COVID-19Employee Engagement

Making “Work that Works”

PepsiCo shares its detailed plan to a customized return to the office.

By Byron Johnson and Molly Nagler

If employees can customize their coffees, Zoom backgrounds, and playlists, why not the work environment? Leaning into the personalization and flexibility that employees have come to expect in their day-to-day lives, PepsiCo devised a post-COVID-19 return-to office plan, “Work that Works,” which empowers people to build schedules that balance individual, team, and business needs.

The Role of the Office: Create, Connect, Collaborate, Celebrate
Rather than pit employee choice against company productivity in a false tradeoff, PepsiCo’s “Work that Works” program helps employees decide where to work based on three factors, including:

  • the type of work that needs to be done;
  • the type of team/role doing it; and
  • the employee’s personal preference.

PepsiCo is embracing the office not as the default work environment but rather as the best place to perform the four “Cs:” create, connect, collaborate, and celebrate. Doing heads-down analytical work? Consider working from home. Brainstorming product ideas with a new team? Consider coming into the office. Teams will gather to celebrate wins, welcome new team members, and learn together. By giving employees and managers discretion, people can structure their day to avoid traffic, pick up their kids at school, and make meaningful connections.

Learning from Experience
PepsiCo has proven to be effective in a virtual environment. In fact, the second quarter of 2021 was one of the company’s best quarters in a decade. PepsiCo’s frontline workers deserve most of the credit for their essential work with customers and consumers. However, corporate employees who support the field hit full stride working virtually. So why not stay home forever?

Using analytics, employee sentiment surveys, and external research, PepsiCo learned several lessons about why the office still matters.

  • People still want to interact in person since employees derive energy and well-being from others and the “weak ties” that make work fun and efficient.
  • Learning the business and one’s business partners requires some direct observation that remote work doesn’t allow.
  • Culture building happens in important ways through in-person events.
  • Not all home environments are created equal. In fact, sometimes the office is the quiet place to work with better technology.
  • The office is a place to find informal learning opportunities.

Supporting the Transition to “Work that Works”
Across the globe, countries, cities, and even communities are in a different state of readiness to return to the office. PepsiCo believes that when the time is right, employees who embrace “Work that Works” will thrive. However, it is not their problem to solve alone.

Working with internal communications, HR colleagues, and business units, “PepsiCo University” built a suite of tools to support individuals and teams. These were made available to all employees to ensure expectations were clear globally. Communications from the CEO and CHRO set the stage for how PepsiCo wanted to march together arm in arm.

The cross-functional working team provided several deliverables.

  • A program guide to explore PepsiCo’s new workplace strategy -from background information and key policy changes to what employees can expect going forward.
  • A 45-minute self-paced eLearning that includes guidance on how team members can work most effectively, both in and outside of the office, as well as key enablers to help for success in the new work environment.
  • A readiness questionnaire to reflect on the skills and capabilities required to be successful in the new way of working and recommended learning resources to boost skills.
  • An interactive virtual instructor-led course to gather learners from across geographies and functions to dive deeper on key topics such as being visible virtually and managing hybrid teams.
  • Learning paths that explore a curated list of skills and capabilities to help navigate the changes.
  • A “Roles that Work” guide comparing various work personas, such as “Super Teleworker” “Social Gatherer” to evoke different ways in which associates can work in the office and outside of the office.

Helping Teams Customize “Work that Works”
While employees could learn about “Work that Works” on their own, the program requires local team activation. PepsiCo leaned on each geographical sector to select the right rollout approach and timing.

To empower each team, a train the trainer session was set up to upskill HR business partners (HRBPs) in the program details and provide answers to tough questions and location-specific opportunities. First, PepsiCo’s HRBPs took the message to senior leaders to serve as sponsors and advocates for the change ahead. Second, the HRBPs set time with day-to-day managers to prepare them for their most important job: Unifying the team during this complex and confusing time. HRBPs walked managers through the “Work that Works” program guide, the employee/manager worksheets, and how to build their own “WTW Team Recommendation” guide.

The teams leveraged several materials created by the cross-functional “Work that Works” team.

  • A manager worksheet to consider the work being done by individuals and teams and where they do it best -to help determine a schedule that works for everyone.
  • An associate worksheet to consider the different types of work individuals do and the locations in which they work best.
  • A team recommendation to serve as a guide or an agreement for how a team works together. A template with samples turns into a personalized approach for each team as they iterate through the team planner and the worksheets.

PepsiCo comprises many types of teams across many functions, so different plans were expected and encouraged. When a team makes collective decisions on working days, working hours, and required face-to-face meetings, it makes planning easier and helps individuals feel empowered to be their most productive. It also reduces stress over when one needs to be in the office and reduces last minute pop-in requirements.

Communication is a critical norm for a team’s “Work that Works” recommendation as plans will change. The manager training concluded with one key point: The most effective teams will learn “Work that Works” and build the team’s recommendation together. While the manager has discretion to make final decisions, a team that feels heard and engaged in the process is more enthusiastic about the plan ahead.

Moving Forward
As U.S. offices have opened, PepsiCo has focused on patience, flexibility, and compassion while also leaning into celebration. PepsiCo offices have been physically revitalized for “Work that Works,” with space that is fun, engaging, and ready for associates. This will be a journey, and teams working together to deliver the right results will find the customized hybrid work approach that works for them.


Molly Nagler is chief learning officer of PepsiCo and Byron Johnson is senior director of “PEP U Leadership Programs” for PepsiCo.

Tags: September 2021

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