Expert advice on supporting your remote workforce

Watch or read insights from HR Leaders @Zoom, Okta, and Hashicorp on how to support distributed, remote workforce.

 Min Read 

Navigating benefits and supporting distributed teams

Recently, we kicked off hosted a discussion, bringing together top benefits experts from across the globe to talk about timely benefits-related topics and share career learnings.

For our first session, we had the pleasure of speaking with three seasoned HR veterans — Sheila Kruger, Chief People Officer @ Zoom, Kristina Johnson, Chief People Officer @ Okta, and Jeff Harper, Chief People Officer @ Hashicorp — about how they are navigating benefits in the world of COVID and supporting workforces that now almost exclusively working in a decentralized fashion.

Below is a recap of the top six things we learned from each of our experts.

Okta’s Kristina Johnson on dynamic work:

  • Dynamic Work is remote work on steroids, it’s about making sure that companies have the right technology stack to support a more distributed environment and offering the same perks and benefits to employees that aren’t sitting in a traditional office.
  • It’s getting more challenging to recruit talent in the tech world, so we flipped the traditional model, where you have space and then look for employees to fill those spaces within certain geographical areas. Instead, we want to look for a certain skill set, hire for that, and say it doesn’t matter where you are.
  • In a recent employee survey asking people how productive they felt at home, employees rated it a 4 on average (on a scale of 1–5). Of respondents, 80–85% of people said that because of their current remote working experience, they want more flexibility than they had before pre-COVID. That said, there are still people saying, “when can I go back to the office?” Remote work isn’t for everyone, we need to find a way to strike a balance.
  • As we save on our physical footprint, we’re able to reinvest that money back to employees through benefits. We offer “cafeteria-style” benefits that let people choose, since someone in New York may have different needs than someone living in Texas.
  • In terms of benefits, it’s important to break down the silo between remote and in-office employees. Usually, in-office employees are the ones that get the perks — lunches, meditation classes, etc. — and remote people get nothing. So we’re trying to figure out how to make it an equitable experience across the board.
  • Looking to the future, telehealth is going to increase and it will become as commonplace as going into the doctor if you are sick in the future, so that’s something we’re thinking about in terms of benefits moving forward.

Hashicorp’s Jeff Harper on building a distributed workforce from the ground up:

  • We have a location framework that we put together since 85% of our workforce is permanently distributed, but it’s less about where and more about how we work. We care more about overlapping timezones and which teams are able to work by which timezone…you could be in Peru or in Nebraska and it doesn’t matter as long as the timezones line up.
  • Our engineering team is intentionally, fully distributed. The moment we put two or more people in the same location, that’s when additional conversations and decisions get made, which then becomes the center of decision making. When you do that, it changes the behavior of the people that are getting together and those who are not. You start seeing the abdication of decision making to that group. But by having the team fully distributed it creates a forcing function to connect and collaborate, and creates a stronger community sense for the distributed team.
  • Diversity is a key part of being geographically distributed, it’s given us greater access to people that may not have the ability to be in a specific geographic region, especially to employee more females in high tech roles.
  • Someone asked if we could ask all managers not to send emails on weekends or at night. The answer is that we want to create an understanding of being able to meet people where they are — so just because that may be what they need to do based on their schedule, you don’t need to respond right then. You need to respond when works for you as an individual…that’s how we’re thinking about boundaries, not in terms of restrictions, but allowing people to work how it works for them.
  • In terms of benefits, it’s all about adopting to allow people to bring benefits into their own homes. We have also added company-wide mental health days since people aren’t taking vacations like they used to. The only way to give people the chance to rest and recoup when we don’t go somewhere on vacation is to ensure no one else is working too so work doesn’t pile up.
  • In the HR field, we’re the guardians of our community’s culture and we are all trying to ensure we can protect and bring those elements into this new environment.

Sheila Krueger on collaborating remotely:

  • We’ve done two surveys for Zoom employees during this time: only 4% of employees want to come back and work in the office as they did before. Over 50% said they want it to be a variable option and be able to come in 2 or 3 days a week but not every day. And about 26% said they’d be happy to work from their house for the rest of their lives.
  • In conversations with managers about why employees may need to be in the office, all the answers have been socially geared and around collaboration. Pre-pandemic, Zoom had 16% of its workforce distributed, so in the future, if that’s flipped to 16% in the office vs 16% remote, we want to figure out how to make that work from a cultural aspect as well as from a business aspect.
  • During the pandemic, we have done a lot of shifting of perks and looking at what were pretty staid wellness benefits, so that employees would have the ability to work from home in a more comfortable environment. We’ve added a layer of mental health benefits, which has been very beneficial and a key issue for everybody during this time. And when we shifted money from things like gym reimbursements, with really low utilization, to things like stipends for childcare, fitness equipment, and office equipment, we found a 90% engagement rate with employees and saw that 60% of employees are now using their benefits money on a monthly basis.
  • This year has made us look at how we’ll offer benefits for 2021. We’re paying a lot more attention to the categories of claims that are coming in — we noticed a lot more muscular/skeletal (MSK) claims — since employees went from an ergonomically correct chair to a folding chair at home. So we’re adding additional resources for MSK claims, and continually looking at supporting employees at home. We’re asking ourselves, “how do we deliver education” for employees at home?
  • We have a big focus on mental health, self-care, and boundaries. Because we ramped up so quickly to remote working during the pandemic (from 16% to 100%), it’s been really important to help employees maintain their sanity and their overall wellness during this time, whether it’s physical, mental, or spiritual — we’re looking at it all.
  • Diversity and inclusion is something that’s going to continue to be important to us. We’ve done a lot of education and internal talks about race and social injustice, and we’re going to make sure that our benefits are reflective of the emphasis on diversity and inclusion.