Whitney has been the Vice President of Talent and Culture at CallRail for close to four years, where she and her team manage the full employee life cycle. CallRail is a business communications and analytics platform that helps businesses improve customer experience and marketing performance, with over 180,000 businesses utilizing the tech.
Some of the big questions: How will we determine the best places to work in a hybrid workplace? Does a work-from-home stipend help or harm company culture? How can we reconfigure the employee handbook in a hybrid world, and is it really necessary?
There’s more, of course, but you have to listen to learn. Drop your thoughts in the comments!
Listening Time: 34 minutes
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Ladies and gentlemen, this is William Tincup. You are listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Whitney on from CallRail. We’re actually going to be talking about something really, really interesting, especially timely that we’re talking about. It’s the intersection of best places to work in a hybrid work. I’ve won several best places to work awards in my past, so this is going to be a fun bit because part of best place to work is the word place, which we used to… Pre-COVID, we’d put a lot of emphasis on the place. So Whitney, would you do the audience a favor and me a favor and introduce both yourself and introduce CallRail as well?
Yeah, for sure. Happy to be here. So, my name is Whitney Bennett. I am the vice president of talent and culture at CallRail. I have been at CallRail for almost four years. Myself and my team manage the full employee life cycle at CallRail. CallRail is a business communications and analytics platform that helps businesses improve customer experience and marketing performance. We have over 180,000 businesses that utilize CallRail today.
Well, there you go. So, best places to work, which historically has been… For those that are listening that maybe haven’t won the award are going after it, historically, again, pre-COVID, it was a mixture of at or above market rates and compensation and benefits, work environment as a place where people would go, and employee satisfaction, or some combination of those types of things. But one of them, at least one of the legs of the stool was the environment, the work environment being place. Now that we’re all reconstituted and thinking about hybrid and how we’re going to look at flexibility in the future, what is that going to look like in the future? Whitney, let’s start with, A, do you think the award goes forward as best place to work? Or what’s your take on just how all these two things are going to come together?
Yeah. It’s funny, the awards are nice, but really, as an HR person, I love it because of the surveys they do, so I get a ton of really good feedback.
I think it is going to stay best place. I feel pretty strongly that it’s more about the people than it is the place and the connectedness that you feel to the organization regardless of where you’re working from.
Right. So the employee satisfaction part, that survey part, we might get deeper there, but it might go into collaboration and communication. Some other things that maybe we didn’t touch on is maybe less about the ping pong table or the keg or lunches or things like that, which, again, no harm, no foul. Those are all great things, but maybe less about those things and more about how we facilitate great work.
I think so. At CallRail, we really love Mario Kart. I think a good antidote is we did have one team that what they did during COVID was their morning commute, they would all get online and play Mario Kart together before the day started. So I think it’s about getting creative with how you can connect with people and still produce really good work even if you’re not in the same room.
You mentioned the word commute and I got to get your take on this because I’ve talked to recruiters and candidates about this in the last month or so, and there’s this reflux to the word, not acid reflux. It’s just kind of a reflux to the word commute. People are leaving it out of job descriptions. Recruiters are having a difficult time talking about commute in a way that we would have normally. Again, pre-COVID, the office that you’d be going to is 45 minutes for your house or an hour from your house. That’s not a big deal. Now, it’s harder to sell or at least what I’m getting from recruiters, it’s harder to sell that. Have you-
Yeah. Go ahead.
I was going to say, I think that’s interesting because with CallRail, we used to very much talk about we’re in the heart of downtown. There’s a bike locker in our parking garage. There is MARTA station super close by. We cover the cost of any of that. So if you want to drive and park, we’ll pay for your parking. If you want to bike, we pay for access to the locker. We’ll pay for MARTA. Now, it is the one thing people talk about the most is, “I’m not looking forward to commuting.” And so, we still talk about how we pay for those things, but I think we definitely lean on it less than when we used to.
But you’re going to play something else up. And so, because you deal with culture, what are the things that you think? Again, all this is a bit experimental and we are early stage, so it’s not like you’re going to have the recipe for success for everyone. I think that’s fair. But what are you trying now? What do you think that’s resonating or you feel like resonating with candidates right now and employees, both?
