… Manager effectiveness. We need to constantly assess and upskill our managers to ensure they are effective at leading distributed teams, enhancing employee experience and engaged in data-driven decision making.
When it comes to designing the future of work, one size fits none. Discovering success isn’t about a hybrid model or offering remote work options. Individuals and organizations are looking for more freedom. The freedom to choose the work model that makes the most sense. The freedom to choose their own values. And the freedom to pursue what matters most. We reached out to successful leaders and thought leaders across all industries to glean their insights and predictions about how to create a future that works.
As a part of our interview series called “How Employers and Employees are Reworking Work Together,” we had the pleasure to interview Tracy Williams.
Tracy is New Relic’s chief people and diversity officer. She oversees the company’s people strategy and its diversity, equity and inclusion strategy in support of the company’s business goals, culture and core values. She is passionate about building a culture and community where all Relics are engaged, supported and motivated, and have a strong sense of belonging, allowing them to do their best work for our customers and each other every day. Prior to joining New Relic, Tracy was the HR leader of Conversant/CJ Affiliate (a marketing technology company). She has more than 15 years of HR experience including holding regional HR leadership positions with Target (Mervyns), and Michaels Arts & Crafts stores. Williams holds a Bachelor of Arts in Sociology from the University of California, Berkeley, and a Juris Doctor from the University of California, Hastings College of Law.
Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you a bit better. Can you please tell us about one or two life experiences that most shaped who you are today.
I was raised in a very strong matriarchal family — mom, grandmother, aunts and great aunts. Being surrounded by such strong women taught me how to be strong, self-reliant, persistent and resilient.
Let’s zoom out. What do you predict will be the same about work, the workforce and the workplace 10–15 years from now? What do you predict will be different?
The one thing that we know will always be constant is change. Employers will need to continue to listen to their employees and understand what they need and want. I also believe that employees will continue to demand trust, corporate responsibility and business ethics. I don’t think that employees will stop wanting to trust their leaders, support their communities and demand social justice and safe and ethical workplaces. I’m proud that we’ve formalized our Environmental, Social & Governance (ESG) program this year at New Relic — it’s a testament to our commitment in these areas.
Definitions of flexibility of work will continue to evolve to be more employee focused — finding a balance between employee well-being and productivity. We’ll see more things like flexible scheduling, including shortened work weeks and job shares, gaining more prevalence. Companies will be forced to understand that health and wellness, including mental health, need to take a front seat in order to ensure the highest levels of productivity.
What advice would you offer to employers who want to future-proof their organizations?
First, you want to have a successful business. To do so, you need to ensure that your culture and the systems that support your success — be it high performance or customer focus — are mission driven. Whatever it is, you must build systems that constantly reinforce and give feedback to your employees about the expectations you have for your company culture.
You also have to treat your employees like your most loyal customers and take steps to make them feel valued. While it’s not a revolutionary concept or practice, it should be incorporated into every aspect of your business. This is especially true when it comes to underrepresented and diverse groups; they need to feel seen, included and comfortable being themselves.
Second, implementing diversity is business critical and a crucial component for accelerated growth. For tech organizations to be more innovative and future-proof themselves against business challenges, they must have teams of people from different backgrounds, with a variety of perspectives and experiences.
Unfortunately, many organizations don’t view diversity as a priority. It’s secondary: a nice-to-have rather than a need-to-have. These companies are destined to fall behind their competitors. To prevent this from happening, employers must actively uncover root problems and drive systemic change over the long term. We must implement ongoing robust outreach and recruitment strategies, identify high potential talent early, and provide mentoring to ensure we retain more underrepresented people and help them achieve leadership roles with a healthy pipeline of successors behind them.
What do you predict will be the biggest gaps between what employers are willing to offer and what employees expect as we move forward? And what strategies would you offer about how to reconcile those gaps?
Right now, employees want it all. They want complete flexibility and autonomy on the when and where of work. They want remote but also the ability to drop into an office for team meetings or fun gatherings. They want unlimited access to travel for meetups with peers. They want less Zoom and more face-to-face time. As you can see, there are a lot of challenges to overcome because sometimes these desires may come into conflict, and it’s hard for organizations to rationalize funding of everything.
It may also be difficult for many companies to offer employees the ability to work from any location in the world. Though the idea of being completely nomadic — envision waking up in a decked out travel van and sipping coffee while looking at the ocean — may be desired by many, there are myriad complexities — cultural, legal, financial — that employers navigate to provide this type of flexibility. What can help is creating cultures that are intentional about flexibility as a goal rather than an outcome. So, communicating greater options about where and how people work for example becomes important:beyond the home, there may be options to expand the company’s footprint of offices or temporary work facilities around the world. Getting creative with travel, meetups, and coordinating how people can get together and be more connected to the company shifts our thinking in new and positive ways.
