Prior to COVID-19, there was no shortage of discussion around the evolution of workplace benefits and amenities–from in-office chefs to unlimited PTO policies, it was clear the office experience was changing fast. The pandemic put all that on hold, if not completely changed the future of how we work and interact in offices. It raises the question: what makes a company an appealing place to work in such uncertain times?
That was the topic last week during a From Day One conference on the workforce of the future. “We are working in a mostly remote environment … it’s a different world, a different environment,” said moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company, kicking off a panel discussion. The journalist wanted to know, in the midst of tremendous change, “How does your company encourage employees to bring their whole selves to work, and how do you communicate that to potential hires?”
For companies requiring in-person interaction, safety is key, according to Kayla Nall, manager of talent acquisition for Delta Air Lines. Company leadership needed to be quick and agile to create safety procedures for both its frontline workers and traveling customers, like blocking off middle seats, requiring masks, and instituting elaborate cleaning procedures. “Our executive leadership have hosted open forums for people to voice their concerns, and I’ve seen Delta be much more agile to make changes,” Nall said.
For companies that shifted to fully remote work, flexibility is key. Shradha Prakash, vice president of future of work and organizational design for Prudential Financial, said the company allows for flexible work schedules to meet different employee needs. Those decisions are democratic and don’t require a number of approvals, she added. Non-work meetings among employees can also be effective. “It can bring humor and human touch into the day-to-day, which we would have otherwise done across cubicles and in the office,” Prakash said.
Other panelists echoed the importance of leadership staying engaged with employee needs and honestly sharing their own situation. Scott Dettman, CEO of the recruitment and career placement company Avenica, occasionally has his small children make an appearance on Zoom. He summed up the company leadership style as “heart first.”
Jon Schlossberg, founder of Even, a responsible earned wage access (EWA) provider that helps employees plan their finances, emphasized the importance of leadership connecting with employees in an authentic way. He also pointed out the three main reasons employees cannot bring their full selves to work: family obligations, a lack of diversity and inclusion in the workplace, and money. “Our economy has a bunch of question marks around it, so people are very concerned with money,” he noted.
Even has addressed these issues in various ways. The company formed a task force around diversity and inclusion; the matter is being treated as a core business concern. Even also allows employees to live wherever they want without making salary adjustments, invested in new benefits to support remote work, and added new financial benefits.
At Prudential, health and wellness benefits are becoming more inclusive, according to Prakash. On a larger scale, she expects the ability to live and work from anywhere to be prioritized as an important benefit across the board. “This is definitely going to change a lot of compensation and rewards we provide to employees,” she added.
Delta has allowed the return to the office to be voluntary, said Nall. The company has also rolled out a health-and-wellness app and offered employees ten free counseling sessions. “There are solutions we are just now getting to, as we hit six months working from home, to see what benefits work for a workforce spread across the country and still needs the level of care we used to get in person,” she said.
The panelists shared different recruitment experiences during COVID-19. For Schlossberg, the increased awareness around economic disparities made recruitment easier, given the mission-driven values at Even. At Prudential, there’s “a shift in focus from experience to skills,” Prakash noted. “We’re looking at skills that can be used interchangeably in new roles, so there is more cross-functional movement and internal mobility.”
There’s also the question of communicating a company culture in the age of remote work, particularly to new employees. Avenica is holding more “informal hangout sessions” as opposed to panel interviews for potential employees, Dettman said. “We are also becoming more and more conscious about what is said about us and what our digital profile is.” He believes companies should be responsive to their reputation online: “It’s about the experience we create for our internal employees and how that manifests in the larger ecosystem that really has the biggest impact.”
Measuring employee engagement and positive company culture remains an important question, and Dishman asked panelists to share any tools in that regard. The majority said their companies use employee net-promoter scores (eNPS), which measure how likely an employee would be to recommend the company to a friend or colleague. Delta, for its part, is taking a more holistic approach to its employee resource groups (ERGs): “It’s not just working moms, it’s working families. It’s not just a Black resource group, it’s how we can support our Black officers and directors or colleges in the frontline,” Nall outlined.
In employee surveys, Avenica asks: “What one thing can we do to make Avenica a better place to work?” Dettman said. “We’re looking for out-of-the box suggestions.” The company also relies on its key strategic partnerships to hold the business accountable for an inclusive environment that meets the needs of both employees and customers.
Dishman asked the panel if career development still matters in the midst of great instability. There was resounding affirmation that it does. At Schlossberg’s company, he said, “we found there’s been a slight decrease on the importance of base pay and an increase in opportunities for advancement.”
“I think career development should also be seen in a different light,” Prakash offered. “It should not just be seen as a ladder in which you are advancing, but how you are growing your skills to be a better professional in the future. It’s important for us as leaders to take the stress off people, as people are working harder and proving themselves harder in order to survive this uncertainty.”
Emily Nonko is a Brooklyn, NY-based reporter who writes about real estate, architecture, urbanism and design. Her work has appeared in the Wall Street Journal, New York magazine, Curbed and other publications.