How Zebra Technologies prioritizes work-life balance

The #3 midsize company on the 2020 Best Places to Work in IT list values flexibility and respect and strives to create an intellectually stimulating environment.

Illinois-based Zebra Technologies is a growing company of nearly 8,000 employees that continues to meet Wall Street expectations, even in the face of COVID-19 disruption. The 260-strong global IT organization (not counting managed services) enables that success, serving as a “strategic lever” for the company’s core business of enterprise-level data capture and automatic identification solutions that provide businesses with operational visibility, through everything from barcode scanners and RFID solutions to wearable computers and interactive kiosks.

This growth-oriented, intellectually stimulating environment, combined with a strong focus on work-life balance, led to a low 2019 voluntary turnover rate of only 3.78 percent in an extremely competitive market for IT talent — and contributed to Zebra’s ranking as the #3 midsize company on this year’s Best Places to Work in IT list. Its leadership says that Zebra provides the best of both worlds: the opportunity to pursue intellectual challenges and advancement opportunities often reserved for consulting, yet the work-life balance of a stable job, a flex-work policy, and generous vacation time.

“The IT department at Zebra has never had a dull moment,” says CIO Deepak Kaul, who joined the organization 12 years ago when it was an $800 million company — now it is approaching $5 billion. “Zebra Technologies has always been growing, moving, changing and evolving, with a sense of purpose and accomplishment,” he says. “Employees get a lot of ownership in the work they do here, and the company has a lot of respect for its people.”

Last year, the company rolled out and deployed multiple cloud-based systems, developed customer-facing digital apps, created technical strategies to support corporate initiatives, and worked on IT modernization projects. The IT team is also learning to use agile methodology and lean concepts to bring high-quality capabilities to customers faster while improving its own work-life balance.   

Illinois-based Zebra Technologies is a growing company of nearly 8,000 employees that continues to meet Wall Street expectations, even in the face of COVID-19 disruption. The 260-strong global IT organization (not counting managed services) enables that success, serving as a “strategic lever” for the company’s core business of enterprise-level data capture and automatic identification solutions that provide businesses with operational visibility, through everything from barcode scanners and RFID solutions to wearable computers and interactive kiosks.

This growth-oriented, intellectually stimulating environment, combined with a strong focus on work-life balance, led to a low 2019 voluntary turnover rate of only 3.78 percent in an extremely competitive market for IT talent — and contributed to Zebra’s ranking as the #3 midsize company on this year’s Best Places to Work in IT list. Its leadership says that Zebra provides the best of both worlds: the opportunity to pursue intellectual challenges and advancement opportunities often reserved for consulting, yet the work-life balance of a stable job, a flex-work policy, and generous vacation time.

“The IT department at Zebra has never had a dull moment,” says CIO Deepak Kaul, who joined the organization 12 years ago when it was an $800 million company — now it is approaching $5 billion. “Zebra Technologies has always been growing, moving, changing and evolving, with a sense of purpose and accomplishment,” he says. “Employees get a lot of ownership in the work they do here, and the company has a lot of respect for its people.”

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“At Zebra, we strive to offer a balanced life.” —Deepak Kaul, CIO, Zebra Technologies

Last year, the company rolled out and deployed multiple cloud-based systems, developed customer-facing digital apps, created technical strategies to support corporate initiatives, and worked on IT modernization projects. The IT team is also learning to use agile methodology and lean concepts to bring high-quality capabilities to customers faster while improving its own work-life balance.   

At the center of Zebra’s strategy for IT success is talent, Kaul explains. “Our mission is to create a high-performing team and future leaders,” he says. “Our IT employees are empowered to live their best lives with challenging, stimulating work but also a flexible work environment.”

Zebra’s culture retains key workers

The company’s strategic growth is what brought Diana Resendez to Zebra, as part of the acquisition of Motorola Solutions’ Enterprise business unit in 2014. She serves as an IT enterprise architect, where she is responsible for managing IT architecture, standards, design and implementation approaches for the company’s application systems and infrastructure.

But it was the company’s culture that has led her to stay — she felt she quickly fit into its culture of learning and development and its strong support for diversity and inclusion, including the Zebra Equality Alliance LGBTQ+ Inclusion Network (ZEAL), a Veterans Inclusion Network (VETZ) and a Women’s Inclusion Network (WIN).

“I appreciate the ability to always participate in challenging projects and the opportunities that are available for me to pursue ongoing personal development,” she says. In 2019, Resendez was sponsored to obtain her Microsoft Data Science Program Certification; the company has also sponsored her participation in business analytics summits for the past three years.

“Currently, I am taking advantage of cloud application training, advanced analytics, low-code application development and I am working on a third-party machine learning platform we are implementing for the sales team,” she says.

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A quiet moment at Zebra Technologies headquarters in Lincolnshire, Illinois.

In addition to offsite development opportunities, Zebra also has its own collaborative, online learning platform that launched at the end of 2018. It features content on emerging technologies, business process analysis skills, IT methodologies and leadership concepts. A support team drives continued content creation, from technical learning circles to innovation workshops. There are also opportunities to strengthen soft skills through the company’s Leadership Development Program and People Manager Learning Circles, providing a safe space for IT leaders to express their challenges.

Giving back to employees

There are also many ways that Zebra thanks its employees, including its Going the Extra Mile (GEM) employee appreciation platform. Each manager receives a quarterly budget to reward GEM points for positive employee behaviors. Employees can then redeem their GEMs for a variety of products and experiences.

“IT employees get so much appreciation, whether it is for helping others in the company with simple problems such as resetting a password or for long projects that have been successful and take a lot of effort to get to the finish line,” says Kaul.

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“I appreciate that our company keeps us informed.” —Sailaja Yellaturu, senior manager, IT, Zebra Technologies

For Sailaja Yellaturu, senior manager, IT, the generous 401(k) plan, health plans and flexible work hours are appreciated perks — as is the office fitness facility. “One of the things I noticed right away was the positive and flexible work environment that the company offered along with the great work-life balance,” she says.

Communication is also front and center at Zebra. Each quarter, Zebra hosts town hall meetings during which members of the executive team come in to talk to all employees about how the company is doing and introduce new initiatives.

“I appreciate that our company keeps us informed and gathers us together on a regular basis to improve communication and collaboration,” says Yellaturu. “I’ve also noticed since joining the company how approachable management and our CIO are by keeping open-door policies and encouraging us to reach out to them to voice our opinions and concerns.”

Zebra’s recipe for IT success was fully visible during the move to enable all 8,000 worldwide employees to work from home during the COVID-19 crisis. “We did it very quickly, in just a few days,” says Kaul. “We had to deal with a surge in requests because many people were not used to it, but we had the technology infrastructure, from collaboration tools to remote desktops.”

But even as Zebra’s IT team continues to tackle challenging projects, the company is still taking the time to remind employees to take care of themselves and their families. “This is the time to be empathetic, even while we drive results,” says Kaul. “At Zebra, we strive to offer a balanced life.”

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