Episode 80 – Workplace Transformation, with Rhett Livengood on Safety, Happiness, and Productivity.


The world has been talking about the growth of collaboration tools and demands on the PC market, but what else are we missing to do our jobs and do them well? It’s time to start talking about how organizations are going to need to reimagine the roles and responsibilities of their leadership to hone in on what employees need to be safe, secure, and productive. Today we are joined by Rhett Livengood to talk about what the future looks like and the leaders that support that vision. 

Related: What Workplace Transformation Means Now: Two Experts Discuss the Opportunities

Key takeaways

[1:08] Rhett Livengood shares his background.

[2:29] Rhett Livengood talks about workplace transformation from a leadership standpoint.

[4:06] How do you protect employees?

[6:05] 60% of remote workers do their work from their living rooms.

[8:23] Is remote work temporary or is it here to stay?

[10:45] What are some of the building blocks that can cast that wide net of security to keep that human error from being such an issue in people’s homes?

[11:30] Rhett shares how the  Intel hardware shield works.

[12:30] The old refresh days are in the past.

[15:15] Rhett talks about the upcoming trend of recycling devices.

[17:50] How do we better measure productivity in this environment?

[20:44] Rhett shares his experience going into a fully remote setting. 

[23:30] Rhett talks about how Intel has been monitoring how users feel at their workspaces as they adapt to remote working.

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Transcript of Episode 80 of the TechSperience Podcast

Penny Conway (0:02): The world has been talking about the growth of collaboration tools and the demands on the PC market, but what else are we missing to do our jobs and do them well. It’s time to start talking about how organizations are going to have to reimagine the roles and responsibilities of their leadership to home in on what employees need to be safe, secure and productive. I’m your host Penny Conway, and today I’m joined by Rhett Livengood to talk about what the future looks like for IT and the leaders that support them.

Hi Rhett! Welcome to the podcast!

Rhett Livengood (1:01): Hi, it’s great to be here with Connection today. 

Penny Conway (1:04): We’re excited to have you on and let our audience know what brings you to the podcast today.

Rhett Livengood (1:09): Yeah, so I worked at Intel for quite a few years, probably the last 10 years I’ve worked in what we call Workplace Transformation and spent a lot of time, it’s kind of funny these days, transforming our workspace from one of cubicles to one that’s more interactive and collaborative. So, I’ve spent a lot of time on that and now of course we’re doing another transformation, and this time your workplace might be home or might be anywhere. So, it’s been an interesting journey and I’ve enjoyed my many years working with Connection.

Penny Conway (1:42): Excellent, I thought we’d maybe switch gears a little bit going into todays episode and start talking about the bigger picture of today’s transformation. You know, aside from that digital I think that there is something changing in terms of the roles that will be played in the short term. As people try to identify what’s next and working on coming back to work, and what their remote workforce is going to look like in the long term, but also, in general. I think that there might be new roles coming to the forefront in that C-suite that we haven’t ever really seen before. So I’d love to ask you, in your conversations with customers and coworkers around this workplace transformation, what changes are you seeing from a leadership standpoint, in terms of who’s coming in and what are their charges outside of IT and hardware and things like that?

Rhett Livengood (2:37): Yes, so I think the big changes especially as we’ve seen a big move to remote work or working from anywhere. And even before the pandemic that trend was starting – is there is the notion of a Chief Happiness Officer and what we mean by happiness is not wearing jeans or having a cocktail on Fridays, but how can you make the end user happy as well as having the IT person supporting them happy, wherever they are working. Whether that’s a coffee shop, the living room, their home office, ectara. And making sure that the WIFI is sufficient so they aren’t having to constantly log back into meetings. Making sure the ergonomics are set up and they’ve got the right chair and lighting and things to do their work. So, they are in general, if you will, happy as a work.

The other one is, as we move from a secure world within your company to virtual private networks, where you may be traveling certain areas and you’re secure. Now we’re talking about home security and the number one vulnerability for security is employees clicking on bad links that take them to bad places. And now that’s prevalent. The Chief Information Security Officer is going to evolve or even have a separate person who’s going to be called the Chief Threat Officer and that’s really on how you protect the employees kind of with  a human shield now that their out there in the wild protecting the company asset. So, you really got to look at those two positions as we move to this work from anywhere type of lifestyle.

