Every New Year, Sanjay Poonen, chief operating officer for VMware, asks his wife and kids, “What can I do to be a better dad, and a better husband?” — an informal “performance-review” with his family. Last year his three kids responded, “Dad, would you mind, when you come back home, putting the phone away?” That’s the advice you would expect a parent to give to their teenagers, not the other way around. But for Poonen, as well as for many of us, it’s a reminder we all need to adapt to the new world of work — where our homes are now our offices, our laptops are our desktops, and our commute is 30 seconds, not 30 minutes, long.

For now — and for the foreseeable future — new habits, new boundaries, and new technologies are essential elements for thriving and building back better. In this week’s Leading Through Change event, Poonen joins Salesforce COO Bret Taylor in a conversation about how leaders of technology companies like VMWare are evolving their businesses to a forever changed work environment.

Following are highlights from the conversation with Poonen, in his words. They have been lightly edited for clarity.


Put your employees first

Communicate, communicate, communicate from the get go. As COO of VMware, I began a practice of doing in-country town hall meetings for my go-to-market teams — about 17,000 people across my organization. It set a communication paradigm where I was communicating directly with my teams, and in a more intimate way. I found myself more in touch with the pulse of my people across the world. Quite frankly, what I care about the most are the individual contributors — the place where all the action is — the engineers and the sales reps — and ensuring they are working well together.


Learn from your customers

We’re ramping up in the security space, so I set a personal goal this year to try and meet 1000 chief information security officers (CISOs). I figured I'd go to conferences like RSA and Black Hat — and meet a few hundred at a time. Then COVID hit. I'm finding it's easier for me to now schedule 25 minute Zoom calls. I've reached out to 700-800 CISOs so far and I've already met with 300-400 of them. [What] I’m learning from these calls is incredible. When we, as leaders, [are] willing to get into the trenches with our teams to talk to customers during these times, it motivates them even further.


Pivot and package to serve the new normal

Our approach began with moving all of our front office functions to the cloud to make them easier to manage; we run on Salesforce Sales Cloud and Service Cloud. And we run many back office applications like human resources (HR) on Workday and our core financials on SAP, in a highly optimized private cloud. We’re able to run our business in real time with 500 best-of-breed apps with very strong integrations and an analytics engine. And, I can get visibility into [all our applications] from my mobile phone.

With the growth in mobility and proliferation of endpoints, we modernized the workplace with a suite of management, virtualization, and security technologies we now call WorkspaceONE. It provides the management security layer for any of those endpoints — laptops, tablets, and phones and, in certain cases, even technologies like virtual desktops.

Enter COVID, and our customers’ use for these technologies at home have started to explode. One of our large banking customers went from 10,000 users to 200,000 users in a few days. We began to see story after story of hospitals, banks, and government agencies starting to surge in their uses for home. In response, we built a future-ready, work-from-home suite that includes workspace management, next generation endpoint security, and network acceleration capabilities — all optimized for the laptop or phone used for work at home. It’s done really well in meeting the surge in demand we’ve seen over the past six months.


Respond to the digital revolution

We are at the cusp of an incredible revolution where even industries like agriculture are all becoming tech industries, because they're being revolutionized through the cloud, internet of things (IoT), or mobile. These technologies are going to change the world, not just for business but for education, healthcare, and telemedicine. It is going to fundamentally change everything.

Our job as infrastructure players is to support those apps and be the “digital first responders” — because ultimately infrastructure like ours serves those applications. Whether it's Salesforce for CRM, EPIC for medical records, or SAP for financials — that's the way in which we think about the future. I think it's going to be a very exciting time.

The new world of work is different, and some of those new habits — like being more mindful of our family, coworkers, and customers — are ones we’d like to endure.

To learn more, watch the full interview with Sanjay Poonen at the link below.

This conversation is part of our Leading Through Change series, providing thought leadership, tips, and resources to help business leaders manage through crisis. Prior video interviews include: