Workplace

How to keep remote workers from falling behind in their careers

We're all disembodied faces on Zoom, and we write on whiteboards with invisible hands.

Rendering of LinkedIn's new headquarters in Sunnyvale

LinkedIn's new headquarters in Sunnyvale will be outfitted with design solutions for hybrid work when it opens in January.

Image: LinkedIn/NoTriangle Studio

For all the lofty predictions on the future of work, the future will probably just look like this: some people working in an office all of the time, some people completely remote, everyone else somewhere in the middle.

Companies around the world have either been preparing for this scenario or are already living it, and one question's been nagging them. How do you avoid creating two classes of workers: those who are in the office, getting face time with executives, and those who are just Zoom boxes on a screen, locked away from all the excitement?

This question isn't purely theoretical. New research from Citrix revealed that 38% of a thousand U.S. office workers surveyed believe remote employees will be at a career disadvantage for not working out of a central office, and 47% think they'll be less likely to be considered for a promotion.

The solutions run the gamut. On one end, there's simple norm-setting: Here's how to set up a meeting, here's how to communicate before and after a meeting. On the other end, there's redesigning entire office features, from whiteboards to furniture.

Set some ground rules for norms and behaviors.

The first ground rule: Everyone joins a meeting as an individual box on Zoom. No more conference room cameras pointing down at a group of people giggling around a desk with one remote, disembodied face watching from afar. In the hybrid world, we're all disembodied faces.

Evernote, whose largest office is in Redwood City, used to broadcast its all-hands meetings from that office's cafeteria, with CEO Ian Small standing at a podium in front of rows of bleachers. According to Susan Stick, the company's SVP of people and general counsel, that format was a terrible audiovisual experience for remote employees.

Today, Evernote's policy is that every medium and large meeting takes place virtually, with Small's face on a screen side by side with every other employee's. "We want everyone to have a common and equal experience," said Stick.

When a virtual meeting takes place, a few steps can go far in leveling the playing field, things as simple as calling on people who are remote first, said Traci Palmer, VP of people and organizational development at Citrix.

Another ground rule according to hybrid work experts: If you are in the office together and engage in side banter, perhaps coming up with another plan of action in the hallway after everyone else has hopped off Zoom, it's your responsibility to update remote colleagues on what was decided in the hallway.

Rendering of LinkedIn's new headquarters in Sunnyvale A rendering of LinkedIn's new headquarters in SunnyvaleImage: LinkedIn/NoTriangle Studio

Some companies are trying to mimic that "running into someone in a hallway" feeling through Slack integrations like Donut, which pairs random people from across a company and sets up short Zoom meetings for spontaneous, casual chats. "People love them," said Brit Malinauskas, VP of people & workplace at Hover, a 3D data and tech company that has been using Donut. That being said, not everyone likes forced socialization.

Even language can play a part in eliminating the class divide between in-office and remote workers. PagerDuty has eliminated the word "headquarters" from its company lexicon, as well as the word "international," instead opting for "global," according to Chief People Officer Joe Militello. (International denotes there's one country that's "national," with the others merely orbiting around it.)

Redesign your office.

All this Zooming in physical offices brings with it a design challenge. Modern open-plan offices weren't designed for everyone to be taking video calls within earshot of each other. Conference rooms weren't designed for everyone to be in the same meeting from individual laptops either.

A range of solutions has cropped up to address these new problems. But workplace design experts agree: Nothing has risen above the pack yet, and companies are testing out a range of solutions at a small scale to see what sticks. "The desire for this kind of technology is somewhat outpacing the actual availability of gear or software," said Stick.

Brett Hautop heads up the workplace design team at LinkedIn, which is buying and testing out hybrid work gear across its 33 global offices. He called the traditional conference room setup — the long rectangular table — "an artifact of medieval times," hierarchical and awkward to sit around, as well as not inclusive of remote meeting participants.

One thing that LinkedIn is trying: partnering with a Steelcase designer to create something that looks like a campfire, four seats around a center square. Within the square there would be four monitors and a 360-degree camera capturing the faces of those seated. Everyone who's in the meeting physically can talk to each other naturally and see their remote colleagues on their individual monitors, while the camera captures their faces so that virtual participants see them as individual boxes on a screen as well.

Whiteboards are another key area of testing and potential innovation. LinkedIn has invested in one that allows users to use a regular whiteboard alongside camera capture technology that picks up what's being written, but which is able to — get ready for this — make the writer's hand disappear and instead capture the text behind it. The new company headquarters in Sunnyvale will have five rooms outfitted with these whiteboards alongside other new design solutions when it opens in January, according to Hautop.

"What we want to avoid is the experience of haves and have-nots," said Stick in regards to Evernote's investments in furniture and tech to bridge the in-office and remote work divide. Although they haven't pinned down the solution quite yet, she believes the key lies in simply being intentional about it.

Fintech

Circle’s CEO: This is not the time to ‘go crazy’

Jeremy Allaire is leading the stablecoin powerhouse in a time of heightened regulation.

“It’s a complex environment. So every CEO and every board has to be a little bit cautious, because there’s a lot of uncertainty,” Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire told Protocol at Converge22.

Photo: Circle

Sitting solo on a San Francisco stage, Circle CEO Jeremy Allaire asked tennis superstar Serena Williams what it’s like to face “unrelenting skepticism.”

“What do you do when someone says you can’t do this?” Allaire asked the athlete turned VC, who was beaming into Circle’s Converge22 convention by video.

