. We work to provide a diverse slate of candidates for our hiring leaders, and one of the things I plan to do this year is start a new training for our people leaders on inclusion. It’s sometimes an uncomfortable topic that we don’t always think about but, when you have a diverse workforce, you want to make sure that people feel that sense of belonging and inclusion so they can succeed. It’s important to keep that front and center of any organization.

See also: Black Lives Matter–A call to action for HR

HRE: Outside of work, what are you passionate about?

Wiley: Well, of course, my fur babies; I really just live in their house. I have a Miniature Schnauzer named Gucci and a Brussels Griffon named Louis Vuitton. They’re part of my world. I also love keeping fit, especially with hot yoga. Obviously, COVID has made that a little limited but I’ve done it online–though it’s not really possible for me to get my living space that hot! But I’ve been working on form. I’m a real big reader, so for me, soaking up a good book is fun. I love, love, love music, particularly jazz. I play flute and try to play a little every day. While we’ve been remote, I’ve probably been very annoying to my neighbors, pumping out some tunes frequently.

HRE: What will be your 2021 mantra to keep you motivated, either professionally or personally?

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From a work perspective, clearly, this has been challenging for every single person who works here in different ways. But we’ll get through this. This too shall pass. As my grandmother used to say, “Trouble don’t last always.”

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].