- On Nov. 26, the World Health Organization named the Omicron variant of the Coronavirus a new variant of concern.
- As of December 6, 2021, Omicron cases had been detected in 18 U.S. states, which may or may not screw up our plans to re-open facilities in January, 2022.
Another variant? Really? Really? Wow.
We may or may not be throwing furniture just about now. But just when we started feeling really sorry for ourselves, we sat down with VP of Global Real Estate and Workplace Helen Vu, just two months into her new job, who’s getting ready to take on a Return To Office operation no one’s even tried since the end of World War I.
Assuming the best (just to shake things up,) the company’s plan is to begin opening RingCentral offices in January. Obviously, that depends on a lot of variables, but in the middle of it all, Vu was gracious enough to spend a few minutes of her totally-calm-not-panicked-at-all day with us to talk through what’s coming…soon?
RINGCENTRAL: “So, just another easy day in Global Real Estate and Workplace? Nothing exciting happening?”
VU: “Riiiiight. But seriously, the team and I are monitoring (Omicron) to make sure we continue to prioritize the health and safety of our employees and guests. Obviously we have to be really fluid and malleable as conditions change across the globe. The situation is shifting minute by minute, hour by hour, day by day. So, while we have plans in place, we’re also mindful that the situation is fluid and we’re not just going to plow forward with a plan just because we made one. We’d never compromise our RingCentral family or their loved ones in any way.”
RC: “Well, whenever it is we do come out the other side of this, take us through what you envision coming back to the office to be like.”
VU: “We want it to be super-fun. We’re aiming to provide an experience that will delight people. We’ll really welcome everyone back – plus the 4,000 new people who’ve never set foot in our offices — and just make a real effort to reassure everyone that we’re all learning, and flexible, and nothing’s set in concrete. We’ll spend a lot of effort on education, because, obviously, everyone’s going to have a ton of questions. For example, we’re working in a hybrid fashion now, so we’re putting a lot into helping managers develop an even greater competency then they already have around how to lead hybrid teams. There are things to learn, and things to un-learn…it definitely won’t be business as usual. We want to make sure employees feel supported and safe, and that leadership is flexible and ready to roll with the punches. Hopefully, everyone will say “Wow, this is different. This is new. I haven’t seen this and hey, I’m going to give it a try.”
RC: “What percentage of the workforce will be fully remote; fully on-site or hybrid?”
VU: “I’d be guessing, but based on some data I’ve seen (we’re still collecting a survey,) roughly 20% of our workforce will remain fully remote, 5%, (like some Facilities and IT teams) will be fully on-site, and the other 75% will be hybrid.”
RC: “For the people who aren’t brand new, what will look different when they walk in?”
VU: “Well, there are a lot of changes planned, but whether we get them done by January. I can’t say for sure. One thing people will notice is the way we’re trying to provide some of the things they liked about working at home. A lot of people would rather hop on a bench or sofa or loveseat than sit at a desk so you’ll see more of that than you might have in March, 2020. Lots of people adopted pets during the pandemic, and we’ve never had a pet policy, so we are looking at that, too. In six-to-eight months, there will be a new cafe in our Denver office with absolutely phenomenal food—in my view, that’s part of our health and wellness journey as well. Our focus is definitely to have people come back to something that’s better than before they left, and ultimately, I know we’ll get there.”
RC: “So will people who want desks still have one?”
VU: “It depends. Part of our work here is to assess whether you want one, right? You may choose not to have one. But if you say, “Hey, I’d love to have a desk,” We’ll assign you one, as long as we have the capacity to do so. There might be options for sharing, or reservations…we’re building the plane while we fly it, you know? I’d encourage everyone to really be thoughtful about how we use company resources and desk are one of them, right? A dedicated desk should be there if you really need it, but if you think you’re only going to be in the office one day a week, that’s something we have to be mindful about.”
RC: “What about vaccination status? Will employees have to prove that?”
VU: “(RingCentral) has a mandatory policy – you have to be vaccinated to be inside one of our facilities. That being said, we’re legally unable to ask guests in Fort Lauderdale for their vaccination status. But for most facilities, you’ll have to upload your vaccination card for your access badge to work. We’ve been testing it in Belmont, and it’s working really well.”
RC: “How will you handle compliance overall?”
HV: “I’m not big on rules that strangle people and business relationships. Enabling the business is what I’m here to do. We’re going to be very thoughtful about giving people guidelines and encouraging the right kinds of behavior. You’ll see signage, branding, just staying constantly in front of people with a message about what they ought to consider when they do come back to the office. We want people to be mindful of the broader RingCentral family, and how to keep everyone safe.”
RC: This is all new. Is “building the plane while you fly it” scary?
VU: “You know, it’s not, because part of leading in complexity is being comfortable with the unknown, right? Leading through complexity means trying different things and learning from them. When things are uncertain, some people crawl in a shell, but if you do that, things still change—just without you. So you do that, or you can get involved and say, “You know what, I’m going to try this. Oops, that didn’t work. Let’s try this instead.” You find out what works, what doesn’t, and use what you learn along the way. This pandemic won’t be the only situation like this we ever have to deal with. There will be something else if it’s not Omicron, it’ll be something else. So the question becomes, how do we develop that muscle memory, how do we learn to stay agile; decide and act without data or absolute knowledge, absolute clarity? Is there risk involved? Of course. But what’s the alternative? I’ll never choose inaction.”
We know you’ve heard this before, but hang in there just a little longer, y’all. Stay safe, and if it helps, try pronouncing “Omicron” like a Valley Girl.
Originally published Dec 14, 2021, updated Dec 15, 2021