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Sam Fisher, Head of Dynamic Work at Okta, On Enabling the Workplace of the Future Today

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As the pandemic headwinds continue shifting, organizations across industries are reimagining their workplaces. Okta – an identity and access management solution provider – is one of them. In fact, Okta had been making the shift to a hybrid work environment long before Covid-19 hit. As Okta CEO Todd McKinnon explains, the company’s “dynamic work” approach means “employees can be located anywhere and work from home, but still have access to the benefits of being an office worker.” And it expects about 85% of its workforce will be remote, compared to 30% pre-pandemic, once its transition to dynamic work is complete.

Click here if you’d like to watch Sam Fisher’s full on-demand webinar.

To gain insight into how Okta is enabling this shift to a new model of working – and the role of a mobile workplace app – we interviewed Okta’s Head of Dynamic Work, Sam Fisher. Modo first got to know Sam Fisher during her involvement launching a Modo-powered mobile workplace app for Capital One, her previous employer. In this newly created role, Sam is responsible for shaping employees’ experiences as Okta shifts to this new model of dynamic work and making sure that employees are able to make the transition seamlessly and effectively.

Q. When we first met you years ago while you were at Capital One, the idea of a workplace centered around the assumption that most people would be working on site. What’s changed in how you think about the workplace experience since the pandemic?

A. We launched the Capital One @Work workplace app in 2014, when workplace experience was an emerging term. At that time, when most people were in the office, the app was primarily centered around helping people make good decisions about what they wanted to do during their day. That ultimately enabled people to deliver the best services and products to Capital One’s clients, to design the best services and features for the applications at Capital One, and to engage well with the workplace from a cultural standpoint.

What we were solving for and the technology that we were using to solve for it hasn’t changed.

The pandemic has just accelerated the need for this type of solution.

The physical aspect of the office might change for different organizations, and will be different for every organization. But the ultimate goal of what we’re trying to do with a workplace app remains unchanged. The workplace app is still solving for enabling employees to do their jobs everyday. Every organization is now looking to enable that in an even more intentional way since their workforces will be distributed in some form.

Q. What did 2020 look like for you and Okta — what challenges did you face and what did you learn along the way?

A. I started at Okta in December 2020, but the way Okta thinks about the clients, employees, talent, and the services it provides are all reasons that Okta designed dynamic work. The beauty is that Okta was already thinking about this long before the pandemic.

Okta opened a new headquarters building in early 2019, and even then talked about it from a talent perspective. It was about enabling access to a broader talent pool across the entire world. It also was about how to redesign spaces to enable the dynamic workplace.

Okta has an incredible mission statement to be the identity company that stands for trust and enables everyone to safely use any technology. No matter how you want to get work done, we’re there to help.

As part of that, the driving factors behind dynamic work were around talent, equity, experience. How do we enable our teams to deliver the best products and the best services for our clients? That’s what the new workplace will look like, particularly in the knowledge worker segment. The pendulum has shifted to enabling employees, and the knowledge worker in particular, to have the autonomy and the authority to make some decisions about how and when they want to work. In this way, they can balance delivering the best products and the best services with their personal lives.

Because Okta was already pushing in that direction, the challenges we now face are how we educate about and advocate for this new style of working. Now that everyone’s been working remotely for a year, how do we help them incorporate flexibility into their work style?

Q. What does the word “dynamic” mean to Okta and to you?

A.  Remote working feels very binary to many organizations. You either come to the office and

you’re in the office or you’re not. But it doesn’t have to be an either/or.

What I love about dynamic work is that it is an “and” proposition. I can work from home, and I can work from a third space, and I can work from an office. I have this choice and flexibility depending on what I’m working on, who I need to collaborate with, how I want to feel connected to the organization and the culture of the organization.

Dynamic work is a framework and a methodology for us to enable our teams and our people to do the best work. And that is ultimately going to power the engine that supports our clients.

Q. How should organizations – such as those in finance, manufacturing, pharmaceutical – think about the workplace of the future considering they might not have the option of enabling people to work remotely?

A. Obviously, some industries and organizations cannot fully adopt dynamic work. But they can

adopt parts of it. Even at Okta, some functions will potentially need more office time. The future of the office and the future of the workplace at Okta is going to shift and evolve based on how teams work, and our client base, and what we’re striving toward.

