Dynamic Work: How One High-Tech Company is Making It Work
Okta, a leading independent provider of identity for the enterprise, has been working on how to optimize a distributed workforce well before the pandemic. They call this practice Dynamic Work. With this workforce model, they have carefully built a more agile, flexible workstyle into their culture. It’s more than just letting employees work from home and ensuring they have the necessary tools to do so. It’s rethinking how and where they hire as an organization, how their offices are designed, their global employee engagement and experiences. But it’s also looking at flexible work hours, fitness benefits and volunteering opportunities, along with the technology used to stay connected.
In a recent webinar titled Dynamic Work – It’s More Than Just Remote Work, Assal Yavari, LEED AP - Sr. Director, Global Workplace Project Management and Jen Ryan - Director, Learning & Development at Okta, Inc., discussed the challenges and solutions their company has put in place. You can watch the full recording of the webinar here.
Q: What is the Dynamic Workplace?
Assal: Two years ago, we were looking for the best talent, and it's a very competitive world to do that kind of recruiting. So, one of the thoughts from our executives was, ‘why do our recruiting efforts have to be just based on where we have physical spaces? It doesn't have to be that way. ’From that came the idea of ‘dynamic work’. And this wasn't done in a bubble; there was a focus group across leadership with representatives from each department who participated from the recruiting effort to the financial and legal aspects of it, the people side of it, and then ultimately the workplace side.
We wanted to really empower the employees to provide them flexibility to do their best work from anywhere. And when you give employees that flexibility, you have that much more trust in them to the employer.
Q: What were some of the biggest challenges in change management in this journey?
Jen: When we went into shelter-in-place, it accelerated the work we were already doing with dynamic work. We had been kind of on a slow drip, but we were concerned to rapidly move to a more dynamic workplace where you wouldn't necessarily see your employees in the office in front of you, every day. And that can be a little scary.
At the time we started talking about dynamic work, we had about 60%of our employee base and offices or home offices who did not work in San Francisco.
With shelter-in-place, we had to pivot quickly to make it all happen on Zoom, especially when it came to learning and executive development.
We took feedback from surveys and from other forms of correspondence and we responded by launching a new benefits platform.
There were a couple other platforms that we pushed out to employees as an experiment. These platforms addressed wellness, health and family learning, professional development, and a variety of other topics.
For example, for parents who had children at home, we set up a platform that could provide babysitting or offer up different classroom skills to their kids like art or language.
And for those who always wanted a pet but couldn't get one prior to shelter-in-place, we sent them a service that offered remote pet training or how to find pet babysitting services.
Q: How has COVID-19 affected this journey for your company?
Assal: We're very excited because we feel that this is the next evolution of how we do our best work, and we've just hit the tip of the iceberg. The world has transformed and we're never going to go back to the way it was. Our work environment is still going to encompass a physical space that we're going to work in, should we choose to work that way. But we feel there's so much more to it with employee experience technology tools available today.
We will work to help people when they're in the office or when they're not in the office to connect the two for equitable experience. To help with those ‘aha’ moments that you would have had in the office. We're invested in this and we're excited about taking it to the next level.
Q: What are some things that you do to build culture remotely?
Prior to COVID-19, we had informal buddy programs going on across the organization. But with the launch of the new onboarding and pre-onboarding process and tool, we have managers assign buddies officially. So, each new hire has someone to go to who isn't their manager to ask all those questions everybody has when starting to work with a new company. Things like ‘why don't I have this app or where's this on the wiki or where's this repository of information or what's this process?’
So now they have that person to connect with. The Donut app that is a tool we use via Slack. Donut introduces people who don’t know each other well on teams of all sizes via direct messages, and encourages them to meet in person or virtually for a variety of programs.
We have Donut set up so you can establish your own cadence. You can do weekly Donut engagements or every other week, or every other month, or just say 'no, not this week'. Or meet randomly with different people at the organization. Our CEO is even part of this. And he's mentioned this in our weekly all-hands meetings.
We also have social clubs through Slack, whether it's the volunteering group or cultural groups that bring people who have the same interests together. We even provide an aspect where people get a package in the mail that's a preparation for that social event. Who doesn't want to get a package nowadays? For example, the wine connoisseurs get some samples of wine for a virtual wine tasting.
Next week we have Halloween costumes and cocktails. So, these are things that we're doing to engage employees. But we don't force it because it's all about flexibility. If they can't join, there are other events that they can choose to be a part of that are video recorded.
Q: When you're thinking about a physical office moving forward, what do you have in mind for that office design?
Assal: I don't think anyone has fully figured out what the new design of the workplace is going to look like. Do we have about 75% of it worked out? I think so. What we do know is that everyone's not going to come in everyday to the office. But what we have heard consistently is that people want to come to a place to connect, to see people and to socialize; and just to get away from their home office. Not everyone has an appropriate home situation, whether that means caring for young children or elders or navigating a noisy roommate.
