At our webinar, “Women in Legal Ops & Tech: Adjusting to a New Workplace Normal,” Nicole Guyer, Senior Consultant at CDS, led a discussion with Beth Clutterbuck, Chief Human Resources Officer (CHRO) at Relativity and Sasha Yablonovsky, President of CareerBuilder.
In Part 1 of a four-part blog series, we share highlights from their conversation, including an in-depth exploration of Relativity’s innovative, talent-first approach to the hybrid workplace.
To watch the recorded webinar in its entirety, click here.
Three Unique Perspectives
My name is Nicole Guyer. I am a senior consultant with Complete Discovery Source out of our West Coast office in San Francisco. Today we are going to be speaking with Beth Clutterbuck, Chief Human Resources Officer at Relativity, and Sasha Yablonovsky, President at CareerBuilder. Today’s discussion is about adjusting to a new workplace normal. We’re going to really dive deep into what that means, how we get there, what we have learned over the last 18 months during the pandemic, and what we should expect going forward.
First, we’re going to hear a presentation from Beth and then we’re going to move to some Q&A among the three of us.
Thank you so much, Nicole. Hello, everyone. I’m Beth. I’m originally from Chicago, but I went from Chicago to New York, to Zurich, to Geneva, to France, to the UK. I’ve been outside of the UK around 25 years, always in human resources, pretty much in every different facet of the function except employee relations, because I am not a lawyer. I’m very passionate about organization design, development, employee experience, ensuring that we’re putting the talent front and center.
Very interesting story with regards to my current situation. I was three weeks away from moving my family back from the United Kingdom to Chicago. I have a 12 year old, an 11 year old and a nine year old, and we were three weeks away from moving when the pandemic hit. So we quickly pivoted, and took the house off the market. We enrolled the kids in school and we’ve been hunkered down here since.
And in that time, Relativity has moved to a hybrid organization. So, we have made the decision that, for the time being, we’re going to be based here in the UK and experiment with this new way of working. I really look forward to speaking with all of you today around what that could look like. Sasha, over to you.
Thank you. You’re quite the world traveler, I’m a bit envious. Hi, everyone. I’m the president here at CareerBuilder. The company I work for, of course, powers and nurtures candidates to employers and vice versa, really excited about that. My background, interestingly enough, is in electronic discovery. I’m also not an attorney, but I was in eDiscovery for quite some time. And CDS is a bit of my alma mater. So I’m really excited to participate in this webinar today. Thank you for having me.
I am most passionate about upscaling, rescaling and growing my teams to continue their career journeys, and of course, especially promoting women to give them the opportunities that I’ve been given in my life, and that I’ve taken, and encouraging them to do the same. This is such an appropriate conversation in today’s world and market and where we are.
Talent-first: How Relativity is moving beyond remote work to an innovative, hybrid model
Beth, tell us a little bit about what the new workplace environment looks like in this post-pandemic world and what organizations are adopting?
Fantastic. We really started with some first principles. If we’re a talent-first organization, what does that mean post pandemic? How do we want to ensure that what we actually experimented with during the pandemic actually worked really well and benefited our employees, not only from a flexibility perspective, but from a wellbeing and work-life balance perspective? How do we take that forward into the future?
And we also really laid it out there that we’re not going to be perfect out of the gate, that we’re going to iterate, we’re going to experiment. So some things that I would encourage everyone to start with first principles, what is really important? What’s that design criteria that matches the culture of the organization and propels you forward?
Secondly, what we’ve done starting at the executive team, and we’re now cascading, is internalizing what your personal default approach is. And then collectively agree, what does that mean for your team operating model? So for example, I’m based here in the UK, and I am going to be by default, at home. However, I’m going to work one day a week in the UK office, I’m going to try to go to Poland to the office there for two or three days a month, and I’m going to be in Chicago one week, every two months. That’s my operating model. Each of my direct reports has done the same thing and we’ve collectively then worked out what our operating rhythm is around how many times we’re going to be virtual for our regular stand ups, how many will be in-person, so that we can map out and have clarity around how everyone wants to operate.
Bring teams together with intention and purpose
Leaders also need to be super intentional. In the past, we were either almost always in the office or fully remote. This notion of hybrid or doing both, which is what Relativity has decided to do, is new. We don’t know what it’s going to look like, but we do know that leaders must be intentional, meaning that it’s important to facilitate meetings, to ensure that there’s an equity of experience, no matter if someone’s in-person, virtual, what geography that they’re in, et cetera. And that takes full active planning, concentration and intention from a leader. We’re going to launch in phases, we’re going to iterate, we’re going to learn as we go. And we might actually go back to go forward.
