We are back with our Webinar Series – Experts on Employee Experience! 🎉 It is a monthly webinar series where Jade Choy, Epoch's CEO, has 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 webinar featuring Bethany Nicole Smith, Senior Workplace Program Specialist at Justworks. View the full recording here. Scroll on for notes! 👇
Bethany is the Senior Workplace Program specialist at Justworks. She is in charge of project managing all of their internal processes and making sure that they’re offering a robust on-site event program at Justworks. She is also the current leader of their ERG group “Square One” that’s dedicated to amplifying and uplifting the needs and experiences of the Women people at Justworks!
There is a lot happening during Women’s History Month at Justworks. Bethany is on the workplace team and is in charge of programming on-site and is also the lead for the Square One ERG (their Women-focused ERG). One thing that Bethany likes about Justworks is the way their ERGs play with other departments they have a good interplay between the cross-functional nature of their programming. Events Justwork’s ERGs are hosting are an internal podcast with the Square One ERG to highlight all events going on in March, to amplify women’s voices and thoughts within the company. They are offering a mentorship workshop gifted by African American Women in Tech, holding a discussion panel with several tech leaders in the space on how to make themselves more marketable in tech. Square One’s goal is to get more black women hired into tech roles at Justworks. They’re also having internal conversations on things women are engaged with. For example, conversations about literacy and investments, and gendered language. The ERG is also collaborating with the black ERG and APPI ERG to host a movie night.
They have 7 ERGs at Justworks and another one in the works. Since they have so many community spaces they’ve been iterating on programming for years now. They’ve been able to see how things have changed from before the pandemic, during, and now after. One of Bethany’s responsibilities is figuring out how they’ll improve their workplace offering instead of their hybrid reality. They’ve had opportunities to experiment allowing them to double down on what works. What they know works is having a wide offering where people can choose what way they want to engage with programming in general. Some people don’t want to need to go to an event. Maybe they just want to chat in a slack channel or do a volunteer opportunity on their own time. Then you also have people very engaged in making connections with colleagues. You also have people who are focused on changing policy to benefit women. By providing a wide variety where everyone can engage you allow everyone to get involved in what they want. In addition, delegating is important. To delegate they answer who needs to do what so that Justworks can give people the experience they need. The short version of the answer is experimenting, doubling down on what works, and knowing when to delegate and have a strong cross-cultural culture.
Bethany shares that she’s never not planning.When setting goals for their OKRs, and regular strategy, they do them for their ERGs too to make sure the plans work cohesively. Their word for the year as an ERG is Intersectionality and Legacy. She doesn’t want the next co-lead to start from ground zero so she needs to plan.
Justworks has a podcast that helps give an understanding to employees of what they’re about, who’s involved, and figure out how to get active in the ERG themselves in a digestible way. She hopes the podcast helps funnel more people into the Women ERG and Bethany thinks it could be turned into an internal communication tool that can be used to communicate other internal communications as well! She also looks for ways to partner with other ERG groups and cross-functional teams. Bethany recommends leaning on your network is extremely important–she’s been planning Women’s history month at the top of the year because she thinks it takes at least 30 days to do just the minutiae.
Bethany says her role is about manifesting company culture on-site. Some of the responsibilities are internal communications, programming, project management, and administration. With focus on allowing cultural values manifest themselves in their employee experience programming. Answering questions such as: How do you do hybrid? What does it feel like to go to an event? What does it feel like to be onboarded at Justworks? Bethany’s very interested in figuring out how she can improve the experience for the end Justworks user and make it embody their brand values.
Tracking OKRs is very complicated. In Justworks, everything ladders down. The company decides the direction they're going and they leave time for each department to then take the company OKRs and roll them out into their own. Once everyone is aligned with their departmental OKRs, then they decide on the mandatory projects that are going to get them moving to those OKRs. For example, for upcoming OKRs they’re focused on repairing and rebuilding since they’ve had to reorganize their internal teams a lot. After setting goals, it’s about figuring out how to do that. They use Asana to track everything. Set a goal in Asana, set a project that will ladder out, and delegate outwards. Bethany’s manager keeps everyone on track ensuring they’re ready for their internal report. What they talk about with their manager is if they executed the projects the way they intended to and if the team is having the desired results as a result of that. Sometimes the answer is yes, and sometimes it’s no not really.
One ongoing project that Bethany has been working on is a hybrid work project. It started as research and discovery to figure out how employees feel about Hybrid work and what they need. Specifically, she focused on how employees want to feel when they come into the office. After research and discovery, they put together some deliverables that were going to help speak to the needs they discovered. One thing they’re doing is a nest in your neighborhood campaign. They felt people needed to reorient themselves to being in the office, since everyone is used to privacy and being at home for so long. The office feels different when your whole team is there versus when you’re just coming in because you have a meeting. Helping team members acclimate and organize their day when they’re onsite is important. Justworks has team agreement days which is when your team is supposed to be in the office together. People found when things were still hybrid people were coming in and still having Zoom meetings. They were supposed to come into the office to see people not to be on Zoom. So she’s making sure everyone has resources on best practices for in-office.
They have an internal wiki. A document they’re putting together is the onsite optimizer. The onsite optimizer is a guide on how to set up your day in the office for optimal productivity. It also links to resources that exist to orient people to the space. Where can you meet? What’s the difference between a huddle room and a quiet room? Which rooms have tech in them? The guide helps people understand how to make their daily work better. A lot of this information exists but the guide aggregates it all in one place.
