Even before the pandemic hit, Christine Trodella, head of the Americas division for Workplace from Facebook, was thinking through how to help employers better connect with employees remotely.
Workplace, a platform businesses use to connect with employees or to connect groups within a company, is "pretty much identical [to Facebook] in terms of functionality," she told HR Dive. "You don't need to train on how to use it, so the adoption rates are really high." Not yet five years old, the platform has grown to more than 5 million paying subscribers, including a number of Fortune-500 companies.
Having helped organizations like the University of Pennsylvania's Wharton School and Memorial Healthcare System switch to Workplace, Trodella had a unique vantage point to watch organizations adapt to remote communications. She told HR Dive about the insights she's gained about how to foster company rapport from afar and the remote-work challenges that remain. The conversation has been edited for length and clarity.
HR Dive: From your position, what aspects of the transition to remote work have you seen employers navigate well?
Trodella: It's been pretty impressive to see businesses facilitate the logistics of getting people remote — getting people set up within the IT infrastructure so they can work from home and onboard future employees. We've heard of companies doing great things around turning their orientations and their trainings virtual and deploying hardware and devices to get folks up and running.
Moneypenny, a company based out of the U.K., did something really cool: They created a bot for onboarding new employees. It would have an interactive conversation with new employees or establish bandwidth speed and IT needs, so the company could very quickly assess a new person's needs and get them out the equipment they need.
Another thing we've seen is just how close to employees leadership has gotten, given the dispersion of their workforce. We've seen so many executives using live video to connect with the entire employee base. It's a really great medium to bring the CEO from his living room into your living room. This kind of intimacy of seeing your CEO or somebody from your C-suite in their leisurewear in their office, with their dogs barking and their kids climbing ... It's really created this cohesiveness and this community that businesses weren't able to establish before.
Flipping that on its head, what are some things employers and workers are still struggling to achieve in these remote work environments?
Trodella: One of the biggest challenges that companies are going to have when we come out on the other end of this — and I think it's become pretty clear that that we are going to have … some kind of a flexible or hybrid work environment — is how to ensure that if you have workers in an office, they are not getting more access to information, or the ability to provide feedback ... that opportunities are democratized across your entire employee base. I think that's where it's going to be tricky. How do you truly ensure that you have an environment that is inclusive of the people that are in the office and the ones that are not?
Technology can be the fundamental layer, the skeleton, but you have to make sure that you have the leadership values and behaviors that drive that kind of inclusion across the board. You have to offer the same opportunities to people that are remote versus in the office and have the mechanisms to have a two-way dialogue.
As you've mentioned, connecting virtually is now pretty commonplace. How do you recommend employers strategize when they're deciding which type of communication tool is best for a specific situation?
Trodella: It comes down to who's speaking and the message they want to send. Before the pandemic, there were a lot of CEOs that just weren't comfortable going live on video, for whatever reason. And then COVID hit. Because it was so unprecedented and there was this need to put a bear hug around your entire organization, we did see CEOs leaning into this as a way to reach everybody. Both the employees and CEOs loved it. The latter were like, 'Wow, the feedback I'm getting is so rich ... I want to keep doing this.'
We see a world where everything can coexist. Email is not going away; we're not trying to kill email. It's just about finding the right medium for the person and the message. For example, if you're looking for feedback, email is not a great method for that … not everybody replies to a CEO's email. It's really a matter of understanding the strategy and what you want to do.
What kind of resources or tools are you finding to be in the greatest demand for remote work?
Trodella: It depends on the use case, but we're definitely hearing demand for live video … as well as for easy access to information, especially on a mobile device. Front-line workers may not have a computer, so we created a tool called Knowledge Library. It's searchable, it's shareable, it can be personalized and you can access it on your phone. You can watch a training video or read a handout or handbook on how to do your job. That's something that we've pushed forth in the pandemic and gotten really strong adoption on.
We've [also] built in some functionality to make sure that when communications go out, executives know how many people they reached, what the engagement was, what the sentiment in response was like. We created a functionality to mark communication as important, so it continues to show up in someone's newsfeed until they have read it. Emails, phones, Zoom meetings — those platforms were really important at the beginning, but after that initial transition, the ask was really for more live video features, more analytics and tools like the Knowledge Library.
Burnout and 'Zoom fatigue' are two big issues that are plaguing remote workers, as we're now into the second year of widespread remote work. How can employers support employees' mental health and help them recharge from some of the more exhausting elements of remote work?
Trodella: Provide permission to move things to asynchronous work platforms. What we've seen is that everybody showing up and being on Zoom can be really physically taxing. We've done some internal research and found that convenience and flexibility is the No. 1 thing that everybody wants in a remote world. Just giving folks permission to make that change and make that migration has been decisive.
Apart from hybrid work becoming more commonplace, how do you see remote work evolving in the future — either in terms of technology or culture?
Trodella: This is going to sound like it's super far out in the future, but I actually don't think it is: The virtual experience — virtual or augmented reality as a platform — is going to be huge. Facebook bought a company a couple years ago called Oculus, which provides a VR headset and experience. It's largely used in gaming now, but we're starting to see enterprises really lean in to this. Companies are using VR to create custom content and experiences to train people. We've seen a much higher uptake in terms of the knowledge if it's experienced virtually as opposed to on a written test or in person or through video learning.
We've also heard of companies wanting to use VR to build empathy, to help those without the experience understand what a day might be like in the life of, for example, an African American woman or someone who's disabled, or for managers, what it's like in the factory or on the front lines.
They're building out Oculus for business and starting to have this dialogue with companies, but I don't think this will be happening in 10 years; I think this is going to be happening a lot sooner.
Correction: An earlier version of this article misspelled Moneypenny and incorrectly identified Facebook's Knowledge Library. It also incorrectly described Trodella's role. HR Dive regrets the errors.