A Parent Who's Reshaping the Workplace With Families in Mind

BY Angelica Frey | September 02, 2021

Matt Artz, who leads the workplace-evolution process at Salesforce, recently noticed that he had been bringing a slightly eccentric touch to his Zoom calls with colleagues. He was taking a personal interest in the houseplants they were tending in the background. But he doesn’t overanalyze the gesture. “In many ways, this is the equivalent of the first five minutes of a meeting, when you talk about what you did during the weekend,” he said. “I think there are some humanizing elements [to Zoom].”

Earlier this year, Artz’s company announced a new policy called “Work from Anywhere,” in which the company’s more than 50,000 employees would have three choices in how they can structure their work life: a flex schedule (working in the office one to three days a week), fully remote, and office-based. Artz, the VP in charge of this transformative project, spoke about the impact of hybrid work on families in a one-on-one conversation with Fast Company staff editor Lydia Dishman at From Day One’s August virtual conference, “Learning From a Crisis About What Working Parents Need.”

At the beginning of a new school year, the outlook for working parents is as uncertain as ever, thanks to the arrival of the Delta variant as a new chapter in the pandemic. As a leader, one of the things Artz has had to do is determine how things are really going for employees with diverse family lives. People with younger children can’t just plop their children in front of the virtual-classroom interface and entrust them with placidly following along with the teacher's lessons. Single people, living alone, shoulder a completely different, albeit not less significant burden by dealing with forced isolation.

Yet, when it came to dealing with mental-health issues, disclosing the challenges became hard: not everyone wants to tell their boss that they're not on the job from 3 pm to 5 pm every day because they have to be the primary caregiver. A method that Artz found effective was sending surveys and questionnaires at a company level. One of the questions was “have you had a mental-health challenge in the last year?” Thirty percent of the global workforce said yes, which led Salesforce to pursue a more robust investment in wellness education.

Speaking on families and the workplace, from left: moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company and Matt Artz of Salesforce (Image by From Day One)

The surveys had workplace implications as well: 13% of the global workforce reported seeing the office as a “refuge,” meaning that it was the place where they took shelter from their home environment for a host of reasons, from the lack of air conditioning in many European homes to a hostile home environment. As a result, many Salesforce offices around the world are now operational.

As the father of two teenagers, Artz has personal experience with the sudden merger of work life and home life. “Step one was finding a place in my home where I could actually work with minimal distraction,” he said. Artz settled on his and his wife's bedroom. “There's a lot of cons in having your workplace and the place where you sleep within feet from each other. Resisting that temptation was a challenge.” What's more, Artz’s wife had been working from home since before the pandemic, so she had managed to fashion a semblance of balance between work and family life. But the dynamic changed once the whole household was confined in the same place all day. “Kids had no concept of what my schedule looks like and what meetings can get interrupted,” he said. “And if I am taking a meeting with the doors closed, I don't get the sense how often they're interrupting my wife vs. me,” he added.

As Salesforce puts its offices back into operation, the policy of flexibility will have at least two aspects, he said, revolving around both around time and location. In terms of schedules, “There's going to be a more asynchronous work approach,” he said, in which employees do their work at the time of day that fits their needs. In terms of where they do their work, the approach has generally evolved into an “as-needed flexible behavior,” focused on specific projects that require employees to be in the office, for example sprints or end-of-quarter projects.

Given that both time and location will be partly discretionary, leaders will be the ones to set the example. If a leader comes into the office every day, their direct reports will tend to do so as well. “Our [chief HR officer] moved to Orange County and won't come back unless it's needed. So that's a good signal. How the leaders behave is going to affect people.” Salesforce is based in San Francisco, and Artz lives in the Seattle area.

Regardless of the back-to-the-office strategies, though, Artz sees teleconference software as a transformative technology. He observed that, in the span of a year, software like Zoom improved drastically: better audio quality, less strain on the laptop CPU, and the possibility to have the digital background cover up a less-than-tidy room. Unless everybody is going to be in the office, Artz said, it's going to be one face for one screen–a kind of digital equity. Gone are the days of one camera taking in a whole conference room.

Even so, Artz is cautious about equating performative, digital trust with the value of a face-to-face, body-language connection. In fact, while an “as-needed flexible” policy might require people being in the office rarely, completely getting rid of corporate real estate is not going to happen for most companies. People still want a connection to the office, Artz said with confidence.

Angelica Frey is a writer and a translator based in Milan and Brooklyn.


