By Katie Burke, Chief People Officer at HubSpot
When it comes to data on the future of work, you’re dealing with a real mixed bag. On one hand, 83% of employers think remote work was a success this year. And yet the very same study indicates that executives cite 3 days per week in the office as optimal for a strong culture and 87% of employees cite the office as an important place for fostering connections. So what does the future really hold for working remotely?
At HubSpot, we believe it’s the flexibility to build your work around your life. We are investing in a hybrid model whereby employees can choose from three work style preferences (@home, @flex, @office) globally. When we announced our model, we posted a blog post sharing how we were building out a hybrid model at HubSpot.
But one of our core values is transparency, and we’ve been getting questions from our partners, customers, and industry friends about how we are tackling some of the opportunities and challenges that come with the hybrid model. Below I’ve outlined answers to the top ten questions we’ve received on all things hybrid at HubSpot; I hope they are helpful to you and your organization as we all navigate the details of returning to work.
1. How will you foster human connections in a hybrid environment?
The biggest mistake most companies make on this front is trying to copy and paste the office environment into a remote or hybrid world. What we’ve seen work best is intentionality, creativity, and a little bit of trial and error. A few keys to our success so far:
- Nailing the New Hire Experience: Our learning and development (L&D) team kept our new hire NPS even higher during the pandemic than it was the year before, which is pretty remarkable. As we prepare to enter a world where the new hire experience will be truly hybrid (some folks in person, some remote), we’ll be investing in a few key areas. First, more resources to educate people not just on our tech stack but also on our communications stack, meaning which of our existing collaboration tools should employees should lean on when. When you are new, it’s incredibly hard to figure out what to use when, so our L&D, IT, and Internal Comms teams are joining forces to help people understand exactly when and how to use Slack, email, Zoom, our internal Wiki, and more, thoughtfully and inclusively. Second is increasing the percentage of work that can be done asynchronously, so new hires can work through material at their own time during open windows versus always having to be in the classroom together. Third is an element of inclusion and compassion — the new hire training team is doing a lot more in small groups with more facilitators from across our team so everyone feels heard, welcome, and has plenty of time to ask questions and build human connections.
- Mixing It Up: Early on in the pandemic, there were a lot of Zoom-style happy hours, which frankly fall short of the real thing, particularly after a long day of video meetings. So instead of trying to replicate things we used to do, we’ve had much better luck taking people to places we likely couldn’t make possible in person. A few examples: Our summer interns took a graffiti class with an artist in Spain thanks to WithLocals, and we did a family sing-along with Irish musician Rainbow Phil complete with Baby Shark. We recently celebrated our company-wide values week with a talk with Netflix CMO Bozoma Saint John and our Director of Strategic Projects Sam Simmons (excerpt here), and it was one of the most high-energy and inspiring sessions I’ve ever attended at work.
- Reducing the Guesswork: One of the most stressful components of a hybrid world is feeling like you’re missing out or not doing enough regardless of which work option you chose. So we are working hard with managers globally (more on that below) to ensure employees spend less time stressing out about what they should be doing and more time learning and engaging with what makes someone successful in their role. As an example, we have a template for managers to use that clearly articulates “success in 30 days looks like (list here), some norms of our specific team are (X,Y,Z), if you’re lost, the best place or person to ask is here or we have a weekly water cooler at X time.” The more clarity you can provide for people, the easier it is for folks to focus their time on what’s most important and feel included and celebrated early on in their HubSpot journey.
2. How do we ensure equity in a hybrid environment?
I often think of the old song “Wishin’ and Hopin’” by Dusty Springfield when companies talk about their future of work policies. They wish and hope people will be equitable in their promotion and reward practices, but neither of those things happens if you don’t bake equality and inclusion into your future of work principles. At HubSpot, we agreed from the start that we would not have level or tenure requirements for work preferences — said differently, your career opportunities at HubSpot will not be limited by your zip code. We have a small percentage of roles (such as facilities, front desk associates, and a percentage of IT folks) who must work in office due to the requirements of their role. Every other role (including internal posts for job openings) has to be listed with the three work options available to employees.
