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IRL again: A recap of our conversation with four inspiring workplace leaders

We brought together four inspiring workplace leaders, and an audience of workplace professionals, to hear their return-to-office (RTO) insights. Here’s what we learned.

Karmina Newell
By Karmina Newell Events Manager

Together At Work event 4-21 – Preview

The pandemic has brought about a new age of knowledge sharing between workplace professionals. From online forums to live wenars, leaders have come together to share how they’ve been managing workplace changes through incredible amounts of uncertainty. Now, as folks steadily return to the office, it’s more important than ever to continue these conversions. But this time, we did it in person.

We brought together four inspiring workplace leaders, and an audience of workplace professionals, to hear their return-to-office (RTO) insights:

  • Travis Jew, Niantic’s Global Workplace Experience Manager
  • Nicole Persaud, Samsara’s Head of Global Security and Safety
  • Brian Schmidt, Zynga’s Senior Manager, Global Physical Security
  • Annette Reavis, Envoy’s Chief People Officer

The panelists discussed the latest findings from our Envoy’s At Work survey and shared learnings from their experience over the pandemic, how they’ve been managing this past year, and how the work of reopening offices and re-engaging employees is going. Read on to find out what we learned.

RTO is not one size fits all

It goes without being said that every company has a different approach to RTO. 

Global Workplace Experience Manager, Travis Jew said Niantic is on what they’re calling their “ramp” to a June 1 deadline to get folks back on-site. Catered brunch during all-hands, professional headshot sessions, and partnering with their ERGs for in-office events are just a few fun ways they’re using this ramp to help drive people back into their workplace routine.

Samsara fully transitioned last year to their “new normal:” a flexible work model. They’ve done away with RTO verbiage and now focus on creating equity for however you choose to work best.

At Zynga, 9 out of 10 global offices are open, with 10 more to come within the next month. Zynga is focusing on what they’re calling a connected workplace hybrid working model, which supports team members who divide their time between working at home and working in the studio.

Incentives to earn people back to the office are really working

When Envoy surveyed folks last month, 85% of workplace leaders said they think their return to work incentives are working.

Travis said one thing that draws people in is interaction with leadership. Niantic calls their executive team the ELT (executive leadership team) and they promote what they call “EL bubble Tea” walks. It’s where folks have the opportunity to get to know the leadership team over boba. It’s a fun way to get people engaged in ways they wouldn’t be able to from home.

Food also brings everybody together! Niantic provides coffee carts on Mondays and Thursdays. They say they’re emphasizing getting to know people over the workplace.

But, there are still challenges

Physical security, badging, and parking are challenges that are top of mind for Samsara, Niantic, and Zynga’s leaders.

Samsara’s Head of Global Security and Safety, Nicole Persaud, says re-envisioning how they administer their employee programs to ensure equity for both flexible and remote workforce is key. To solve this, they have hired a remote workplace manager, responsible for overseeing that remote workforce to make sure they have the support they need. This has proven highly successful as flexible work is now woven into the fabric of everything they do.

Doubling down on workplace investments

The same survey from above revealed that 61% of companies are either adding space or reconfiguring the spaces they have. And nearly 40% have added new furniture like quiet pods or recreated their office environment by playing music or having games in the office.

Doubling down on real estate and purposeful spaces are key areas of investment across the board. Zynga’s Senior Manager of Global Physical Security, Brian Schmidt, said Zynga built out a new office in Toronto that was designed specifically for their connected workplace model with fewer desks, and more meeting rooms. Zynga is also building out new headquarters in San Mateo along those same lines.

At Niantic, Travis says they’re doing this by creating dynamic spaces: quiet rooms, more collaboration areas, and dancing walls (video screens + whiteboards). They have an entire floor in Bellevue, WA with zero desks, it’s all open space and dancing walls.  

Samsara’s Nicole Persaud emphasizes the importance of re-envisioning their workspace. Not necessarily about keeping the real estate itself for the sake of keeping it, but being intentional with planning the space for those that want to come onsite and do different things.  

Mental health is top of mind 

Samara is looking at employee well-being differently. During the pandemic, they heard feedback that their employees were feeling isolated, so they thought of the resources that people need as a result. They’ve expanded their paid time off (PTO) policy and managers are encouraging and ensuring that employees take time off each quarter. 

Zynga’s Brian Schmidt said that their leadership team did a great job of communicating their own mental health challenges that they went through during the pandemic. This showed their human side and ensured that employees knew that they were not alone. Zynga provides stipends for wellness and also encourages everyone to take the time they need to find balance.

Final thoughts

It was so wonderful to finally gather in person, network, and share our experiences! Here are a few of the key takeaways from our conversation with these inspiring workplace leaders:

  • Hybrid work is here to stay and is woven into the core of workplace planning
  • Be intentional about creating workspaces that adapt to collaboration 
  • Incentives for RTO like food and engagement with leadership are working! 
  • Agility is key in supporting people in getting their best work done

Watch the full recording of the panel here to learn more from these inspiring workplace leaders.

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Karmina Newell
Author Bio Karmina Newell

Karmina is a Field Marketing and Events Manager at Envoy, where she produces webinars and IRL events to create experiences that inform and delight. Outside of work, her passions include spending time with her daughter and husband, traveling, and finding the best boba tea wherever she goes.