Challenges of transitioning back from remote work to office

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ESD Alliance, SEMI USA, and Accellera Systems Initiative organized a webinar today where they discussed the challenges of transitioning back from remote work to the office.

Bob Smith, Executive Director, ESD Alliance, welcomed everyone to the conference. KT Moore, VP, Cadence Design Systems, moderator, said the panel will discuss how the pandemic has affected us. We are putting health first and safety first to everyone. He said when they exited 2019, no one had any idea what was ahead.

The participants in the panel discussion were: Ms. Donna Yasay, Senior Leader, Solutions Architecture, Amazon Web Services, Ms. Victoria Mitchell, VP, Systems Engineering, ARM, Amin Shokrollahi, CEO and Founder, Kandou, and Geoffrey Shippee, VP Engineering, Qualcomm.

Ms. Donna Yasay, Amazon, said AWS is a subsidiary of Amazon providing cloud services. Ms. Victoria Mitchell, ARM, added they are in semiconductors. Amin Shokrollahi, Kandou, said they are based in Switzerland. They design and implement I/O and chips for connectivity. Geoffrey Shippee, Qualcomm, noted they are designing technologies in fabs.

Remote work
Will remote work stay, or be less common? What will be new normal look? Shokrollahi, Kandou, said WFH was there before the pandemic. As a first thing, they cancelled all travel. Post pandemic, they will allow travel. The new normal is what we are doing right now. We can now do talks from home.

Shippee, Qualcomm, noted they are looking at a hybrid model towards work. Employees may be expected to go to office two days a week. We are trying to support the idea of working remotely. We are trying to co-ordinate at a workgroup level. We have a strong collaboration culture. There will be unique norms across countries. We need to be careful that we don’t bias the opportunity of work. It will take a long time in this evolution of the new normal. There will be adjustments to the hybrid model. Real life competitive challenges will force companies to go their way. We have to find a way to balance the needs.

Ms. Victoria Mitchell, ARM, said we all went into WFH mode overnight. Everyone had to adjust. When we go back to the office, it will be much more gradual. We still don’t know how we are going to adjust to that. It will be difficult to predict the outcome. We need to be patient.

Ms. Donna Yasay, Amazon, added the future comes one day at a time. We have apps that deal with working remotely. We need to react, return, and re-imagine. We need to also find out what we miss or don’t miss. People definitely do not miss the traffic to get to the office. There is going to be an accelerated workforce transformation. It has also made a change from taking kids to work.

How do you anticipate handling conflict between hands-on technical personnel who have worked on-site throughout the pandemic, and non-hands-on personnel who have successfully worked from home and want to go hybrid once pandemic restrictions are removed. Shokrollahi, Kandou, said they do not have an answer so far. Ms. Victoria Mitchell, ARM, said we need to look at the cause of the conflict. You need to look at what the conflict is. Everyone needs to have equal opportunity. We also need to see that people have equal amount of visibility.

Geoffrey Shippee, Qualcomm, said employee efficiency had increased, and but it has presently decreased somewhat. Expectations continue to rise! We have dealt with the semiconductor shortage. We say indicators of increased work output. At the individual level, there is not a drop, but a return to normal. Lot of that depends on the pandemic — we can now step outside. It is better to lead by example. There are several work-life balance programs. We provide employee assistance for mental well being. We have taken aggressive actions as a company.

Amin Shokrollahi, Kandou, said we have some programs, as well. The HR has a happy hour for the German team. The HR has also been very helpful with the employees.

Moore, Cadence, said we have HR and teams working more collaboratively. You can do some things with your family. Ms. Donna Yasay, Amazon, said we have a big corporation. From a manager level, there are different teams. Some people are not doing meetings Friday. The HR has also stepped up and looking after the employees.

Employee recognition
How do employees get recognized when they are working remotely? Shokrollahi, Kandou, said we don’t yet have an issue. The process can be done remotely or even on-site. We do talk about employees with their managers. We see them actually doing more.

Ms. Mitchell, ARM, said there is the urge to return to normal. We have been talking about that all team meetings will be virtual. That tended to make people who were remote feel lesser left out. When you have an opportunity, try and make it same for everybody.

Shippee, Qualcomm, said it is going to take deliberate focus from the management of companies. We are going to have a lot of different workstyles. People are also producing more remotely. There is part of us who understands all this. We have big opportunities to evolve as an industry. It is a great opportunity for the industry.

Hiring in pre- and post-pandemic
How has it been with hiring? Ms. Donna Yasay, Amazon, said they found it easier to hire during the pandemic. People were literally very active. Shokrollahi, Kandou, said they had an opposite experience. People were reluctant to move to different jobs. Ms. Mitchell, ARM, said there are competitive advantages by offering more flexibility. You don’t force people to move or come to the office.

Some managers are very intentional about talking to people. Access to specialist devices are not easy to get. How are the needs of hardware people being met? Shokrollahi, Kandou, said we have connected devices to the network for people to run the tests remotely. Some labs also have robots. Oscilloscopes are also connected. Shippee, Qualcomm, added how well hybrid models work is going to be very important. We also have to solve the problem of whiteboard collaboration. Some others are struggling to work effectively remotely. People need to be clear about what is expected of them for a job. Some people may want to change their focus as they may value their hybrid model. We need to have an environment that is clear and transparent.

Business travel
Where do folks see business travel going forward? Ms. Yasay, Amazon, said people may not want to get back to in-person events so soon. We see a trend on what’s going to happen in the future. Not all events will be completely virtual in future. Safety always remains the first priority. Ms. Mitchell, ARM, said we were looking at business travel. We were looking at ways to reduce that. We had a tendency to hop on an airplane earlier. It won’t be the same in the future. It is an opportunity for us to hit sustainability goals.

Shippee, Qualcomm, added we will go back to travel, but prioritize it. Face-to-face meetings will drive travel back up. Shokrollahi, Kandou, noted it is hard to close any deal on Zoom. Travel may also not be much, necessarily. We can meet some important customers.

Finally, how about the status of vaccinations across companies? Shokrollahi, Kandou, said he will probably ask people to come back to the office and show proof of vaccination. Ms. Mitchell, ARM, said it depends on the country, and even the state, in the USA. If you are vaccinated, it may give you a certain level of comfort. It is a tricky business, though.

Employees are also moving to lower-cost geographies so that they can do WFH. Ms. Donna Yasay, Amazon, said it is job specific. You need to deal with what the job entails and the outcome. Ms. Victoria Mitchell, ARM, said there can be some limitations if you are in a country where you don’t have an office. You need to also abide by taxes and residency laws. Shippee, Qualcomm, added we can reduce our footprint, but there are also lot of complications. Shokrollahi, Kandou, added there were requests from people to work from their home countries.