But that approach still does not eliminate individual manager biases, which my friends at NeuroLeadership Institute do a great job explaining in this article. So moving forward, we’ll be investing more time educating our teams on proximity bias and we’ll also start measuring promotion velocity by work preferences and new hire work preferences by level to ensure we avoid biases in either hiring or promoting HubSpotters.
I also think little things on this front make a big difference. Before the pandemic hit, our CEO Brian Halligan decided that because our Chief Customer Officer Yamini Rangan and our SVP of Business and Corporate Development Andrew Lindsay were both located in California, he would join Zoom meetings with them from another conference room at HubSpot or from his home office (versus in a room full of HQ team members) so that he was also dialing in remotely. That small declaration set a strong tone of inclusion from the start that all of us are modeling our behavior around as we adapt to this new way of working.
3. How do you handle legal and tax requirements for remote work? Does HubSpot allow nomadic work arrangements?
Many companies (no, I won’t name them here!) have made headlines by saying their new policies allow employees to “work from anywhere.” But the fine print is often a whole lot more complicated. The truth is, HubSpot is a public company, and we grant equity to our new full-time employees and care deeply about compliance to protect our employees and our customers. And, importantly, local laws and regulations around remote work are changing by the day (literally) to catch up with the rapidly changing landscape. To that end, here’s what we have decided to date:
- We have chosen to be as flexible as possible within existing HubSpot entities (we have nine globally), and we are clear that those are the only locations to date where HubSpotters can work remotely from. We have also announced internally which additional entities for remote work we’ll add this year, and I suspect we’ll continue that transparency as we grow and add incremental locations over the next several years.
- We provide employees with stipends depending on the markets they work in and the work preference options they chose — those are posted internally so everyone knows what they are and get notified if they change based on local laws. We also work really closely with our people ops, finance, tax, mobility, and employment law teams to ensure we are compliant in our approach to hybrid work.
- We are currently working on any additional elements of flexibility and mobility we can infuse into our model. The reality is that COVID-19 has made it really hard for people to spend time with their families, a reality I can attest to having not seen my family in Canada in over a year. Part of our job is to ensure we combine a commitment to getting this right long term with empathy and kindness to our impacted employees, so we are exploring every compliant option possible to support them in the upcoming year ahead.
If you are a candidate considering a company that offers nomadic work, please ensure you read the fine print and that you consult with a tax professional for your own personal filings as the nuances are significant and can be quite costly.
If you are a company considering offering more flexibility, I highly recommend consulting with an employment attorney in the jurisdictions you’re considering — it will save you a lot of pain and heartache down the line if you do. As a note this is as true about different states as it is about different countries. Now, city regulations are making this even more challenging, so even if you are only doing remote work in a single entity, consider contacting a good tax and employment law expert.
4. What about working hours? How do you handle time zones in a hybrid environment?
Our CTO and co-founder at HubSpot, Dharmesh Shah, is a night owl. I think I’ve seen him at a 9AM meeting fewer than ten times in my 8 years at HubSpot, but he’s regularly online at 9PM. On the other hand, I’m a morning person, often Slacking with our EMEA employees before my morning workout because I love being up and out early. I dislike late meetings and struggle to be productive in the late evening hours. Even before COVID-19 and HubSpot’s formal future of work approach, Dharmesh and I had different daily schedules, and yet both were reasonably productive members of the HubSpot executive team. My point in sharing that is not to bore you with our daily schedules, but rather to note that people make the incorrect assumption that everyone pre-COVID-19 worked the same hours and that in a hybrid world people won’t, and that assumption just isn’t true.
With that said, time zones are hard, there’s no getting around it. People often default to hard and fast rules, and that’s typically not how we do things at HubSpot. Given that, our current model goes like this:
- We have a small subset of roles that have posted required hours associated with them. As an example, folks hired to work West Coast hours on our Support team know that they are expected to work the hours followed by our customers who work in PST. That does not preclude someone who lives in the Midwest or East Coast from applying for that role — there are many reasons (including caregiving or a partner with different working hours) why someone might actually specifically not want a 9–5 EST job. However, supporting our customers is a job requirement in that role, so the hours we expect of folks who work in that capacity is to be available for our customers during that window of time. If there are very specific hours associated with a role, we are transparent about them in the job description and in the recruitment process.