Involving Employees in the Journey of Technological Transformation

The abundance of new talent-focused tech tools are changing the way human resources practitioners, recruiters, and people operations leaders do their jobs. But as new tools are adopted, it’s often done with HR users in mind, and omitted from the selection and deployment processes is the end user: the employee.How to create an inclusive dialogue with workers about new tech was the topic of conversation among a panel of talent acquisition leaders during From Day One’s June virtual conference. The group of leaders addressed tech at all points of the employee lifecycle, from recruitment to career development.The Latest in Recruitment TechnologyThanks to the latest in HR tech, people teams now have the ability to hyper-customize the applicant and employee experiences at the earliest points of interaction. “We’re far beyond the days of just being tailored towards persona,” said panelist Shaunda Zilich, senior director of employer brand and talent attraction at hospitality company Marriott. The application experience can now be tailored to individual applicants. For instance, if a job seeker was looking at a housekeeping job at a hotel in the Atlanta area, “when they click on that job, the whole website can then change to say, ‘Here are some other jobs you might be interested in. They have this same skill set, they’re at the Atlanta location, and here’s an associate’s story that is tagged with that experience.’ I think that helps [applicants] self-select out, help them fulfill their purpose, and help us with retention.”According to Nico Roberts, the chief business officer at frontline talent acquisition platform Fountain, this level of customization represents the best in employer branding and recruitment. “Those companies that are absolutely crushing it are the ones that are providing a beautiful, personalized experience to the applicants,” he said. Testing Tools With the End User BaseWhen it comes to identifying new tools and use cases, panelists recommended HR teams get deeply involved as users. The companies that provide the best experience, says Roberts, are “those companies that take their entire teams, not just the workers, and put themselves through the process once every six months to see what’s changed. What’s the experience?” he said.The panelists discussed the topic, "Creating an Inclusive Dialogue With Workers About New Technology" at From Day One's June virtual conference (photo by From Day One)Zilich involves her team regularly. “I challenge my team all the time: When’s the last time you filled out an application on our website or on our competitors’ websites? We should be out there experiencing the technology firsthand and putting ourselves in their shoes.”But don’t forget to include the end users in testing and selection. “If you test with the actual workers or applicants, you start to see where they’re getting hung up. At the end of the day, they’re the ones who are supposed to use this,” said Roberts.Using Tech to Assess Skills and Develop Your WorkforceOne of the most popular applications for HR tech is workforce skill development. Cheryl Petersen, the talent resourcing leader for the Americas region at engineering consulting company Arup, uses regular assessments to gauge technical expertise and identify areas for improvement. Whatever skills and capabilities are most relevant to Arup’s clients get priority. “With all those insights, you can then evaluate your internal capabilities. You’re then determining appropriate workforce solutions and you’re able to say, ‘Are we going to need to recruit new talent? Do we need to develop upskill or deploy current talent? Are we going to have to utilize temp labor or subcontractors to address skills gaps?’” Petersen said. These assessments also help workers identify their current skill inventory–and where they need to develop new skills to stay sharp and relevant. “We want our employees to be improving and focusing on skills development that allows them to be addressing client needs,” she said.As an employer introduces new tools it expects workers to use, it’s natural to meet some resistance to change and even trepidation about how it might affect workers’ future job prospects. At media company Hearst, senior director of talent programs Maris Krieger works hard to assuage workers’ worries about being replaced by the latest tools, like artificial intelligence. “We always are doubling down on this idea that this tool is in your toolbox. It’s not taking over your jobs. It’s not replacing you, it’s augmenting and it’s freeing your time to do more valuable things.” Still, she said, workers should be aware of the skills they need to develop to stay relevant. Long-term resistance could put them at a significant disadvantage. Further, don’t overlook internal applications. Krieger pointed out that skill-development tools are just as relevant to boosting internal mobility as they are for recruiting. Recruiters and HR practitioners aren’t insulated from worry that their jobs are in jeopardy, of course. There are plenty of HR tech tools leveraging AI to improve processes, and it has some in the department concerned about their roles. But, Zilich says, talent acquisition professionals should see it as an opportunity. In particular, using the recruiting and skill-matching tools to take arduous tasks off their plates.“If recruiters really think back to why they got into recruiting, they probably got into recruiting for the coaching and the human side of it, the relationship side of it, and helping people find their fit and organization,” she said. “So if they can actually use the skill-matching and see the impact, they’re no longer going through hundreds of resumes, they’re spending their time coaching the hiring manager, coaching the candidate, and helping the person find the right fit.”Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza is a freelance journalist and From Day One contributing editor who writes about work, the job market, and women’s experiences in the workplace. Her work has appeared in the Economist, the BBC, The Washington Post, Quartz, Fast Company, and Digiday’s Worklife.

