Shift to Hybrid Work: Asynchronous Productivity

In this second segment of a five-part podcast series on leading a hybrid-first work environment, Nutanix CIO Wendy M. Pfeiffer talks about how technologies and processes can keep worker productivity high for teams collaborating across different locations and time zones.

By Jason Lopez

By Jason Lopez November 16, 2022

Working remotely is liberating for many, but enabling a hybrid workforce to be as productive in the office as they are working outside the office is an ongoing challenge for IT leaders. 

“We need to make sure that anyone in any location, in any time zone, at any place or time, can get access to work in process and can contribute using all of their capabilities,” said Wendy M. Pfeiffer, CIO of Nutanix

In the second of a five-part Tech Barometer podcast series, Pfeiffer shares the wisdom she has gained from running IT for a hybrid-first company and how technologies enable productive asynchronous work.

Like a growing number of organizations, Nutanix has thousands of employees who work in and away from company offices around the world. This hybrid-first approach kicked into high gear after the spread of COVID-19 forced people into lockdowns. Digital technologies that were already in use – laptops, video conferencing, virtual desktop infrastructure and others – allowed workforces to stay plugged into their career and bring value to businesses.

Synchronous work is relatively easy. Everybody shows up at the same time and gets to work face-to-face, in real life. But working remotely, across different time zones and over the internet brings so many new challenges. So how do companies keep worker productivity high when everyone’s out of sync?

About 30 percent of Nutanix employees work around the globe.

“We always had this need to enable asynchronous work, but we did it, like many companies, really poorly,” Pfeiffer said.

“We have such time zone displacement and such geographic displacement that it isn't possible to have all of the collaborators and all of the decisions, both co-located physically and co-located in time together,” she said. “And so how on earth do we make decisions?”

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Shift to Hybrid Work: How to Manage Constant Change

She said one way to enable asynchronous work is to break things down into smaller tasks and assign those pieces individually. 

That means having the technologies and processes that allow employees in any place or time zone to access whoever and whatever they need to be productive and get work done.

In this segment, Pfeiffer reveals the apps and protocols her team is establishing to empower hybrid workforce productivity.

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: As Hamilton would say, you had to be in the room where it happened otherwise you wouldn’t hear about it. The decrees would be handed down and you'd go off and you'd do whatever they had decided in the room.  

Jason Lopez: For our purposes in this story, the room at issue here is a physical location… the workplace, between the hours of 9 to 5, Monday through Friday. If you’re an employee of the company but working remotely, you probably miss out on birthday cake, company news and work initiatives. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: Many of us of my generation feel like you can't really have an innovation session unless you're all sitting there in that conference room and you're whiteboarding together and you're throwing ideas around when you're all in the same physical place, same physical time. That's synchronous work. 

Jason Lopez: Wendy Pfeiffer is the CIO of Nutanix. This is one of five brief Tech Barometer podcasts about Nutanix IT’s shift to hybrid work. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: But we've had massive global disbursement of our employees. Interestingly, always at Nutanix for example, about 30% of our employees worked remotely from our hub offices, and so we always had this need to enable asynchronous work, but we and many companies did it really poorly. We have such time zone displacement and such geographic displacement that it isn't possible to have all of the collaborators and all of the decisions both co-located physically and co-located in time together. How on earth do we make decisions? Do we work together with hundreds of engineers on the same code set? How could we make asynchronous work productive? 

Jason Lopez: One way to enable asynchronous work is to break down the work itself into smaller tasks and assign those pieces individually. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: This is a very non-productive way to work, particularly if you have knowledge workers on whom you're relying for creativity and innovation. Really what we need to do is we need to make sure that anyone in any location, in any time zone, at any place or time, can get access to work in process and can contribute using all of their capabilities. 

Jason Lopez: The format for making sure anyone can contribute is the meeting. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: In order for us to all be in the same room at the same time with folks being remote from hub offices, we need some meeting space and it's a virtual meeting space. Yes, I might be sitting in a conference room, but there will be some participants who will not be sitting in that conference room who also need a voice. Sort of getting everyone in the same physical space requires one of our anchor technologies, Zoom. 

Jason Lopez: But it goes further than this. Nutanix used to insist that people in different time zones show up to meetings at just about any hour of the day, interfering with their personal lives and reducing productivity. 

