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Into the remote future: How 3 startups are thriving with work-from-home & hybrid environments

March 13, 2022

Remote work stress is causing a great resignation of employees quitting jobs. How to retain talent according to HR leaders at Innovaccer, Phenom People.

From feelings of isolation to difficulties separating work-life from home-life, remote work has put stress on employees. The shift has also put new burdens on companies, making it harder to keep tabs on staff and facilitate clear communication. 

But distributed workforces aren’t all bad. They offer a lot of opportunities. In a tight job market, remote work means companies can hire employees located anywhere. It also opens the door for innovation – especially for nimble startups ready to experiment with expectations and incentives for employees.  

Here are insights from chief people officers at three B Capital Group portfolio companies that have thrived with remote and hybrid work environments. These organizations have let go of the idea that in-person work is better, and are using new forms of flexibility to meet individual employee needs while also developing their workforces as tight-knit teams. 

Certn: Together isn’t always better

For Certn, competing with larger players called for expanding the company’s talent pool. That meant embracing remote hiring, said Rory Capern, the background check startup’s chief people officer. 

“Victoria is a very small city on a very small island on the west coast of Canada. We’re very fortunate to have access to a great local talent pool, but to do what we need to do, we needed to expand rapidly and in new territories, new areas. We were delighted to find access to incredible people who were willing to work with us,” he said. 

Since the start of the pandemic, the company has used a remote-first model to grow its staff to five times its previous size, with employees in Canada, the United States, and Europe. And while the company has explored options for off-sites to bring employees together, its main focus is on ensuring the remote work experience is fully optimized.

“The idea that we’re all going to come together, and that’s somehow going to be better, is not really true to the remote first strategy,” he said. “We’re not creating this bifurcation of quality communication,” where the communication is only at its best when it’s happening in person. 

Innovaccer: Take an individualized approach

Innovaccer has been doing a hybrid remote and in-person work environment since its inception. But having longer experience coordinating global teams doesn’t mean the healthcare data software company can put its hybrid work environment on autopilot.

To start, not all employees want the same thing. Regular surveys have revealed that about half of staff want to go back to the office, and half want to stay home. Meanwhile, whatever a person’s preference, “there are certain roles that really need to be in office,” said Chief People Officer Sonali Damle. 

Innovaccer’s solution has been to take an individualized approach. When an employee’s preference doesn’t align with job requirements, perhaps because home obligations such as childcare or elderly care create conflict, the company works with the employee to find a solution.

“We are having individual conversations, prepping them ahead of time, trying to understand if it’s absolutely a non-starter for them” to return to the office, said Damle. “We are already starting to think of what alternative that particular individual can be doing, because we want them with the company, but they probably just can’t do that job.”

Phenom People: Reiterate your culture & values

Perhaps one of the hardest things to replicate following the shift to remote work has been culture. When employees don’t share the same work environment and spontaneous collaboration is lost, how do you ensure people feel like they’re working together as a team? 

At Phenom People – another company that has been global since early days – remote work has made it more important than ever to highlight company culture. As part of this, the company has made a point during the pandemic of really emphasizing its mission and core values at all stages of an employee’s development. 

“We’ve leaned heavily on our mission, which is to help a billion people find the right job,” said the HR software startup’s chief people officer and cofounder of the company, Brad Goldor. “And along with that are the core values” of curiosity, responsibility, intensity, self confidence, and positive thinking. 

For potential hires, that means centering interview questions around the company’s mission and core values, and returning to those themes through the interview conversation. 

“That’s been a great indicator and predictor of people’s success at our company or not,” said Goldor. 

He said the company puts a similar emphasis on mission and core values for current employees. That means referencing those pillars during onboarding and in the company’s all-hands meetings. Phenom People also makes a point of recognizing employees “who are living the core values and bringing them to life,” and rewards people who nominate their colleagues for recognition. 

“Between the mission and the core values, they’ve been two key pillars to bringing that culture to the forefront. Over-communicating ad nauseum about it, honestly, has been effective as far as making sure that it resonates with people,” said Goldor. 

Together, the different approaches from Certn, Innovaccer, and Phenom People address different potential pain points for companies and employees that have gone at least partly remote. Innovaccer’s Damle’s insights highlight ways to deal with individual employee needs, while Phenom People’s Goldor can be a model for creating a sense of team for workforces that are scattered across employees’ home offices. 

Certn’s Capern, meanwhile, has a key message: Working from home shouldn’t be treated as an inherently lesser experience than in-office work, especially when – for many employees – the shift may be permanent. 

“We are thinking about how we can bring [an in-person work environment] back, but not at the expense of a long-term, viable remote-first strategy that makes great communication digitally totally possible and very high quality,” he said.

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