Vibe Check Episode 01

The Work From Home Taskforce that’s Shaping the Future

With guest Karen Mangia

Host: Brett Martin

Episode synopsis

In this episode, Vibe Check’s host Brett Martin sits down with Karen Mangia to discuss how Salesforce manages its work from home strategy. As the leader of Salesforce’s Work from Home Taskforce, Karen Mangia helps over 50,000 employees worldwide adapt to a work-from-anywhere enviornment. Karen prioritizes spending time with current and future customers, as their perspectives directly influence the product Salesforce builds and the market lessons shared to the greater community.

Since most customers struggle with connection and effective operation when apart, Karen designed a system to put power in the hands of the teams to determine their own remote work schedules. Karen’s research delves deep into employees’ performance when they have flexibility, autonomy, and choice. She also discusses the balance between synchronous and asynchronous work and the four key pillars comprising the future of work. Ultimately Karen leaves listeners with advice on how to create a more equitable workplace, centered on getting curious about people.

Guest bio

Karen Mangia, Vice President of Customer and Market Insights at Salesforce, is a future of work expert. Fueled by her passion for diversity and inclusion, she leads the company’s Work from Home Taskforce and serves on the Racial Equality and Justice Taskforce. Karen is also a WSJ bestselling author, has been featured in Forbes, and regularly contributes to Thrive Global, Authority Magazine, and ZDNet. 

Episode Transcript

Brett:  Howdy, and welcome to VibeCheck.  It's a human-centered discussion about the struggles and opportunities of remote work life with the folks to find the future work.  I'm Brett Martin, cofounder of Kumospace and Charge Ventures, and I'll be your host.  Today, we're speaking with Karen Mangia.  She's the vice president of customer and market insights at Salesforce.  She engages with current future customers about the world to discover new ways of creating success and growing together.  She's really, you know, an expert on the future of work.  She leads the company's work-from-home task force and is shaping the strategy for the workplace of the future. She's passionate about a bunch of issues diversity, inclusion, racial equality, and justice.  She has a long tech history of creating success before that at Cisco Systems and she's also a bestselling author, written several books on the topic, including Success From Anywhere:  Create Your Own Future of Work From Inside Out.  Working From Home:  Making the New Normal Work for You, among others.   Karen, welcome to VibeCheck. Thanks for joining us. 

Ms. Mangia:  My pleasure and I guess I'd say I'm feeling all the positive vibes for our conversation here. 

Brett:  It's good.  You know, we're seeking out the experts and you're square in the center of the type of person we're trying to learn from. Can you just tell us what exactly are your responsibilities as VP of customer and market insights at Salesforce?  

Ms. Mangia:  I'm part of our market strategy team at Salesforce.  And in our team, we have 3 functions.  The first is competitive intelligence.  So the people who keep track of what our competitors are doing and help keep our customer-facing teams and people who design and build our products up to date on what's happening with our competitors.  The second group is analyst relations and these are the teams that interface with companies like Gartner and Forrester and IDC who rate companies and their products.  And then I sit in the thought leadership and influencer part of our team and each day for me and for my colleagues is about spending time with our current and what we hope are our future customers understanding the challenges they're trying to solve and then helping them build a compelling vision for the future in a way that they're motivate to realize that vision with Salesforce.  So what we hear from our customers influences the products we build, the features we release, our market messaging, sometimes our acquisitions and then we share what we hear in the form of best practices and thought leadership back out to the broader community as keynotes and workshops and books and blogs and podcasts and shows to ideally keep the conversation going.  

Brett:  So you're trying to learn from the market, but then take those learnings and send them back out to your customers. And so it's been a kind of wild couple of years, what are your customers what are they grappling with most these days?

Ms. Mangia:  Most customers are struggling with the future of work and the future of how to connect with customers.  People are trying to strike a balance between bringing people together and operating effectively apart.  In organizations that plays out different ways, one consistent topic is how to find a balance about where and when people do their work in a way that works for employers as well as employees, and then also how to connect with customers in a meaningful way when it's not always possible to get that coveted badge and be on-site wandering around the hallways or hanging out at the water coolers.

Brett:  That's pretty interesting.  You sit on both sides of the table both external customer-facing, but you're also in charge of helping Salesforce figure out its own problems with the remote work, right? As your role the work-from-home task force, can you tell us a little bit more about that?

