Shift to Hybrid Work: How to Manage Constant Change

In this first segment of a five-part podcast series on leading a hybrid-first work environment, Nutanix CIO Wendy M. Pfeiffer talks about adjusting to one of the most profound workplace changes in decades, and how a hybrid mindset and technologies are shaping the future of work.

By Jason Lopez

By Jason Lopez November 9, 2022

The word hybrid is proliferating across industries and people’s lives. There are more hybrid engine-powered cars. More companies are turning to hybrid cloud IT for the flexibility to run applications and data on premises or in public IT services. And there’s hybrid work, a recent change in the workplace, where companies empower employees to work inside and outside the office.

“It's a hybrid hybrid hybrid hybrid world,” said Wendy M. Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix. “Everything is about that. It requires us to be good at hybrid everything.”

In the first of a five-part Tech Barometer podcast series, Pfeiffer talks about leading herself, her team and her company to new ways of working together remotely and in meeting spaces. She shares the wisdom she’s gained from shifting Nutanix to a hybrid-first workplace.

“When we adopted hybrid-first enablement, we committed to becoming world class at managing change,” she said.

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That means equipping employees with technologies, applications and services that help them adapt to change. It also means setting and meeting new expectations that arise in this new hybrid work environment – like the ability to log into secure applications from anywhere using different devices or walking into a meeting room and having the right collaboration technologies for video conferencing.

“We'll do a heavy lift in the back end, but that should be just invisible,” she said. “It should just simply work for our employees.”

Since joining the company in 2017, she’s led her IT team to use Nutanix software and other leading digital technologies to empower a productive global workforce. 

Nutanix has a workforce that works in and away from company offices around the world. This hybrid-first approach kicked into full gear after the spread of COVID-19 forced people into lockdowns. But many of the technologies used today were already in use before COVID – laptops, video conferencing, virtual desktop infrastructure and others. 

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“In this hybrid world, if the technology disables or under-enables productivity, then that's a competitive disadvantage for my company and we don't survive,” she said.

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While these technologies allowed workforces to stay plugged into their career and bring value to businesses, Pfeiffer said the pandemic was stressful for many people because it changed old constructs and aspects of work. This time also showed that businesses need to adapt quickly to stay alive, certainly through a crisis but beyond through repercussions.

“The same challenges exist for any company trying to enable productivity and collaboration globally,” Pfeiffer said. “We have people in so many different circumstances.”

Things are not going back to the way they were, she said.

“You cannot pour new wine into old wineskins,” she said. “It breaks the old construct. 

If we bring employees “back into the old work construct, they will break the construct, which they are doing in droves.”

The Shift to Hybrid Work series includes:

  • Part 1 How to Manage Constant Change
  • Part 2 Asynchronous Productivity
  • Part 3 Reduce Context Switching
  • Part 4 Automation and Self Service
  • Part 5 Customer-Like Experiences

Transcript (unedited)

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: It's a mad, mad, mad, mad world. It's a hybrid hybrid hybrid hybrid world. Like everything is about that.

Jason Lopez: Wendy Pfeiffer is the CIO of Nutanix. Like many of us during the pandemic, something shifted with her, not only personally but in her professional life as the leader of an IT organization.

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: People of a certain age, I'd say gen X and older, we've been going through sort of a societal version of a midlife crisis where we realize that we have changed, but we don't know where we fit in this new world.

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Jason Lopez: There were all sorts of news ways of doing things during the pandemic… how we bought things, saw a doctor, and conducted meetings. She points out, from her view overseeing an IT team, something in the past couple of years changed us.

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: They've changed the nature of work, the nature of reputation, the nature of collaboration. They've also stripped away some of the constructs that we had built around what makes a good worker and a bad worker, a good teacher, and a bad teacher, a good parent and a bad parent, a good right? All of those constructs have been stripped down to their basics and we've learned about our relationships and our reputations and so on. At the same time, we're the leaders of the mid to large size companies. Our struggle is to figure out how to pour the new wine back into the old wineskins.

Jason Lopez: But Wendy didn’t go there. She didn’t announce to her team, when it became possible, to go back to the practices they followed before Covid hit. In 2020 there was a quickly growing “future of work” movement of which Wendy was a part of.

