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Mar 22, 2023

Regular visitors to will know that we are unabashedly proud about the power of progressive HR.

But to really be the voice of the HR sector, it’s the views of HR practitioners themselves that matter.

That’s why we recently launched a brand new series that we’re calling ‘It works for me…’

Comprising articles written by ordinary HR folk, about the issues that impact them on a day-to-day basis, we aim to present easily actionable observations made ‘by’ HR professionals ‘for’ HR professionals.

Last time around we heard from Workzinga’s founder, Dan Hunter, on prioritizing authenticity in his hiring process.

This time, we hear from Liberty Planck, head of remote experience at Gusto, who talks about seeing hybrid work as a user experience challenge.

It works for me…. seeing hybrid work as a user experience challenge

Distributed workforce challenges are not going anywhere.

More than half of Americans – roughly 98 million people – have the ability to work from home at least part of the time.

Meanwhile, flexibility has become the number-one decision factor for job candidates. Designing equitable, effective distributed workplaces is crucial to retaining talent and driving business growth.

I see these statistics come to life every day. Here at Gusto remote employees comprise about one half of our workforce, including one-third of our executive team. So I see myself as a sort of anthropologist – someone whose job it is to study the habits, preferences and pain points of our employees to build the best experience. This will impact not only the employee, but the business as well.

That’s why we recently did a company-wide survey, asking staff specifically about the hybrid experience.

We asked employees to give an experience rating on a scale of 1-5, along with short answer responses around why they gave that rating, and what they would change. We intentionally left it open-ended to give people the space to say exactly what they felt.

The top theme of the survey feedback was that people want to feel more connected – not only to the company and their teams, but also to one another on a personal level.

As a result of this we are right now examining how to better digitize culture and community on a company, work group and individual level.

We’re doing this by creating digital customer fireside chats that employees attend virtually to engage, ask questions, and ultimately stay close to our customers.

We’re also rethinking how people engage as a community at All Hands meetings; for example, adding a chat feature that both virtual and in-person attendees can use.

We’ve found changes don’t need to be massive to be meaningful. For instance, our recent virtual magic show was a total hit, encouraging people to create “how to work with me” guides that outline their background, working style and how they work most effectively.

What we are always questioning and thinking though, is when (and if) we need to evolve our processes.

An insight we gained through a recent design sprint was that some employees felt anxious or trapped when choosing a “permanent” way of working – whether that be remote, hybrid or in-office.

We discovered that people want the flexibility to adapt their working style as they move, start families or make other life decisions.

We’ve listened to employees’ desire for autonomy and flexibility, and we see the value in maintaining and building trust. So, because work is not a one-size-fits-all model, we are now identifying when guardrails, flexibility or a mix of both is the right approach.

What else? Prioritize equitable over equal

At Gusto, our product must be accessible and engaging to the people who use it every day; whether they work for a neighborhood coffee shop or a mid-sized startup.

We don’t expect different users to have identical needs, but we want them all to share a world-class experience. The same is true of the workplace: experiences should be equitable regardless of where you sit. Equitable does not always mean equal.

Instead of trying to create identical norms and processes, our goal is to create a workplace experience where employees don’t have to ask for exceptions. Instead the experience should be designed to fit their needs without excluding anyone.

Building a strong hybrid environment is similar to building great products and services. We must use human-centered design to develop a meaningful customer experience. Human-centered design is rooted in understanding the mindset, context and needs of the customer as a way to build empathy for their experience.

Your employees will have an experience, whether you design it or not. Why not design with intentionality?

Give everyone an equitable experience

Imagine a restaurant with both an accessibility ramp and a doorway at the top of a few stairs. No one has to ask for an exception if they can’t take the stairs, but those who prefer the stairs aren’t excluded. Everyone has an equitable experience of walking through the front door. That’s the level of inclusivity we’re aiming for.

As a recent example of this, we recently rolled out an a-la-carte perks model that enables employees to choose the perks that work best for them, rather than imposing benefits that may not be useful for everyone.

While some people may benefit from a commuter reimbursement, others might prefer a home office stipend, meal delivery or student loan reimbursement. But, everyone has access to great perks. It’s also important to keep exploring and adjusting perks and benefit offerings to ensure they are adding value to employee experience.

Don’t forget: embrace innovation

While getting an MBA in Design Strategy, I learned the value of designing meaningful experiences from a human-centered perspective. Throughout my career, I have utilized my toolkit to build meaningful experiences, whether while working with musicians, teams and talent at Pixar, building products at Apple and Beats by Dre or, most recently, as the first head of remote experience at Gusto.

The best companies are constantly looking for new solutions and new ways to delight their customers. It’s become an assumption that products will continually evolve to keep up with changing customer needs, and the same is true for the workplace.

Instead of sticking with what we know or making assumptions about the future, business leaders have an exciting opportunity for innovation.

We’re on the edge of a great workplace experiment. Business leaders have the opportunity to redefine what a workplace looks like and create more equitable experiences.

We get to throw out or rewrite existing playbooks based on everything we learned from exclusively in-office or remote environments.

It’s the new frontier of work; I have never been more excited to be a leader than I am in this moment.