Future Ways of Working: How Employee Voices Create Companywide Change

Let Data Decide: The Survey that Inspired New Ways of Working at Appen

As a AI technology company, we’re constantly adapting to keep up with the latest demands and be on the cutting edge of new innovations in our industry. We would be remiss not to do the same when it comes to how we manage the way we work. With employees returning to office post-pandemic, we observed many in the broader workforce voicing their preference to remain working from home, or try a hybrid format. Over the past two years, there had been quite a bit of discussion from our employees saying that they weren’t ready to go back full time, but missed seeing their co-workers in office. We knew we needed to make a change, and we wanted each employee to have the opportunity to say how they wanted to work–be it in office, working from home, or hybrid. It was because of this that our CPO decided to take on the task of changing the way we work at Appen. It all started with a companywide survey that resulted in the creation of two new programs. Chief People Officer, Andrea Clayton, has always focused on putting people first. She claims her role at Appen is to listen to what the employees have to say, so she best knows how to help them. She’s been hard at work surveying Appenites (a group of Appen employees) to see how they want to work in a post-pandemic world. As someone whose conducted a lot of surveys in her career, she knew that to make this survey successful, it needed to contain two essential attributes.
  • Be open and not guiding anyone towards picking certain answers.
  • Not containing too much free text, because that can actually hinder the effectiveness of surveys.
Andrea stressed the importance of keeping an open mind. It’s essential to listen to what employees have to say, as it’s likely they’ll present you the solutions they want in a manner that is actionable. That’s not to say they have the exact answers, but more that employees do know what they want and definitely appreciate having the opportunity to be heard. When asked if she was expecting to see any specific results, she said no, as she had reflected on Appen’s global footprint and explained that employees would have different needs in their lives She wanted to use this survey to identify what everyone wanted, and simultaneously would cause the least amount of disruption when the solutions to their needs were implemented. One thing that was presently surprising was how so many people asked for flexibility and that employees wholeheartedly knew that was what Appen was missing. The flexibility wasn’t asked for in a simple let’s be allowed to work in-office or remote, but the need for flexibility was for the way people could interact with colleagues both near and far, and on their team or just being with fellow Appenites. After much deliberation and running ideas past other executives two programs were created: Neighborhoods and Face-to-face (F2F).

Practice Planning Makes Perfect

Andrea is proud to say that she’s created something unique to Appen by establishing the Neighborhood and F2F programs. She drew inspiration from her experiences in Australia where an old job of hers made co-workers sit with their departments at the office, which was a change from the previous structure of just claiming any cubicle as your own.  The other Australian influence was from the Bank of Adelaide that coined the concept of Neighborhoods but used a method different than the one Appen implemented. In order to give these programs a strong start, Andrea read numerous articles about tech companies that tried to go back to the office, be fully remote work from home, or do a hybrid format. A lot of these articles mentioned the companies’ shortcomings, and this formed a ‘what not to do’ guide. Some insightful learnings included not having specific mandates or prescriptions dictating what employees are expected to do. The other main insight was to not downsize to one specific work format (hybrid, in-office, or remote). This created a baseline where there would be a core structure to the new programs, but there would be flexibility for employees to truly make it their own. Combined with the freedom to either meet in-person, elsewhere, or stay full remote the foundation of Neighborhoods and F2F was solidified. man on couch working from home on laptop with an annotation box design overlay

Neighborhood Connections Program Launch

With the evolved focus on communities and interrelatedness, the Neighborhood Connections Program was created. The initial test phase was launched in July (with the idea to refine the design before a broader rollout later in the year). The purpose of this program is to create neighborhoods in each geography for Appen employees working from home to connect in person, feel a sense of community, provide opportunities for fun, learning and development, attend virtual or local face-to-face events in their area, work on customer projects, engage in Yammer Neighborhood chats, attend a watch party of our Quarterly Town Hall together, and more. The Neighborhood Connections Program is being launched to ALL Appen employees worldwide, inclusive of those currently working in an office, fully remote, hybrid, and working at a secured site.

Face-to-face (F2F) Collaboration Launch

In addition to the Neighborhood Connection Program, there’s a second program called Face-to-face Collaboration designed specifically for employee teams. Many Appenites are eager for a more inclusive and broader definition of in-person teamwork. Face-to-face collaboration will now be the term Appen uses to describe in person teamwork – or F2F for short. Anything in person might mean several employees meeting at a customer event, an industry conference, a local coffee shop, a local WeWork space, or an Appen office. As mentioned earlier, the program will not be prescriptive on how or when teams should connect F2F. The purpose of this program is for teams to assess what’s best for our customers and each other. It’s up to them to decide how they want to create F2F time for their team. Flexibility is important here because the needs of teams vary, so the amount of F2F time will vary as well. F2F has a large travel component to it, as we are a global company our teams are spread across multiple states and countries. This program will allow those spread-out teams the opportunity to travel and meet up in person if they desire. We firmly believe that face-to-face time, although it can take some time and coordination, will create a stronger team connection.

Tips for Success

Andrea has a few tips for success that she hopes other companies will find helpful when working on their plans for remote, hybrid, and in-person work plans.
  • Listen to employees
  • Be open minded
  • Create action plans based on what employees want
  • Know that not all models work for all companies
  • Keep a growth mindset
  • Look and see what smaller companies are doing
  • Maintain a good work culture
By following this advice, employee voices will be heard, and the plans created will directly address what they want from that company. It may take a few tries to get it right initially but being open to growth will allow for success and a positive company culture. We’re looking forward to seeing the success that comes from our Neighborhood and F2F programs. We also hope that those reading this find inspiration that can be used as you implement future ways of working for your company.
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