Early this year, the skyline of San Jose changed with the launch of Adobe’s futuristic Founders Tower — a shared, connected, adaptive workplace designed for creative communities and run 100 per cent on renewable electric power.

Adobe, which is celebrating its 40th year, and has 30,000 people on its rolls, also launched its new values designed with the future of work in mind. Gloria Chen, the Chief People Officer and Executive Vice President, Employee Experience, Adobe, who describes herself as a “Change Junkie” was in India recently where Adobe has opened a new tower in Bangalore and is strengthening its teams.

 Gloria Chen, the Chief People Officer and Executive Vice President, Employee Experience, Adobe 

 Gloria Chen, the Chief People Officer and Executive Vice President, Employee Experience, Adobe  | Photo Credit: Special Arrangement

She talks to businessline about the new developments at the tech company and her own journey within the company, where she brings superpowers of cross-functional collaboration.


Welcome to India, Gloria. First, a personal question – you were leading strategy and growth and other business functions, and then now have moved to the people function. How did that happen and how are you finding it?

Yes. I became the Chief People Officer in February 2020. And in fact, that was the last time I was here in India as well. It was just as I had taken on this role, and of course, as we all know, a month later, COVID hit, and it changed the world. But, to go back a little bit, I’ve been at Adobe for over 25 years in a variety of roles across product to go-to-market strategy, and also as Shantanu Narayen’s Chief of Staff for many years. And so, while I probably wasn’t the most traditional pick for Chief People Officer, in some ways, I think I was a very natural pick in terms of my long tenure at Adobe. I knew almost every part of the organisation, the history and how we got there. I think most importantly, the values and the culture, I really understood them at the core, and that’s what’s made us successful over the years.

My role is as a culture carrier. I am here to ensure that the things that have made us special over the past four decades continue to evolve and continue to get better and we continue to live the values that our Founders started this business on. But that said, I think everybody brings a set of superpowers to their roles, whatever they do. And mine just happened to be, cross-functional collaboration and structure problem solving, probably from my engineering background as well as consulting background. So, I think that those skills turned out to be exactly the kinds of things that were needed as we navigated these past few years. It’s been fabulously rewarding. I did not anticipate doing this kind of work, at this stage in my career, but it’s been a lovely time.


Post pandemic, every company reset its people strategy. First, it was remote working, then hybrid and now back to office and there is utter confusion. How has Adobe restrategised its people policies?

What we believe, first, as a very people-centered culture is that culture, community, collaboration, relationships, trust building, are all very critical. In-person interactions are very important to us. That said, our position has been that we believe in a hybrid work model, the world is not going to go back to where it was prior to the pandemic. So, what we are doing is focusing on flexibility and our expectation is that our employees spend about half the time in the office, and different offices, different teams around the world are approaching it in different ways because we believe that ultimately, it’s the teams and the organisations that understand best what works for them. So, all along the way, we have been engaging with our employees, and we set the expectation that this is one where we’re all going to continue to learn and iterate as we go.The good news is people are coming into the office. But we know that we’re continuing to adjust and learn around the world. We are not didactic, but it is a give and take, and our focus is on the team and the team unit and what works best for everyone.


Adobe’s FoundersTower sounds like a futuristic workspace. Can you walk us through it?

It is a beautiful space. It is 18 stories, runs on 100 percent renewable electric power, the first of its kind in Silicon Valley. And it has almost doubled our capacity in our headquarters location.

So, the whole idea of this space was it was designed to be adaptable. One of the biggest challenges in reconfiguring space is all around the wiring and the utilities. So, this building was designed with raised floors so that if we were to reconfigure you just lift the floors and you can move things around. Of course, it’s not day-to-day configurable, but it does allow for lower cost reconfigurability over time because we know that the needs of our spaces will evolve over time. One of the things uniquely Adobe here is around the use of creativity and colour and the use of colour psychology. There is blue helping with focus, green which supports collaboration, orange around community and so on. Those are all built into the different spaces, which is fascinating. When I’m in this building, I really do feel the difference in energy depending on the kinds of places that you go to. And, we’ve commissioned a lot of local artists to represent the diversity of the San Jose community. We also drew on our global community from Behance, our creative network. One additional thing is on our main floor - there are these beautiful columns that are completely digital. And they’re powered by AEM screens, which is a product that’s developed in India. Both creativity and company news are showcased in these massive columns that look like regular building columns, but are digital and constantly changing artwork.


