Gillian French, Expert in Residence for Employee Experience at Workvivo, truly believes in the people. Throughout her career she has worked in many different companies with all kinds of cultures and backgrounds and knows how powerful a healthy culture can be. In our interview, Gillian shares many insights from her experience at Workvivo with us!
1. What does your current work model look like in terms of employee experience?
At Workvivo, we’ve gone fully hybrid. We issued a pulse survey to our employees last year in order to understand their preferences because we know there isn’t a one-size-fits-all approach to working. The results weren’t at all surprising. The majority of employees opted for the hybrid approach. I think we all know having face-to-face time is important, but really we’re putting our trust in our employees to set up their work life as they wish. For some, that’s in our physical office and for most it is working from home with the option to come into the office.
At the end of the day, at Workvivo we want happy employees. I think we still have a lot of learning to do, but the most important thing is to work with your employees and see how we can accommodate them as well as possible. It's facilitating the business as well, it's really about a sort of give-and-take model. For us, it's important to have a balance and not strict policy rules.
Quite recently, the number of Covid cases here in Ireland are rising again and people have been asked to work from home again. Therefore, our work model is currently changing again and needs to be customized from time to time. Flexibility is essential for the company and the employees. With balance and no extremes, we’re confident we will land in the right place whilst involving our employees in all decisions.
2. What is planned for the future? Are you going to continue to work hybridly?
Our team size has tripled last year and it’s been a really exciting time. We’re going to stay fully hybrid – we have outgrown our HQ office and have turned it into a hot desking hub. However, we also know it’s going to be important for the full team to come together, so we will definitely work on making sure everyone gets this face-to-face time and set up other hot desking hubs. We’re still hiring and growing rapidly, so the flexible approach will be crucial as we scale.
For a great employee culture, we also provide digital coffee catch ups where people can drop in and have a chat as well to make sure everybody feels included and part of the team.
3. How do you work together with so many team members on different continents? Do you have core hours or something similar?
We have staff distributed across the US and Europe and our three main time zones are GMT, EST and PST. There is a lot of overlap for those working on GMT and EST, but we find that those on the West Coast in the US get up a little bit earlier. Given the nature of our work and platform, we are able to connect effortlessly and haven’t run into any issues with working across timezones.
We try to implement asynchronous working strategies wherever possible and every Tuesday at 3pm GMT our whole company gets together for a mini town hall called “Week at Workvivo”. There, we hear from each different team what’s happened in the business over the last week – it’s a really great way for the organization to keep up with what’s going on.
In addition, the entire team comes together regularly twice a year in Ireland. We call these big meetings a retreat or offsite. In my point of view, retreats will become very important into the future if we continue to work in this hybrid way. Especially in the countryside, you get away from the office and it enables you a different perspective on things. In the end, you will generate better ideas, but at the same time the events must be very structured.
People might argue that these events get very costly, but if you're not using office space and you don't have all the overheads and office costs, then it still saves you budget. I think it's worth the investment, because there is no substitute for face-to-face interaction. Whilst we don’t want to force our employees too often to leave their homes for us, these few meetings will still give them an advantage in enthusiasm about the business for the next two or three months.
4. How important is physical space (whether an office, coworking space or physical meetings) for Workvivo?
I think physical space is going to become increasingly important. It will be crucial that whenever teams actually want to come together, they can do so. We’re very proud of our offices and we know we will need to make sure to put an emphasis on team get-togethers at least once a quarter.
People come to the office to collaborate, but one size doesn't fit all. Some employees want to go into the office, because their set up at home isn't good enough. These people will want to have a base to go to in the future too. Others prefer to go to the office only two days per week or to work remotely full time. The same goes for desk sharing, some people love it and others want to have their own personal desk. We try to find individual solutions.
Therefore, the redesign of our offices is important. We need bigger spaces, white boards and round tables to get together. We also introduced pods, which you often see at airports, allowing people to go in and privately call without disturbing other people. Of course, great coffee is important too! The company must provide the employees a welcoming atmosphere if they want them to meet in the office.
Most people miss and want personal interaction, even when they work from home. Personally, I think that it's important that leadership teams consider this. It can also be difficult to solve problems when you only discuss them on a video call. I think the pandemic has opened us up. It's just a wider lens for all of us when we realize we don't have to just be bound by the office. We are more likely to do a meeting during a walk outside, for example. During the past months, I did coffee walks with colleagues numerous times. It was lovely and it promotes building social capital!
5. What were your biggest insights over the last 2 years of flexible working? What surprised you, what worked well, what still needs work?
The last two years were the most intense ones, but also in a positive way. At the start, it was quite difficult to know when someone was having a bad day and it was really important to make time to talk and check in with the team to make sure everyone was feeling supported. By now, we are all so used to Zoom calls that actually calling someone on their mobile and going for a walk and talk was a great way to get up from the desk.
One of the biggest insights for many was that we actually could work from home and work well from home. Having some sort of structure in terms of daily team stand-ups worked great for us to check in on one another and know what the other person had in store for the day.
Working remote had a big impact on the employees also in terms of fulfilment. While working from home, they were able to bring their child to school and be there for them when they got back home. Daily two-hour journeys to work just don’t exist anymore and this change had an extremely positive impact on people and their social lives. Yet, it didn't cost the organization anything and people started to see the benefits of that. I think flexible working is a win-win for both sides, the employee and the company.
At the same time, it is very important that we shouldn't just think of ourselves and work at home because it might be more comfortable for our personal situation. We have a duty of care for the next generation, who have just graduated from college. We need to teach them our experience and how to work together in the workplace. People from different generations learn from each other. Younger people keep the experienced younger and, simultaneously, learn from the experience of older employees. When nobody is in the office, the work environment will lose this generation exchange.
6. Last, but not least: What does your work week usually look like, Gillian?
As a mum of three, I really enjoy the flexibility Workvivo allows for. Personally, I need human interaction and get a lot of energy from office visits, so I try to go there every four to five weeks to spend a full day there. The other days, I love bringing my three kids to school and seeing them when they come back home. These moments are priceless, but I mostly appreciate that I can benefit from the balance of working from home and spending great office days with my team.
Thank you so much for taking your time to talk about Workvivo’s successful hybrid work model with us, Gillian!