Epoch&Talk Conference Recap: Cultivating Employee Experience in a Hybrid Environment

Epoch&Talk Conference Recap: Cultivating Employee Experience in a Hybrid Environment

Epoch and Desana hosted a conference for leaders and innovators in the Employee Experience space to mix and mingle in New York. The event featured networking, roundtable discussions, and a panel discussion where Jade Choy, Epoch's CEO and co-founder, had conversations with leaders and innovators in the employee experience and engagement space.

In case you missed it, here are some key learnings and takeaways from our half-day event featuring Daniel Stokes, Culture & Programs Lead at Brex, Sam Eisner, Senior Manager of Employee Experience at Braze, and Beth Wiesendanger, Senior Manager of Diversity, Equity, Inclusion & Accessibility at Etsy!

Kicking off the day - Tony Vargas on Delivering Joy at Scale

TLDR: Tony has been at Sprinklr for 9 years and is now working as the Director of Global Workplace. He has an extremely diverse background from working in entertainment, education, and hospitality, and events. 

His aim in the workplace is to build a foundation of joy so that everyone can be their authentic selves and do their best, meaningful work. Tony shares the history of the workplace and its many changes to get to our current hybrid era. He explains that the biggest challenge of the hybrid era is connection. Humans are built for connection, but the pandemic has made that an ongoing issue to work through. 

He continues that all gatherings of people, big or small, should have a massively transformative purpose. Something needs to be different when they leave, otherwise, there is no value being provided. This idea is key to community building. Most important to Tony in community building is communal joy and communal grief. Communal grief helps heal, and communal joy restores. 

Panel discussion - Cultivating Employee Experience in a Hybrid Environment

Meet the speakers 

Sam is the Senior Manager of Employee Experience and Culture at Braze. She has been in the EX space for 7 years and has a real passion for creating impact on people. Sam brings experience from OpenTable, XO Group, The Knot, and many more.

Beth is a community builder, organizer, and activist. Her mission is to ensure more minorities are heard, seen, and advocated for. She aims to create opportunities, tear down barriers, and foster community. As a Senior DEI Manager, she has overseen and executed hundreds of events around the globe. 

Daniel is the Culture Programs Lead at Brex. With over 10 years of experience in corporate culture building, he has become a vital part of every event as he spearheads them and prioritizes initiatives that allow people to show up as themselves and love coming to work. 

Successful initiatives that have improved employee experience and culture 

In Daniel’s opinion, virtual events often lack the soul and personal touch that in-person experiences offer. He believes that a successful virtual event requires meticulous organization and execution, combining quality planning and technology to ensure that employees are engaged. This is especially important for remote employees who don’t have the opportunity to be physically present and involved. By combining quality and creativity, Daniel has seen a real impact on improving employee experience. 

Sam and her team were facing the challenge of adapting past events for the current era of distributed employees. Previously, these events brought people together at physical office locations. However, now they need to identify clusters of employees and create new communities to foster connections among those who aren’t close to office locations. One way that they achieve this is through providing a budget to those groups so that they can arrange their own gatherings. 

Sam’s team’s focus is on ensuring that all employees, including those working remotely, can participate in a sense of togetherness. They are actively exploring ways to bridge geographical limitations and make sure that remote employees are an integral part of the workplace community.

How to ensure DEI is top of mind for any program

At Etsy, Beth stresses the importance of establishing a shared language of understanding what DEI really is within the company. Diversity refers to a representation of the workforce, equity is the systems in place that create an equitable workplace, and inclusion is a sense of authentic belonging and participation. 

Beth shares that everyone has a role to play in DEI, not just DEI leaders. Making sure that DEI is integrated into every aspect of the workplace is critical. To do this, Beth suggests that every individual within a company understands how they contribute to a culture of inclusivity. She also stresses the importance of investing in belonging programs, like employee mentorship, sponsorship, and Employee Resource Group programs. The purpose of all these initiatives are to ensure people stay and thrive within the workplace. The purpose of these initiatives is to help people thrive.

One particularly successful initiative implemented has been their ‘Dens’ program.. Dens are peer to peer support networks that match people's identities and roles. Essentially, building actionable groups that are built by the community, for the community, and based on what employees are experiencing on the ground, can help drive a positive workplace culture.

Are community interest groups incentivized at Braze, Brex, and Etsy?

To ensure ERGs thrive, Daniel highlights the importance of granting them a platform that empowers their voices. This involves facilitating opportunities for ERGs to participate in key company events, sending their representatives to relevant conferences, and equipping them with the resources they need to succeed. Brex gives back to those individuals by providing monetary compensation and freedom to use it however they see fit.

