Catalyzing Change Management at Akamai

Akamai’s FlexBase program and a MindGym-backed network of change catalysts give employees the flexibility and support they need for the future of work.

Akamai, a technology company that serves organizations and industries around the world, tries to be at the forefront of the workforce. Their most recent step into the future of work has bolstered their culture, productivity and retention in the form of employee autonomy and flexibility.

FlexBase, Akamai’s global flexible work program, enables 95% of its approximately 10,000 employees (from San Mateo to Zurich to Bangalore) to choose their workplace (office, home or hybrid) according to which suits them best. Combined with an integrated change management support system (and a partnership with Mind Gym), Akamai is preparing for the future of work.

Back to (Flex)Base

Akamai has given employees the ability to choose where they work most efficiently. From a change management perspective, FlexBase has shaken things up. The desktop was where “a lot of our message is heard,” says Michelle Bartlett, director of change management at Akamai. “It was essential to be transparent that the switch to FlexBase is not about wanting people to work from home to save on property expenses, but about giving people the choice to work where they feel most comfortable. productive and at ease.”

To ensure and support consistent and successful change, Akamai has partnered with MindGym, a company that uses behavioral science-based approaches to help other organizations create and sustain organizational change. For a company of their size, “Akamai is quite progressive in terms of change management,” says Jamie Maul, regional vice president of MindGym’s client team. “They have two or three people dedicated to it, which is to say it’s an organization that has changed a lot. It’s a technology company, so they often change the way they work and their structure. »

MindGym’s expertise in behavioral science and change management helped Akamai launch the Change Catalysts program, which has enabled hundreds of internal Akamai employees to act as MindGym-trained central translators to mitigate the disruption caused by the change in the business by incorporating FlexBase and beyond.

“For leaders, the science behind managing change is the level of uncertainty people feel,” says Janet Ahn, president and chief behavioral scientist at MindGym. “If it’s very uncertain how it affects them immediately, they’re more likely to be scared.” Ahn says transparent communication is essential for any kind of change.

From a behavioral science perspective, a program like FlexBase is important because for some, autonomy matters more than just production. “When people feel like they’re being micromanaged, that’s when they feel like they’re losing their agency — so having autonomy is important,” says Ahn. “Having this choice allows them to feel that the organization is sensitive to their needs. Anytime you have an organization that seems to genuinely care about its employees, that’s a pretty strong signal of a positive culture.

In Akamai’s “Gateway” system to FlexBase, employees can schedule when they want to come into the office so that Akamai can tailor their office experience based on when people are actually there.

“If I was the only one going in on the 19th floor, that’s not really why I’m going into the office,” Bartlett said. “We created neighborhoods of workers who could line up, collaborate, and rub shoulders with the people they collaborate with the most. And we needed the data to be able to do that.

For talent leaders and managers who were always in the office, figuring out how to make sure their employees stayed focused and got their jobs done required training that focused on building trust and improving conversations with their employees. MindGym has helped create nudges to have those conversations and bond virtually, Bartlett says, but most of the actual change management work is done by internal employees themselves — as catalysts for change.

Catalyze change

The catalysts for change were determined through a self-selection process, with approximately 300 people currently registered. MindGym set up a kick-off session focused on understanding behaviors and having conversations about change. MindGym worked with Akamai’s change catalysts “directly on the Why and what they stand for,” says Ahn. They held a “Building Belief” training for the catalysts to fully understand the changes before adopting and supporting them.

Akamai Headquarters in Cambridge, MA

“MindGym was a natural partner as we considered how to equip our change catalysts with the right skills and abilities to successfully support all of Akamai as we grow FlexBase,” said Bartlett. MindGym research shows that transparency and building trust increase job satisfaction and reduce turnover.

After the first two sessions, MindGym developed toolkits and interactive PDFs to support change catalysts and digital nudges to foster community. The nudges have been reworked with Akamai and channeled to stimulate conversations and even practice difficult conversations. “MindGym’s materials really helped support some of the foundational things we were doing with our change catalysts,” says Bartlett.

