Remote Momentum

How Adobe transitioned its 22,000 employees into a remote workforce

Senior VP Ashley Still dives into how they made it happen in a single weekend.

Adobe

Stay-at-home orders were a massive disruption to the way business has been done for, well, forever. For the companies that were already pushing toward digital work, however, the transition was a lot easier.

In this Q&A, Ashley Still, senior VP and general manager of digital media at Adobe, talks about how the company was able to turn its 22,000 employees into a remote workforce.

Who are you and what do you do?

I am the general manager of Adobe Creative Cloud and Document Cloud, including business strategy, product management, product marketing, and strategic development. Adobe’s mission is to focus on giving everyone -- from emerging artists to global brands -- all the tools they need to design and deliver exceptional digital experiences.

How have you conducted business in the past?

Fortunately, we have built a digital culture, investing in many of the tools early on needed to make the shift to working remotely successful in terms of virtual collaboration, video conferencing, and digital document management. While it’s not “business as usual” for any of us these days, I’m proud that our teams were able to quickly adapt, particularly when so many of our customers needed our help throughout the crisis.

As an Adobe employee of more than 17 years, I knew that our long-term focus on innovation and culture, plus our emphasis on empowering employees to build meaningful careers, meant that our workforce would be resilient. Since stay-at-home orders, we adapted to the new reality of working from home, with many employees juggling added responsibilities as caretakers. And our mission as a team has only become more important: all businesses today must transform how they’re working and serving customers.

What immediate effects did stay-at-home orders have on your business?

We moved more than 22,000 global employees to work from home in just one weekend. But it quickly became clear this shift would change not only the way we were operating, but also how our customers were working, too. With everyone working remotely, the need to digitally transform business processes and improve digital collaboration wasn’t a luxury anymore; it became critical. Collaboration, sharing, and reviewing documents was suddenly essential for success. The push to paperless accelerated.

We have been seeing great demand across our digital productivity and creativity products. For example, we had triple-digit growth in our e-signature solution, Adobe Sign, and our document scanning app, Adobe Scan, year over year. From late March through May, Photoshop on iPad saw a more than 40 percent increase in weekly average installs. Adobe Live, where we host inspirational and learning content, saw a huge boost in viewership with an average watching time of 60 minutes per person, significantly higher than we had experienced in the past.

The demand for digital tools and apps meant we needed to quickly align priorities internally and ensure our teams were focusing on the right things — even while they themselves were adapting to a new reality.

What changes did you make to adapt to our current situation?

Ensuring that our employees and customers felt supported was a huge task. Moving to working remotely in a single weekend, we anticipated a lot of technical issues and queries. However, because of our larger digital transformation journey, we were able to shift to remote work by making a few small changes to strengthen our network, bandwidth, and collaboration tools. Adobe as an organization has allowed my teams to remain productive and collaborative by introducing a number of IT and workplace enhancements — specifically, setting up easy-to-use Slack Channels to resolve IT issues, or implementing IT bots to quickly resolve any common questions/issues — ensuring a seamless remote workplace environment.

What were the challenges in implementing these changes?

Video conference fatigue has been something I think everyone has struggled with during this transition. My philosophy is that there should be no meetings before 9 a.m. or after 5 p.m., and meetings should be kept to 50 to 55 minutes providing for a short break in between. While it’s not perfect and sometimes we have to make exceptions, I firmly believe that back-to-back video meetings for more than eight hours are not supportive of a productive or creative working environment.

“It’s amazing not only how resilient they’ve been, but also how they’re setting the agenda for the future.”

Another fresh challenge was onboarding a new group of interns who would be learning from and collaborating with our team this summer remotely. As someone who joined Adobe as an MBA intern 17 years ago, I understand the importance of these opportunities in building a career. While a remote internship wasn’t what any of us had imagined, we were committed to providing them with a unique, fulfilling experience. Despite the circumstances, our interns were still able to support business-critical projects and initiatives across the team. For example, one of our interns had the unique opportunity to do market research on a potential new plan offering, while another helped define advancements in our API strategy that will take Adobe PDF into even more third-party products.

What have been the results?

Our email and collaboration usage metrics indicate business as usual and no loss of productivity. Even during the first week of remote work, we saw that employees were being productive. Activity on BlueJeans, Microsoft Teams, Slack, and other collaboration tools has remained consistently high since March. I’m incredibly proud of how we’ve remained productive and collaborative throughout this challenging time.

I also think about how our customers have kept their work moving during these times, particularly in government. For example, the City of Seattle saw a 90 percent increase in e-signatures between February and April to keep their departments running smoothly. The Iowa Economic Development Authority (IEDA) processed roughly 20,000 transactions powered by Adobe Sign that resulted in over $52.2 million in grant assistance to Iowa’s small businesses. It’s amazing not only how resilient they’ve been, but also how they’re setting the agenda for the future.

What have you learned through adapting to a remote environment?

As a manager, I’ve encouraged my team to remain flexible and know it’s important to model that flexibility myself. I’m the first person to take a 15-minute break to play basketball with my son or otherwise enjoy some family time. It’s also important that, throughout all this, we can still have fun as a team. We have made an effort to bring much-needed comic relief to the virtual office with events like Hat Day, where we awarded team members for the most creative hats they could wear to a virtual happy hour.

As a business leader, I think about what it would take to empower our customer. It’s clear that if a business cannot operate digitally right now, it likely can’t be open for business for long. Even local stores, which have not traditionally adopted techniques like social marketing and e-commerce, are beginning to embrace digital technologies to stay open. Being digitally minded is no longer a nice thing to have; it’s critical to thriving in this environment.

What advice do you have for others who are trying to figure out this new way or working?

For business leaders, stay-at-home orders have reinforced my belief that technology at its best requires starting with the customer. If a company isn’t customer first or optimized for their customers’ needs, this is an opportunity to consider moving to digital. By going digital, it allows you to assess your customers' needs and what their journeys are. I hope that with this new way of working remotely, businesses in general evolve to become more customer-centric.

I’m acutely aware that working from home is not easy for everyone. I have always valued openness and transparency as a leader. I made sure to over-index on defining roles and responsibilities with my team to ensure everyone knew what was going on and what is to be expected.

Additionally, one thing I’ve always found to be important to success, whether we’re in the office or at home, is the level of responsibility entrusted to individuals across Adobe. What’s kept me at Adobe so long is the company’s empowerment of individual employees. As a leader of the organization, my job is to unite our teams around our mission to empower creativity for all and accelerate document productivity. After that, I need to trust them to do their jobs well, no matter where they are. Of course, I am lucky to work with an incredible team to begin with, too!

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