Beth emphasizes the significance of advocacy and compensation for ERG leaders.. Setting boundaries for what they are and are not responsible for is part of the supportive environment they aim to foster. She underscores the value of turning feedback from ERGs into actionable initiatives. Additionally, investing in ERGs by offering learning and development opportunities as well as leadership roles is crucial for their growth and influence.

Sam's approach revolves around ensuring ERGs have the necessary resources at their disposal for success. She advocates for enabling ERGs and social impact teams to implement their ideas, programs, and events. Providing ERGs with a budget and a seat at the table to express their financial needs is also an essential element of empowering these groups. Organizing an ERG summit, for example, can serve as a platform for ERG leaders to discuss, exchange ideas, and collaborate effectively.

Tips on working within a limited budget

To enhance the success of events, Sam focuses on the power of internal branding and marketing to make the event well-known across the organization. Sam shares that culture is not a blanket statement across each office, city, or region. Having brand and marketing teams create unique branding for each event can make the event feel more special to employees. 


Also, leveraging internal resources and teams is key, especially with smaller/local/regional programs or events. Getting internal leaders such as Directors and Vice Presidents involved in employee events and programs can help promote events across the organization. Moreover, having people leverage their network for events, such as inviting speakers at a lower cost.

Daniel shares that staying consistent is very important, especially in a world that is constantly changing. Understand that everyone has different needs, and also that you cannot make everyone happy. 

Beth shares that equal approaches to employee experience do not always have equitable outcomes. Equity takes on various forms across different groups and spaces within the organization. Following the pandemic, creating equitable experiences across events has been challenging due to the diverse working environments such as hybrid, remote, and in-person setups. Even when events are standardized, the actual experience can vary significantly. So, it is important to tailor each experience to its unique space and environment. 

Gaining leadership buy-in 

Daniel recognizes that leadership buy-in can take different forms within organizations. Some leaders readily embrace community-building initiatives, while others may require tangible evidence of the value these programs bring. Understanding these nuances is crucial for effectively garnering support from leadership.

Beth underscores the complexity of community-building, emphasizing that it is not a soft science but rather a multifaceted process that should be data-driven and substantiated with results and ROI. Data, such retention and engagement rates plays a pivotal role in showcasing the ROI and accelerating leadership buy-in. With data-driven results, you can effectively demonstrate the worth of community-building efforts.

Sam concurs with the significance of data and highlights that data does not lie. She emphasizes the value of using data, for example in tracking office utilization, to demonstrate the effectiveness of programs, events, and initiatives in engaging employees. 

Practical tips and advice for successful programs

Daniel emphasizes the significance of open and honest communication. He underscores the importance of discussing both the positive and negative aspects of the work being done in this space. 

Beth delves into the science of relationship and community building, advocating for a thorough understanding of this complex process. She encourages asking numerous questions and involving a diverse range of stakeholders in the community-building process. 

Leveraging data and communication effectively to target the right individuals with the most relevant information is crucial in community building. This approach, as advised by Sam, allows organizations to dramatically improve engagement surveys and other action items. 

Connecting employee engagement with retention

When it comes to attributing the impact of their work to employee retention, Sam highlights the importance of crafting thoughtful and strategic questions, including benchmarking questions and those specifically designed to attribute outcomes to data. 

Beth also suggests defining the parameters of a successful program, which involves identifying the individuals actively participating in programs, events, and initiatives. This allows organizations to investigate whether there is a correlation between increased involvement and higher performance and retention rates.

Gaining employee buy-in

Shifting the focus from solely relying on culture leaders to garner employee buy-in can be achieved through two strategies. First, Beth advocates for creating opportunities for those who are interested to get involved outside of specific events, programs, and initiatives. This builds trust and a relationship that isn’t tied to a specific point in time. 

She also emphasizes the importance of a proactive approach, rather than a reactive one. This involves identifying and encouraging employees who are genuinely interested and bought into initiatives. 

Developing people-centric programs across locations 

To develop people-centric programs, Daniel recommends involving employees within your network as you make new decisions about people programs. For example, looping in foreign teams. This allows you to get an alternative perspective and see what employees really want. 

Sam adds that forcing your current approach on a new locations is not effective. Instead, try to create a focus group to understand cultural differences and how they might impact the organization's people-focused programs. It’s important to ensure visibility across the organization so that people are aware of what is going on in different locations.

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