Penny Conway (4:17): You know, I wonder how many IT professionals out there would want to don the title of Chief Happiness Officer, but it’s so true and such an interesting way to think about it is sitting in our  normal workplaces at our normal desk there’s only a maybe a short list of things that could go wrong. That could be immediately taken care of by IT, but now, like you’re saying, out in that great big, wide world of home networks and everything like that. It’s their job in a weird way is to make all of us happy. So, we can sit here and do what we’re doing right now with good connections and good equipment. That are going to make us really happy at the end and give us a good result for the time we spent working. But, hey, I wouldn’t mind being a Chief Happiness Officer.  I think I could actually apply for the job (laughter).

Rhett Livengood (5:08): In fact, you know Connection has got a wonderful facility and this Technical Integration and Distribution Center I think those types of facilities or capabilities that deal with the last mile. The last mile used to be how do we get up and running and get the right OS and build for your company and your office. Now the last mile is at home. And with that last mile changing dramatically what you have to deliver now to the employee is really going to change. And I think having that capability is really going to, is definitely a key advantage for Connection in these times. Because, it’s interesting we just did a survey and 60%, and this was in the US, 60% of remote workers now, do their work not from a home office, but from the living room.

Penny Conway (6:04): Yes. Actually, you know what, I could probably vouch for that. I was pleasantly–well I shouldn’t say pleasantly surprised, going into this whole venture of remote work how many people didn’t have a remote office and people I thought would. You know, people who work from home regularly. Should I say people who are remote regularly. But it turns out a lot of these people are on the road, their office was a plane, their office was a hotel, and so when they were stuck in their houses, they didn’t really have a working space. So, it turned into the living room or the kitchen table. So, very interesting what I’ve seen visually on Zoom calls and all that is actually played out in statistics and surveys themselves.

Rhett Livengood (6:49): You know, I think Connection is now driving a campaign called “The New Normal” and I think that’s a great word for it, for remote workers. Because that new normal, that being able to work from anywhere or from key places in the house is really where we’re moving to. And I think it’s going to change how you manage devices. In the old days something would break down on your PC and someone would come out and fix it. Now days when you’re in your home it means a swap. Right? Something that doesn’t work, you send it in. Something that does work, you send it out. That gets very expensive and being able to do, you know, remote monitoring and diagnostics and even some fancy artificial intelligence—which everyone always wonders what that is—you know those kind of capabilities, the new normal, that’s really what we’re moving into. And I think there will be opportunities for those that can pivot, if you will, from the old in office only ways.

Penny Conway (7:42): I love that, going the last mile. It’s not coming into my hands now; it’s going directly to the end user in their living room where they are working. Are you sort of seeing a lot of them go with the flow? And say, “This needs to be a new way to work, A new way that I’m going to work and manage my end users”. Or are you still seeing folks in that between that are going “This is temporary, I’ve got a temporary fix. If something happens again, we’ll know how to react to it. But I’m kind of not shifting my entire way of managing my IT assets and my people just to accommodate this temporary remote work you know, situation we’re in”.

Rhett Livengood (8:23): You know, I think what we’ve seen is that folks were in kind of crisis mode for the first few months and I think they are probably kind of, if you will, in the old way of thinking and have got all the band aids on.  And now they’ve got time to breath they are thinking, “Wow, this is going to happen for the long term, what do I need to change?” We’ve estimate that this year alone, in 2020, that 100 million PCs will switch from desktop to notebook which is a huge shift.

And, you now, supporting a desktop is much different than supporting a notebook. And for those of us who still need to get into a workstation to crunch some numbers, being able to do that remotely and have those types of connections and services is going to be key. So, I think you’re going to have to really relook at how you do IT delivery and IT services. Back to that Chief Happiness Officer, and also, I’ve not mentioned the threat person. Because, I mean it’s one thing to have bullet proof software in the office, but if everyone’s out clicking on a bunch of bad links, it doesn’t matter how awesome your in-house security is (laughter).

Penny Conway (9:30): Right? (laughter).

Rhett Livengood (9:31): Everything at home’s a brick.