We’re going to move to a hoteling system. So we’re going to book desks electronically, we’re going to check in before arriving at an office, not only so we can get a pulse of the capacity planning in the physical building, but also so that we actually understand what’s the rhythm and cadence of people meeting in-person in an office versus those that are saying they want to work from home or virtual and do so. We’ve streamlined all of our technology. We have individuals with very different platforms or ways of working, Mac, laptop, et cetera. We’ve now streamlined. So when you come to the office, you can use whatever tech that you have, it’ll all work, it’s all streamlined. And in our meeting rooms, which I don’t know if you know the new Zoom feature, but if you’re in a room together, you will show up. The way that we’ve configured it is your individual Brady Bunch boxes next to everyone else’s Brady Bunch boxes. So you get the feeling that you’re actually all experiencing it in the same way.
Get everyone on the same page, wherever they are
Training is critical. We’re putting together job aids, not only technology training, but learning playlists, how to facilitate remote meetings, tip sheets, making sure that you’re making eye contact, that you’re not turning your body so that people on screen can’t see or hear you, that most importantly, you are not making decisions when everyone is not collectively present, not physically present, but collectively present. In the past, we definitely have had a lot of feedback that individuals who were remote felt left out of key decisions, because people would go to lunch or they’d go to dinner or they’d go in the hallway and they continue the conversation. So it’s about being intentional around making sure that everyone is participating in the conversation and the decision making. And then leverage all the normal company communications to amplify all of the messages. So those were some key points to start with.
So, our hybrid-first principles are led by employee choice and flexibility. Obviously we will have some jobs that do require us to be in the office. If you are a receptionist, it’s difficult to do that fully remotely, as an example. We really want to have an equal employee experience. We don’t want people to feel less than either because they’re remote, less than because they’re in a different geography that are headquarters, less than that they’re actually in the office and they’re the only person on their team in the office. And that’s going to be really, really challenging. In-person collaboration is important and we will encourage and support this, but it’s making sure that we have in-person collaboration balanced with the equal employee experience. And then once again, we are being very, very transparent that we’re not going to get it right. We’re experimenting, we’re learning and we’re evolving.
Communication is key: means, methods, and management
If you haven’t already internalized for yourself, I would certainly recommend that you start here: what works best for you? What really is where you want to have your default position? What would shift you out of your default position so that you’re aware of it? How have you communicated that? What does that mean for your team and the cadence of your team? How do you approach cross functional meetings? For Relativity, we certainly found that for our large quarterly business reviews or product reviews, where we had many individuals cross functionally on Zoom together. We actually had a richer discussion. We heard from different voices, more diverse voices than we ever had, had heard from previously from in-person meetings, and everyone felt like we were all on the same playing field, but we had so much richness that we absolutely did not want to lose that.
We’ve said for all of our large meetings, they will be Zoom by default. And we’ve really been thoughtful around what that could look like, because we don’t want to go backwards on that richness of participation. So we start with the self and then we start with the business.
We’ve also introduced this notion that we’re opening in stages. And depending upon what happens, because obviously it’s going like this, we’re not going to just hit one peak and then it’s over, one trough and it’s over, we’re very much going through very cyclical. And so we’ve said, “Hey, listen, we’re going to open in stages, we might go back,” but we’ve been very clear about what to expect at each one of these phases and what are the guidelines and how we really want to ensure we’re interacting with individuals. And that’s really to provide clarity so that individuals aren’t worrying or wondering what happens, what’s going to happen. We’ve been very transparent, communicating very regularly to make sure that people have clear plan, because I’m sure we’ve all experienced the being able to plan has been challenging, especially if you’ve had other considerations in addition to work, either caring for parents, caring for children, caring for friends, just the whole concept of what we’ve been through. The ability to plan ahead gives a little bit of peace of mind.
To know what employees want, you have to ask
Measure your employee’s preferences. So if you already don’t have a handle on what your company’s preference is, I would strongly recommend surveying them. We’ve been surveying our organization pretty much every three months since the pandemic to get a pulse on the sentiment. And very clearly our employees want to be in the office to socialize, to collaborate, to really innovate together. But for working where you’re just plugging away and you’re at your desk and getting tasks done and individual work? Loud and clear, it’s better at home.
