Looking beyond borders: Key takeaways from Ascent by Oyster 2022

Catch up with the strategies and tips shared at Ascent 2022.

On August 11th, we hosted our second Ascent conference, an all-day virtual event bringing together experts and innovators in the new world of work to share their learnings and insights about the future of the workplace. We heard from People professionals on topics such as culture, well-being, talent acquisition, and DEIB in distributed companies. We also heard from company leaders about the trends and future directions of distributed work and combining business with social impact. 

If you missed the conference last week, or would like to revisit some of the sessions, you can watch the full recordings on demand. We’ve also summarized the key takeaways from the conference below. Company leaders, People teams, and remote workers will find a ton of useful insights on navigating the evolving distributed workplace of the future.

1. The best companies of tomorrow will be distributed companies

In the opening keynote session, Oyster CEO and co-founder Tony Jamous spoke to Gregg Miller, our VP of Product Marketing, about the benefits of distributed work and how global employment platforms like Oyster will support and enable the future of work.

 The major takeaway from Tony’s keynote is that distributed work is better for business, better for people, and better for the planet. It’s better for business because it enables companies to access a much larger talent pool, build diverse teams, become more resilient, and be socially impactful. It’s better for people because people want the freedom and flexibility to choose when and where they work, so they can spend more time with family or do the things they enjoy. It’s better for the planet because it helps reduce density in urban areas, and decreases the pollution caused by unnecessary commuting.

 Companies can unlock these benefits by partnering with a global employment platform (GEP) like Oyster that offers the infrastructure, knowledge base, and software to engage talent from around the world—without the hassle and expense of hiring lawyers, accountants, and payroll providers in each location. With GEPs, “The pool of skilled workers with which you can grow is as wide as the world,” says Tony. Companies can access the best talent in the world while also helping to “narrow the gap between access and opportunity.”

2. To build thriving distributed teams, ensure inclusion, trust, transparency, and alignment

 On the subject of building thriving teams across cultures, time zones, and markets, Oyster’s Stacey Slater hosted a lively panel discussion with Ally Fekaiki from Juno, Brandon Sammut from Zapier, Lona Alia from SafetyWing, and Mark Frein from Oyster. The panelists offered strategies on how to create a cohesive company culture across differences in location and time zone.

First, it’s important to have regular sync meetings at the team and company level. Rotate meeting times to ensure that everyone has a chance to attend at least every other time, and make the recording available as soon as possible so that those who couldn’t attend can watch and respond async. Periodic in-person meetups are also important for building social connections.

To ensure that everyone is on the same page, leaders should be clear and consistent about the company’s mission, vision, and values, so that everyone is aligned and working towards the same goals. When crafting communications, make sure you’re not using idioms that are specific to one part of the world. In other words, be as inclusive as possible. 

Onboarding is a great time to ease someone into the company culture, and it should be tailored to each individual, where possible. Rather than overwhelming new joiners with a lot of information all at once, the focus should be on making them feel welcome at both the team and company level.

Finally, trust and transparency are foundational to successful distributed teams. Whether it’s making board meeting minutes available or providing visibility into key company metrics, it’s important to treat people as mature enough to handle honesty and transparency about what’s going on in the business. 

3. Looking after mental health and well-being is crucial in remote and distributed settings 

As companies embrace the possibilities of remote and distributed work, the workplace is becoming increasingly demanding in its pace and complexity. It’s no wonder that employees are struggling with stress, anxiety, impostor syndrome, and burnout. 

During the fireside chat about mental health in remote and distributed teams, Oyster’s Rhys Black spoke to Scott Shute, a coach and author who partners with organizations to mainstream mindfulness and operationalize compassion in the workplace.

Scott explained that by removing the separation between work and life, remote work has made it harder for people to disconnect. Moreover, in a distributed environment, it’s easier for people to start comparing themselves with their perception of the polished persona a colleague presents on a Zoom call—which can lead to impostor syndrome. As a result, the primitive part of our brain, which evolved a ‘negativity bias’ for survival in the past, kicks into high gear and floods the brain with stress hormones.

 Scott believes that companies can take better care of their workforce by providing resources around mental health and well-being. At the organizational level, cultural norms, processes, and policies should reflect a fundamental ethic of care for employees. Finally, companies should always clarify their purpose so that employees can connect the work they do to a higher sense of purpose and meaning, and ideally, the good they’re doing in the world.

4. Evaluate candidates on their skills and potential, not just their experience or work history

In the panel on evaluating global talent that doesn’t “fit the mold,” Oyster’s Eryn Marshall was joined by Tyler Parson from Chili Piper, Roy Baladi from Jobs for Humanity, and Cameron Brown from Niya to discuss how to better attract, engage with, and evaluate underrepresented global talent.

The panelists shared their insights on how to build more inclusive recruitment and hiring strategies for assessing refugees, neurodivergent talent, single moms, the formerly incarcerated, people with non-linear work histories or non-traditional educational backgrounds, and others. They believe it’s best to focus on skills and the potential to succeed in the role, rather than looking for linear work experience in a particular area, and to focus on the culture-add rather than the culture-fit. 