Penny Conway (9:34): Right, you know I’ve seen a lot of campaigns you know, on LinkedIn and in different customer’s offices—well before we were all home—but you’d see these campaigns as you walked down the hall like, “If you don’t know the sender, don’t click the email.” All these reminders all around you. Well I highly doubt people have all these reminders all around their living rooms all these posters saying, “Don’t click on that email” or, “Don’t accept that attachment from so and so”. So, kind of the, I like the human firewall that you mentioned needing to have things in place because I don’t think employee education on clicking bad links is going to cut it anymore.

And that applies to students too. The amount of students that are home looking you’re not necessarily going to train a 12-year-old to not click on something with a campaign from the school to be more secure. So, what sort of, and this is where I kind of like to start building, what some solutions are around this. When we look at that single human error thing and not being able to have that control. What are some of the building blocks to put in there that can, sort of, cast that wide net of security to keep that human error from being such an issue in people’s homes?

Rhett Livengood (10:48): So, the first thing we’ve done is, Intel has added a security layer into the hardware. It’s called Intel Hardware Shield, but that’s neither here nor there. It actually connects in with the, for instance, the Microsoft OS and when Connection enables that in a PC, the security software in there now what it’s able to do is you click on the bad link, it goes ahead and isolates that. And you actually get a record, and it shows you “Hey, we think this is a virus or something that you shouldn’t do.” And then you can simply remove it at home. You don’t need to call in and it automatically, basically, puts this in a place in your PC it doesn’t infect it. So, it’s a version of artificial intelligence if you will, and something that, you know, as you configure a PC and really do a security assessment for your company that you can easily set up. So that’s new technology coming out this year for the remote workers.

Penny Conway (11:51): Excellent. You know this is your two-year refresh, your three-year refresh, and almost, the pandemic purchasing blew that out of the water for all of us. Now, it was like, a lot of people had a pandemic refresh, but I think there is going to be a conversation as we go into the fall and beyond, is, not I think the refresh conversation that we’ve all been having is defiantly going to look  a little bit different for the next couple years. Do you agree, disagree?

Rhett Livengood (12:23): I agree. So, you know it’s interesting. The old refresh days are like, wow I’m using my you know, basic office worker apps, you know, word, excel, power point, maybe I do some, I look at a bunch of files at work and then there are the links on the internet. To give you a practical example now we’re using Microsoft Teams or Zoom or Cisco WebEx, a lot of people like to do backgrounds and backgrounds, believe it or not, you need the latest generation because you can actually see the difference in being able to just even show the background without bringing your PC down. It takes a ton of power just to run the backgrounds.

Penny Conway (13:07): Really?

Rhett Livengood (13:08): So, for instance, you need at least, from an Intel point of view, a Core i5 on a modern Microsoft thing to run that. If you have a lower one it won’t run. You have to either have something static or it will take your PC down. So, that’s a really easy one, so when you’re home and you want to have the cool fish swimming or my best cat videos behind me you’re going to need some performance there to actually run that. And you’ll probably seen heavy notebooks and running around the house you’re running Wi-Fi and you’re doing video; the battery life cuts in half in general, sometimes even more. So, I think just getting an upgraded battery and different components of the PC to be able to do that work from anywhere, I think, is going to drive a lot of refresh. There’s just only so many things you can do to a three, four, five-year-old PC these days.

Penny Conway (14:02): It sounds so, I feel like six months ago, those two things, if you said them to me would seem so insignificant. One, who was on video six months ago? No one. (laughter). I remember I had a call with a customer, it was a university in Vermont, or a College in Vermont I should say, and I got on to do a presentation over PowerPoint. I was ready to share my deck on the WebEx and was good to go and I log on and they were all on camera and this was well before there was even a notion. I think it was last October or November, and it shocked me, because no one was ever on camera before and here was an entire group ready for me to be on camera with them.

Rhett Livengood (14:50): And I think, you know, device as a services, one of the sticking points for device as a services after some period of time two years, three years, four years, people want to recycle that device, what do you do with that device as a service solution provider, and I think, the whole kind of recycling in that marketplace to be able to reuse. You’re going to see a lot of the PCs going forward have a lot more reusable ecofriendly, think about that as a cycle vs. take it and just throw it away. Because obviously that’s changing rapidly when working from home because we’re going to have the cycle and the replacement is definitely going to increase not being in a structured office environment.

Penny Conway (15:31): Yeah, that’s an excellent point. The whole, one thing about device as a service I’ve found very interesting is that again six months ago you searched for DaaS or Device as a Service and the only thin that really showed up was Desktop as a Service–

Rhett Livengood (15:46): Yeah, that’s right.