We asked about third-party places and there really wasn’t any sway or swing that way. It was very much, “Hey, listen, I want to be inspired anywhere that I’m at, I want to be managed and supported wherever I’m at, but I want to go to the office to have that human connectivity.” And so we’ve reconfigured our offices to be much more collaborative spaces instead of rows and rows of desks where everyone comes. And I always do this, I don’t know why. But stand up working, instead of everyone doing that, we actually are going to have some of those that we can book, but many more little visual communication spaces, but sofas, little clusters of chairs. So it’s not whether you have to book a meeting room or you have to go into the cafeteria, there are going to be lots of little places where you can grab and get some human connectivity. And then at home, we’re saying, “Hey, listen, maybe that’s where you prioritize concentrating on specific tasks, specific deliverables, blocking time to actually get that work done.”
For our offices, we’ve also been really clear around our first phase. It’s going to be 100% voluntary. And we’ve also been very clear from the very beginning that in the US, we will be requiring vaccines. And this 100% due to the fact that our employees requested that in one of our surveys. They said that they would feel far more comfortable coming back into the office if they have that surety. Obviously, in our international offices, we can’t necessarily do that in all of the locations. And so we follow the masking and the protocol. And we’re planning as of right now to open our offices in September.
Evaluating the workplace experiment in real-time: what to measure and how to adjust
We talked a little bit at the very beginning. We’re looking at skill building and forming pillars. The first one for me is the leadership leading in a hybrid environment, like what is that going to look like? What are the new skills we’re all going to have to learn? How do you have team effectiveness when you’re distributed, when you’re not maybe getting together? And what’s your operating model? How do you work? Do you work asynchronistically? How are you being effective and efficient? The best practices. So as we learn, how do we make sure that we’re sharing in real time and we’re helping the rest of us be as best as we can. And then there’s the more tactical, like the policies and the procedures, the technology enablement, which enables those other things. And so we’re building our playbooks, we’re building our communication and our training pipeline, but we’re really itching to get going and seeing how this great experiment works.
And if we can move into the future of work where we allow a place where individuals can choose where they can do their best work depending on what they want to do and what’s happening in their life and making sure that they have the wellbeing that they need to be a full individual. And that’s really what we’re striving for. So that was just a little bit to kick it off to say what are the things we’re thinking about, how we’re approaching it. There’s so much more on this topic.
#1 rule of flexible work environments: trust your employees
Thanks so much, Beth. That was wonderful. And it really sounds like Relativity is on the cutting edge, this new remote work model. That’s really great to hear. I do have a question. How would companies accommodate employees that don’t necessarily thrive in a remote work environment, people that really do want that in-person collaboration and do need that structure?
How we’re approaching it is we’re saying, “Hey, listen, we are led by employee choice and flexibility. So your choice is you want to be in the office five days a week, we are more than happy to accommodate that.” In our first phase, everyone has to book up by the hoteling system. If we have people that want to be in every single day, they will be getting their own desk, they will be getting their own area. And so we’ve communicated that quite clearly. And I think, absolutely we have individuals with very different styles, preferences, things that might be going on at home, where working from home is not a possibility. And so we’re just saying it’s employee choice, it’s your choice, we are not going to dictate because we don’t know your personal situation.
That’s exactly right, Beth. What I’m seeing just with our clients who are in corporate legal staffing industries, all over, is exactly that most are looking to pivot to this flex work environment. So if you’re the employee that’s on the cusp of, “I only want to be in-person, I prefer to be in the office, it’s more comfortable for me,” you have an option to do that. If you’re the type of employee that says, “I am perfectly happy working from home 100% of the time, I’ll come in once in a while, if there’s a team meeting that requires it,” then part of the flex office space accommodates that as well. And then people end up joining meetings either in-person or you have others on Zoom at the meeting as well. And then there’s those that fall in the middle that are, “I’d like to spend some time in the office and I’d like to have the flexibility to spend some time at home while I’m working.”
So I think one of the things that really proved to all of us over the last 18 months – and I can’t believe it’s been 18 months – we’ve all learned that, for the most part, we’re all adults, and as hiring managers, I think we can mostly pride ourselves on hiring adults and people have done fairly well with being productive and leading through change, but also for individual contributors showing up and working. I’m sure that’s not 100%, but the vast majority is based on the statistics that I’m seeing here at CareerBuilder.
Click here to read Part II: Changing Workplace Culture: Moving the Needle in Legal.