A Year of Firsts

It was a unique year for Workday and our customers, and a period of time when they needed us most. Our Chief Customer Officer Emily McEvilly shares how our community grew and learned together in 2020, and how we’ll take those lessons forward.

Emily McEvilly January 13, 2021
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We will never forget the year 2020. The year that turned the standard business playbook on its head. When working remotely became the norm, and despite being apart, we got a lot more familiar with each other’s reality than ever before. I was recently in a meeting with the CIO of one of our largest global customers, and he abruptly dropped off video. Returning a moment later, he said, “When my son finally goes back to school, I’m going to stand in the doorway of his classroom and ask him where the scissors are or what’s for lunch.” Yes, children, pets, package deliveries, the neighbor’s noisy leaf blower, and the technical challenges of the mute button—we’ve all experienced a completely new way of working this past year.

Although it’s been challenging, one thing that’s become clear to me is that with crisis comes opportunity. And the creativity, dedication, and resilience I’ve seen from my team, and our Workday customers and partners, is the gleaming silver lining behind it all. It’s the practical magic that’s emerged from the crisis that will carry us into 2021. Here are three of the key lessons we learned and how we managed through them.

Keep calm and get back to business. Early in 2020, as the world changed overnight, we knew our customers needed help adapting and responding to a quickly changing environment. With so many of them on the front lines, we had to react fast. Immediately, we shifted all training, deployments, and support to virtual, and then started asking questions. What did customers need most? Where was that support most critical? 

Primarily, they wanted to know how to keep their business running if no one was in the office. But they also needed scenario planning for the unexpected and support for employees in essential roles. Once customers understood that our service levels for our financial management, human capital management, analytics, and other cloud solutions would not be impacted by the pandemic, we took a step back to figure out how to help each customer based on how their specific industry was experiencing COVID-19, which, as you can imagine, differed quite a bit. 

Some, like those in financial services and retail, needed to accelerate their digital agendas. Projects that equipped them to shift employees to different locations, track staff levels and locations, and communicate training and updates quickly across mobile devices got prioritized fast. Healthcare faced the biggest challenges. We put every healthcare and life sciences customer on a watch list to escalate any support requests they had, so their people could focus on the tough work on the front lines. 

Lesson learned: In the middle of chaos, stay calm, get back to basics, and look for very specific ways to best support those who need it most, so they can do the important work on the front lines.

We never expected to have so many virtual deployments, but last quarter we had more than 190 go-lives on Workday.

Be creative and over-collaborate. I’ve been blown away by the creativity everyone has shown in the past year. We’ve always created a climate of collaboration among employees, customers, and partners, but it’s never been tested to this extent. Everyone was dealing with some level of personal upheaval, but the urgency of the crisis galvanized us, and I saw an influx of innovation and devotion to each other that both impressed and humbled me. 

Like many companies, Workday has thrived in a predominantly in-person environment, and I was skeptical about how we might shift to being fully remote, but my team didn’t miss a beat. They pulled together and got busy delivering the services and support that’s always been distinctly Workday just as effectively from their homes. And customers and partners, even those who compete with each other, stepped up to share ideas and solutions in user groups and the Workday Community online at a level I haven’t seen before. We solicited input from customers about what they needed and accelerated the development of those suggestions into product enhancements and published solutions. 

Lesson learned: The only way through this is together. The relationships we build and sustain are what enable us all to make massive shifts, and scale.

Don’t expect to stay in your swim lane or swim slowly. As the year unfolded, we saw an acute need for speed and agility across operations. In some cases, people were re-deployed to handle the urgent demands of their business, while others needed to learn or acquire new capabilities immediately to serve their customers. 

The role of human resources is a great example. While it’s always been important, this year HR expanded well beyond talent management to include health and safety, facilities management, and mental health. Customers are finding creative ways to use Workday to manage these requirements, like using Workday Learning to push out company updates, newsletters, and videos from their CEOs. And, some are leveraging the survey mechanism to pulse employees on their sentiment and struggles.

Similarly in finance, we’ve seen customers go from planning quarterly to monthly because things are changing so rapidly. Being able to close books remotely and give auditors access to the Workday system directly to pull regulatory reports has made customers not just better informed, but more agile. 

Lesson learned: The more we teach customers to recognize, understand, and use the agility inherent to their Workday applications, the better equipped they are to use them to solve operational challenges in a crisis. 

Wrapping Up a Year of Firsts

We’ve all learned (and done) a lot of things for the first time last year. We never expected to have so many virtual deployments, but last quarter we had more than 190 go-lives on Workday, including a customer that put more than 1.5 million  workers into their Workday system. We rallied together— customers, partners, and Workday teams—to make it happen. 

We can’t predict what will happen this year, or even next week, but whatever happens we’ll take the hard lessons and the silver lining with us. We’ve been tested, and we’re still here for each other. Who knew we could shift so quickly? Who knew we could bring customers live virtually? Who knew the Workday Community site would serve as a resource for sharing ideas and solutions for those on the front lines? And, who knew that business leaders would step out of their corporate responsibilities to drive change and collaboration in new ways to impact important social and economic issues? 

The year ahead gives me great hope—not only for getting back into the office (and away from all those interruptions on work calls), but for what we can achieve together.

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