What Zoom learned from bringing employees back to the office


According to a recent study by workplace design firm Unispace, 72% of employers, including Zoom, are mandating some form of in-person work despite the resurgence of COVID-19. Zoom's chief people officer, Matthew Saxon, explains that Zoom has a range of products and services beyond just Zoom meetings and has always operated as an in-office organization even before the pandemic. However, like many other companies, Zoom had to shift to remote working in March 2020. The experience of adapting to remote work galvanized the company, and they used their own services to keep their employees connected.

Zoom has categorized four work styles that have emerged during the pandemic: entirely in-person, fully remote, flexible hybrid, and structured hybrid. The flexible hybrid model allows employees to come into the office on days that suit them, while the structured hybrid model involves teams coming together on the same days to optimize collaboration. After surveying its employees and realizing the importance of collaboration, networking, team building, and learning opportunities in the office, Zoom decided to adopt a structured hybrid model for its own arrangement in 2023.

Under the structured hybrid model, Zoom employees are required to come into the office two days a week, with different teams having varying office days. Saxon believes that this arrangement allows employees to focus on tasks that benefit from in-person interaction. The company started with the product and engineering teams and received positive feedback from employees, who enjoyed being able to collaborate with their teammates in person. The in-person work also resulted in significant product enhancements, reinforcing the value of face-to-face collaboration.

However, some employees who had become accustomed to remote work found the shift back to the office unwelcome. In response, Zoom aims to be accommodating and flexible, recognizing that some employees may need extra time to sort out transportation, caregiving, or pet-sitting needs. Additionally, Zoom will allow some employees to remain fully remote, with the return-to-work mandate only applying to those living within 50 miles of an office. The company's talent-first recruiting approach prioritizes hiring the best talent for the role, regardless of location and provides the necessary technology for remote work success.

Saxon emphasizes the importance of experimenting and gathering insights when choosing the best working arrangement for a company. Factors to consider include the nature of the organization's work, practical considerations, office and employee locations, and how work is best done. Saxon believes that remote and in-person work will continue to coexist and that companies will continue to evolve their approaches based on their experiences.  

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