The basis of dynamic work for Okta is built on trust, rapport, and equity. When your employee base is a hybrid population of people working in the office and working remotely, you end up with some level of inequity.

Do people working remotely feel as included? Do they feel their contribution is as valuable as those in the office? Do they feel they have as much opportunity for advancement, coaching, and mentoring?

When you are a remote employee, it’s harder to feel connected to the organization both culturally and in these other ways. For Okta, the core tenet around dynamic work is around how we enable and empower employees around both productivity and social connections. The goal is for all people to feel equitably valued regardless of where they happen to work or their time zone.

I’ve worked for organizations where I sat far from the leadership team. Conversations would happen in a meeting room and I was on the phone. When the meeting was over and I had hung up the phone, the people on site still kept talking about the topics and issues.

Organizations thinking about some version of dynamic work need to think about how to solve that problem. At Okta, our dynamic work framework is intended to eliminate that. It comes down to every employee and every partner feeling equitable value, equitable contribution, and equitable access to information, leadership, mentoring, coaching and advancement opportunities.

Q. We’ve seen these types of inequities with remote learning for school-age kids. How do we improve things and ensure equity?

A. Technology isn’t necessarily a solution. It’s an enabler for solving a problem. From an app perspective, start with the problem statement and then figure out what features you need to solve that, keeping in mind the user’s perspective.

We did that at Capital One when we were designing the workplace app. We said “If I am a user of this app, I want to use it because…” and we listed a host of things. The user experience is really important in the context of the problem you are solving for the person.

If I’m a dynamic worker and work on a team that is distributed around the globe, I don’t want to feel left out because I’m asleep in Asia when my North American counterparts are having a meeting. I want equitable access to that.

From the app perspective, we want people to understand they have options to either work from home, the office, or in a third space. That introduces two important considerations: One, if I want to come into the office, I want to make sure I’m safe and secure. Two, I’m coming into the office because I want to collaborate and connect with someone, such as for the purposes of helping Okta innovate.

How do you instill confidence that you’re taking care of people’s emotional and physical well-being?  How do we enable people to be more transparent about their schedules, about when they’re going to come into the office or what they’re going to use the office for? And how do we provide more visibility into available office resources so people can plan their day, week or month out?

With technology and an app, you can deliver that information in an anticipatory fashion so people can make informed decisions.

Q. Modo encourages organizations to think through the user journey and the daily user experience as they design their workplace apps. What features do you recommend they think about when it comes to dynamic work?

A. Modo’s platform supports a fair number of key features.

First is enabling confidence by making it possible for employees to manage their experience and see what it will look like when they’re back in the office. 

  • Once they get into the office how do they get into the building and navigate through the building? Here you can provide maps and videos on the app.
  • Employees want to feel comfortable and confident that the appropriate cleaning procedures and protocols are in place and that they are safe when they arrive at the office. How do they know the stairwell has been sanitized? Some ways to do that is by enabling them to see on your mobile app that office areas have been cleaned and sanitized, for example.
  • How do they know a certain floor or the elevator has the right number of people on it? That’s where a heat map comes into play.

These are transparent ways for organizations to inspire confidence in employees that they are taking the right actions. At the same time, think about how you can enable your app administrator, such as allowing them to see who employees have been in contact with in the office.

The second key part is around collaboration. I live in Chicago and take a train into the city. It’s a 45-minute ride both ways so when I come into the office, I want to be sure the people that I need to collaborate with will be there. Through presence sensing and heat maps in the mobile app, employees can see who is in the office.

I also need tools to collaborate. How do we build features into the app that allow us to find and talk to people prior to arriving at the office and share their schedules so people can choose good times to go into the office to collaborate? How can they book a room in advance? And what tools are available to support that collaboration?

Those kinds of things are going to be really important, particularly for a dynamic workplace where you can be in office or work remotely. You want to enable easy, convenient access to the necessary information and tools.  

As Sam’s experience and insights underscore, technology is an enabler for meeting the needs of employees throughout their workday. Now more than ever, a mobile app is essential technology for making the workforce productive — wherever they may be. Discover how you can empower your hybrid workforce with an all-in-one app.

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