How Companies Implement Remote Work: Lessons from Brandon Sammut

The first episode of Coffee with Gable, a series of thought leadership talks about the future of work, is now available on our YouTube channel. In it, I spoke with Brandon Sammut, the Chief People Officer at LiveRamp.

We went through ways in which the Covid-19 pandemic has impacted LiveRamp’s remote work strategy and overall approach to the future of work. LiveRamp was a distributed company before the pandemic, with 1200 people in four continents, eight countries, and 13 offices.

This doesn’t mean they were fully remote - only 5% of their employees were working remotely. After a full year of the pandemic, that number is now reversed: 95% of remote employees vs. 5% office-based.

Here are the key insights I gained from talking to Brandon about his and LiveRamp’s approach to remote work that can apply to other companies:

Remote work is a product you need to develop.

Brandon spoke in detail about how LiveRamp approached creating a remote work strategy. They started by defining the goals remote work needs to fulfill: keeping productivity high, enabling and emphasizing connection, and reducing burnout. Only after setting the goals were they able to understand the tools to achieve them.

This is a unique and fresh perspective of remote work that aligns the strategy to a product that needs to be honed and the employees to customers who need to adopt and love it. Basically, this approach applies design thinking principles to remote work: empathizing, defining, ideating, prototyping, testing, and assessing.

Refining the strategy is a never-ending process, and Brandon underlined the company’s focus on learning and improving every single day. Getting feedback from employees and iterating whenever necessary is how they see a successful remote team functioning.

Different roles have different needs

Brandon acknowledges that not every position has the same needs and requirements for where they work from. Designing the strategy to fit with different workflows, jobs, and collaboration methods is crucial if you want all employees to have a remote work experience that works for them.

LiveRampers will have flexible office days going forward, and some specific positions will be allowed to be fully remote. Still, the intention is to be hybrid and keep hiring people who are close to one of their hubs so they could come to the office a few days a week. This shows that the dichotomy of remote vs. office is not the whole spectrum. Taking the hybrid route is more complex and requires identifying what works best for different teams.

The offices need reimagining

Unlike many other companies, LiveRamp plans to embrace the flexibility of hybrid work after the pandemic ends, refusing to commit fully to either remote work or office-based jobs. The magic of face-to-face meetings still exists for many employees, and even the offices as they were before don’t always enable collaboration.

Brandon and his team plan to reimagine the office experience and work on ways to meaningfully merge it with digital tools so their team could focus on collaboration and engagement in the physical workplace.

When you’re hiring, you’re selling a culture, not an office

One of the most significant shifts for LiveRamp happened in the remote interviewing and hiring process. The talent they hired became more ethnically and intellectually diverse and all-around more inclusive. In the US alone, hiring on a national scale instead of in local hubs gave the company a chance to be pickier and fill specific roles with ease.

Their usual interviewing experience has changed, too; before, it was specifically tailored to delight the candidate when they come to their onsite interview - they even got coffee gift cards the day prior to the interview. But when the offices closed, the team realized they were merely a proxy that answers the candidate’s questions about the company, and there are other ways to communicate company culture when hiring remotely.

LiveRamp decided to change how they talk about themselves on their Careers page and social media and zoom in on existing employees’ stories and experiences. This approach made it easier to convey the company culture and involve more employees in sharing their stories. It goes to show that in the new hybrid and remote landscapes, culture really does eat strategy for breakfast. In other words, without building a company culture your employees will love and reinforcing it every day, it will be impossible to achieve your strategic and business goals. When your employees are not aggregated in an office, a bond with company values and a sense of belonging are the critical paths to their engagement and satisfaction.

Leveling the playing field in hybrid workplaces

Brandon pointed out that one of the challenges LiveRamp thinks proactively about is making sure all employees stay equally informed, included, and engaged. If some people work on-sight and others are remote at least part of the time, companies need to ensure offsite workers don’t feel overlooked or left out.

It all comes down to information flows and communicating expectations, and the company must design these processes to serve everyone with the same effect and purpose. The extended fully remote experiment in the past year introduced new ways of sharing information that created inclusion in previously unimaginable ways. Now, the game is the court of HR leaders, as they need to maintain that inclusion in hybrid teams going forward.

WFH is not remote work

One of the most intriguing facts Brandon mentioned when discussing the pandemic’s impact on remote work at LiveRam is the support they provide to their employees in these new circumstances.

He mentioned a truth we’re all painfully aware of: the already fragile and blurry lines that existed between work and personal life before are now completely erased. Employees everywhere are not just working from home; they’re juggling a million other things: anxiety over their health, family members being exposed to Covid-19, and children attending school online for months, just to name a few.

Apart from human challenges, Brandon mentioned technical challenges, too, like providing employees with ergonomic equipment for their home offices. Ensuring comfort and wellness is essential for ensuring employees without a preexisting home office setup can work comfortably and pay attention to their wellbeing. Understanding that people are trying to work while handling stress and anxiety every day shows them that you know these are not the normal remote work circumstances. Permanent work from home is not what remote work should be, especially in these conditions; it’s a temporary patch for a global problem.

This is just part of what Brandon and I spoke about in the first Coffee with Gable episode. Follow us on YouTube for more amazing talks with experts in HR, business, and startups.

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Liza Mash Levin
CEO & Co-founder @gable