HR leader profile: Matthew Saxon of Zoom

'Putting extra effort into asking questions signals to employees that their time is valuable and their opinion matters'

HR leader profile: Matthew Saxon of Zoom

With Zoom becoming a household name during the COVID-19 pandemic — with sales soaring 326 per cent to $2.6 billion in 2020 — it should come as no surprise that the company has also adopted a hybrid work model.

“Flexibility for our employees is top of mind,” says Matthew Saxon, chief people officer.

“In our future-of-work model, our employees get to choose their preferred work style. Given the outstanding success of remote work, we're not pressing for office re-openings. Instead, we’re gradually integrating it as a part of our hybrid model. We’re continuing to learn and adjust as building a great program to bring teams and employees together is incredibly important.”

Tug of war between leaders, workers

There’s been a tug of war all year between company leaders, who want to turn back the clock to 2019 and have employees back in the office on a regular basis, and employees who’ve enjoyed their newfound freedom of being able to work remotely. Last month, Apple, Comcast and Peloton all required their workers to start coming in at least three days a week.

Meanwhile, Tesla CEO Elon Musk went a step further by instructing employees to return to the office five days a week. The company has been tracking compliance by monitoring ID badge swipes and sending automated emails to employees who haven’t showed up 16 days minimum each month, according to verified Tesla employees on Blind.

Musk’s edict evokes a “my way or the highway” attitude that’s an anachronism in a post-COVID world. After all, flexibility in where, when and how one works has emerged as the top priority during the pandemic.

Among those dissatisfied with the amount of flexibility their job affords, 70 per cent said they’d look for a new opportunity, according to Future Forum, a research consortium that polls more than 10,000 knowledge workers around the world every quarter. A former Apple executive already resigned due to the company’s return-to-office policy, and that was back in May.

Adapting where needed

Saxon says leaders want to create an environment that enables productivity, increases team collaboration and helps contribute to a strong company culture. For some organizations, that means hybrid or fully remote work. For others, those goals can only be achieved through in-person work.

“It's crucial to test and learn what works for each company and their employees and, from there, adapting where it's needed,” he says.

“Listening to our employees is a top priority that leads to mutual trust between our leaders and employers. Talking with our employees on potential plans and the complexities of decisions, and then listening to their feedback is one way we develop this deeper trust. Ensuring clear transparency with return-to-office policies and hearing what employees prefer must be top-of-mind.”

Two years into the pandemic, nearly a quarter of American remote workers (23 per cent) say their Zoom fatigue is higher than it’s ever been.

Saxon says Zoom is developing a strong engagement program with its people experience team that brings employees from across the organization together. For example, the company is “playing with the idea” of having entire departments come together throughout the year for curated events, leveraging the talent and organizational development team to assist in building strong, lasting in-person connections.

The proportion of Canadian workers who usually work exclusively at home fell slightly from 16.8 per cent in August to 16.3 per cent in September. The share of workers with hybrid arrangements was unchanged in September, at 8.6 per cent, according to Statistics Canada.

To support this, Zoom is also looking at reimagining some of its existing spaces as event spaces, he says. Additionally, the company has remodelled workspaces by reducing and reusing furniture to boost productivity and connections.

“Navigating the hybrid model is not one size fits all,” says Saxon. “The first step in fostering a strong workplace is to take the time to really think through what you want to achieve and then engage your employees in how you might achieve that. Explain why you are exploring one path versus others, how long you will leave it to allow time for everyone to trial the new approach and how you will measure success. Putting extra effort into asking questions signals to employees that their time is valuable and their opinion matters.”

“In a hybrid environment, employees need to feel that they can trust leaders with their well-being, while in turn, employers must trust their employees are performing when remote,” he says. “Having the right technology that supports both is vital in fostering relationships in a hybrid environment.” 

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