Emily McCrary-Ruiz-Esparza | July 01, 2024

What It Takes to Put the Employee at the Center of Remote Work

Be tenacious. Be authentic. Be inclusive. Be “un-boring.” These are just some of the stated cultural values of Yelp that first attracted Chief People Officer Carmen Amara to the organization. So was the opportunity to work fully remotely. Thanks to its vibrant corporate culture and agility in employee listening, Yelp has been able to establish a remote-work policy that puts employee well-being first.Studies suggest that remote workers tend to get less mentoring and fewer promotions than their in-office colleagues. But by investing in employee experience, companies committed to their remote workers can provide equitable opportunities for career advancement and professional growth. Amara offered an inside look at how Yelp does it during a fireside chat at From Day One’s May virtual conference.Recognizing Remote Work as a Viable StructureMany companies have begun instituting return-to-work policies, said moderator Jessi Hempel, senior editor-at-large at LinkedIn and host of the “Hello Monday” podcast. But Yelp “has really gone the other direction and held firm,” remaining fully remote. This aligns with Yelp’s value “to be ‘un-boring,’” Amara said.Amara herself was attracted to the organization because of this policy. “I was excited about the fact that this really opens the aperture for us to be able to attract great talent, regardless of where they are,” she said. “It also helps me as a professional to develop my own work and life fit, and live in the place that’s most conducive to my life.” She is able to use the time previously spent commuting to pursue her own personal interests and passions.Despite remote work’s popularity among employees, the prevailing belief among many corporations right now, Hempel says, is that “energy is lagging, people are not connected, learning is not happening, and innovation is not happening.” But Yelp has the data to prove that remote work really works. In February, Yelp released its Remote Work Report, which showed that 90% of Yelp employee respondents found effective ways to collaborate remotely, 86% said they found ways to connect as a team, and 91% felt they had pathways to career progress.Keep Listening, Stay Agile, and Cultivate Cultural ValuesThe key to developing a remote work plan that works is listening to employees and being prepared to respond to feedback quickly. “What led to this decision [to go fully remote] was really to understand from our employees what was working and what they were struggling with, very early on,” Amara said. Yelp conducted a series of carefully tailored surveys to dig deep into what employees felt they needed, then took immediate action. “Rather than wait until we had figured out how to develop this perfect program, things were moving quickly. So we had to reimagine the experience and work with our employees to co-create what the new reality was going to be,” she said. Yelp had to be “willing to get it wrong, and then iterate and change.”Even while building a new remote structure Yelp kept “leaning into the culture that we've already established” she said. When Yelp was first founded, its offbeat corporate identity was wrapped up in its San Francisco location. But now employees are beaming in from all over the world. “We try to frame the narrative about our company through the employee experience and the employee lens. So we let our employees tell their stories about what it’s like to work for Yelp, and it’s always grounded in those values,” Amara said.Carmen Amara of Yelp, left, was interviewed by Jessi Hempel of LinkedIn, rightYelp prioritizes making sure employees feel connected to one another. “We enable our managers to do what makes sense for their teams, because they know their employees best,” Amara said. “But we are very focused on deliberate and intentional connection.” Yelp accomplishes this through regular team meetings and quarterly town halls, both at the department and the company level. It also has employee resource groups to bring workers together, united by topics they are passionate about.And even being fully remote, it’s not all virtual, Amara says. “There still is a place for purposeful in-person connection. We also have a strategy that we call IRL, ‘in real life,’ where leaders get their teams together in-person once or twice a year, simply to have fun and form more of an emotional connection.” “Fun is so key to a cohesive culture,” Hempel agreed.Focusing on Professional DevelopmentYelp is still perfecting its remote professional development opportunities, Amara says, which are, as always, driven by employee listening data. Initial surveys had shown that employees were eager for coaching, mentorship, and skill-building opportunities, which led to the development of a program for exactly that. But participation has now tapered off. “We have a disconnect around when we say, ‘coaching’ and ‘mentorship.' We may be thinking differently about that than what some of our employees are actually looking for,” Amara said. But, unafraid to try and fail, Yelp is taking that information back to the drawing board to develop a stronger program for the future.Amara also cites AI as an potential opportunity for HR to explore in the coming years, particularly its ability to positively impact the employee experience. “It’s something that we all need to stay connected to. It’s not the domain of the engineers. Having the ‘people’ people at the table as we're making decisions around how we’re going to implement this technology is critical,” she said.Ultimately, Amara and her team are driven by a focus on positivity and leaning into success. “The biggest lesson that I’m trying to apply in my current role is that focusing on people’s strengths will get you a lot further than focusing on their weaknesses or opportunities,” she said.Katie Chambers is a freelance writer and award-winning communications executive with a lifelong commitment to supporting artists and advocating for inclusion. Her work has been seen in HuffPost and several printed essay collections, among others, and she has appeared on Cheddar News, iWomanTV, and CBS New York.