- For the vast majority of roles at HubSpot, there are no such requirements, so we could build sweeping rules across every team and time zone. But that’s not really our culture — we tend to rely on three words for almost everything, which is Use Good Judgment. I suspect we will have some teams that organize their sub-teams by time zone moving forward (which I think will likely help both the company and our employees if they do), but in the meantime, we’re just encouraging folks to lean into our value of empathy. As an example, our recruiting leadership team has folks based in Dublin, Massachusetts, and California, which means there are roughly 90 minutes per day of overlap for everyone. Given that, they host their recurring team meetings during that window every two weeks, and then turn off Slack notifications when they aren’t working. Adding time zones to everyone’s Slack profiles and making sure people avail themselves of the “away” feature on Slack has gone a long way on team norms and inclusion.
Over time, we may add more systems and specifics on time zones to solve for increasing complexity of distributed teams. If and when we do, I’ll update this post, but for now, we are leaning into empathy, in the judgment of our managers and teams, and into empowering folks to build norms and routines that work for them and solve for our customers versus creating a bunch of global norms everyone has to follow. I can keep being a morning person and Dharmesh can remain a night owl, and we both find ways to compromise and get our work done along the way.
5. What about work-life integration?
I think we have to talk about this question on two time horizons: the first is within the context of the pandemic and the second is how we are building a future in which our employees have great life-work integration, so I’ll address this in two parts.
Right now, it’s important that we acknowledge the acute pain that folks are dealing with in relation to the pandemic. I already mentioned employees who are living away from their families, but the challenges are real for caregivers, for people experiencing chronic pain or mental illness, folks who are immuno-compromised and thus have been more house-bound than others, and those experiencing depression, anxiety and burnout at unprecedented levels. During COVID-19, we’ve made some significant investments in employee wellbeing and health, including, but not limited to:
- Introducing Modern Health as an employee benefit to give employees more access to coaching, therapy, and mental health resources globally.
- Sessions on mental health, wellbeing, and resilience, both broadly and then with specific focus areas around resilience, around folks experiencing addiction, around disordered eating, around caregiving considerations, and on helping managers and directors talk about burnout with their respective teams.
- Days of rest by region so folks can get a break from Zoom and unplug from work.
- A global “Take a Break” campaign encouraging folks to take and use their vacation even if they aren’t able to travel.
- Encouraging managers to reduce required meetings and make video optional.
- Ten minute on-demand stretch and breathing sessions for people to do to prioritize wellness in their daily routines.
Moving forward, we will be keeping our focus on wellbeing and our Healthy@HubSpot programming, but I think it will be a bumpier road than people realize, specifically:
- The vaccine rollouts are quite different by country, so we’ll have a period of time when there are significant differences in how people are living that will be really hard for employees in countries that are experiencing slower rollouts.
- The period during which some people are vaccinated and others are not will lead to a lot of anxiety and concern, and I think re-entry will be really hard for a lot of people to navigate.
- I also think that while there will be real joy in the return to normal, there will also be a lot of consternation as people navigate what they want to return to and what they don’t. For example, returning to a commute might be more of a stressor than employees realized. So we need to help support and normalize that the world will not change overnight and that there are significant geographic, regional, and cultural differences in addition to family and medical decisions that will be hard for people to navigate.
With all that said, we’ve committed to only introducing benefits for this year that employees can benefit from regardless of their work preference (e.g. no in-office only benefits or remote-only benefits), so I would imagine we’ll do more health and wellness programming that folks can engage in anytime, anywhere long-term. But we also have to ensure that people know how and when to unplug, so we’ll be accompanying our formal health programming with best practices insights for people on taking vacation, signing off from Slack and email, and normalizing senior leaders taking vacation and regular breaks.
6. What are we doing with our offices long-term?
A lot of companies have made big decisions on their real estate portfolios in the midst of a lot of uncertainty. We have taken a different approach. We are making some small, immediate changes to our facilities (such as a greater emphasis on air filtration and air quality, for example) but waiting on any sweeping changes to facilities long-term until we look at our employee data, see where people are working and how, and then make some likely changes to our office environments in 2022 and beyond. For now, we are keeping all of our offices globally (and in fact growing a few of them), and we aren’t making big real estate changes just yet as we think the “death of the office” declared by many other big companies is premature and exaggerated. We believe people will still want a great office to come to, just that fewer folks will come there and with a different purpose long-term, but that doesn’t make having offices less important. It just means you have to be thoughtful and diligent about the why and how behind offices to align with your work philosophy and strategy.