Ms. Mangia:  What started as how to send people home in a safe and thoughtful way and give them access to the resources they needed evolved into how do we activate champions across the company who could, for example, maybe mentor a colleague on how to have an employee performance review conversation virtually if they've never done that before? Then that evolved into thinking about how we introduce some type of framework to support the 74000 people we have working here from all over the world.  And as we listened to our colleagues very deeply and thought about what works well in our culture, and for any organization, you know, the way you think about work and the workplace and the workforce now really needs to be something that the culture supports and will provide some momentum.  What we realized was that a tops-down mandate wasn't going to work very well for us because we have people in some parts of the world where for religious reasons there's a particular day they don't work.  In other parts of the world, we closed down offices that we used to have and so what we put together and rolled out to our employees and now share with others who are interested is what we call our flex team agreements.  And what we did was we empowered leaders and teams at the team level with a conversational framework to think about what works best for the team and then to document the agreement that they came to as a shared team commitment.  So for example, we have some teams who've decided they're in somewhat close geographic proximity and they want to have team Tuesdays at the office, for example.  And so they commit they'll all commute on Tuesdays, and they have a meaningful set of activities they do on Tuesdays when they're together.  We have other teams that committed to no meeting Fridays. Other teams that have committed to particular responsiveness hours for example, around messages.  We put the power in the hands of the teams because we decided trying to come up with a policy or a mandate that fit everyone wasn't going to be as additive as giving people the opportunity to search for their own meaning and then have the flexibility autonomy and choice to implement that within the structure of their own teams.  

Brett:  That's fascinating.  So you said, okay, one size fits all policy will not work across the world and so then you designed a system or a set of, I guess, questions to help those teams figure out what was gonna work best for them.  And then really get buy-in an agreement on that.  It kinda reminds me a fair amount about relationships.  Every relationship, they have their own set of rules about what works and what doesn't, and it's less that everyone has the same set of rules so as whatever set of rules you agree to, you stick with.

Ms. Mangia:  Yeah.  And unstated expectations will always go unmet and unstated expectations and a lack of clarity can lead to a lack of trust all of which contributes to the burnout that we hear people talking about.  So for example, if you and I have come to an understanding about what hours we will accept and respond to text messages from one another.  Imagine you're my boss. Then I have clarity, right, about what's expected and I can plan accordingly.  Without that, each time if you're my boss I get a text from you even if 10:00 on a Sunday night, I feel like I need to respond, right? You know, what do we do if you have children? You know, that you need to do transportation or pickup? What about when you have a doctor's appointment or the pet emergency? What are we agreeing to?  And when people have that clarity, there is kindness within that, people know what's expected, they can adjust accordingly.  And it just takes some of the anxiety out of what for a lot of people has been very anxious time.  

Brett:  And so what are sort of the high-level questions that you are asking teams to ask themselves when committing to a particular remote working arrangement?

Ms. Mangia:  What are our working hours? Are we agreeing to particular times where we block our calendars and don't take meetings? What times are we agreeing to be responsive to asynchronous messages like Slack? When are we going to come into the office? When we get there what might we do? You know, are we going to have a change in the structure of our workweek? What's our meeting cadence as a team? And for one-on-one what are the topics we would cover in those conversations?  How do we handle PTO? So that people feel empowered to take it? How are we going to work fun or giving back, right? Or some of the other aspects of our culture and core values into this plan that we're building? We also encourage people to be planful about when to revisit that plan. Right? I mean, our scenario continues to change a bit and people's preferences and comfort levels are changing along with it.  And so we ask people to think about not just building a plan for a year, for example, but maybe once a month or once a quarter, agree to a cadence to review those team agreements to assess whether or not any adjustments need to be made.  We've also found this is very helpful for onboarding. When someone's new to your team and new to your company, they can get a very clear set of expectations that are documented about how that team operates.  In a sense, wouldn't it have been nice if we all had something like that pre-pandemic? When we started a new job or a new

Brett:  It sounds like a lot of figuring out remote and hybrid work situations is actually just good management, that principles that maybe, you know, you could have let slide before, but now you have to be really intentional about.  You know, you've seen all these different arrangements and different teams make different compacts. Have you seen any patterns that have emerged about specific types of compacts that work for different types of teams or different types of setups?