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: You cannot pour new wine into old wineskins. It breaks the old construct. And so if we take these changed human beings of our generation, and we take the millennials and especially gen Z, who are acculturated in these times, who are digital natives, and we bring them back into the old work construct, they will break the construct which they are doing in droves.

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Jason Lopez: Long ago, it was predicted that video phones would be the common way of communicating. Despite the technology arriving, that never happened… until COVID. There have been many other changes brought on by our recent public health emergency. But if you talk to people in the “future of work” movement, the times are changing simply because of a new generation. A few years ago McKinsey predicted that by 2026 about 60 percent of tech workers globally would be millennials or gen Zs. This is something Wendy was getting in front of before the pandemic. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: Then there's the special version of gen Zs. The COVID gen Z, who are entering the workforce. Now they have been able to be productive fully digitally. And so when we bring them back into a physical construct, they are less productive than they were before and that's measurably so. So now we start thinking about if it's a human being augmenting a machine in a manufacturing situation; we already know that the human is the least efficient component in that production line. But if you're talking about a knowledge worker, the knowledge worker is the productivity component in that production operation. And so what principles of human operation lead to better productivity and there's science on that. 

Jason Lopez: Wendy studied workspaces – whether physical ones on site at Nutanix or virtual workspaces or the kinds of spaces employees might be in such as a home office. She studied how these could help in her mission.  

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: My mission is to enable the company to undertake its business operations, using technology, and to enable employee productivity with technology. That's what I'm paid for. If I don't do that well, especially in this hybrid world, if the technology disables or under-enables productivity, then that's a competitive disadvantage for my company and we don't survive. 

Jason Lopez: The challenge of managing change is not necessary to change things and then help people cope. Few people like dealing with change. It might be the issue he isn’t that employees need to adapt. When Wendy says Nutanix is committed to becoming world class at managing change, she means the company adapts to its workforce as much as the workforce adapts to the company. One of her strategies is to avoid jumping on every new hot app for her team but to provide a few anchor applications that establish a foundation. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: For example, one of those is Microsoft outlook for our calendaring. Another is zoom for our audio and visual collaboration. Another is slack for our text-based collaboration and another is simpler, which is our in intranet portal. And so if I'm going to, for example, introduce a new audio-visual feature, I'm going to introduce it via zoom via the zoom marketplace integrated into that zoom marketplace. And I'll, I'll share some examples of how we're doing that. So that as an employee, once I know how to use zoom, I will expect to see zoom everywhere. I'll expect to see it in conference rooms at work, and while I'm on the road on my mobile phone, and while I'm in my home office, on my computer and so on, I'll expect to see zoom everywhere. And from time to time, new features will show up in zoom, but it's easier for me to consume those features, even if they introduce new principles of work, as long as they always show up in the same way in the same place. 

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Jason Lopez: The second thing about managing change is that Nutanix is doubling down on its principles of simplifying… whether it’s a single pane of glass or even making technology invisible. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: We're going to handle the integration of data, of workflows, of access, et cetera, invisibly. In the back end, we have some tools we use for that. We use ServiceNow, we use Splunk, et cetera, but we want the switching from application to application, to application and the sharing of data to be just as invisible in the workplace, as it is on my iPhone, my iPhone, for example, very granularly shares access to my photos, my contacts, my haptics preferences, et cetera, to any of the apps that I'm running on that iPhone without me having to log into them separately. For the most part, even the access controls might be simple access control that I can enable like facial recognition. And so we want to try to bring those same principles to everything we're doing in the workplace. Even if I am changing from mode to mode and I have to authenticate again, it's all it's using those same tokens, those same principles. I can share, you know, we'll, we'll do a heavy lift in the back end to make sure we're sharing data securely, et cetera, but that should be just invisible. It should just simply work for our employees. So those are the two ways that we're focused this year in managing change at Nutanix. 

Jason Lopez: Wendy Pfeiffer is the CIO of Nutanix. In this brief series, we’re going to introduce you to the initiative – or you might call it and experiment – on the future of how IT teams work. This is the Tech Barometer podcast, produced by The Forecast. Look us up for more in this series with Wendy at www.theforecastbynutanix.com.

Learn more about the Nutanix Cloud Platform helps unify hybrid multicloud IT infrastructure.

Jason Lopez is executive producer of Tech Barometer, the podcast outlet for The Forecast. He’s the founder of Connected Social Media. Previously, he was executive producer at PodTech and a reporter at NPR.

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