Hybrid 'fractured' this company's culture. Here's its globe-trotting solution.
Photo: Hotjar

Hybrid 'fractured' this company's culture. Here's its globe-trotting solution.

Protocol Workplace

Welcome back to our Workplace newsletter. There are two kinds of people in this world. The kind who’s heard of the corn song. And the kind who doesn’t spend enough time on TikTok. If you’re the former, please enjoy these finds from corporate HR corn TikTok. Today, the hybrid problem is hard to solve, but one startup is throwing money at the problem. Slack’s accessibility manager explains how her job works, and new research from Upwork reveals the roles that are hardest to hire for right now.

Plus, read to the end for a thoughtful Twitter back and forth on the role of the corporate whistleblower.

Meg Morrone, senior editor (email | twitter)

Have work, will travel

Hybrid work has its shortcomings. Companies are paying for underused offices, teams are getting disparate amounts of in-person time with leadership, and hybrid meetings are still … hybrid meetings.

This week I spoke with a chief operating officer who said his company culture was “fractured” when it tried hybrid work, so it found a better way to get people together. Ken Weary, COO of the 312-person analytics company Hotjar (owned by Contentsquare), explained why Hotjar closed its office and now gives every employee a yearly 2,000-euro stipend to work together around the world.

Before settling in Portugal during the pandemic, Weary himself spent years living and working nomadically, moving his family of four around Central America, Europe and Africa. Hotjar’s mailing address — and CEO — are in Malta. The rest of Hotjar’s team spans 46 countries.

Hotjar’s office experiment took place in 2019. The Malta team would go in on Wednesdays, work together in person and have lunch with the CEO.

  • That was great for the 15 or 20 Malta-based employees who went in, Weary said, but it excluded most of the company.
  • “They got 20% facetime with the CEO one day a week where they could roll their chair over, tap him on the shoulder, ask him a question,” Weary said. A clique formed and “it created a little bit of a fracture in our culture.”
  • Within about a year and a half, Hotjar decided to give up on having a physical office. “There are companies who work best in-office and there are companies that work best fully distributed,” Weary said. “When you try to do a crossover or a hybrid, you’re trying to eat chocolate cake while on a diet. It just doesn’t work.”

Now, Hotjar takes a different approach: IRL coworking weeks that the company calls Work Togethers. Any employee can use their 2,000 euros to travel to a Work Together or to host colleagues for a week of coworking in their home city.

  • Work Togethers have taken place near employees’ homes in Mexico, Canada, the Netherlands, Capetown, Spain, Portugal, Germany, Malta and the U.K.
  • Most Work Togethers have averaged around six or eight attendees. But more recently, some Work Togethers have attracted 20 or more employees, and employees plan around one Work Together every month.
  • An upcoming Work Together in the Dominican Republic — hosted by a customer support employee who lives there — is getting so popular that the company may need to cap attendance, Weary said.

It’s not a travel free-for-all, and Weary said a few rules are key. Work Togethers aren’t all-company meet-ups, nor are they team or department meetings — those happen separately. And they aren’t vacations.

  • Work Togethers have to be open to the entire company, and information about them is shared publicly on Discourse and Slack. “We didn’t want it to be the same group of five people who just travel around together,” Weary said. “It needed to be an open, community aspect that was shared across the board.”
  • Employees can only host a Work Together in their home city, and each Work Together has to last a week. “You can’t, be, like, I’m going to Hawaii for a day to work with Sally, and then stay there for two weeks on a vacation,” Weary said. “We want to make sure that you are actually doing some work.”
  • Employees can choose not to use their Work Together budget, but they can’t give the money to colleagues. And while occasionally a Work Together host has invited co-workers over for dinner with their family, there’s no staying at each other’s houses.

Companies considering a similar model should build it thoughtfully and consider what problems it’s trying to solve, Weary said.

  • “So much of our work is moved into an asynchronous platform, all online. The product we’ve built and continue to scale — all the engineering and support for that software — is 100% built in an asynchronous environment,” Weary said. “That week of working together is a bit of community-building.”

— Allison Levitsky, reporter (email | twitter)

‘Accessibility is never done’

Before Sommer Panage joined Slack, there was no centralized team working on accessibility.

Panage said there were some people who focused on desktop accessibility and others who worked on Slack for mobile, but they were scattered across the company. Panage joined Slack a few months ago as senior engineering manager and helped bring the company’s accessibility efforts under one roof. Before joining, she worked on accessibility efforts on iOS at Apple and held roles at Twitter before that.

Slack recently improved keyboard navigation and introduced a new interface for screen readers as well as what the company called “an ongoing effort to bridge gaps.” Panage said bringing together one unified accessibility team has helped Slack focus on these different areas and work with teams across the company to build new features with accessibility in mind. But she stressed that the work is ongoing.

“Accessibility is never done,” she told Protocol. “A common challenge for companies is to say, ‘Oh, we made our product accessible. And now it's done.’ But it's not the case.”

Read the full interview.

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The struggle for top talent is still real

Upwork’s annual “Future Workforce Report” found that businesses are struggling to hire top talent. The report, using survey data from over 1,000 U.S. hiring managers, came out Thursday.

  • Nearly 70% of managers expect to hire more workers in the next six months. And 60% say it’s difficult to find high-quality talent to fill positions.
  • Hiring managers need to fill accounting, IT and networking, and operations roles most urgently. Customer support will also be a key position in the next six months, 52% of hiring managers said.
  • The roles that will be toughest to hire for? Data science and analytics, architecture and engineering, and IT and networking, respondents said.
  • Almost 60% of managers who hire freelancers said they plan to rely on more over the next six months.

Burn your paper business cards

The traditional business card is dying. According to The Wall Street Journal, at least one person has replaced it with a contact information-carrying chip in his hand. That’s a bit extreme, though; you might want to consider using a business card QR-code generator instead.

— Lizzy Lawrence, reporter (email | twitter)

Around the internet

A roundup of workplace news from the farthest corners of the internet.

Back in the office, but you still want to keep swiping? Hide it from your boss with Tinder’s new refresh of desktop mode. (Fortune)

Americans expect to be paid more. (Bloomberg)

Google employees are mad about COVID outbreaks since returning to the office. Some want the company to drop its vaccine mandate. (CNBC)

Here’s your gift for making it to the end of the newsletter. Protocol’s Issie Lapowsky and The Atlantic’s Ian Bogost discuss the “decaying concept” of the corporate whistleblower.

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