Employee Experience

Zoom and Zillow HR chiefs: What we’ve learned from COVID-19

In this installment of our Employee Experience Visionaries series, HR leaders at Zoom and Zillow share their insights on the future of the workplace and adapting their employee experience in real-time during COVID-19. During this session of XM Talks, we hear from Lynne Oldham, Chief People Officer at Zoom, and Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer at Zillow Group, about:

On navigating the fear and uncertainty of COVID-19

The unprecedented nature of a global pandemic created an immense amount of fear in the workplace. A recent study of 5,000 U.S. workers by Thrive Global showed that 80% of employees feel “helpless and like things are out of their control.”

Zillow saw those findings reflected in their employee feedback. “From the onset of the pandemic, Zillow employees expressed an unprecedented level of fear: fear of the unknown; fear of how COVID-19 would impact the business and their jobs; fear of how the pandemic would impact their daily routines; fear about their ability to be a caregiver,” shares Dan. “As a leadership team, we needed to address these fears first. Everything else could wait.” Zillow quickly moved as one of the first organizations to give employees the option to work from home for the remainder of 2020 to eliminate some of the uncertainty.

Lynne echoes Dan’s sentiment. “Looking at Maslow’s hierarchy of needs, the first two rungs – physiological and safety needs – weren’t being met because of the pandemic,” she says. “Many employees at Zoom had been working long days. We quickly recognized the need to support employees by educating them on how to unplug and avoid burnout; supporting them with how to establish boundaries between work and home; and coaching employees to take care of themselves first. Like putting your own oxygen mask on first, you have to take care of yourself in order to help others.”

On listening to what employees need the most right now

“Like many organizations, we’re making up the listening playbook as we go along right now. To tune into our employees, we’ve employed a number of formats, including formal listening, anecdotal feedback, as well as traditional one-on-one and team meetings where we encourage employees to ask questions,” says Lynne.

The result? “To start, our employees told us that they needed office supplies to be more comfortable working from home. So, we gave employees $300 to purchase what they needed to be successful – and comfortable.

The COVID-19 pandemic has given us an opportunity to reevaluate our biases towards remote and distributed work.

Dan Spaulding, Chief People Officer at Zillow Group

Zillow also quickly implemented the Remote + On-site Work Pulse to dig into the realities of working from home on a more real-time basis than they could prior. “Via a weekly pulse, we asked employees 4-5 questions about their home office set-up, their views on productivity, manager connectedness, and more. That data helped us make real-time decisions, like increasing the frequency of internal communications, as well as powered our decision to not return to the office anytime soon,” says Dan.

On driving action from insights

From increased collaboration to better meetings to indefinite remote work, Zoom and Zillow are strategizing how to preserve the benefits of working from home.

“Our bi-weekly all-hands meetings have always provided a forum for employees to ask questions about any and all topics,” says Lynne. “But, we’ve also encouraged employees to have informal conversations with one another around wellbeing – not work – and in doing so, help each other cope through this crisis.”

Zoom also plans to launch a “You Matter” series, with various tracks for parents, families, singles, and even a kids summer camp to bolster employee connectedness. “The work of learning to cope together has been something spectacular in the face of something ugly. We want to continue that momentum,” says Lynne.

Dan shares his candid observations: “One of our biggest learnings was how awful the meeting experience was for our employees in smaller offices. We have 24 locations. Before COVID-19, you might have six employees in a meeting room in New York, and four dialed in to the meeting remotely. Now, with the inclusivity of all employees attending meetings from home, we’ve seen the benefit of a consistent meeting experience.

“We’re thinking through: ‘Do we keep the equal footing of all-virtual meetings, even when employees return back to some offices?’ Thanks to the democratization of meetings, we’ve seen the true value of flexibility and allowing employees to work remotely.”

On the future of the workplace

Dan recognizes that technology companies like Zillow certainly have an advantage in a now-remote world (though, he noted that Zillow does have frontline employees working in the field, as well). “We were fortunate to already have a distributed workforce prior to COVID-19, although we had our biases towards what productivity looked like. We’d overestimated the size of the barrier to working from home at scale.”

He says: “Looking ahead, we’ve made the commitment that even when we can go back to our offices, we’re relinquishing those traditional norms that you can only achieve great collaboration when employees are in the office five days a week. It’s a competitive advantage to be flexible with your workforce.”

We’re going to let our employees steer any return to the office. I see this happening on a voluntary, case-by-case basis.

Lynne Oldham, Chief People Officer at Zoom

On kindling a sense of purpose during a crisis

At Zoom, an employee-driven “Cool and Inspiring Stories” Slack channel highlights customer experience stories that align with the organization’s purpose. “Especially during these uncertain, yet incredibly busy times, these inspiring CX stories helped spark joy for employees and reinforced why we do what we do,” said Lynne.

Dan amplified this notion, sharing that he saw Zillow employees working with renewed vigor throughout the crisis in order to continue supporting customers and agents during COVID-19.

“At Zillow, we give people the power to unlock life’s next chapter. Due to COVID-19, we’ve seen a real surge in people rethinking where they live and, ultimately, deciding it’s time to move – whether it’s moving closer to family for a support network or out of a densely-populated area,” he said. “This shift is partly why we want to support our employees to continue working remotely, so they, too, can be in a space where they feel happy, comfortable, and safe.”


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