7. What metrics are you using to measure success?
We measure our employee happiness every quarter using an employee Net Promoter Score metric. We’ve been keeping an active eye on that score by team, and have added in questions that measure global inclusion, questions that measure the degree to which people feel connected to their team and our culture, and the degree to which people feel empowered to use asynchronous communications to facilitate their team’s growth. We noticed early that directors and managers needed a little extra help in ensuring they felt equipped to run hybrid teams, so we invested more time and energy into enablement content to ensure they could lead from the front on this issue.
Our People Analytics and Culture teams regularly change up the questions we ask on our quarterly surveys to ensure we are getting to the heart of what is working and what isn’t, and those results are published company-wide, so every employee can see how we are responding when things are not working and/or share additional commentary from their vantage points. Similarly, we can see team and location level trends and respond quickly if and when something isn’t working.
8. How is HubSpot handling compensation?
Some companies made headlines by saying they would adjust salaries up or down based on location with the change to remote work. We made the commitment to employees before they chose their work preference that we wouldn’t be altering compensation based on location in 2021 so no one had to worry about that when choosing their work preference. Long-term, we still have work to do internally to align on how we’ll think about this issue globally in a fair and thoughtful way, but we’ll likely set that course for 2022 and beyond and will share any guiding principles we use to inform the decision when we do.
9. How is HubSpot ensuring women and under-represented minority employees get the mentorship and coaching they need in a hybrid environment?
I got a lot of great questions about broader equity and inclusion concerns in a hybrid world. At some point, I think that requires a whole separate article given the importance, but a few things we’ve done that I think are helpful:
- We have a POCaH (People of Color at HubSpot) mentorship program, and to drive community and success this year we built out Slack channels for both mentors and mentees to ensure that folks were engaged and supported. We also hired an amazing executive coach who did ongoing videos for all participants to add meaningful structure and support to the program and guide mentees on deriving the most value out of their experience.
- In 2021, we introduced a career coaching program through our BLACKhub employee resource group called The Charted Path, where our Black employees can get group and individual mentorship sessions with an incredible external career coach.
- We offer a program called UnStuck, which allows any employee globally to take advantage of skills-based mentoring if and when they need it.
- Our Employee Resource Group (ERG) programming has actually increased in a hybrid environment, so employees have more opportunities than ever to connect, learn and listen alongside their peers. This week, I’m hosting an online roundtable to celebrate International Women’s Day. Two weeks ago, I was fortunate to attend our quarterly DI&B Book Club (reading Black Buck by Mateo Askaripour, with Q&A with the author). It’s been remarkable to see how our DI&B team has innovated and adapted to ensure our programming is thoughtful, inclusive, and intentional.
- We are also doing a lot of work to support caregivers, to attract and support First Gens in Tech, and to build a partnership with Howard University, but a comprehensive view of the team’s hard work and our commitments in this space is available in our 2021 Diversity, Inclusion, & Belonging Report.
10. Finally, what’s one thing that you’ve learned along the way that has surprised you?
I have two big learnings: one is never to assume. We had built-in hypotheses about our regional breakdowns for work preferences, and they were all incorrect, so I’m very glad we asked people explicitly versus making assumptions.
The second is to overcommunicate everything. When you’re navigating multiple time zones, work preferences and styles, and different team operating systems, it’s so easy for messages to get lost along the way, so we’ve invested more time and energy in internal communications and really getting that right at scale. For leaders, I think being visible and being human are more important than ever, so we’ve invested in more AMA sessions (including regional ones) and more Looms (so people see and hear from leaders directly), and I suspect those are trends we’ll continue over time.
You can find more details on our approach to hybrid here, our annual Remote Work report is here, and we are hiring (a lot) so if you know folks who want to be part of our future of work, please encourage them to visit our careers site!