Keep Reading Show less
Benjamin Pimentel

Benjamin Pimentel ( @benpimentel) covers crypto and fintech from San Francisco. He has reported on many of the biggest tech stories over the past 20 years for the San Francisco Chronicle, Dow Jones MarketWatch and Business Insider, from the dot-com crash, the rise of cloud computing, social networking and AI to the impact of the Great Recession and the COVID crisis on Silicon Valley and beyond. He can be reached at bpimentel@protocol.com or via Google Voice at (925) 307-9342.

Sponsored Content

Great products are built on strong patents

Experts say robust intellectual property protection is essential to ensure the long-term R&D required to innovate and maintain America's technology leadership.

Every great tech product that you rely on each day, from the smartphone in your pocket to your music streaming service and navigational system in the car, shares one important thing: part of its innovative design is protected by intellectual property (IP) laws.

From 5G to artificial intelligence, IP protection offers a powerful incentive for researchers to create ground-breaking products, and governmental leaders say its protection is an essential part of maintaining US technology leadership. To quote Secretary of Commerce Gina Raimondo: "intellectual property protection is vital for American innovation and entrepreneurship.”

Keep Reading Show less
James Daly
James Daly has a deep knowledge of creating brand voice identity, including understanding various audiences and targeting messaging accordingly. He enjoys commissioning, editing, writing, and business development, particularly in launching new ventures and building passionate audiences. Daly has led teams large and small to multiple awards and quantifiable success through a strategy built on teamwork, passion, fact-checking, intelligence, analytics, and audience growth while meeting budget goals and production deadlines in fast-paced environments. Daly is the Editorial Director of 2030 Media and a contributor at Wired.
Enterprise

Is Salesforce still a growth company? Investors are skeptical

Salesforce is betting that customer data platform Genie and new Slack features can push the company to $50 billion in revenue by 2026. But investors are skeptical about the company’s ability to deliver.

Photo: Marlena Sloss/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Salesforce has long been enterprise tech’s golden child. The company said everything customers wanted to hear and did everything investors wanted to see: It produced robust, consistent growth from groundbreaking products combined with an aggressive M&A strategy and a cherished culture, all operating under the helm of a bombastic, but respected, CEO and team of well-coiffed executives.

Dreamforce is the embodiment of that success. Every year, alongside frustrating San Francisco residents, the over-the-top celebration serves as a battle cry to the enterprise software industry, reminding everyone that Marc Benioff’s mighty fiefdom is poised to expand even deeper into your corporate IT stack.

Keep Reading Show less
Joe Williams

Joe Williams is a writer-at-large at Protocol. He previously covered enterprise software for Protocol, Bloomberg and Business Insider. Joe can be reached at JoeWilliams@Protocol.com. To share information confidentially, he can also be contacted on a non-work device via Signal (+1-309-265-6120) or JPW53189@protonmail.com.

Policy

The US and EU are splitting on tech policy. That’s putting the web at risk.

A conversation with Cédric O, the former French minister of state for digital.

“With the difficulty of the U.S. in finding political agreement or political basis to legislate more, we are facing a risk of decoupling in the long term between the EU and the U.S.”

Photo: David Paul Morris/Bloomberg via Getty Images

Cédric O, France’s former minister of state for digital, has been an advocate of Europe’s approach to tech and at the forefront of the continent’s relations with U.S. giants. Protocol caught up with O last week at a conference in New York focusing on social media’s negative effects on society and the possibilities of blockchain-based protocols for alternative networks.

O said watching the U.S. lag in tech policy — even as some states pass their own measures and federal bills gain momentum — has made him worry about the EU and U.S. decoupling. While not as drastic as a disentangling of economic fortunes between the West and China, such a divergence, as O describes it, could still make it functionally impossible for companies to serve users on both sides of the Atlantic with the same product.

Keep Reading Show less
Ben Brody

Ben Brody (@ BenBrodyDC) is a senior reporter at Protocol focusing on how Congress, courts and agencies affect the online world we live in. He formerly covered tech policy and lobbying (including antitrust, Section 230 and privacy) at Bloomberg News, where he previously reported on the influence industry, government ethics and the 2016 presidential election. Before that, Ben covered business news at CNNMoney and AdAge, and all manner of stories in and around New York. He still loves appearing on the New York news radio he grew up with.

A 'Soho house for techies': VCs place a bet on community

Contrary is the latest venture firm to experiment with building community spaces instead of offices.

Contrary NYC is meant to re-create being part of a members-only club where engineers and entrepreneurs can hang out together, have a space to work, and host events for people in tech.

Photo: Courtesy of Contrary

In the pre-pandemic times, Contrary’s network of venture scouts, founders, and top technologists reflected the magnetic pull Silicon Valley had on the tech industry. About 80% were based in the Bay Area, with a smattering living elsewhere. Today, when Contrary asked where people in its network were living, the split had changed with 40% in the Bay Area and another 40% living in or planning to move to New York.

It’s totally bifurcated now, said Contrary’s founder Eric Tarczynski.

Keep Reading Show less
Biz Carson

Biz Carson ( @bizcarson) is a San Francisco-based reporter at Protocol, covering Silicon Valley with a focus on startups and venture capital. Previously, she reported for Forbes and was co-editor of Forbes Next Billion-Dollar Startups list. Before that, she worked for Business Insider, Gigaom, and Wired and started her career as a newspaper designer for Gannett.

Latest Stories
Bulletins