Katie Chambers | June 19, 2024

Trust and Transformation: The Role of Coaching in Employee Development

Sarah Sheehan, founder and CEO of Bravely, says her most memorable coaching story involves a young woman of color who was having difficulty finding the confidence to ask her manager about getting a promotion or a raise.“She had put in the work over time and had done multiple jobs,” Sheehan said during an executive panel discussion at From Day One’s May virtual conference. “This is a case where we were pretty sure on the coaching side that if she were to move forward and talk to her manager, that would propel her to a better place.”The end result was “that she did, in fact, get a promotion, much to her surprise,” Sheehan told moderator Lydia Dishman of Fast Company. “This is a great example of the huge gap where we often give coaching to the people in more senior roles, when really everyone deserves coaching, from your first job to the C-level.”Coaching is the most powerful resource a company can provide its employees because of its individualized nature, says Sheehan. Having a coach is somewhat like having “a work therapist, because what is impacting us in our personal life translates to our professional life and impacts how we show up at work.”Building a Relationship Based on TrustAny coaching relationship must be based on trust. The employee “has to believe you’re there for them and working with them, and really understanding what will be shared or not shared,” said William Agostini, senior advisor, strategic HR at SABIC.The employee also has to have faith that the coach “understands the realities of where they are,” Agostini said. Additionally, “coaches should not be projecting their own culture onto someone else. There are realities of different cultures and situations.”However, coaches also need to see and hear employees as individuals, versus whatever gender, age, or cultural label you might want to put on them, says Agostini. In addition, he recommends giving employees “the opportunity to give you feedback about your assumptions.”Building an atmosphere of trust pays dividends in terms of employee retention, says Isobel Lincoln, SVP of HR for Unibail-Rodamco-Westfield. Over the past two and a half years, every team member who received executive coaching is still there.“They come into it feeling like, ‘Wow, this is something really for me. I can transform personally and professionally,’” Lincoln said.The panelists spoke during a session titled, "Conscious Coaching: Guiding and Recognizing Talent with a Holistic Approach"Support from key stakeholders, including management, ensures that the employee receiving the coaching is getting feedback “which means that they're also helping to rewrite the script in whatever way they need to, whether it's just elevating and building confidence as a leader or changing some of those behaviors,” Lincoln said.Determining Who to CoachSean Allen, a SVP of strategy & talent solutions, at MDA Leadership Consulting, says he’s been asked to coach employees whose performance issues are so severe that they triggered an HR investigation. “That’s not what I would consider a good application of coaching,” he said.Coaching works best when it is designed to be more aspirational, says Allen. The goal should be to “create role models in change, and change champions,” he said. “But beyond that, from a macro perspective, one thing I know we really rely on is broad and objective assessment based on formalized high potential models. That’s important because objectivity talks to fairness in a way that washes out bias as much as you can, and gives everybody a fair chance.”This approach ensures companies invest in a diverse group of employees, says Allen. He said it also helps determine “who has what kind of ceiling and what kind of potential.”The Role of Mentors and SponsorsMentors and sponsors also have a crucial part to play in helping employees advance in their careers.Sarah Waltman, VP of global talent management and organizational development at Dentsply Sirona says that while coaches assist individuals along their journey, mentoring involves sharing your experiences with mentees. Sponsoring “is really about opening up some doors or finding some access to experiences that they wouldn’t otherwise have,” she said.Coaching, mentoring, and sponsorship can all take place simultaneously. However, an employee might switch lanes, such as going from coaching into mentoring for a little bit, and then returning for more coaching or entering into a sponsorship, says Waltman.Allen says that coaching, mentoring and sponsoring “can and should coexist in a complementary fashion to form a powerful ecosystem of development support.”“For example, as a standard practice we leverage something called the growth network inside of a coaching engagement,” he said. “That brings into play sponsors, mentors, people who are in real business situations with the leader and can give them feedback. So it’s not coaching in a vacuum.”Coaching Remote EmployeesEven though pandemic restrictions have ended, working from home has not for some coaches and the employees they work with.“For me, it’s actually been amazing to have the coaching contacts because even though I'm not in person with a lot of my peers and hires, having some of those coaching engagements has allowed me to get to know them,” Waltman said.But remote work also presents certain challenges for employees when they try to show how they have grown as a result of coaching, says Lincoln.“How can you support them to think through proactive ways for them to demonstrate this new mindset, this new leadership capability, and strategic thinking?” she said. “I think strong ownership and promotional campaigning in an authentic, positive way is something to be extra mindful of, because it’s going to take them extra time and effort to be able to showcase that change they’ve undergone.”Mary Pieper is a freelance writer based in Mason City, Iowa.

Mary Pieper | June 14, 2024