Welcome to Humaning! In this monthly blog series, we interview visionary HR and People Leaders on how they build human connection and vibrant hybrid work cultures that drive employee satisfaction, engagement, and business results.
Enjoy this installment of Humaning with Bethany Nicole Smith, Workplace Experience Specialist and Founder of the HERitage Network—a vibrant community exclusively for Black women in People Ops, DEIB, and administrative roles at tech companies!
What do you think will separate the winners from those struggling to implement hybrid work?
Each individual human being has a different relationship with both their home and their workplace. And that relationship is inevitably going to factor into what they want from the organization and what they need from their workplace experience package in this hybrid universe.
The reality is human beings who are women or femme presenting, who have a racial minority identity, or who experience chronic or mental illness have a different experience and different needs. It’s not necessarily your job at the organizational level to understand that when you begin building the hybrid programming—but it is your job to find out.
That’s the piece that’s going to be extremely pivotal in separating the giants from the nots, because that is what is going to make your hybrid workplace offering truly bespoke, truly amazing, and have people buying into it in a way that has them making viral LinkedIn posts about how awesome the organization is.
How do you ensure equity between the onsite and remote folks so that they feel they both belong at an organization?
First, it’s really important to be clear from a programming perspective. Figure out: Why are we doing programming and what are we gathering for? What do we want our attendees to get out of the experience?
Secondly, realizing that equity and equality are not the same thing. There’s no way to have the same experience, but we can get the same outcome by doing different things. For example, I consulted on putting together a team event package in a hybrid universe for an organization. It was about work-life balance and building camaraderie between people on the team by having fun together.
We linked up our remote folks with each other and sent them off to do something together while the people in the office did something else together. Then, we had everyone return to a specific Slack group to swap pictures. At the end of the program, we designated a spokesperson from each group who would share what the group did. The two groups each did something different, but the goal was the same:
To make sure that these folks had fun together and came out feeling like they’re connected and belong.
What is the difference between workplace experience and employee experience? Why do you need both for hybrid work success?
Workplace Experience is all about creating an amazing physical environment where employees thrive. It focuses on office design, facilities, technology, and that oh-so-important atmosphere that inspires collaboration and boosts well-being.
Employee Experience is the holistic journey of an employee within the organization. From recruitment to career development, work-life balance to recognition, it encompasses every touchpoint that shapes an employee's connection with the company.
Both these functions utilize learning and development pathways, DEIB principles, and people operations initiatives to communicate, and they both require well-established processes and relationships.
The magic happens when these two kinds of experiences merge! A well-designed workplace enhances the employee experience, making their workdays more comfortable and productive. Meanwhile, a positive employee experience nurtures appreciation and care for the workspace. It's a win-win!
While they intertwine, their core focuses remain distinct. Workplace experience centers on the physical environment, whereas employee experience embraces the emotional journey and growth opportunities.
Together, the two disciplines create a harmonious environment that boosts satisfaction and engagement.
Can you share examples of how to make that magic happen?
In a hybrid universe, providing a great workplace experience means asking myself: If you work from the office, what can I provide in that space to make your experience great? If you don’t work from the office, what can I provide to make your experience great?
Answering those questions is cross-functional oftentimes with the employee experience piece. For example, how can I make working from your home setup work for you? It needs to be ergonomic, so I need to make sure that any work from home package that I offer you provides ergonomic suggestions.
I also need to work with IT to make sure everyone has the technology to do their work. Do I need to send you headphones? Do I need to do something on-site to ensure that when we’re having a hybrid meeting, everyone can be heard?
Then there’s the important piece about establishing norms and cultural niceties, like making muting yourself second nature in a Zoom meeting, utilizing the chat so that there’s an equivalent experience, or sending an agenda out beforehand and attaching it to calendar invitations so that there’s an equitable experience.
Making magic is about understanding where all the intersections are, who your key stakeholders are, and what they need.
How do you think companies need to evolve their company culture to meet the needs of the employees in a hybrid experience?
I think that being willing to evolve is really the first step. We as a collective society went through a collective experience together. Everybody agrees that change is nigh.
You need to be willing to adapt based on what the people in your organization need and what your organization is setting out to do. It’s really about balancing those two aspects through leadership and change management.
The organization and employees need to break those walls down and be able to have real conversations. Some people have been productive from home, some have been depressed, some miss in-person interactions, some don’t want in-person interactions all the time but do need a place to escape from their roommates. I think that we can have these conversations a little bit more authentically.
What have you done that is critical to ensuring a good hybrid work experience?
Listening to employees. I set out with a research project to find out more about the current status quo and our employees’ needs. We did focus groups and surveys, and realized we needed to approach hybrid work on several different fronts.
There was a facilities piece where we found out that the office is huge and people didn’t know where anybody was when they came into the office. And so little things like making the neighborhoods more clearly defined [was very helpful]. We had the “Nest In Your Neighborhood” campaign where each section came up with their own team mascot.
There was also a tech piece. If you can’t hear the people who are in the room when you’re at home on Zoom, that means they need a microphone. We also found that if you were hosting an all-hands type meeting in the office, you needed to leave the room that the meeting was being hosted in and post up in a separate area that was close by but had a screen.
All of this required lots of researching, asking questions, and figuring out what the people that I’m trying to serve are looking for.
To learn more about ways to solve your hybrid work challenges, see how the Top 20 CPOs Shaping Hybrid Work do it at their organizations.