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Redefining Normal: Diversity, Engagement and Belonging in a Remote-First Culture

In the wake of the pandemic, many workers have changed employers or struck out on their own entirely, seeking better pay, alignment with values, and preferred geographies. This “Great Reshuffling” has prompted corporate America to reimagine its structures, policies and procedures. More fundamentally, organizations have had to grapple with the nature of how work gets done while simultaneously navigating the new, more humanized employment deal that places increasing emphasis on employee expectations around corporate social responsibility. 

As of March this year, all of Yelp’s offices have reopened and employees have begun to gather in person again. We remain committed to a distributed workforce and we recognize that our modern reality has shifted the goalpost from a “return to normal” to necessitating the definition of a new normal—one that optimizes for enabling workers to perform at their best while customizing those experiences in an engaging, inclusive, and sustainable way. 

A recent Yelp internal survey found that 87% of employees favor our remote-first model, specifically expressing overwhelmingly positive sentiment and confidence in productivity, goal-setting and inclusive leadership. Although some kinks still need to be ironed out regarding ease of connection and collaboration among colleagues, the notion that a fully distributed workforce detracts from achieving business results has been dispelled.

The shift toward a remote-first workforce brought new challenges in fostering engagement, particularly given most employees’ primary mode of interaction now takes place in front of screens. As organizations refine their work models, there are lessons to bring forward and opportunities to explore in defining what factors contribute to maintaining engagement and productivity. 

Here are a few highlights from our work across the company as we begin to redefine normal:

New Trainings and Learning Modules

Key to our successful transition is proactively promoting a learning culture that sets managers up for success and fosters belonging for employees. Our Culture and Learning & Development teams proactively curated new tools and learning modules to foster inclusion remotely. In addition to reinforcing Yelp’s company values, this mandatory training serves to minimize the emotional tax historically underrepresented talent experience by proactively addressing how bias can show up through modern modes of communication. 

Leadership development is also crucial for setting up teams for success. All Yelp managers complete a program that focuses on how best to manage distributed teams, including developing employees, fostering connection and bonding, and promoting inclusive behaviors. Our Culture team facilitates monthly workshops, the Continuing the Conversation program, with leaders across the organization covering topics such as hiring, mental health, sponsorship, bias, and intersectionality to promote inclusivity and belonging. 

In Real Life (IRL) Gatherings

Prior to the pandemic, team offsites were common, casual, and low risk. As we enter a new phase of adjustment and begin to conduct in-person gatherings again, offsites are—for many—the first time co-workers are meeting one another in person. We have asked ourselves, “What does it mean for remote companies to get together?”

Photo courtesy of Kim Chavarria of Kim Davi Photos

Over the coming months, employees will gather in cities across the U.S. to strengthen teams as they work to achieve Yelp’s mission of connecting people to local businesses. Yelp’s Culture team has developed a playbook for leaders across the company to host such in-person events. Included are presentation templates that reinforce Yelp’s corporate strategy and company themes and provide a general framework for each team’s time together. Agendas are designed to accomplish meaningful work, while leaving intentional space for casual collaboration and fun. Yelp’s Workplace Solutions team is eager to welcome employees back into offices and ensures local logistical matters (e.g., desk reservations and catering) are addressed. 

Equitable access to healthcare

Yelp is a remote-first company with a distributed workforce and it’s a priority for us to offer our employees consistent healthcare coverage, regardless of where they live. Most recently, we announced an expansion of our health insurance coverage to support consistent access to care across our distributed workforce. Our health insurance already covered abortion care, and now, Yelp also provides travel benefits for U.S. employees and their dependents (covered under their insurance program) who need to travel out of state to access these healthcare services.

Supporting Caregivers

We believe our distributed workforce model creates greater equity across different communities, including caregivers. Those providing child or elder care have been one of the most challenged groups throughout the pandemic. As we’ve established our new normal, we’ve listened closely to what our employees want most – flexibility and support. 

At Yelp, we enacted and communicated Core Hours, defined time frames agreed upon by team members to work so that there is consistent connection across time zones. This provides room for flexibility while carving out time for teams to collaborate.

To better support employees, we have also implemented a caregiver reimbursement to be used toward expenses like the cost of a babysitter or nanny, educational courses on safety for families, or lactation classes. We already provided a back-up child care and adult care benefit for caregivers through a third party and recently enriched this program by increasing the utilization cap, as well as offering virtual tutoring services and covering summer camps for backup care. As of this year, we have also partnered with a vendor to provide fertility and family-forming consultation for our employees. And to address the rising mental wellbeing epidemic, we introduced a virtual therapy platform for employees and their dependents aged 13 and older. 

Yelp Parents, an employee resource group for working parents, has served as a valuable resource for employees to support each other and share ideas on maintaining balance while juggling work and childcare. We launched a bi-weekly virtual meetup for parents to chat through specific topics, challenges and share ideas with each other and Yelp Parents introduced monthly YelpMoms chats.

To make sure we’re on the right track, we plan to survey parents and caregivers again to identify the issues that are top of mind and learn how we can continue to best support them — especially as kids have returned back to school, whether virtually or in person. There are many challenges caregivers face in the workplace, and we want families of all forms to strive as part of our Yelp community and feel seen and heard. 

While companies are paying better attention to these challenges, there is a journey ahead to carve out sustainable work models that support the diverse life priorities that many employees carry. At Yelp, we’ve dedicated teams to understanding the shifting needs of our employees in our distributed workforce, cultivating community, and reinforcing shared values in the absence of a traditional office setting.

Integrating work into the rest of our lives has been a really powerful experience for many of our employees as they pursue hobbies, trade their commute time for family time and focus more on their health and wellness. As our teams strive to live more enriched lives, we’re already beginning to hear that what matters most to employees today differs from the priorities of the past. Our commitment to cultivating diversity and inclusion means evolving our ways of working. At Yelp, we have taken steps to strengthen our culture to ensure that all employees, no matter who or where they are, have the support to achieve the work and life goals that led them to selecting us as their employer of choice.