Electrolux Chief Design Officer, Pernilla Johansson, Says Physical Distance is No Longer a Limitation

I was very fortunate to speak with Pernilla Johansson, Chief Design Officer at Electrolux, and based in Stockholm, Sweden. I enjoyed our very full discussion about her journey to becoming a design leader. She started her first job with Philips and it took her to 3 continents and 5 countries. Arriving in Singapore, and staying for 16 years, the leadership part of her journey began. She then joined Electrolux in Singapore to build a design innovation center there. In 2014, she moved back to Stockholm, Sweden to head the global team for small appliances, after being away for 23 years. She advises designers to take the opportunity to live and work abroad to learn differences in people and realize real empathy.

In 2018, Pernilla took on the role of CDO, enabling designers to do a better job and work better together. As an interesting type of research to start this role, she asked 200 Electrolux designers from around the world to write her a “thank you letter” and date it a year and a half later. Pernilla asked them to give her a thank you for what they as a community had achieved together. She received 55,000 words and got to know everyone and all the teams. By doing this she turned the letters into five top topics globally and five from each region and set up the priorities for the organization, which she continues to measure their progress to becoming a better global design team.

On the topic of Coronavirus and what changes were made at Electrolux, she said within a week everyone took home their equipment and with help from IT, it didn’t take long before they were productive. It happened in waves, starting in Shanghai in end of January, then Singapore where they did half teams on-site, then Italy where they have a big R&D facility. By then they realized they needed to mobilize globally. They used Bluejeans and Miro to collaborate digitally. One of her multi-discipline project teams said that since Covid, they actually feel closer together during quarantine because they were all equal. They felt a tendency to lean in and help each other more since they felt less physical distance than they had before being separated by floors. She thinks it’s working surprisingly well.

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