We simultaneously joined a global experiment together last year called “Working From Home.” How will this experience influence the future of work?
While the initial transition to remote work was challenging for employees and employers alike, it allowed companies to explore new avenues of engagement, community creation and collaboration that I don’t believe we would have experienced otherwise. Among employees, it’s also prompted greater consideration of what they want from employers. Many of them want to keep the flexibility around when and where they work gained during the pandemic. For some, this has become a deciding factor in whether they stay with their current employer or go somewhere else.
Supporting this kind of flexibility and hybrid workforce long term will require further changes. There will need to be a greater emphasis on connection activities to bridge the distance between distributed teams. Managers will need to be more mindful of how they encourage team members to participate, maintain productivity and enforce team norms. At New Relic, we created a playbook to specifically help managers lead distributed teams.
Employees also want to be valued, seen and recognized not only for what they do but for who they are. Recent research from McKinsey on the Great Resignation found that 54% of employees who quit their jobs during the pandemic felt their employers didn’t value them. This is why at New Relic, we’ve redesigned our diversity, equity and inclusion initiatives to better support our various employee communities with employee resource groups (ERGs). We also have very active Slack communities for people to connect over common interests. I’m personally in several, including Sneakers (because of my love for Jordan 1s) and Pelorelics (for all who enjoy Peloton). Employees want opportunities to connect with others who are like them, and be understood and appreciated by those who aren’t. This was already a big focus for us, and we’ll be investing even more in our groups going forward.
We’ve all read the headlines about how the pandemic reshaped the workforce. What societal changes do you foresee as necessary to support a future of work that works for everyone?
We will need to democratize or create equitable access to technology. Without access to high speed, reliable internet, it will be hard to build the skills needed for the future. Remote work brings the benefit of a wider pool of people who can be hired regardless of location or ability to work in a physical office environment, but there is also a flip side… there’s the chance that a remote-first world furthers inequity because those who do not have access to computers or reliable high speed internet at home (actual access, cost, a home that isn’t conducive to work) aren’t able to meet a minimum requirement for these roles.
We saw it play out in the early pandemic with students — some kids didn’t have a digital connection or device at home, and even when those were provided by programs through schools/cities, that didn’t mean those kids had a reliable place to learn from home — a grownup to keep track of them, help support them showing up to classes, or a consistent place they could be at home, because their parents might have to be out working.
Thinking about that parallel to the current work world is interesting… who is being left out in this modernization and revolution of remote work? On its face, it feels like an incredible opportunity to widen the funnel of who can apply to work for any job/any company, etc. … but there is also the chance that for some folks, that means they don’t have that capacity or ability, and they continue to be left behind.
Another critical area that we’ll need to change is how we treat parents, in particular women, who work. The pandemic had a significant impact on women, many of whom opted to leave the workforce to care for their children or others. Paid leave for caregivers is another must-do to ensure a strong future of work. The U.S. lags behind other countries in terms of providing paid leave for new parents. The U.S. is one of seven countries without national paid maternity leave and one of 83 countries without national paid paternity leave. Social support for new parents is critical to family bonding, social and economic well-being. For companies, supporting workers who care for others — not just care for childbirth or adoption but offering paid leave for those who care for sick family members — is significant for retention, belonging and equitable representation.
What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of work?
The past two years have served as an opportunity to reset expectations on what it means to work. In my opinion, the great source of optimism about the future of work revolves around flexibility. Whether it’s where an employee works, when they work, or how they work, as long as it doesn’t interfere with business or customer needs, I believe employee productivity and performance should be measured by outcomes, not where an employee sits. Workplace flexibility creates more opportunities for employees and expands an employer’s candidate pool exponentially. That starts with flexibility and providing employees with the resources and confidence to do their best work from anywhere.
Our collective mental health and wellbeing are now considered collateral as we consider the future of work. What innovative strategies do you see employers offering to help improve and optimize their employee’s mental health and wellbeing?
For a long time, employers “checked the box” on mental health by offering an Employee Assistance Program. But during the pandemic, we saw those services expand and become more heavily promoted. For example, we expanded our offerings with the Ginger app, which provides 24/7, on-demand mental health services to all employees. We also invited specialists to speak to the company on broad topics of mental health — mindfulness, meditation, coping, etc.
Employers are also increasingly offering employees mental health days and actively encouraging them to use their paid time off. However, some employees can find it difficult to truly unplug without the worry of what they’re missing out on or whether the team back in the office needs their help. That’s why in August 2021, we at New Relic introduced our first week-long company-wide vacation to celebrate our employees’ hard work and dedication during the challenging year. This allowed our employees to truly disconnect across the company and recharge as a group without needing to take PTO, and it was so well received that we are doing it again in 2022.