Penny Conway (15:48): –In all of its forms and functions. I went on to google the other day and typed it in just to see what popped up and good lord there is an entire market for it now like never before. Which is very good for people like you and I, Rhett, of course. But device as a service you can get two or three more uses out of that device before it actually sees end of life. Which is good news for people like us, but also for customers across the board that you can actually. It’s not like call that device discontinued, you can’t get that anymore. That device from two years ago might actually fit what they need for the workers they have and so it’s going to really open up a whole new market over the next five to ten years as devices are reused, recycled, they are able to use the benefits of those devices for a longer period of time than they are today.

Rhett Livengood (16:40): Yes, and the devices too are also adding different capabilities. Rather than just be kind of a place to do your work or email etcetera, we’ve obviously become a, you know, a video conferencing studio.

The other big thing though, getting back to kind of employee happiness, we now have software that is installed on all of our PCs at Intel that monitors our usage and actually prompts us for breaks. It shows us stretching exercises, it’ll, it can detect when you’ve been on too long, and is really helping with the ergonomics and kind of repetitive stress issues. And I think as you know working from home sometimes people just get locked into a place. So being able to take care of some of the mental health aspects of work I think we’re going to see more and more of as well.

Penny Conway (17:34): It’s funny you bring that up because I was going to ask you the question of how do we measure productivity in this environment? It’s obvious we’re not clocking in and clocking out at the same times. Your presence and availability at a desk no longer mean that you’re working. So along with that, sort of wellbeing, what does it look like that wellbeing and sort of, that measurement for management and leaders that are saying, “Okay, don’t mind the remote workforce, it doesn’t bother me, I think there is a future here.” How are they going to be able to look at productivity today than they did yesterday from that aspect?

Rhett Livengood (18:16):  Yeah, well it’s interesting, starting with the old measure of productivity, really in the last three or four months if you take an average and we’ve measured this. If you take an average eight-hour workday where you can measure how long people have been on their PCs. It’s gone from eight hours to eleven hours. And it’s dramatic, at least here in western Europe and in the US.

Penny Conway (18:34): Wow.

Rhett Livengood: (18:37): And a lot of that is because you know, where did those three hours come from? Well, you know it came from a lot of it is people are not traveling. That travel time, that down time you had in the car, or on an airplane, or meeting someone at the watercooler to use that old term. Those days are now being replaced so, I think you know, that the new measure of productivity is really going to be a lot more on results instead of just the old measure of how much time you spend in the office or online. And I think a lot of that results measuring productivity, that’s definitely a field that’s going to need some work. It’s interesting that workplaces were seeing already in silicone valley are changing around to less offices. So the workers kind of come in, they probably have a conference room now and I think when things get back  a little bit to normal, you’ll have a lot of office buildings will be where people come and come for a meeting and come to collaborate. Where most of the individual work will be done at home, as opposed to having the space be offices where you’re sitting, and a few little conference rooms just sprinkled around. I think you’ll have buildings that have all meeting rooms. I think the collaboration and again the presenting out of the results will be more of the measurement going forward. 

Penny Conway (20:05): Yeah, what an interesting concept. They only go to work to have facetime.

Both (20:11): (Laughter).

Penny Conway (20:12): Instead of to be seen. It could be a definite change in perception and maybe even offer some equity and opportunity when you’re really looking at a results-based productivity measure vs. some people are great talkers, and some people are great workers, and some people are both. And I would love to have you share a little bit about what your experience was like going into a fully remote setting. What changed for you, and how you saw the support change from your organization to help you be a more productive and secure remote worker? If you wouldn’t mind sharing a bit of your experience.

Rhett Livengood (20:53): Yes, you know the experience at Intel, I think that the good news is that they’d done crisis response planning. You know there is always that planning, you know, that if something goes wrong, that nobody ever does, and we actually did it. So, the first thing that happened is when we kind of had to shut down the office spaces is that we actually doubled the number of virtual private networks. So, we actually went from 107,000 nodes—no it was actually 150,000 nodes. They went to 300,000 nodes over the weekend.

Penny Conway (21:25): Wow!

