Speaker spotlight: Kelli Carlson, SVP, Digital Workplace Experience at Wells Fargo

Kelli Carlson is a veteran comms professional who now leads several workplace experience programs with the corporate properties team. She is also responsible for digital transformation. It is a big responsibility in an organisation of 200,000 people.

“We have a huge working team. My job is to provide direction on experience, data behind that direction and figure out what messages we need to get out there.”

Read her experience of what it is like to plan and communicate an ‘office first’ workplace experience programme to get all those staff back into branches and offices at the United States bank, Wells Fargo, in her role as SVP, Digital Workplace Experience.

Four months before Covid hit Kelli was given a new role: to understand and measure how staff used office space across more than 1,100 offices. So when the pandemic happened she suddenly found herself with one of the toughest comms jobs imaginable: telling 200,000 colleagues whether to work from home or not and educating them on the new etiquette of remote working.

When we caught up with her this September she was in the middle of reversing that process with Return to Office campaign to get people back in the office three days a week. She has developed the plan for a personalised portal to explain where each of them would be working, health and security measures they’ve implemented and what to expect in terms of facilities when they get there.

In a short respite from planning, Kelli was able to give us a unique snapshot into what staff are feeling about the return to work, and how management will engage with them as they return to the workplace – an experience that will be very different from the one they left almost two years ago.

“We have taken away a lot of the executive offices and cubicles and adopted a more open clean seating approach. We have recruited a bunch of site leaders who will welcome people and introduce them to the new working conditions. Desks will be first come, first served. It will be like being a student arriving at your university dorm for the first day of term.”

Champions and experts will be on hand to take staff through the new ways of working. Wells Fargo uses IBM Connections, which is well past its sell-by date. So Wells Fargo is reviving Yammer as the social channel and will head towards an O365 solution for the intranet.

Kelli is using social media to get people used to the new behaviours. When she spoke she was about to launch a campaign called ‘What’s in your backpack?’ which mimics the fashion features of Elle or Cosmo magazine.

“But instead of asking Rhianna what she wears in her backpack when she goes on an aeroplane, we are asking staff what is in their backpack for when they return to office. Because many people will not realise the work that we have done in their space while they were gone. They think everything was on hold, whereas we have used the time to upgrade to Bring Your Own Device (BYOD). It will be like coming to a brand-new office where there are no desk phones, so they have to remember to bring their phone charger.”

But it’s not all one-way: some staff never left the office and now face home working.

“Contact centres have a good share of people who never left the office. In fact in some areas such as India and Manila, some staff did not even go home at all because the pandemic was so bad. Infection would have wiped out our complete contact centres. So it was very hard for them. But with vaccines we now have to teach them about A, B scheduling – go in three days one week and two days the next, and this is a population who have never worked from home.”

Wells Fargo faces all the issues that other large organisations will have to grapple with in the months ahead. If the days you work are not mandated, what is to stop everyone going in Tuesday to Thursday and therefore overstretching the facilities? Kelli hopes to learn from other offices that are going back to the office now to inform how staff are likely to behave. By November, Kelli and her team will be open with all the information about where people will be working and what will be expected of them.

Meanwhile Kelli has been conducting surveys to around 80,000 people who have never left the offices to learn from employees who have already experienced workplace changes Over a quarter of respondents replied to the last one.

“The people who are working from home are saying that it is working for them. But 98 percent of the people who have been working in offices claim that while they may not be being recognised for holding the fort, they are quite happy in the office because they have a big space to themselves. They have made their own rules because their managers are mostly not there; it’s quiet; they have figured out what works for them. I think that is the bottom line. Everyone has figured out what works for them.”

The challenge going forwards is that companies may want to enforce staff to work in the office but there may be some hesitation from employees. Kelli calls out areas where there are high levels of crime due to the pandemic, such as parts of Minneapolis and San Francisco where staff will not feel safe going into offices there three times a week.

“We’ve increased security guards, and encouraged some staff to transfer to safer environments. 99 percent of the people I poll are taking their car to work. No one wants to use mass transit right now.”

The bank is performing well financially, so people are making the point that they are working productively in the current set up. But, as elsewhere, a sense of community and company culture is in danger of slipping away.

“I think we are losing a bit of the networking. Prior to the pandemic we had lots of events after hours where people could share interests and socialise in groups like the Women In Tech communities. We are trying to kick start that again through a back-to-work programme that encourages people to network face to face. We have had great success with our online communities. We set up one on remote working to help anyone who was struggling with not being in the office.

“For instance, one man really missed the discipline of coming into the office. But he came on the network and tried out some of our tips. He then reported back: ‘I got it. Every morning I get my cup of coffee. I get in the car and drive a couple of blocks and then return to my garage. I pretend that is my commute and I get back on my computer and it works for me’. So things like that we were able to share and people loved it. Now we have to find similar stories to get people used to going back to the office.”

Kelli will be a speaker at simplySUMMIT, taking place on November 15.

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Marc Wright, simplycommunicate founder & consultant

Marc started his career in television. He wrote and produced the drama 20 Steps to Better Business for the BBC, and his passion for the way organisations work led him to run a series of agencies including Crown and MCA which was sold to WPP in 2001. He is author of the Gower Handbook of Internal Communications and is a former President of IABC EMENA. He founded simplycommunicate in 2005.

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Marc Wright simplycommunicate founder & consultant Marc started his career in television. He wrote and produced the drama 20 Steps to Better Business for the BBC, and his passion for the way organisations work led him to run a series of agencies including Crown and MCA which was sold to WPP in 2001. He is author of the Gower Handbook of Internal Communications and is a former President of IABC EMENA. He founded simplycommunicate in 2005.

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