We've also heard that they want to come to a physical place. So, think of a retail store or hotel lobby. You usually see a lot of people in the hotel lobby because people come there to talk to others. To replicate that experience, we asked ourselves different questions:
How can we make that experience easier virtually?
Is there some sort of technology tool to let employees know who’s in the office on the same day?
Can they connect with them?
Can they sit next to them?
Can they book a conference room when they are coming in?
Are there any events happening that they can be participating in while they are in that space?
If they are whiteboarding in the office, is it going to be the same experience as someone who's sitting in their virtual office?
Q: Were employees challenged with the uncertainty of not knowing exactly where they will sit every day?
Assal: Absolutely. Not everybody of course. But those are the kind of people you want to be part of a focus group on that design change. You want to hear those resisters and have empathy for them. That's how you're going to shift someone to be a change champion for you.
We can work through options that still meet their needs, whether it's visual privacy or acoustical privacy or technology setup. We definitely want to involve them as part of the journey and hear what they have to say.
One interesting thing we created was workplace neighborhoods. We applied feedback from our London office to our new headquarters in downtown San Francisco. What did that look like? Instead of having everybody with assigned seats over three different floors, we combined workplace HR and legal onto one floor.
There were new efficiencies. There was cross collaboration happening in a more dynamic setting because they're all within the same floor. We also went to unassigned seats, but every department still had an assigned neighborhood.
Q: What measures have you implemented to ensure new hires who have never been to one of the physical offices feel like part of the family?
Jen: Of course, all our orientations are now conducted via Zoom. As I mentioned, we have the buddy program that we've officially started across the organization. And we do have templates for managers, so that they can put together30-60-90-dayplanswhich list out who employees need to meet with, and objectives and goals for those first 30-60-90 days.
Q: Any other tools or apps that you would recommend?
Assal: Some companies are just giving employees a certain amount of allowance to go and purchase things that they may need to be efficient and effective and have a similar experience that they have in the office.
There's no one tool is going to do all things. They all have pros and cons. Too often, I've seen organizations that have chosen to work a certain way because the tool limits them in doing something. And that's terrible. Because if there are more efficient and effective ways of working, we should do that versus being hindered by the tool.
Q: How have you been able to retain corporate culture with so much disruption to the workplace?
Assal: Culture is not just the activities that we put out there; it's really the culture that comes from the top down. And what leadership establishes as “ok.” I have two young children. They run in all the time. My quick reaction initially was to be apologetic to the other person on Zoom—and this person was a top executive. And their response was that it’s ok.
Even our CEO had his son in the background building with Legos. So, when you have your CEO say, ‘it's ok to have family here’, it really gives you comfort.
Jen: I absolutely agree. It's from the top down. Interestingly, there's been recent research that shows shelter-in-place is weighing more heavily on individuals working in the middle management space where they're having to pivot from being the person that helps drive results and get stuff done to the person who has to demonstrate a lot more empathy with the teams they manage. Now they can't dive right into a meeting and ask what people are doing before asking how they are doing emotionally.
It’s extremely important and helpful to see that the top executives are in support of that and they do talk about it in the all-hands meetings and emails they send out to the company.
Q: How has all this impacted your hiring pool?
Jen: We recently hired an engineer from Nebraska. I thought, ‘Two years ago, no one would ever think we would hire someone from that far away for our engineering team.’ Part of the change management piece is becoming more open to where someone is located. It seems like a small thing, but it is a fabulous indicator of how far we've come. Just from talking about dynamic work two years ago to where we are seeing pivoting into other regions outside the SF Bay area - I’m convinced that it's only going to get smoother and smoother and make a positive impact on the business.
Assal: Absolutely. And to piggyback on that, since shelter-in-place, Okta’s non-SF Bay area workforce has expanded. That is increasing our talent pool and diversity and we have much higher targets coming up. Our head of talent recently had mandatory training for his recruiting team, and they went through very specific training with a new set of tools to help them find talent because now hiring managers can’t just open a requisition specific to a region.
Q: How does compensation fit into the remote worker equation?
Jen: Typically, the location in which we're working has a lot of bearing on what we’re paid. Maybe somebody is reporting to a virtual office within the Bay Area, but chooses to live elsewhere; their compensation is being adjusted depending on the location.
Assal: We have to put a process together with a total rewards bottom line. We look at a variety of factors and put together a package and present that to the employee who wishes to locate elsewhere. The guiding principle is to have the best talent. You still have to pay competitively. So, we want to compensate employees in line with the local labor market that they're moving into next, and we want to align internal equity to factor in how other employees are paid working in a similar role and/or location.