Embracing Uncertainty in a Wabi-Sabi World

Three lessons learned as a global leader in workplace services in the age of the pandemic.

The Japanese worldview of wabi-sabi holds that nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. I believe it is the key to survival in a pandemic era where workplace routines have been thrown out the window.

Wabi-sabi asks us to find beauty in the imperfect and accept that nothing stays the same. It challenges us to embrace impermanence. Could there be a more ideal philosophy to help us navigate a time of turmoil and uncertainty?

By applying this mindset over the past few years, my Workplace Services team has overcome constant challenges and change that I never expected. Today, we can spin at any time with relative grace and efficiency. Of course, it takes more than just a philosophical embrace of ambiguity. It requires smart strategies that set us up for success.

Here are some lessons learned to help your workplace services team navigate our new wabi-sabi world.

1) Choose your stakeholders wisely

In a crisis, some leaders may instinctively want to take control. This is incomprehensible. You don’t want to leave your teams in a state of uncertainty any longer than necessary. At the same time, making hasty decisions that don’t take multiple perspectives into account is risky.

From the moment we started implementing a work-from-home policy for ServiceNow employees in 2020, we were intentional about who got a seat at the table. We prioritize partnering with cross-functional decision makers from our workplace services, global talent, legal, communications and IT teams.

We also collaborate closely with global leaders in all regions. Every decision we made effectively took into account geographically diverse and far-reaching concerns that needed their own champion – security, morale, engagement, employee retention, compliance, data privacy, and more.

Did that mean a lot of meetings? Yes. Did that mean a few long days and difficult conversations? Yes. But each of my teammates and the entire company are better off and better positioned to maintain agility in the future.

2) Become a force for good

What did the pandemic mean to you? For many workplace service leaders, it can feel like chasing a moving target. Or trying to make lemonade out of lemons. Or simply losing a lot of sleep.

We were able to reframe the stress of the pandemic by thinking of it as a unique opportunity to support our employees in a tangible and human way.

I’m proud to say that our team stepped up in a time of turmoil, truly committed to doing what’s best for our employees. Our contributions go beyond seat assignments and cleaning schedules. We double down on our diversity, equity and inclusion agenda, driving talent retention, shaping career journeys and offering never-before-seen flexibility that will outlast this pandemic.

For example, we’ve established three work personas that cater to varying degrees of flexibility needs. Only 4% of our employees are needed in the office due to their critical role in systems, support and maintenance. The remaining 96% can safely and happily integrate work and life, creating a flexible work landscape to suit their needs. At the same time, we are also prepared to quickly adjust if that changes. Wabi-sabi for the win.

3) Use the right tools

Over the course of a decade, ServiceNow has grown from a ramshackle IT service management startup to an organization of over 17,500 people supporting over 7,000 customers. Throughout this journey, every touchpoint of the employee and customer experience has been carefully considered and crafted.

Nothing lasts, nothing is finished and nothing is perfect. And we can live with that.

The pandemic has only amplified our efforts, pushing us to innovate more than ever before so that we have the right tools for what we need to accomplish. For example:

  • We embrace automation. To keep up with the speed of change and maintain consistency across the world, we use our suite of Workplace Service Delivery apps. These apps allow us to seamlessly and securely perform a range of on-site security functions, from health checks and contact tracing, to assessing office readiness for reopening, workspace reservations, and more.
  • We prioritize self-service. The ease and convenience with which employees can access and share information is a priority, as is the security and privacy of these interactions. Our emergency self-reporting app allows employees to confidentially report Covid-19 exposures and positive test results.
  • We digitize for the future. As part of a return to the office, we use our Vaccination Status app, which meets the highest standards of safety and compliance. Our Workplace Reservation and Workplace Case Management apps can also handle the needs of an evolving workplace, helping people manage seat reservations, navigate an unfamiliar office, report issues and perform other tasks unique to our new hybrid world.

These tools are now integrated into our employee onboarding experience so new hires can start the employee journey with clear expectations and confidence that the company is looking out for them.

the lesson is simple

Workplace services took on a true leadership role when the pandemic hit, providing a safe and comfortable experience for employees. But we are not resting on our laurels. We know firsthand that the wabi-sabi worldview is truer today than ever before: nothing lasts, nothing is finished, and nothing is perfect. And we can live with that.

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