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The Future of Work: HR Leaders From Zillow and Expedia Discuss Pandemic-induced Workplace Changes

The future of how we work, where we work, how that work is measured and even how we get to work has always loomed large in the tech community, but never more so than since the pandemic began and entire industries recalibrated to the reality of remote collaboration.

At the GeekWire Summit last week, former Washington Gov. Christine Gregoire joined Expedia’s Archana Singh and Zillow’s Dan Spaulding (both chief people officers for their respective companies) to talk about what changes they’ve seen in the workplace and what likely changes are still to come.

Spaulding said every company has asked employees to change many things about the way they work. And some of those changes are here to stay.

“Certainly the thing at Zillow that we think will be enduring after the pandemic is just the need for employees to have maximum flexibility over how they use their time everyday,” he said.

The concept of work flexibility isn’t going to be a couple of days a week, Spaulding said. “It’s going to be everyday.”

Singh added that the pandemic has forced adaptive challenges on everyone.

“This is all about learning and testing ways,” she said. “There’s definitely keen attention to what’s sustainable human performance. What’s here to stay is inordinate attention on human performance and adaptive approaches to problem solving.”

She added that companies are starting to figure out when work needs to happen in teams, when work needs to happen in offices and when it needs to happen individually.

From left: Zillow’s Dan Spaulding, Expedia’s Archana Singh and former Gov. Christine Gregoire. (GeekWire Photo / Dan DeLong)

Gregoire, now CEO of the Challenge Seattle alliance of employers, noted that one of the changes she anticipates isn’t inside the workplace — wherever that might be — but outside of it as well. People who go into downtown now, she said, are no longer going to find the same place they left 20 months ago.

“Those restaurants, those (businesses) that provided services downtown are going to suffer,” she said. “Even if employees do come downtown to Seattle, are they going to find the same options and the same opportunities that they had during lunch, or after or before work? I don’t think so.”

On the topic of salaries being fixed to job type or geography, Spaulding said Zillow is not lowering people’s salaries when they relocate. “We’ve changed our whole compensation approach,” he said. “Instead of looking at compensation on a city level, we are looking at compensation on a national level.”

Singh said for Expedia, “compensation is a market matter.”

“We operate in 58 countries. Obviously compensation in Gurgaon, India is different from Singapore, [which is] is different from China or Seattle or Chicago,” she said. “We benchmark compensation across all of these markets. When we move people from Singapore to Seattle, they go into Seattle compensation.”

As far as productivity in a remote work environment, Gregoire said early expectations were proven wrong.

“When the pandemic first started, the question that came to the fore was the concern by all of the companies that productivity would plummet. Six months later, that was absolutely not true,” she said. “In fact, the experience was just the opposite. Productivity actually went up.”

She added, however, that mental health issues arose with the shift to working from home.