And why did you re-craft your values?

We were starting our 40th anniversary celebrations as a company. The company had grown tremendously - a third of our workforce had joined during the pandemic, and we had a relatively new leadership team as well. So, it was a perfect time for us to reflect on what it was that had made us successful to date, but where is it that we really need to go to continue the success? And so we undertook a very comprehensive process. We had conversations with people, all different levels, all different geos, all different tenure groups. And then we also came together as an executive team to discuss what we loved about the company and what we needed to do better. And then we crafted the words we believed would reflect our future journey. But in true Adobe fashion, which is all about co-creation with our employees, we brought it to a hundred people inside the company. Our new values are - create the future, own the outcome, raise the bar, be genuine. We’re so proud of where we landed because I think they’re aspirational, they’re authentic. But most importantly, they’re resonating with our employees, whether they’re long tenured employees like me or brand-new interns that are joining us for the summer.


You have something called Lab 82, which does research on employee experiences. What are the pieces of research that Lab 82 has done, and the result it has had on employee experience?

Innovation isn’t just for our products, it’s also about the way we work. And Lab 82 started as an actual lab. So, it was a physical space where we were testing different kinds of technologies, workspace ideas, but it shifted into an overall kind of mindset and experimentation approach where we research all kinds of ideas. During the time when we had the number of remote employees increase , we realised that the sense of belonging was starting to suffer, especially for new employees.So, we developed an experiment working with engineers, newly hired engineers to look at different ways that we could engage them in their first 90 days on the job. This experimentation included different kinds of interventions around, in-person meetings, team gatherings, digital resources, various kinds of role specific resources for engineers, as well as the notion of onboarding buddies.

What we found is a set of activities that really increased the sense of belonging in the first 30 days, which we felt was important in terms of driving the time to productivity. As a result, we are taking that learning and building it into a more formal onboarding plan now, not only for the engineers, which we’ve developed this design for, but we are also taking this to other functions so that we can really tailor the onboarding experience for our employees in this more hybrid environment.

Another area that’s very exciting is around sales. So, this notion of how you bring early career salespeople into a connected environment and create that energy where especially salespeople around the world, they’re often found in different locations because they’re located close to our customers. And not every place has an office. So, creating a set of combination in-person intact teams and digital virtual experiences for sales was a way to energize their activities but also increase productivity around the number of contacts that our business development reps were able to establish in this period. And so, this is something that’s actually ongoing. We’re still running this pilot, and we’ll be taking this to other sales organizations across the company once this is complete.


So final question is on India. You came before the pandemic and now there are changes. I think you opened a new office in Bangalore. So, are you growing your strength here and what exactly are your expectations from the India office?

Well India represents a significant portion of our employee base. Over the years it’s hovered between 25 per cent and 35 per cent of our workforce, and so it is really an innovation engine that supports every single function inside the company. It started, of course, years ago, as you know, as an R&D centre. We were one of the first companies to really focus not only on supporting technologies. We had innovation based here in India from the beginning. And increasingly what we’re seeing is not only are we able to leverage the talent pool here in India, but we have an increasing number of global organisations that are led by leaders who sit in India. So, it is an exciting development. I think we’re probably one of the few companies that operate this way. One of our major business units, the document cloud is led by Abhigyan Modi, who is our India leader here. And we have multiple global functions, from customer facing organizations who are led here as well. So, it’s very exciting. We continue to grow our commitment to Bangalore and to Noida. And we’re always looking to invest further.It is amazing energy here. It’s always exciting to see the great work that our employees are doing here.