The Nest In Your Neighborhood Campaign is a lunch-and-learn style moment that is helping other people understand the small fixes they have made to make it fun and cool to be in the office. The idea is to have people fall in love with their area in the office. They've added more interactive maps in some places to figure out where they are and what rooms are available. They’ve updated the envoy to allow employees to see whos in the area. They’ve reallocated their space to make the seating arrangement make more sense. Their neighborhoods also have mascots. They have template cards that match the mascots so you can see what team is sitting where. They’ve made name templates so people can have them on their desks and are also starting a contest where people can start their flag with your team that’s in your area. The goal is to have people be more invested in their area of the office.
From a DEIB perspective, they found out that people who have chronic pain conditions, neurodiversity, and sensory input issues didn’t know where to be in the office. They were fine with desks for 20 minutes but after that, they could get sensory overload. For their workforce that’s neurodivergent or has other needs, they felt better with conference rooms but felt guilty for taking them. So, they partnered with Just Ability which is geared towards their neurodivergent folks to create a quiet space. They’re taking one of their common areas which are tucked away in a corner and naturally quieter than other places and letting that speak to the need of people who are having difficulties. They had a focus group with those people and they’re adding white noise, changing the lights, requiring that area to be booked, and more. Bethany says it’s important to get in touch with people and figure out what problems they’re experiencing to help provide them with what they genuinely need.
Bethany wants to be intentional about the responsibilities she builds at work. She feels some of the relationships are just natural. But when giving advice to someone she thinks it’s really important to just be intentional. You need to understand who the key stakeholders are if you want collaboration. Bethany feels workplace, IT, and people experience need to be best friends. The reasons for being friends with different departments are all different. For example, the DEIB department will have a better insight into what people want that you couldn’t get elsewhere. It’s important to understand how to connect with different departments to mutually benefit each other.
Justworks is a hybrid organization. For RTO (return to office) they saw two avenues other companies were pursuing. Making returning to the office optional, or mandatory. Justworks wanted to be somewhere in the middle. They trust their employees but also think there’s something magical that happens when they’re able to meet in person. They feel their values become stronger and that doesn’t happen when they’re fully distributed. It will never become back to the office or you’re fired. Almost a year into RTO, they’re seeing a trend where even the most giving of companies are backtracking on the RTO model and Justworks doesn’t want to force people. They are staying hybrid and want teams to come in at least on the days they’re supposed to be there. They trust their teams to be great.
Bethany says she’s lucky that Justworks has leadership that wants to be involved. They want to know what’s going on with you. Bethany’s SVP of People Operations has regular check-ins with individual contributors. Their CEO is the same way. The willingness from the top down is huge. Bethany cares about what her leadership team and board members think about her programming so she makes sure she knows what they care about most as it pertains to their role functions.
If you don’t have buy-in, figure out where leadership dispenses their information. Some information will be above your paygrade but the leadership team isn’t people you aren’t allowed to speak to. Be proactive and speak to them about what’s going on during the quarter. Take company memos and dissect them with your department head to see what it really means. Employee engagement roles can be siloed to people's experience but understanding what the organization and leadership care about can help you.
It’s difficult. You don’t want to be fiscally irresponsible in an economic downturn so you need to change your behavior. They are trying to be conservative and it does impact what kind of events they can have and whether they can do it to the same level as before. They are looking for lower touch options so they can offer things to their staff that aren’t as expensive. Instead of full lunches, transitioning to surprises and delights. Workplace and people experience already pay for things that aren’t optional. They always need to feed people. Is there something fun that they can do with coffee and snacks such as following the affinity months of their DEIB team? Having lunch and learn instead of a party. There are a lot of solutions!
Internal marketing is key. Message the slack channels. Have enough lead time so that you can market. Justworks uses digital signage, sends emails to relevant distribution lists, and more. Bethany says relevant distribution lists are key and often gives calls to action to managers to ask them to discuss upcoming events in team meetings. Talk about programs absolutely everywhere.
Bethany got into her role because she loves people. She’s a people person and it’s also really important to her that people feel like they belong at work. She wants them to feel that they belong. Bethany cares about what her Justworkers want. She wants them to enjoy coming to work. As it pertains to taking care of herself she says to remember to rest, know when to say no, and have people to trust and go to them as often as you need to.
Bethany thinks that gamification had a real moment two years ago. What she thinks is required for effective gamification is rewarding people in a way that makes sense. You can almost train people to expect something good will happen when you engage with their contact. It can be as simple as knowing that if someone asks a question in the Slack channel it will be answered. It’s less about gamification and more about dedicated rewards for engagement.
Justworks tries to do as many things that make sense for both. The equitable thing to do is to make sure that the people at home have a similar experience to those in the office. At the very least there shouldn’t be a glaringly obvious thing such as the office got food but nobody at home did. They try to offer a zoom experience alongside in-person experiences for anything that doesn’t require being in person. They have adapted the culture so that there’s an experience for joining Zoom too. The short answer is they do as much as they can in both directions but understand that the experiences aren’t equivalent. If Bethany’s going to give a full meal with servers in the office, it’s not comparable to an Uber treats credit. Sending a meal similar to the one in the office with a cute flower is a slightly better experience. Bethany acknowledges it’s hard to do that and figuring out how to make experiences equitable tends to become a leadership decision. It comes down to clarifying expectations.
Employee experience is kind of a buzzword now but to her, it boils down to making sure whatever your company values show up in the organization and empowering people to do their work in your space.
Connect with Bethany on LinkedIn if you want to chat about employee experience programming & DEIB. Sign up for Epoch’s newsletter to be in the know for our next Experts in Employee Experience webinar and other Employee Experience events!
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