“Our CEO put out a survey on Slack and asked, ‘When [the pandemic] is all over, what do you want to do? Do you want to come in a couple of days a week? Do you never want to see any of these people again? Do you want to come back every day?’ And what we found from that was that very few people had any desire whatsoever to return to an in-person workplace.”
Shelly Galvin, Chief People Officer and Director of Philanthropy at CBT Nuggets
March 2020 was a profound shift in how many people work. Jobs required to be in office suddenly had to transition to working from home. While, at first, work from home was thought to be temporary, the return to the office was much slower than anyone anticipated. What was supposed to be a quick two weeks of social distancing turned into months, then years.
At the start of the pandemic, only 5.7 percent (roughly 9 million people) of the population primarily worked from home. This number tripled to 17.9 percent by 2021, according to the new American Community Survey by the US Census. Remote work, which was required by many at the start of the pandemic, saw 35 percent of employed workers reporting that they had worked from home in May 2020.
Going forward, 91 percent of U.S. workers that spend at least some time working from home “hope their employer will continue to offer them flexible work options” going forward. The US Census forecasts 25 to 30 percent of the U.S. workforce will work from home one or more days a week after the pandemic.
With so many employees enjoying the benefits of working from home, employers have faced the option of forcing people back into the office or changing how they run their business. One of the employers’ biggest worries is maintaining high productivity levels while encouraging collaboration, innovation, and creativity in a virtual environment. Curiously enough, that has not come to fruition the way some employers have feared.
CBT Nuggets, a Eugene, Oregon-based IT company, has weathered this transition like many other technology and software companies nationwide. Along the way, they have learned what does and doesn’t work with working from home, and have listened to their employees’ needs and wants. Keep reading to learn from their chief people officer and director of philanthropy, Shelly Galvin, on how they have used the hybrid work model to grow their company and improve staff satisfaction.
Shelly Galvin is the chief people officer and director of philanthropy at CBT Nuggets, an online IT training company. In this role, she oversees the company’s global social impact programs and all things employee-related, from retention to engagement, finance, and facilities.
Before this role at CBT Nuggets, she served as the company’s director of engagement and corporate social responsibility and corporate social responsibility director. She is passionate about making a difference in her community and creating meaningful change through social impact finance initiatives.
“CBT Nuggets is an online IT education platform. We offer monthly subscriptions for access to the platform to study for certifications or to learn different things in tech,” explains Galvin. “We believe in empowering people to be at the helm of their destiny. If you want to change your life, switch careers, stay current with new tech, or learn something new, we have that for you.”
Founded in the 90s, CBT Nuggets grew over the years to offer more training videos, all the while adding staff and increasing their physical office space. “We had a big office on the river. It was like one of these Google concepts with an open floor plan and Nerf darts speeding past your head regularly. People were always stopping by your desk to chat. We provided lunch every day, had a golf simulator, ping pong, shuffleboard, and the biggest TV I’ve ever seen,” remembers Galvin. “We had almost 200 people working for us, all in the office. We did have a few that worked in far-off places, but those were mainly our trainers. We were very Eugene-centered.”
Employees’ feelings about the concept varied: “I think many people liked it because it had this exciting feeling. Every time the sales team would have a big win, you’d hear them cheering. Come lunchtime, you could go to our gym and do a yoga or cage fitness class,” remembers Galvin. “The main complaint that people started having was that it was hard to be productive because there’s stuff going on all day. As a company, we invested in headphones so people could focus and work. I’d often have to put myself in one of the breakout rooms when I was crunching on a big project or working at home at night to finish things because I’d spent too much time fielding folks coming by to chat or getting distracted by people’s dogs.”
“I think everybody loves that kind of environment, but it wasn’t conducive to a high level of productivity and was super hard for our creatives who need quiet to focus,” she says. “So I think that, while it’s really fun to have an office like that and have that vibe, I don’t think that’s what makes a company super successful.”
Like many companies, everything changed in March 2020. “I’ll never forget that day. We were getting news about the pandemic, and everyone was nervous. They made the call that everybody in our office should go home and bring whatever stuff they needed to be able to work. They told us to bring your office chair, bring the stand you put your laptop on, bring your second or third screens home with you, your keyboards, your mouse, even desks,” says Galvin. “Everyone just brought stuff home, and it was like a ghost town in there. It was a very awkward, empty feeling in that huge two-floor building.”