However, mental health is just the beginning. Employers must also identify resources and services to further accommodate diverse workforces. For example, at the beginning of 2022, New Relic launched Carrot to expand family planning services for employees to start and add to their families. This goes beyond adoption and infertility, covering services like surrogacy, egg freezing, sperm and egg donation, and more, up to $6,000 per year. We’re constantly assessing the needs of our employee population and finding ways to meet those needs.
It seems like there’s a new headline every day. ‘The Great Resignation’. ‘The Great Reconfiguration’. And now the ‘Great Reevaluation’. What are the most important messages leaders need to hear from these headlines? How do company cultures need to evolve?
Leaders need to ensure that they create a place where people want to be. When I started at New Relic, there was a motto, “love your Mondays,” that I thought was completely corny. After a while, I understood it — it was all about creating an environment where I wanted to be, where I felt valued and supported and didn’t have regrets or angst about the work week starting. A place where I could do my best work and grow through solving interesting problems. This has impacted so many of us that, this year, we’ve formally adopted this statement as our People team vision statement.
These challenges should lead to companies reevaluating how they treat their employees. Employees are the engine that drive your ability to serve your customer, so you need to treat them like your most critical resource and build a culture that provides that support, encouragement, and growth. They are just as important as your customers. You fail without either, so you have to ensure that you put as much rigor around programs that support your employees as you do to increase customer satisfaction.
Leaders need to be brave and vulnerable — not just when it’s easy, but when it’s hard. They must lead and support diverse initiatives, employee resource groups, participate in open conversations around inclusivity, inspire and employ diverse opinions, and most importantly, initiate change and encourage collective responsibility.
Let’s get more specific. What are your “Top 5 Trends To Track In the Future of Work?”
- How we lead and our ability to empower and inspire through creation of a purpose-driven culture. Companies need to have a strong ESG practice as it connects to purpose-driven employment. Employees need to and will keep demanding they feel good about where they work — who the company is — and what they have the opportunity to contribute to beyond the explicit definition of their job.
- What we need in terms of space, design and location, tools and technology, and whether we’ve created a learning organization. Pockets of tech talent used to sit in major cities globally, but that has changed. Workers have flocked to less expensive parts of the country, but access to this talent is still possible with remote work. Companies should be prepared to find, court and hire remote talent quickly and provide them with the tools to contribute quickly. Focus on upskilling. Many organizations spend a lot of time tracking attrition even though we know that it’s a larger industry problem. Our time could be better spent getting agile around shorter cycles of talent output — and adapting to upskilling tech workers quickly.
- Diversity, Equity and Inclusion measures as an integral part of our culture. Workers will join (and leave) employers based on their results related to diversity, equity and inclusion efforts. This includes belonging at work and changes in the demographic makeup of leadership, the workforce, tech innovators, investments in employee resource groups, the environment and social responsibility. Additionally, as workers have become more distributed, the importance of equity has become even more pronounced. In order to ensure equity, we’ll be focusing on removing bias in hiring and promotions through a program called hiring for success, as well as regular calibration sessions that the HRBPs sit in on as talent across the organization is discussed.
- Manager effectiveness. We need to constantly assess and upskill our managers to ensure they are effective at leading distributed teams, enhancing employee experience and engaged in data-driven decision making.
- Traditional hiring practices need to evolve. We need to question the importance of traditional qualifications, especially for technical talent. What matters is whether or not someone is capable of doing the job and has the ability to learn and grow. We can’t continue to rely on years of experience and degrees from certain universities as the standard.
I keep quotes on my desk and on scraps of paper to stay inspired. What’s your favorite “Life Lesson Quote”? And how has this quote shaped your perspective?
“Not everyone thinks the way you do” — I’m reminded to slow down and value different perspectives and also understand when I’m moving too fast and need to explain more to give people the opportunity to catch up.
We are very blessed that some of the biggest names in Business, VC funding, Sports, and Entertainment read this column. Is there a person in the world, or in the US, with whom you would love to have a private breakfast or lunch, and why? He, she, or they might just see this if we tag them.
It’s tough to narrow this down to one person. I tend to be drawn to strong Black women who overcome major obstacles and somehow find a way to stay true to themselves, so Naomi Osaka is someone that I absolutely admire and respect, and would love to meet. The other is Michelle Obama — yep, she’s still at the top of my list. I saw her speak once, and like so many others, I thought, wow, she could be one of my friends — she’s brilliant, incredibly strong, and funny as hell. Last one, and a man, Damola Adamolekun, the 33 year old CEO of PF Changs. I’d just love to be able to learn more about his journey to CEO and how he inspires those around him.
Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?
Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and good health.