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How I Inadvertently Became Prepared for a Post-Pandemic Work World

When I started at UnitedHealth Group, I had no way of knowing that all of the ways I evolved my team model to meet our business needs would result in my having experience in the kinds of transitions and transformations that companies are needing to make with their teams today.

When I started, my team was me and a part-time intern.

I started building out my team, all based in one geographic location. At the time, UHG was really US-based, one language, with all corporate roles sitting in Minneapolis.

I developed a great model for my team. We were winning awards, producing strong ROI for the business, and exceeding my KPIs for my partners.

Things were going so well, in fact, that they wanted me us to extend support for what had been an entirely separate entity…in India. I had been to India exactly twice and I knew, culturally, it was a different ballgame. In fact, it was more like cricket. (had to do the pun, sorry!). I would need resources on the ground to be effective…combining their local expertise with what was working for us in North America in a way that was relevant and effective.

I had to hire my first person remotely. This was 10 years ago. No small feat given where technology was then. Then we had to onboard them and get them up and running because the visa process was SO long to be able to bring her to the US to meet the rest of the team and train. It took 6 months before she could meet her coworkers.

This was the first pivot in our team structure. Suddenly, we had to get everything online where it could be shared with her and our India agency, vendor, and business partners. We had to take into consideration time zones for setting up calls. We had to build trust and relationships remotely….with a culture that values relationships above all else in doing business.

A year later, we were asked to do the same in the Philippines. Then we added operations support in both countries.

It was at this point that I realized we needed to design our work experience, our work culture, our behaviors that demonstrate our values in a remote-first manner to truly have one, integrated, collaborative team. So we did just that. People who never met became co-workers, collaborators, and friends. We knew family members and birthdays. We learned about each other’s holidays, and took great fun in celebrating them.

Because a lot of our work was with each other, and to accommodate early morning and late night calls to account for time differences, it no longer made sense for my team to come into an office every day. We did still have locally based business partners and clients to meet with on a weekly or occasional basis, so we evolved to a hybrid model. Everyone went into their local office 2 days a week. Usually Tuesday/Wednesday. Other workdays, people could choose to work wherever and however it worked best for their life, as long as they were accessible for the virtual, global collaboration sessions.

A year later, we were asked to integrate a new acquisition in Brazil, as well as set up initial operations for another business expanding into Brazil. This would be our first time being multi-lingual…and the timeline was aggressive. We hired 2 people to support, people we did not end up meeting for months. In the meantime, though, they got onboarded and this major work effort to recreate and tailor EVERYTHING for a different culture and language became a global team affair. It was “all hands-on deck”, all around the globe. We all learned a ton. We learned what was similar…and what was different. We learned where technology served us, and where we were vulnerable.

When we were then asked to set up new operations in yet another country, we could not get approval for the 2 full time resources needed. We got 1 instead. That meant we were going to need to provide the rest of the support for this new country of business with our global team members.

At the same time, we continued to run into huge peaks in work in one country while people in another country were below capacity. It felt a bit like whack-a-mole in terms of where the latest firedrill would pop up.

We needed to figure out a way to be super responsive to our business partners, level out workload, create even stronger collaboration across the team, and have the time difference work for us versus against us.

So we evolved into an agile marketing model. This was no small feat, but the benefits were plentiful. Our team was empowered in reviewing and prioritizing work. They learned how to work smarter…like developing strategies globally, together, then localizing them versus creating from scratch for each region on their own. They learned how to lean on one another and handoff work. A team member in the US could work on a project, go home to spend time with their family and sleep, then come back the next morning with their peers around the globe having completed the work. It taught us A LOT about context, communication, documentation, and how to leverage technology for both.

With our agile model, we found we were returning a stronger ROI, with greater speed, to our business partners.

Even more importantly, my team had very little turnover, well below our overall organization or team. People really liked the remote-first work experience, the global collaboration, and the variety of work they got to take on and learn.

These are all experiences and transformations of my team model that met the moment of where my business was at….and now I apply those experiences with our clients to meet the moment for where our collective world is evolving to.

Interested in learning more about hybrid work, remote-first culture, or evolving how work gets done within your organization? Schedule a Strategy Call with Heather by clicking here.

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