However, they could have never anticipated how it would all play out. “At first, I think people were under a lot of stress, just from what was happening in the world. But what we found, once the scare of the pandemic metabolized, was that productivity immediately went way up. People found that they were being very productive and really like this idea that they can work from home,” says Galvin. “We had a huge engineering team, and because they were distracted with the office vibe, we found we had too many people.”
As employees spent more time working from home, they realized they had more options. “All of a sudden, we had folks looking for new jobs and people leaving the company for new roles. We ended up having natural attrition at that point that helped us right-size our team and enabled us to tighten up our ship and get lean and mean,” shares Galvin. “And we started making more money.”
What was meant to be a few weeks at home became a permanent change at CBT Nuggets. “Our CEO put out a survey on Slack and asked, ‘When this thing is all over, what do you want to do? Do you want to come in a couple of days a week? Do you never want to see any of these people again? Do you want to come back every day?’ And what we found from that was that very few people had any desire whatsoever to return to an in-person workplace,” shares Galvin. “We had a few folks like our finance team who liked being in the office and had work that had to be done in person, but ultimately it was very few people. We just have a handful of folks that come into the office every day now.”
When the lease for their office came up for renewal, that allowed them to cement this new work method. “We were at the point with the lease of our big building where it was going to balloon, so it was a great opportunity for us to downsize. We put all the extra furniture up for sale and started looking for a smaller spot. We found an office with enough space for people who wanted to come in again to work and did all of this stuff leading up to when everyone could come back into the office, like a taco party and inviting people to come in and see each other, but it fell flat. Everybody that wanted to be in the office was already working there, and all the other folks wanted to stay home the whole time,” says Galvin. “Now, people will come in from time to time for breakout meetings or just to have a change of scenery, but the bulk of our employees have stayed out.”
CBT Nuggets has embraced the change: “We are now a fully remote company. We started hiring people from all over the US, so now we have employees scattered all over the place, and not all of them can actually come in. We have ended up having very few people that live close to headquarters, and more people every single day that are located in all different places all over the country,” shares Galvin.
The hybrid and remote work model has presented CBT Nuggets with some challenges. “We now require employees to be very autonomous in their ability to work and handle tasks. People that need constant check-ins or someone to give them a list of their tasks every single day don’t work well within our culture anymore,” explains Galvin. “You need to have a really firm grip on how to do your job, what your major projects are, and what your deadlines are. It has put a lot more pressure on us in our hiring to think through what a person who would be successful here looks like?”
Maintaining a team atmosphere has been a persistent challenge for the company. “At first, we tried a lot of online team building, like workshops where people could come, and there’d be something to work on and have a good conversation. But after a while, people just got sick of coming out of focus and spending time on those things,” says Galvin. “So we had to ask ourselves how do we create the environment for people to collaborate on projects in such a way that they get to know each other and feel happy about how their team is working”
What they learned was that it was that company-wide solutions were no longer necessary: “Every once in a while, we have a whole team come into the office, or all stay at a nice hotel or an Airbnb or do dinner, so they can meet in person and build those relationships. We’ve shifted to ensuring they have those opportunities to get together, but it’s no longer about the whole organization getting together,” shares Galvin.
Old ways of doing things have now shifted to online formats that are friendlier to work-from-home employees: “We used to do Nugget Demos at HQ, and someone would talk about a topic. We would record it in case someone couldn’t be there so they could watch it later, and there was a quiz after,” remember Galvin. “Over the last two-and-a-half years, we’ve been innovating a new product, which is a learning management system where you can record your own videos and what we learned is people don’t want to show up to the big team thing anymore. They’d rather just have the opportunity to jump on the platform, watch the video, and ask questions on Slack.”
Motivating staff was another hurdle that the company needed to tackle: “In the past, we had thrown so much money at bells and whistles and fun. We got used to showering people with all of this stuff, and now we had to figure out what excited them. It turned out to be extra money, so we created a profit-sharing plan and started giving people bonuses. People are excited about getting extra money every once in a while because the company is doing well,” she explains.
“With a bonus, people can see immediately that their work is paying off. It allows employees to choose what to do with the extra resources instead of the company choosing what they think you would like to do. It feels like an investment in our team instead of just putting glitter on everything.”