For instance, job descriptions could be written in a more inclusive way by focusing on the skills required for the role. When it comes to interviewing, a traditional interview could be replaced by skills assessments for technical roles, and case studies, portfolios, or behavioral interviews for non-technical roles. These alternative assessment methods would allow candidates to show what they’re capable of, rather than being penalized for not having the “right” kind of experience on their resume. 

Finally, hiring managers and recruiting teams need to be aware of their biases, and incorporate tools and processes that will help to reduce bias. Ultimately, people with diverse backgrounds and experiences bring value to organizations in ways that can’t be easily recognized on a resume. 

5. Companies must demonstrate positive impact in order to attract and retain customers, employees, and investors

 In recent years, there’s been a noticeable “values shift” as people have begun to think critically about what companies they want to buy from and work for. Investors, too, are starting to favor companies that can clearly articulate a positive impact on the world. In order to attract customers, employees, and investors, companies are adapting by becoming more conscious of ESG and impact.

In the session on ESG, impact, and making a difference on a global scale, Oyster co-founder Jack Mardack spoke to Xavier Langlois from Beamery, Frances Edmonds from HP Canada, and Karen Craggs-Milne from ThoughtExchange about how and why companies need to step up on ESG, sustainability, and social impact.

The panelists shared that they’ve seen increasing pressure from employees, shareholders, and investors on questions of ESG, sustainability, and impact. Xavier shared that prospective customers sometimes reach out to Beamery specifically because of their ESG work. In the case of HP Canada, Frances reported a three-fold increase in new sales directly as a result of their sustainability leadership. By showing that sustainability is good for business, it’s possible to put pressure on competitors to step up as well, she said, which creates a virtuous cycle of companies trying to do more and do better.

Regarding the increased public conscious of social justice issues, Karen explained that organizations are no longer seen as neutral. Companies have a corporate responsibility to pick a side and take action. Frances added that it’s not just a company’s values or operations that should be scrutinized, but also those of their suppliers, vendors, trade associations, etc.—so you can start to influence the entire ecosystem that sustains the business.

6. Culture building should be strategic, intentional, and embedded in the company’s operating system 

In today’s new world of work, there’s a variety of different workplace configurations ranging from office-first to hybrid to remote-first and fully distributed, and these differences in organizational structure and workplace design have a huge impact on how to approach building culture.

For our panel on creating culture, Oyster’s Lisa Paredes was joined by Heather Doshay from SignalFire, Cara Brennan Allamano from Lattice, and Kim Rohrer from Oyster to share their experiences as People leaders building culture in a variety of workplace settings.

Lisa and Kim clarified that culture is not built by People teams alone. Every person in the company plays a role in building culture, and every behavior and interaction contributes to the social norms within an organization. That said, company leaders and People teams can be strategic and intentional about shaping and influencing the culture in the way that aligns with their mission and values. People teams can create inputs and structures to facilitate the right kinds of interactions, and design systems and processes to redirect things if they go off track.

Heather pointed out that culture is not just something that can be tacked on through random initiatives like happy hours, awards, or perks and benefits. Rather, culture must be embedded into the company infrastructure—the way it operates, the systems and processes people experience every day. For example, that might mean being intentional about async work and having good meeting hygiene. Kim offered onboarding as another example. Ideally, the onboarding process should make people feel welcome and address any challenges a new employee might experience with remote onboarding.

7. DEIB efforts should be ambitious and strategic in order to drive meaningful change and sustainable results

In today’s world, companies that want to be truly representative need to have a clear DEIB strategy. In the Ascent panel on DEIB strategies for distributed teams, Oyster’s Kim Rohrer spoke to Erin L. Thomas from Upwork, Avantha Arachchi from A-Frame Brands, and Aubrey Blanche from Culture Amp about how to drive results with DEIB efforts.

How can companies get started with DEIB work? Avantha suggested taking stock to see where things stand in order to figure out where to go. That might mean collecting data and doing surveys, for instance. Erin added that in addition to collecting demographic data, leaders should also take into account qualitative or experiential data: “the richness and insights from conversations you have with your team members.”

Kim emphasized the importance of having a clear strategy for how to approach diversity and equity within a company, whether it’s in terms of hiring, promotion, compensation, and so on. Erin agreed and explained that diversity work is highly operational and part of a change management process. In order to be sustainable and result in meaningful change, DEIB efforts need to be ambitious, intentional, and organization-wide, with a strong commitment from leadership as well as a culture of accountability.

On a more concrete and tactical level, Aubrey said it’s important to provide specific guidance to ensure the success of DEIB efforts. For instance, instead of asking people to be “inclusive,” give them granular advice on specific behaviors that create a culture of inclusion, such as adding pronouns to a Zoom profile. By working at the individual level as well as the organizational level, companies can eventually achieve their DEIB goals.

The future of work is here

The world of work is evolving at an incredible pace, and the conference highlights above are only a snapshot of the great insights shared by our Ascent panelists about the distributed future of work, and the trends around workplace culture, wellbeing, impact, and more. If you’d like to hear more, feel free to enjoy the recordings and please join us in building the workplace of the future.

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