Yeah. So, we were talking a little bit before this, and this was actually our first week of piloting our soft opening and what is hybrid going to look like. Something we started doing during the pandemic when we all went home and have now continued to offer to candidates is a stipend, where you can spend the money to get your home office the way you need it in order to produce the best work. We didn’t really put a lot of restrictions around it. So, some people did buy a desk and a chair, but we had a lot of people buy plants or buy a coffee machine or other things like that to help it mirror the environment they’re used to in the office. I think giving people the leeway to get creative with benefits like that has really been helpful.
You used the word flexibility earlier. Do you think this is really ultimately a game of being flexible with both candidates and employees? Maybe one week it’s three days a week. Maybe the next week it’s one day. Maybe the next day or the next week, it’s all days. Do you think it’s just going to be a game of how you’re flexible to their needs, but also the keeping an eye on the work has to get done? So ultimately, we’re all judged based on the work getting done. But I remember, again, pre-COVID how people were inflexible, even with somebody who needed to pick up their kids and it was kind of a thing like, “I got to ask off. I got to do this, go through this whole process.” Well, I think COVID helped in some regards. It was some of that. But do you think that flexibility is going to be a part of not just the way that you manage, but also the way that businesses should manage?
I do. I think a lot of this remote work or hybrid workplace is really just going to become table stakes instead of this fancy new benefit that people are offering lack.
Yeah. You know what’s funny is I’m laughing because I’m thinking of people that are coming out of maternity leave or paternity leave, and their flexibility to then be able to stay with their kid and sit with their child and yet still get work done. Yeah, it’s going to be a little off peak and schedule is going to be a little interesting, but they could still get it done. So yeah, that would have been a radical benefit pre-COVID.
Yes. Well, and I have three children and they have not seen the inside of a school since last March, so I feel for everyone out there. I am so thankful for summer camp. God bless you, summer camp.
Please don’t go away.
To speak to maternity leave and paternity leave, we actually just changed ours to be family leave and it’s not gender-specific. So, everybody gets the same 12 weeks off.
You are fully paid when you come back. But for the first month, that’s just three days a week to figure out what works. I think the great thing about CallRail is even pre-pandemic, something that was in our culture statements was we value the work, not necessarily where you do it. So, get the work done. I had someone on my team, she spent the majority of the pandemic in Mexico. She was like, “This is where I’m going to be. I’m living my best life.” She is our culture manager, which is huge during the pandemic and everything worked out just fine.
Is she coming back?
She could actually come back.
[inaudible 00:10:08]. I envy her. Personally, I know that might [inaudible 00:10:14] have done it better is right at the pandemic, he and his family moved to the Cayman Islands.
That’s amazing. Yeah. She rented out her home in Atlanta and it’s available again, so she did come back to see also, “What do I want to do? Do I want to be in the office at all? Do I want to go back?” But it was 100% her decision.
Wow. That is fantastic. How do you manage culture? I mean, not just how did she do it, but just advice for your peers, how do you manage culture in a remote? Again, for better, for worse, when everyone’s in an office, you can do things in an office. You can celebrate. Again, this is historic. You can celebrate birthdays. You can go out. You can do a dance. You can do all this kind of stuff. But if people are truly remote and working from anywhere in the world, how do you foster that sense of culture?
I think that is something that we really leaned into while we were remote, and I think for a couple reasons, because it’s not just about culture, kind of what you said, the ping pong tables, the free lunches, it’s also the mental wellness. So at the same time that we were all going through a pandemic, a lot of people were also experiencing the racial tensions that were happening in our country at the same time, and really making sure that all of the employees were taken care of because we’re experiencing all of this in isolation. So I think HR really had the opportunity during the pandemic to step up and show that HR is not the stereotypical, “We’re here to get you in trouble.” We’re here to partner with leadership. We’re here to make sure employees are okay. I think if HR and honestly leadership at companies didn’t lean into that, it was a big miss.