Beyond FlexBase, Akamai’s internal change catalysts now act as a change support network across countless projects. For example, in a productivity experiment conducted by the change management team, change catalysts showed their peers how to use different tools, such as an interactive slideshow. Change catalysts learn and understand new tools and concepts first, then help their colleagues learn them throughout the company. “Everything we’ve done, we started with our catalysts for change and then we reinforced it with the rest of the company,” says Bartlett.

Traditionally, Akamai’s change management team has stuck to its motto of communicating early and often, but for this productivity experiment, it instead went through its entire new change enablers to see the extent of its reach. before announcing the change to the whole company. The result? “3,000 active participants in the first quarter as we announced, just to change catalysts. That’s 30% of employees,” says Bartlett. “It was pretty amazing.”

Change Catalysts help Akamai talent leaders understand what they aren’t hearing or seeing. “They’re almost an extension of our employee resource groups,” says Khalil Smith, vice president of inclusion, diversity and engagement at Akamai.

Smith says change catalysts serve as a connection point for those who feel more comfortable discussing feedback or expressing disconnect with a peer rather than a program manager. Employees like knowing they can have direct lines to people who can improve their experience, especially when things are new and changing, Smith added. For those at Akamai who want to work in the office or in a hybrid, it can be as simple as letting a change catalyst know that the coffee maker is down or the office is disorganized.

“It’s almost like instead of going to your parents, you go to your other siblings,” Smith says. “This group has received training, education and guidance, they’ve been behind the curtain a bit more. They’re part of the monthly calls where we talk about what’s going to happen with FlexBase.

Change and effect

Since implementing FlexBase, levels of inclusion and engagement at Akamai have remained high and even increased. They recently added FlexBase-specific questions to their quarterly surveys to see what employees think about recent changes and the future of work. In many cases, the satisfaction percentages around FlexBase are “even higher,” says Smith. “We’re in the mid-90s of people saying ‘I feel like I can do my work remotely’, ‘I feel like I’m being supported remotely’, ‘I can still connect with my teammates.'”

Additionally, Akamai continues to see an increased diversity of experiences across the organization. Since introducing FlexBase, Akamai has hired more women and people of color and increased its geographic representation. “We’ve opened up so many other parts of the country and around the world,” Smith says.

Smith himself loves Chapel Hill, North Carolina, where he and his family call home; he is not interested in living elsewhere and commuting again. “When we think about these inclusion, diversity and engagement goals, we really look at the things that move all three of them, because it’s easier to move one of them, potentially sacrificing something else. “, adds Smith. “But FlexBase is the one that really moved all three.”

Akamai has included remote, internal, and hybrid environments as “a new dimension of diversity,” Smith says. Akamai measures promotion rates by gender or different backgrounds along with other traditional metrics, but this shift to flexible working brings new variables into the equation. Proximity or distance bias will need to be measured in the data to continue their commitment to equal opportunity for all employees whether fully remote, in-office or hybrid to ensure all employees are treated (and promoted) fairly.

In the digital world, new change management challenges will arise. “How can we ensure that we are inclusive in our technology? How do you make sure everyone can hear, see, contribute and collaborate? Smith asks. These are the new challenges that catalysts for change can continue to help Akamai solve.

A flexible future

The next step for Akamai’s change management goals is to find the best way to support and scale its office space. Launched in May, the program aims to rethink what’s possible in the office, with sessions open to all employees. Change catalysts will play a crucial role in understanding what employees want from an office, whether it’s a space for collaboration, quiet work or otherwise.

Trained catalysts for change [Akamai] great perspective in creating programs and support for our employees,” says Bartlett. “The two-way communication really helped us refine our message so that we were very clear about what the programs meant, so that [employees] had no misconceptions.

But without the buy-in from senior management, none of this would have been possible. One thing Akamai has understood since the inception of FlexBase is having a CEO and executives who ask people what they want and look at the data, Smith says. “Let’s follow what people tell us that interests them.”

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