Rhett Livengood (21:27): And being able to do that took quite an army of people. And when that settled down, we still had to log in to get email through VPN. That experience was slow, some people got dropped, and they were unhappy. But very, very quickly the next step was taking things that you don’t need virtual private network for and can actually access directly through secure cloud instances where you can go to millions of points and that’s what we’ve been working on for the last few months. So, now we’ve taken a lot of those things out of VPN, and a lot of companies are doing this, and it’s really going to push the cloud level ahead. Folks like Zoom, Microsoft Teams, you know basically pull them together and the security and the quality had about five years acceleration for any you know collaboration type stuff. We now use, you know, all of those, and they interoperate, and the security is done. You know we put on the stuff for employee breaks when we found out the average employee is spending 11 hours in front of a screen, whatever screen that might be. That’s a long time, you know that’s getting into some serious gamer time. You don’t want to burn out the employees.

Penny Conway (22:38): I love this story about how Intel was doing this disaster readiness. So, there was sort of a plan in place and we’ve talked so much about that. Who had a plan and who didn’t, and what were the results of that? Now that you know, you guys are moving into this longer-term phase and you know, not necessarily planning for the return yet, do you see some of these things that we’ve talked about popping up? Like that Chief Happiness Officer that Chief Threat Officer, some evaluation on the user base to say what device is everyone using? What headset do you have? Is it working for you? Do you need something else? Are you seeing that continual, sort of, monitoring of the workspaces for users as they go through this process?

Rhett Livengood (23:28):  Yes. So, we’ve been spending a lot of time on telemetry and telemetry in collecting the data and making it predictive. So, that’s how we were able to predict when people need breaks. It gets into a point where all artificial intelligence is, is observing what people do over and over again and turning that into a predictive model. I always tell people we take the Sci-fi, it’s not like someone is looking in at us on the screen, but I think being able to make that something that IT can roll out and you know can measure and help the employees—the telemetry and the predictive part being able to actually fix it without having to put in a call ticket, and we have done all kinds of measuring and monitoring where we can, kind of, see people spend their time looking on the screen.

And a lot of these are never called into IT as issues. It’s really things you need to monitor with telemetry and those kinds of things. Finding out that someone reopened an app 20-25 times a day, maybe there’s something wrong with the app. You know, those types are very simple measurements and being able to make that predictive and fix them, that’s how you keep the employee happy. But, you know, it’s a completely different set than you know, I meet my entire IT management by trouble tickets. I think the trouble tickets are going to go away. I think it’s going to get more predictive, I think again, back to your wonderful center, that last mile is where there’s going to be a lot of invention coming up in the next 12-24 months.

Penny Conway (25:00): I think the tools that are now being built into devices themselves that offer things like telemetry, to have predictive analytics about—I’m absolutely blown away that you actually have reminders to get up and walk away and get away from the screen. I think when we talk about how have things changed with the remote workforce, those are the things that we have to start focusing on. It’s how to keep employees focused and productive, but also happy and make sure that the life of IT or Chief Happiness Officer are actually facilitating the productivity of employees. So, the game is changing services and changing that last mile are going to play a huge part in the next 12-24 months and beyond and I’m really interested to see the part that Intel continues to play in that role. You know, we’ve talked before Rhett, I’m a huge device as a service advocate it’s what I live and breath on most days when I’m not hosting a podcast. And these are the things that need to just naturally happen, and I think once we get that mass adoption of these solutions and built in technologies, we’re going to ask ourselves how we didn’t take advantage of this so much earlier. When it was pitched to us and we thought “Well, I don’t need that” which I think a lot of us are thinking right now.

So, thank you so much for joining the podcast today, super interesting to hear your perspective about the change in leadership, the change in roles an some of the data and the science behind making some different decisions about how we build and purchase technology.

Rhett Livengood (26:36): Yup, well we’re definitely in the new normal and I think as people embrace it at their own speed, the quicker they can embrace it the happier they will be.

Penny Conway (26:26): Yup, I couldn’t agree more. So, from whatever platform you are listening to us on today, please be sure to like, share, and follow so you can get episodes as they are released, and if you have any comments or anything you’d like to share after listening to todays episode you can email us at podcast@connection.com and please get in touch with your Connection Account Manager if you are interested in learning more about what Intel has across their entire suite of solutions to  help your employees be safe, secure, and more productive. Until next time folks!