Ms. Mangia:  A great example is the teams in our product organization, you know, who build and develop our products.  For them, having uninterrupted blocks of time to do their work is critically important and schedules are very disruptive to be effective in that. type of role.  So those teams tend to choose days and big blocks of hours where people agree not to contact one another and not to schedule meetings because the nature of the work lends itself to that.  We rolled out something called a-sync week, and we do it in entire organizations with thousands of people where we'll take a week and ask people to cancel all meetings unless it's an urgent customer meeting, and do all of their work asynchronously, and then we survey them and interview them about how it went.  And what we're trying to understand is how far can people get in accomplishing a task or doing their role before they truly feel compelled that they're at a stopping point that requires live or in-person collaboration? It's also helping us use ourselves as a case study for how to make our asynchronous workflow tools more effective and support the use cases that are real.

Brett:  That's fascinating. Is there a particular right mix of synchronicity versus async? And that probably changes based on the team or the task as well. Right? 

Ms. Mangia:  It certainly varies by team and by task. I mean, if you think about the kind of role I'm in that's customer facing and I'm the only person on my team with my subject matter expertise.  You know a week without internal meetings for me means that I end up watching a few more videos or reading a few more things that are posted in Slack channels because I'm keeping a pulse on what happening, not because I necessarily need that collaboration to accomplish my job and I find that if I need a template or a piece of research or wanna borrow someone's slides for a customer meeting, I can easily send that as an asynchronous message. What we have found can be a little bit more challenging is that motion of brainstorming. Right? Brainstorming, you know, you can get so far in a shared document or in a channel.  And at a certain point, there is an energy to how do we do this together as a live conversation, for example? 

Brett:  You know, we've talked about tasks, we've talked about sort of function.  Are there different personality types, like are some people better suited for these sort of remote working situations, or are some people better suited for working in the office? How have you analyzed the people in these arrangements?

Ms. Mangia:  What we have found is that all people are suited to perform at their best when they feel that they have flexibility, autonomy, and choice, and that they feel a sense of ownership and
creation in the choices that are being offered.  So if my boss never asked me what works best for me? And he just said, every single day you're going to go to the office, and there were no reasoning behind that, I wouldn't feel very hurt, right? And I wouldn't feel like I had very many choices, right? Whereas, if we had had a one-on-one conversation and other people did as well and he came back with, we've got 3 choices or here are 3 things we're going to try.  That's what we find works best, right, more participation because the reality is it's very easy to label people. Oh, it's the introverts, the people who build products that love to be at home and it is the salespeople, the extroverts who love to go to the office.  Those things aren't universally true all the time.  Sometimes the engineer at home building products has 6 children, 2 dogs, and a hamster, and they want nothing more than to go to the office, not to see people, to have some focused time that's quiet to get work accomplished, right? The extrovert sometimes wants to be on a Friday afternoon to close out as many tasks as possible before the end of the week, get organized for the next week, and enjoy the weekend.  So we find a lot of those labels can be kind of assumptive, and none of us are our labels all the time.

Brett:  How do companies start to think about what they should be asking of their team? 

Ms. Mangia:  I think about the future of work in really 4 categories, and the first area to explore the first w is work.  What is the work that your organization needs to do now? What outcomes is that work aligned to? And how has the nature of that work changed? Because it fundamentally has for every organization on planet earth we've had such a disruption.  So first think about the work that needs to be done.  The second piece is the workforce.  Who is it that needs to be doing this work? Is it always full time employees? Is it contractors? Is it some kind of flex worker, gig worker? Is it that you're calling back retirees asking them to work 20 hours a week? Who is it that needs to be doing this work?  What skills does that workforce need? And I think critically coming to light right now is what are the highest aspirations of your workforce? Then you think about the workplace.   Okay, well, how much of this new work and workforce could be asynchronous versus needs to happen in person? And what are the other ways that we could use this workplace to realize these outcomes? Last piece is workflow.  So what is the workflow that we need to put in place or change to support the shift's that we've internalized and gotten some clarity about in our work and our workforce and our workplace.  

