‘Listen more than you speak’ is a leadership mantra David Joosten, CEO and President of Vodafone US, lives by. And it’s a mantra that has served him well during his more than 20 years as a leader in IT and telecoms, and especially over the last few years of leading people remotely.
David tells Business Chief that during the pandemic, keeping people motivated and connected was the main priority at Vodafone, as well as being empathic to their situation. “Communication was critical, listening to people key, and coming out of the pandemic, I certainly learned how to do this more effectively and collaboratively,” he says.
This is just one of many silver linings David attributes to the pandemic. While acknowledging that the last few years have been tough and that challenges remain, he says the pandemic has provided an “opportunity to change how we work” and “how and where we will collaborate with each other in the future”.
David believes hybrid work and flexible hours are here to stay, and that getting it right will be a continuous learning curve and challenge for business leaders and IT teams – but a huge opportunity too.
Greater workplace flexibility supports Vodafone culture
“In the future, organisations should prioritise flexibility, remove location as a role requirement (where possible), use better digital tools to support in-person and virtual collaboration and innovation, and creatively evolve office space to help these ways of working,” he argues.
While Vodafone was an early adopter of flexible working many years ago, the company is taking its learnings from the pandemic and gathering input from its employees worldwide on what to do next, noting that what started as an experiment is now the norm.
“Greater flexibility in working location supports our unique culture at Vodafone, giving individuals and teams the freedom to tailor the way they work based on customer and personal needs.
“At Vodafone Business, we’re working with our teams to agree on what flexible working will look like for us, as no one size fits all. There cannot be a set formula or ratio, but there can be a broad target. The key is to build in flexibility so that it can be adapted for individual or team needs, but it must be a give and take trust-based arrangement.”
That’s why it’s essential, says David, to develop new and comprehensive policies with the relevant teams internally, such as HR, IT, and finance, and then also in partnership with colleagues to set boundaries, create flexible working hours, and de-centralise decision-making.
To sustain this long-term, David says companies need to figure out when it makes sense to have employees come to an office, whether for team-building exercises, company meetings, or milestone celebrations, and which employees should go into the office, and how they can remain productive in doing so.
“This should be an open and evolving conversation between the employer and employees, with both being flexible in their policies and expectations,” he says. And if done correctly, it’s an “opportunity to build a trusting and empowering relationship between employer and employees and create healthier lifestyles moving forward… one that could lead to longer working careers and lessen our impact on the planet thanks to reduced commutes and in-person meetings”.
Flexible working can help firms attract and retain talent
Flexible working will also mean attracting more top talent, argues David, opening Vodafone up to new employees who might have been excluded in the past simply because they live too far away from, or had difficulty getting to, one of its offices. “With a reduced dependence on location, we can increase career opportunities for our employees, enabling them to leverage their skills for roles that may interest them.”
At the centre of this transition to successful hybrid working is technology, which allows people to build a working life that fits their personal life and vice versa, reflecting the many roles each of us plays as colleagues, spouses, parents, caretakers, and leaders. “It is evident that businesses now see the benefit of providing employees with the latest technology to boost remote working experiences and retain talent.”
In adopting hybrid and remote working styles for the long-term, David warns organisations to be mindful of not replicating the office infrastructure in a digital environment, but to instead think critically about the traditional practices and innovative workflows of an in-person workday and consider whether those practices are efficient and productive in a hybrid or remote virtual environment.
He points to internal face-to-face meetings, a “time-consuming and perhaps inefficient relic of ‘traditional’ working that should not simply be replicated via video conferencing”. Instead, he recommends using better and more effective communication channels and tools for the situation, like Slack or Teams, as alternatives for sharing updates.
“Leaders must decide when and how to interact with remote employees effectively without undermining productivity.”
Vodafone is investing in the latest technology and tools for collaboration
David believes the need for interaction and connectivity is even more significant when people are not physically located together, and that organisations need to standardise and optimise their communication and collaboration tools for maximum employee productivity without disruption, no matter where they are operating from.
“There needs to be a seamless employee experience, whether employees are logging on from home, on the go, or at the office, especially as they will be working across multiple devices, too. This will also be critical in supporting more agile ways of working that engage employees and manage customer expectations.”
To that end, Vodafone is investing in the latest technology and tools for collaboration, as well as simplifying its processes and systems to make it easier to get things done.
When it comes to time spent in the office, David says it will be all about connecting, co-creating and innovating, moving from the passive use of office space to “deliberately making our office space work for us and ensuring every employee has a safe place to work”.
He acknowledges however that what works now might not work in another two years or two months, as times change, markets evolve, and people’s circumstances differ. Which is why listening to employees is more important than ever.
“The conversation must be honest and ongoing if businesses are to make this work for everyone. As we listen to our employees and learn from other companies, we are grateful for the openness of our employees to try new ways of doing things, experiment, and learn.”
Meet David Joosten, CEO, Vodafone US
David Joosten is the President and CEO of Vodafone US Inc. In this role, he leads Vodafone Business commercial operations throughout the United States, Canada, and Latin America, in addition to Vodafone partner markets including France, Belgium, the Netherlands, Luxembourg, and the Nordics, and Vodafone’s international public sector customers. With over twenty years in global IT, telecoms, and sales, David brings a wealth of experience to the role. David joined Vodafone in 2007 and has held many international roles over the years, including most recently Head of International Sales, a position he held from 2016–2019.