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: That's unattractive to workers in regions that used to handle operations 24/7 for a lot of larger companies in the US and Europe. Now we need to enable the work to happen in time chunks as well. One of the things we're doing at Nutanix is we're augmenting our meetings with self-documenting and recording. There's a new technology from a company called Huddle ai, h u ddl.ai, that is now showing up in Zoom. We've been working with them for a couple of years. It's now available in the Zoom marketplace. We're going to be enabling Zoom with this huddle ai. What Huddle AI does is it takes those comprehensive notes and minutes that we all declare we're going to do when we have meetings, but we kind of don't, and it also creates automatic recordings of important moments in those meetings and it also identifies all of the speakers and all of the participants in the meetings. Even if they're sitting around a table in a conference room. 

Jason Lopez: If you’re in a different time zone later on, and you want to experience the meeting, when you view the recording, you can know who's speaking, important moments and decisions are highlighted and documented.  

Wendy M. Pfeiffer: Huddle creates access to all of our other applications that allow me to, for example, add my notes to the Google Doc or to the Lucid Spark doc that we were creating in the meeting and continue with the multitude of documents that we might be using to collaborate and share around. The second thing we're doing is we're augmenting our meetings with persistent discussion workspaces and we are looking at Discord, a technology from the gaming world. What Discord allows us to do is it allows us to create continuous persistent workspaces that are topical where anyone in the company can join those workspaces and can interact in the currency of that workspace, can gain a reputation in that workspace, can share content in that workspace. In the workspace persists 24 7, 365. If I'm in it and I'm a user of Nutanix product and I'm frustrated with an element of the interaction design in say, Prism Central, I could show up in the Prism Central Discord workspace not as a contributor to Prism Central product per se, but as an expert in using that product. I may not even have to say who I am. I can just call myself a ninja, but I can share my experiences interacting with the product in a way that's not personal, or political, but that helps to augment that product. 

This is not everything, but these are small things. We already have the ability to do this. We already have the anchor technologies, we already have the tools, and we already have these work patterns in place, but just tuning these experiences even a little bit more really matters. If you look at helping 7,000 members of an asynchronous workforce shave, say 15 minutes off of their day every day by not having to try to discover what happened in that discussion last night while I was sleeping, but to have that available to them and referenceable and documented, that's a huge productivity enhancement for that person and it also allows them to contribute, which is really what we want. 

Jason Lopez: Wendy Pfeiffer is the CIO of Nutanix. This is one of five podcasts on the future of how IT teams work. At Nutanix, that future is a shift to hybrid work. This is the Tech Barometer podcast, produced by The Forecast. Look us up for more in this series with Wendy at theforecastbynutanix.com.

You could only get the value from your mainframe because standard software wasn't around, you had to build your own software. And today the cloud, as a single cloud, as a multicloud is like the mainframe. The applications for that, the best practices of the 21st century have not yet been established.

This translation doesn't have to have many more because for the first time we live in this era of infinite computing, compute is cheap and plentiful. And this means we can tackle business process in a totally different way than the previous world, where it was finite computing, where you would size the IT to a certain business problem, which you would then translate into software. And this change means you have to have much, much more developers to own your own automation, destiny, and to be ready to automate things. And standard software will not have the answer because standard software needs to have the same solution by hundreds, if not thousands of companies, it's really, really hard for the SAPs, the Oracles, the work takes the sales forces to build the next generator software now, because they don't know how their users will use the cloud. 

But now the reaction times of somebody's changing your industry by being better, faster, smarter, closer to the customer, closer to the employee that is three months, six months, right? So everything is moving much faster. And if you miss building your own software, you're probably not in business in five years anymore.  

Moving to the cloud is extremely crucial for enterprise because once a board realized, do we need this big headquarter? How many seats do we need it quickly goes down the list and say, Hey, why do we need this data center? Why do we have this mainframe as an example, this big cost line item. And then the other thing is of course, companies realize not just moving to the cloud, but they've moved too many clouds. So multi-cloud is a reality for almost all organizations and now CIOs with rising bigger budgets, but shrinking budgets on the flip side for what they have to do, have to figure out a way, how to make it all work. You basically don't want to get tied with certain cloud providers. So you want to have this workload portability. You want to be able to commit to run something on a certain cloud, a then, then move to the other cloud driven a and then maybe to the cloud with G and maybe you want to run on all of them. And maybe they open data centers in different locations because data still matters. And data residency matters, all legislation or data residency and privacy has to be reflected. That leads to massive, uh, fragmentation of data and processing. Even if you have a modern application. And even if you're happy to run in single cloud. So complexities on the rise and CIOs are struggling for anything which can make their life simpler. 