Brett:  So what, the who, the where, and the how.  And workplace is one component of that. Again, I think all Rosely back to this concept of not everything is one size fits all, and there's different modalities and mediums for each different thing we're trying to achieve.  You hear a lot about how work from home may have actually disadvantaged groups that were already disadvantaged.  So women, for example, having a higher burden of childcare.  Now if they're working from home, they have to do that on top of their job or certain minorities maybe not having the same opportunities because they can't get the exposure. But I think maybe remote work could actually be a leveling factor and a way of giving previously disadvantaged groups more opportunity than less.
Ms. Mangia:  Imagine right now you and I started a collaborative document for our team and when you and I are leading this team, we're going to put out to them, we're looking for growth ideas for the company.  When we put that out in a collaborative document, who can contribute? Everyone, not just the loudest voice.  Whose ideas are seen by the boss or influential people? Well, everyone's.  Whose voices get heard? Well, everyone's.  That's interesting.  I don't think a lot of meetings work that way, do they? Where everybody gets a voice and everyone's perspective is heard.  I mean, that's one small example.  And by the way, when you work in a collaborative document, I don't know anyone or very few.  I guess I'll say, I do know a few who are checking to see if you put that answer in at midnight, 03:00 in the morning when you got up because your kid got up and you had this breakthrough idea.  Or at 06:00 in the morning or noon. Everyone's voice can be heard, put in as many as you want, it doesn't matter your job level, job location the time you entered that we can all contribute.  Also, companies have the opportunity to be more resourceful about where they are looking for this talent.  What headlines like the great resignation and women leaving the workforce underplay is, it's not that 100% of these women stopped working, and I think we need to get more curious about the story.  And I invite your listeners to check out one of the best-funded startups called Momboard. Guess what this is? A bunch of working women and I'm not just talking about hourly type work.  I'm talking highly skilled labor of women who left full-time employment at a company that are still working full-time in a completely different model because they could not find from their employer, the flexibility, autonomy and choice they needed to be successful.  So it's not that all women with children stopped working and it was because, they had children to care for.  Check out Momboard.  There's a whole lot of women working out there.  They're just not working for you. For many people, when they don't see the flexibility autonomy and choice or when they do not feel seen and heard by their employers, or there's these back-to-office mandates and what they're wanting is flexibility, autonomy and choice, they're choosing in a different way to work.  And that's the difference.

Brett:  And so if you're looking for talent, you would recommend highlighting flexibility, autonomy, and choice as a key component of any job opportunity?

Ms. Mangia:  And your say/do ratio must match.  So if you tell me that you offer flexibility, autonomy and choice, and I go read on Glassdoor that that's just something they tell people they hire, but everyone's in the office 5 days a week.  Or it's only true if you work for the CEO, but everybody else is in the office, you're not gonna get candidates.  I mean, people do more research than ever before because they expect what you say and what you do to match perfectly.  

Brett:  So what are some of the things that employers can be doing to make a more equitable, remote place to work? Are there any sort of tricks or best practices that we should be thinking about while building remote companies to not accidentally remove opportunities from folks?

Ms. Mangia:   Get curious.  Ask do not assume, right? So if we're sitting around virtual conference room table, as a leadership team, and we're making decisions for the employees in our organization when was the last time we asked them at what point of their work day or employment journey would they like, more flexibility, autonomy and choice? What choices would they view as favorable? What might we be missing? Then when we talk about the choices that we would launch in light of that deep listening and new use cases, how many employees are at the table helping to shape how those choices look and get rolled out? And so get more curious. Ask different questions.  Put employees at the table with you to help create choices that reconcile the gap between what you as an employer are willing to offer and what your employees now expect.  That diagram is beautiful right in the middle, where we reconcile a set of choices that we all say, we can live at this.  This seems good.  I mean, for me, it comes down to being able to ask 3 questions, maybe a bonus question.  Does it have to be me? Does it have to be me right now? Does it have to be a meeting? So we can all find space. Right? If you got a phone call right now, in the middle of our recording that somebody you cared about was in a massive car accident in the hospital you would unapologetically hang up, not work, find space, and go deal with that. Right? It's that we wait so often for people to give us permission to do what we know we need to do to care for ourselves.  And when we can bring those conversations into the open and say, you know what really helps me perform at my best? Being trusted to manage my day that I'll get my work done, whether I'm sitting in the office or sitting at home.  You know, it's really helpful for me to be able to communicate that I'm not myself today and what I need to do is go take a bike ride and bring some things back into balance.  And normalize having that conversation and it starts with leaders.  

Brett:  I would say a lot of the cues and signals for the types of interactions that you just described seeing someone who's stressed out or overworked are nonverbal. Right? Literally, you look tired.  Are you okay? You seem stressed.  Someone's chewing on their nails or clenching, you know, they have avoid knuckles. Right? Cues that perhaps are more challenging in a remote environment than in a physical one.  And so what are some things that remote companies and managers can be doing to try to capture these situations, you know, despite being remote.  And how do you actually think the tools will change in the coming years to help us be more aware of these signals?

