While many technology brands talk about being a good fit for work from home, HP Africa, led by its vice-president and MD Bradley Pulford, has been very much ‘walking the walk’ in the booming remote work market.
Pulford took up his role in December 2020 just as the more aggressive second wave of the pandemic was taking hold in South Africa. For a more conventional leader and company it could have presented a significant challenge. Pulford viewed it as a perfect opportunity to leverage the strengths of HP’s products and its people.
Nine months later, it’s clear his faith in both was not misplaced.
Through subsequent waves and the attendant lockdowns, the husband and father of two has been working from home, leading a largely remote workforce. In that time, Pulford has successfully bedded into his new role – no mean feat under the best of circumstances – while meeting all the key targets he had set for his first year on the job.
So, how were Brad Pulford and HP Africa able to pull off this tricky juggling act? Brad was accustomed to travelling three weeks in a month in his previous job. Now, he’s been stuck in his home office for the last nine months. Here are his five tips for others leading or working with remote teams.
“Any organisation is only as good as its people. That may be a bit of a cliché, but it’s truth really becomes apparent when most of your team is working remotely,” says Pulford. “I was fortunate with HP to go into an organisation which places a premium on human capital, so I had a fantastic pool of talent to work with. From there it was a matter ensuring I leveraged the best they have to offer.”
Pulford believes a “servant leadership” approach is the most effective way to achieve this, and for him it started with listening and learning before making any significant decisions affecting the organisation and its people.
Listen and learn
“I call this the three L’s approach: listen, learn, then lead.” In line with this philosophy, Pulford spent his first month on the job reaching out to and listening to members of the HP Africa workforce, gaining insight into the workings of the organisation, its systems, processes and tools. He also canvassed key outside experts for insights into the social and economic ecosystem in which the company operates.
Despite joining HP Africa from another leading technology Brand, Pulford takes the view that each organisation is unique and faces its own distinct challenges and opportunities. So, his second month was devoted to absorbing the lessons of the previous month’s engagements and learning how to apply them to his new role and to refining a shared purpose for the organisation.
The power of purpose
Pulford believes that to inspire staff, partners and customers, a purpose should be ambitious and inspiring, and there’s no doubt HP Africa’s purpose fits that bill admirably.
Among other goals it includes advancing the company’s diversity and inclusion vision across the continent, supporting education projects that remove barriers to doing business for young entrepreneurs, and broadly deploying future technologies and innovations, including VR and 3D solutions.
Get the best tech
While having the best technology and tools possible is important for any organisation, Pulford believes this is especially important for a technology company, particularly one with a largely remote workforce.
This wasn’t a problem for HP Africa, where the team could draw on not only some of the best tech in the world for working from home in the form of HP notebooks, desktop PCs and printers, but also the know how to plug them into leading remote communication tools like Zoom and Teams.
Effective communication can be difficult in any organisation. In a remote work set-up where ‘water cooler’ opportunities for spontaneous chats don’t exist, Pulford views overcommunication as not only desirable, but essential.
He routinely hosts small groups and individuals to virtual ‘coffee chats’ and holds more formal ‘all hands’ online meetings for the whole team. For Pulford, these serve not only to ensure everyone is aligned and on track with HP Africa’s goals and their individual and team targets, but also to make sure each person feels ‘seen’ and appreciated.
With the latter in mind, Pulford, far from frowning on the presence of family or pets in these online interactions, actively encourages it.
“There’s no doubt we’ve lost something in moving out of the traditional workplace. But we’ve also gained something valuable. When you see a member of your team interacting with a beloved child or pet, you gain an insight into them you may never have in years of sharing an office space.
“It’s quite wonderful in a way and proof that technology, often blamed for isolating and alienating people, can also bring them together in ways that would not have been possible without it.”