How Technology Fuels The Future Of Work
The days of the lengthy rush-hour commute and day-to-day office grind have, for many, become a thing of the past. A few years into a pandemic, employees’ expectations for what true flexibility looks like have changed drastically. At Zillow, we’ve leaned into that transition by supporting virtual collaboration and found it’s paid off not only by helping our people thrive and our teams innovate, but also by making our workplace more equitable.
In some cases, this shift has meant taking fuller advantage of technology that was already available to us. We’ve always been able to onboard new hires virtually, but since March 2020, all onboarding has been done this way, which means no one gets an in-person advantage over another.
Since Zillow moved to a location-flexible workforce we’ve been able to bring in the best talent from a much larger hiring pool (we now have employees in 49 states, compared to 24 pre-pandemic). Our application data shows moving to a flexible workforce was the right move. Applications in 2021 increased 105 percent from the previous year, including more women and underrepresented groups. People with a wider array of backgrounds and perspectives can now help drive our company into its next chapter regardless of where they call home.
To be mindful of our employees who span different time zones, Zillow established what we call “core collaboration hours” so no one is inadvertently scheduled in early-morning or late-night meetings. In turn, the core hours allow employees to be more intentional when managing their own time for focused individual work.
"Technology can also support career mobility and professional development within a flex work model"
Technology can also support career mobility and professional development within a flex work model. We never stopped hosting professional development and learning events, and leveraged technology to ensure that our employees could remain active or get involved virtually. Our data shows Zillow employees are being promoted at about the same rate now as they were pre-pandemic.
While we see the cloud as an inherently more equitable work environment, embracing tech-enabled flexibility doesn’t mean companies need to abandon face-to-face interactions altogether. We found that two-thirds of our employees said the main reasons they would go into Zillow offices would be social connection and team building. So, we launched what we call zRetreats: multi-day in-person gatherings that are less frequent but higher-impact. These are a mix of group work, brainstorming, and activities, with an emphasis on team bonding. And, if employees feel they work better in an office setting, they have the flexibility to do so. Over half of employees anticipate wanting to work from our newly renovated offices once a month, and office usage has been steadily increasing through the spring. There’s still an appetite
for in-person collaboration, focused work, and social connection, and when given the flexibility, employees are empowered to make a choice that suits their needs.
That said, connection with peers and colleagues is not lost in a virtual world. Our affinity groups communicate virtually, sharing thoughts, ideas, and starting discussions on sometimes difficult topics so members feel included and supported. Creating Slack channels for book lovers, whiskey lovers, dog lovers — you name it — helps bring together a broad cohort of people to discuss a shared interest. Hosting “coffee chats” over Zoom can mimic the “watercooler” effect from the comfort of home, with the added benefit of linking up employees with folks they might not naturally have run into in an office. Experimenting with these tools helps make a digital space feel like a physical one.
My teams found ways to make remote work engaging and energizing. To marry the virtual with the physical, some teams keep Zoom running all day so they can see one another while they work, host weekly lunch social hours, and virtual demos help showcase what everyone is working on. Team bonding also remains a priority for my teams, and we’ve gotten creative with remote morale events to keep us connected. Some examples include an escape room, chocolate tasting, and magic show – all done virtually.
Our human-first approach extends to policies like flexible working hours and discretionary time off. Coupled with other advantages like not having a commute anymore, the benefit of having a “Cloud HQ” is clear. In Zillow’s most recent employee survey, 79% of respondents agreed they are able to maintain a healthy balance between their work and personal life. When we maximize flexibility to accommodate the moments our employees care most about, they have more energy to show up well in all aspects of their lives — and in turn, show up even better for work.
Company culture is as much about people as it is about products. Zillow’s transition to a flexible, virtual work environment has reaffirmed for us that we can continue to innovate without compromising the care we give each other along the way.