Ms. Mangia:  Separate the signal from the noise.  And here's what happens.  You know, we get maybe the employee survey data and you have a one-on-one with an employee or you notice in a meeting they aren't speaking up.  And we don't always ask what I get excited about are the organizations and startups that are using technology and metrics in a thoughtful way to send a specific signal to leaders or to individuals with a recommended action.  And here are a few examples. One is, quite a lot of organizations have added to their benefits.  This could be mental health benefits, tutoring services for your children, concierge services, the free meditation apps.  Utilization is great data of how things are going with your employee experience.  So if you have an employee that in a year has not logged any PTO time, and they're not using any of these mental health benefits or anything else. And then you start to match some of that data against claims, right? I mean, all organizations get healthcare claims data that's anonymous, right? What you will start to see is when these benefits for people are underutilized, it sends you a very strong signal.  So you can there are lots of ways that you can start to look for trends you know, not just that employee pulse rate, but actually program utilization.  There are quite a number of organizations now that are shifting to, you know, the full company shut down for a week.  There is a business that I find to be absolutely mind blowing. That's a startup called the PTO exchange. And they started asking the question, why can't your PTO balance work like your health savings account balance? Meaning, it's budget neutral for a company and so let's pretend that what you value isn't taking some PTO right now, but let's go back to Brett.  You just had an emergency I could donate some PTO to you.  Well, the brain science behind that is I'm gonna feel just as refreshed and awesome as if I'd loved.  What if I could convert some of that PTO balance to pay down my student loan debt? Because I value that more.  It would make my life easier.  What if I could donate that to a not-for-profit and convert it? There are other companies implementing a minimum PTO like you must take it. There's not a maximum, there's a minimum.  These are slight shifts.  There are also a number of organizations that are introducing the concept of wearables.  For example, so many of us have opted in to having some kind of a watch or a device that says, you haven't had a sip of water, you need to take a stub.  This technology the way it's being used now can alert not only employees but employers with these little nudges.  Hey, for 5 nights in a row, you've had meetings on your calendar after 8PM or outside of your working hours. Are you doing okay? Here's a tip to minimize a meeting.  I've got another organization that set the calendar default in their organization, so every 30 minute meeting you schedule, the automatic default, instead of 30 minutes is 25, instead of 60 is 50.  I mean, they just programmed it in, you don't have to think.  There are other nudging things that say, hey, manager enjoyed, we noticed you haven't had a one-on-one with somebody in 3 weeks.  Do you wanna schedule one? I can help.  Hey, I noticed you've been in for back to back meetings. Have you taken a chance to take a walk? There's thoughtful ways that we can use this technology to nudge behavior that may not always be intuitive or when we feel busy, we unintentionally overlook.  Some have gamified this, right? You get rewards for this, and the rewards can be redeemed for super fun things, right? And access, sometimes it's, you know, they wanna have a 30-minute coffee with the CEO, which somebody else says that sounds horrible.  Somebody says I think that sounds awesome.  You know, some of it are things they can do with their families. So people are getting really resourceful about using this concept of engagement as a metric in a different way using what we're used to and feel comfortable with from nudges and wearables to prompt us and remind us, like, hey, do you need to take a break? You haven't connected with someone. You're doing okay?

Brett:  So we're treating the sensors perhaps with our eyes and our ears that we were listening to humans with and now relying on new sensors that, you know, as we merge with the machine for better or worse, you know, the machine needs to be listening and taking our pulse and making sure that the humans that are working in it are not...

Ms. Mangia:  Right.

Brett:  Are not running themselves into the ground.

Ms. Mangia:  Imagine as a leader, if you could get, you know, for example, a report before each of your team meetings that says, 80% of the emails that happened in your team in the last week happened outside of work hours.  Wouldn't you love to be able to ask the team like, why is this happening? You know, the other thing too is some work has been done in a few organizations now, starting to link the kind of correlated benefit between when you actually do take a break or engage in a benefit with higher performance at work in the period following.  Like, when you refresh, you literally get more productive, right? I mean a machine can always be on, but somehow we think as humans we can.  

Brett:  Karen, thank you so much for taking the time to come and drop your knowledge on us. You know, really excited to see what comes in the next couple years. 

Ms. Mangia:  Thank you.  And I feel like I'm leaving with even better vibes than I arrived with.