How Zoom kept its cool while more than doubling its workforce
While recent months have been notable for every company, arguably no business has had a pandemic journey like Zoom.
Founded just 10 years ago, the software company’s app was the 5th most downloaded in 2020, according to Apptopia, with 477 million users. It turned into a verb. It’s ubiquity (and sometimes, overuse) inspired a new condition.
Lynne Oldham, Zoom’s chief people officer, talked to HR Dive about the company’s mega-growth and how employees keep their calm and sense of humor during a time of unprecedented demand.
This interview has been edited for clarity and brevity.
INDUSTRY DIVE: Zoom really exploded last year. Tell me what it was like for the company and workers going into the pandemic, realizing Zoom was going to be a big piece of the puzzle for much of the workforce.
LYNNE OLDHAM: I don't think anybody realized what [the pandemic] was going to be, when we all turned around on a dime on March the 4th and piled our office chairs high with everything that we could think of that we might need and rolled them to our cars and loaded up. So, at that moment in time, I'm going to bet nobody was thinking what would happen.
Just in that first six weeks, we grew from 10 million in daily meeting participants to 300 million. That was a number that none of us thought we'd reach for a couple years. So having that happen over a 6- to 8-week timeframe was the big aha. You have to attribute it to how easy the tool is.
Since then, it's almost an inspiration to our employees — seeing how people are connecting, hearing our name used in everyday dialogue. Hearing "I'm going to Zoom" and seeing us on TV shows. And then there’s the inspirational part around people [using Zoom for things like] weddings and funerals. We've kept this really great chat channel going that has pictures and stories. It really does keep our employees excited about what they’re doing. It’s a good way to connect to the purpose of the work.
Obviously, the company is set up to allow for remote work — and that's part of the reason that it's become so important during the pandemic. Was it already a partially remote or hybrid type of workplace or how did it look before the pandemic?
I would say, "Yes and." We are set up that way because our tool just works, but only around 15% of our workforce was remote before the pandemic. So really, we had to learn to do this everyday from remote as well. Everybody I tell that to is like, "Really?!" But just like any company grows up, you've got the headquarters and people coming to work and collaborating, so it just was the way it was. This has been our opportunity to rethink who we are, too.
Can you give me an estimate of how many workers Zoom has?
When I joined [in January 2019], I was the 1,384th employee, I think. Pre-pandemic, we were about 2,400. And we employ about 6,000 people today.
Wow, so you have more than doubled in size. What has it been like on the HR front working with a company that is growing so much? What kinds of things are you dealing with?
Let's talk about recruiting first. Our talent acquisition team had to get ready to do remote interviewing. So, just like how we were [mostly] in the office, we did our interviewing in the office, too. Of course, I had a few via Zoom, but I was also living in Scottsdale at the time and I also flew to San Jose [Zoom’s headquarters] for a few interviews. We were accustomed to doing things that way, so the team all had to pivot. And they actually love it, because they can get so much more done in a day.
There's an equation: If you want to grow by X, you need a certain number of recruiters. So we had to build the talent acquisition team first and foremost. And then, after getting folks in the door, you’ve got to make sure people are onboarded. So a lot went into the talent and [organizational development] space, just making sure that we were not only able to onboard all the folks, but also, make sure it isn't just day-one onboarding. It's a continuous process for a period of time.
Culture is a huge piece of all this. When you're not able to [be physically around] one another, you've got to figure out how to make that feeling happen. The good news is we're really good at hiring culture fits and additive people. As we brought people in, we've adapted a little bit how we do things. So the events that we were doing in-office to get people together became virtual.
We had [a cycling event called] Tour de Zoom over the summer with department-oriented or geographic-oriented teams. You have to just be inventive and creative to keep things exciting, and thankfully my team doesn't do that alone. We have a really cool grassroots culture-carrying volunteer group called the Happy Crew. They're fantastic about coming up with ideas on things to do. Tour de Zoom was all them.
With the growth and demand from new customers, how did you ensure that employees weren't too overwhelmed with the extra demands that were being made on the platform and the customer service needs that were suddenly there?
You've got to listen to your employees. Creating an opportunity for them to tell us what's going on in their lives and how they're integrating work and home, given that both were the same place now, was really critical to ensuring that we were able to put plans and programs together that actually helped employees. From a benefit perspective, we put in a mental health benefit with a company called Lyra right before the pandemic, which actually was a lifesaver as we moved into the pandemic, because it really was destigmatizing mental health. We also partnered with Arianna Huffington on the Thrive app, which allowed our leaders to tell their stories and show vulnerability. It’s a way to set micro goals for yourself around wellness and to connect us all as a community around the idea of wellness.
Because people couldn’t go to the gym, we also turned our gym benefit into a stipend that could be used to pay for groceries, pay for meal deliveries — things that would make them feel comfortable.
In a recent blog post about Zoom’s next phase of work, chief financial officer Kelly Steckelberg wrote about the goal of maintaining a mutual sense of trust between leadership and employees and gave some tips on how to establish that trust. How did Zoom come to make trust one of its primary values?
In one of my first Zoom interviews with [Eric Yuan, Zoom’s CEO], he asked me what my favorite books were. And when I turned the question on him, he said Speed of Trust and he said, "In fact, we like everybody at Zoom to read it and get acquainted with the Covey discussion on trust."
Trust is our basis of really all we do, so we felt like to be true to who we are, we need to create a way to think about returning to the office, where we're giving credence to that. So, flexibility, inclusivity, listening to employees’ concerns, listening to what they want and what they don't want — all of that is really critical to how we think about this.
We don't want to be the company that says, "You have to be in on Tuesday and Thursday." We want it to work for you, for whatever your schedule is. So we're really spending a lot of time in experimentation and listening mode.
Among large companies, Zoom had the happiest employees in 2020, according to a survey by Comparably. It also got an A-plus culture score. What do you attribute that happiness to and what keeps the culture so healthy and thriving at Zoom?
I think it boils down to that word: trust. Our employees feel like they can say how they're feeling, they can say pretty much anything, without feeling like they’re going to get in trouble. So there's that. And then there's this idea of good camaraderie amongst our teams. There's no rivalry — everybody's working toward the same thing. I really do attribute that to what the Happy Crew is doing, to how the company is organized, to how Eric came at this from his founder chair.
Article top image credit: Courtesy of Zoom