Reimagining Candid’s return to office
It’s the question on all our minds as we look to a world in which we coexist with COVID-19: what does a return to the office look like? Entirely remote or entirely in-person arrangements don’t appeal to a majority of the workforce, but the murky area in between has proved to be incredibly challenging to navigate. COVID-19 forced organizations to reconsider how work gets done, and Candid was no exception. As vaccines became widely available, we began exploring scenarios for a return to office plan with a guiding directive to be practical, flexible, and human-centered. We quickly realized there is no model to emulate and had to start from scratch. Given that, we thought it might be helpful to share some of what we’ve learned so far.
One thing we quickly accepted is that an all-or-nothing remote or in-person solution wasn’t going to work for Candid. Even a hybrid model where employees report to an office a few days a week didn’t seem like the right fit. About a third of our employees are permanently, fully remote. Even if people were open to coming to an office, it would still mean connecting with remote colleagues on Zoom. Experience already told us that connecting people virtually and in-person created inequities that made meetings unbalanced and less productive. Remote employees struggled with feeling less connected and engaged than their in-office colleagues. Plus, for those who could come in, there were factors to consider like health concerns, childcare, and commute costs and time. For many, it just didn’t make sense to return to pre-pandemic, in-office routines.
In considering what a return to office could look like, we had several goals. Our top priority was to ensure our team’s continued health and safety. For that reason, Candid requires employees to be fully vaccinated to work in the office. We followed the CDC guidelines and defined full vaccination as two doses of a two-dose COVID-19 vaccine or one dose of a single-dose vaccine. Additionally, we aimed to offer flexibility and accommodate the diverse needs and interests of staff. We also considered the importance of retaining employees during this “great resignation” as well as attracting new talent. Forcing employees back into the office may have driven resignations. A flexible working model would also allow us to cast a wider net and recruit across the country.
When we don’t have the answers at Candid, we ask questions. Keeping our core values of curiosity, directness, drive, accessibility, and inclusivity in mind, we surveyed staff. The feedback led to several key decisions, including the following:
- Fully remote model: According to the survey results, less than a quarter of the staff wanted to go back to an office full-time. This verified our current thinking that an in-person office mandate would not work. It didn’t make sense to force people to commute an hour to the office and get childcare to do what they could easily do from home. With this in mind, regardless of location, Candid does not currently require employees to work in the office.
- Activity-based gatherings: Although there was limited interest in coming back to the office full time, staff expressed a strong desire for opportunities to connect in person to build and maintain relationships. This prompted us to designate an optional in-office week each month to bring together teams across geographies, which we’re calling Candid Connect Week. We kicked this off in April with plenty of optional group activities and opportunities to socialize. Candid does not expect teams to meet each month, but we encourage those that do to meet during a Candid Connect Week to facilitate inter-team interactions. The feedback so far is positive, so we’ll continue encouraging teams to come together to enjoy activity-based events and in person meetings.
- Virtual Town Hall meetings: Most staff, 89%, prefer Candid’s monthly all-staff meetings, which we call Town Halls, to be virtual. Moving these meetings to a fully virtual format allows everyone to participate equally. Before COVID, groups of in-office employees would congregate, while remote employees were relegated to Zoom, which created an uneven experience.
- Annual all-staff event: For the first time since 2019, we’ll come together for an all-staff gathering this September. This came after learning that 83% of survey respondents indicated an interest in attending an in-person retreat.
We’re still living in a pandemic and will need to continue to listen to staff concerns and adapt to an ever-changing environment. For some, virtual work will be their normal. For others being in an office every day is how they’ll be their most productive. Still others will thrive in a hybrid model. Candid leadership reports equal or better productivity from its committed staff of nearly 200 employees. Driven by our mission of getting you the information you need to do good, our vision of a social sector capable of tackling the critical challenges and opportunities of our time continues to be our focus.
Sarah Sprott says:
Terrance, thanks for your comment. The optics of fairness can certainly be challenging. We haven't had complaints specifically about fairness, but our model isn't perfect, and it's a work in progress. Fortunately, most of Candid's work can be done remotely. That said, some positions require our employees to occasionally work from the office, travel to conferences, and meet partners in person. For the most part, these employees were excited to get back to some in-person activities. They also recognize the benefit of WFH to complete other types of work. Even if it's just one day a week, some amount of flexibility for all employees can alleviate complaints about fairness.
Thanks for sharing your approach and thinking about the post pandemic workplace.
Remote work is good for people, employers and the planet.
Given the increased productivity, employee savings and dramatic quality of life improvements, potential employer savings, and the very significant environmental benefits as our climate crisis deepens due to our collective inaction, there should be a real, tangible, indispensable reason to call people back to an office. Claims that innovation suffers from remote work are just opinions, not backed up with facts or data.
It's socially and environmentally responsible to keep remote work going.
Terrance Byrne says:
Thanks Sarah and Deb
I find your way thoughtful. One of the challenges that we have had is the optics of "fairness". We are a healthcare clinic so many of our roles must come into the clinic to see patients. However, there are roles (finance, HR, etc.) that could be full or part time WFH. Do you have any thoughts?
Tom Mayfield says:
Thank you for a very reasoned and clear review of the "back to the office" dilemma. Mandates such as "all staff will return to office working", as exemplified by the Virginia Governor's ruling for state employees, is going to be very damaging, not only in the ways you mention above, but I feel in unconsidered aspects like volunteering at non-profits. Organizing one's day when working from home opens up many opportunities to meet home/family needs, but also volunteering. In most cases commuting times, and the longer hours involved, can preclude evening volunteering that we rely on. We hope that many more organizations will come to realize the employee benefits far outweigh the purely "bottom line" considerations that industry seems to put first.
Julieta Mendez says:
Thank you so much for sharing this post. So many organizations in our sector are grappling with this question right now, and it's great to read what others are doing. I really like your exploratory approach to this question. If I'm reading correctly, it seems that you're taking the time to test several forms of engagement to see what works, before making a final decision. That's a very thoughtful approach.
Sarah Sprott says:
Marilyn, thanks for raising this question. While Candid doesn't use a singular metric across divisions, we're meeting previously established deadlines and moving forward on important projects. Part of measuring employee productivity includes the qualitative judgment of managers, work being done, and overall results. During the pandemic, our managers and senior leaders have reported strong performance across the board. We also use an objectives and key results (OKR) framework to track progress toward annual goals. All point to productivity being equal or better than pre-pandemic performance.
Marilyn Neece says:
This is very helpful for agencies establishing how they will also go forward and still build a productive team. How do you measure productivity?
Thanks and best to you at Candid.