That requires something from the platform, which I call identicality to move the workload from A to B, I need to have the same technology, the same APIs, the same tech stack, like the same authorizations, right? I can't recreate all the authorizations of people when I move from one cloud to another cloud and all of that. I want to manage in a single pane of glass. And I wanna see this in one location. I wanna see if something is wrong. I want to be able to move that. So that's really what CIOs are implementing, looking for and searching now. 

Luckily larger vendors is one of them allows this third party view over the different clouds and to allow this virtual portability across their platform maintained by the software vendor. So I pay for it. Of course, it's sassification of platform, which you see as a general trend right now, 

Data fragmentation and process fragmentation is pretty much reality, which happened by accident basically because no single cloud was good enough for everything. And no CIO had enough control about the lines of business of them saying, Hey, I want a marketing solution. It doesn't matter which clouded ones we need to survive. Uh, that fragments, all the data creates lots of questions because the fragmentation and the data gravity are very expensive things to solve.

My prediction. As we sit here in half of 2022, is that that will get reduced by data being in one place for inside perspective. And for AI machine learning perspectives, the one place will lead to a more consolidation of the number of environments that an enterprise will have, but it will not be one that will be again, multiples.

The trick was basically telling all these country managers, well, you can keep your existing instance, right? You have the freedom to do that, but you keep paying for it. If you go to the global instance, we'll pay for it that, uh, made the staunchest skeptics very quickly move over because nothing beats free from an automation perspective, you can say, we have the better platform. It's more secure. You can mandate it, right? There's many different ways to get that done, but the central system being free and of course being paid for some other cross payments is the biggest, most successful thing. That's in many other companies, uh, implementing the free central new system approach. So you try to make it hard to go somewhere else.

What looked like great idea two, three years ago, it doesn't look like a great idea today, right? And you can't just throw these systems away and you have to keep operating them. And this creates this zoo in a system landscape of great ideas from a few years ago, which are looking like good or not so good ideas, but you still have to keep the lights on and keep that running.

The good news is there's a lot of next generation computing platforms coming out. The more functionality you offer there, like your abstraction layer from a hypervisor, from a data perspective, from networking perspective, the more powerful they are, because I don't have to go to other parts of the layer and then putting my multiple single product point offering windows together creates a potential Frankenstein monster situation. So suites have always won in the past of, uh, enterprise software history, both in the width and the depth in terms of like bridging across SAR is and past, especially in past and is we see these things coming together very quickly. Um, and the same thing as well for next generation compute platform. So the more functionality and the single pane of glass, the identicality to run multiple clouds, the freedom to run on premises in case you have to, those are all very important things CIOs are looking for when they make these decisions.

Everybody came to that point, Google embraced it more actively, even though Microsoft did with the multi-cloud support. Uh, obviously Microsoft came around, right? And even Amazon said for the first time at their, uh, pre COVID, uh, we invent 2019 said, well, it's software. And obviously there's the traditional hardware vendors, which still are around the Dells, the HPE that's their business, right? To provide the on-prem probability of that. But as next generation computing platform. So the software layer is growing significantly. The HP is a little reluctant, but they will have to come around and support GreenLake software services across the public clouds in a seamless way to become really next generation computing platform.

I can tell you right away, if cloud is relevant, if the CIO was under 45. This was five, six years ago. So now we could say, if the CIO is under 50, uh, he or she will know, I have to deal with this cloud thing. And I better I embrace it now, then later. Over 50, no cloud, everything on premise. So the thinking was, I can retire before that. And I leave this to the young kids to figure out. So this is the three reasons, right? A performance data, residency, privacy, and still don't trust the cloud thing. I'm gonna build another generation of three, four years of hardware. And if my company board goes along and spends the CapEx, here you go.

Many of the complexities we have right now in our environments, there was no IT right. You would buy your main for seven years and it's much, much more complex right now. And then you see turmoil like around the Ukraine, lots of companies to shut down their Russian and Ukraine operations. That's not something which is the DNA of it either, right? I mean, you keep opening stuff. You might be reducing something butn you just don't shut down complete countries and have to make sure that data's out. And that all adds to the overall complexity in uncertainty, which doesn't make it's job easier.

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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