So, we really focused on wellness in the beginning, encouraged people to turn it off. We leaned into our employee resource groups to host events, make sure people were okay. During Mental Health Month, we gave everyone access for three months to headspace. So, they could have that. We set it up. Every morning, we all did headspace together for whoever wanted to do it. With events, actually, the company that catered for us and did our lunches every Tuesday, they pivoted and started doing remote events. So we did several remote events together. We did an improv show that worked really well. We had an honestly real cool magic show, which I don’t think I’ve ever said that sentence before, real cool magic show, but it was really cool. And then every team did their own event, where this company would mail you everything you needed to cook a dinner together remotely, or everything you needed to do a wine tasting together remotely. So we hosted several of those throughout the year.
First of all, I love all those. Those are great examples for folks that either did those things or trying to figure out hybrid going forward, because one of the things that they’re going to be trying to figure out is what does the culture look like. You mentioned that in your department are getting people in trouble and there is a stereotype around HR, but one of those things is actually really important. It’s compliance. I mean, compliance, usually, you’re driven with the laws that are governing either your state or the federal government, et cetera. And so, there’s things that you can and can’t do. Got it. There’s an employee handbook, where we all sign off on. Got it. We could mock that, or if you want to, we’ll do a different podcast just to mock the employee handbook.
But in all seriousness, most employees, they need guide rails. They need some type of guidance on what they can and can’t do, or should and shouldn’t do, et cetera. How do you reconfigure that in a hybrid world? Conceptually and maybe you’ve already worked it out, but how do you create what looks like compliance or an employee handbook, or really even if you don’t even want to use those words, just guide rails?
Yeah. I mean, those are the words, right? So you have to use them. I have definitely worked a company, where it’s like section A, two, one, and [crosstalk 00:14:55].
So paragraph. Yeah.
Yeah. Now, honestly, most of my policies are like, “Hey, can we just be cool and just do this thing?” It is getting complex though, because before the pandemic, we did not hire people not in Georgia. Now, I’m having to work with our attorneys to update all our employee agreements to be state-specific and all of the states we’re hiring in now. I do think one of the great things about CallRail is we hire people that are adults. We trust them to do their job, and for the most part, they don’t disappoint us. We are creating a policy right now for people to travel to come to the CallRail office, because there are plenty of people who have never been there before.
I asked my boss. I was like, “What do you want me to write? Do we limit the days? Do we limit the costs?” He was like, “Let’s just lead with trusting people first. Let’s write something out, but let managers figure out what works best for them, and we’ll do that.” And that’s what we’ve done with the hybrid approach, too. It’s not the CEO saying, “Everybody come in five days a week.” No one will ever have to come in five days a week if they don’t want to. We’re letting the managers figure out what their team during the soft opening phase what works best for them.
First of all, I love the values, leading with those values of just trust the employee to make the right decision. If they don’t, well, then you can always deal with it after that. How have you found the retention of your talent and also the attraction of your talent? The questions that people are asking in terms of hybrid or remote work and getting to the best place to work, what does that look like? Now, we’re looking at work differently. You’ve already eloquently talked about like, “We just want people to do their best work, be their best version of themselves wherever they are and however that is. Work is going to be the work.” How do you see that both play out in a hybrid world from a retention perspective? And then also on the attraction, you’ve got to hire folks. You’re going to get asked, if not already, you’re getting asked questions about your philosophy around work.
So like everyone else in the universe, it feels like right now, we are hiring.
It has always been difficult, I think, in certain areas. Dev has always been a hot job, I think will always be. So we have had to get creative, I feel like if I’m being honest, because we are now competing against the whole world when we weren’t before, because everybody is open to hiring remotely for the most part. We do get that question a lot. I think we have seen some exits from people that want to work fully remote. However, the exits were preemptive because they exited before we said what we were going to do. So I do think that that is something that we are going to have to contend with. What I’ve said to managers is if we’re going to ask people to come in, we need to be super intentional about the why. And that’s been our theme for 2021 like, “Make sure people know why with everything we are doing and let’s make it count. Let’s not waste people coming in just because you want to see butts in seats and see what the work there’s doing. That’s not going to get the people that we want to come work here.”
I think we will possibly struggle because we’re not saying if you live in Atlanta and necessarily you’re fully remote, we’d like to see you sometimes. There might be events or there might be sprint planning or something. So I think it’s just going to be interesting to see how it plays out. When people come back to work and interact with people, do they like it and do they want it? People who don’t want to do that are going to continue to seek out remote positions.
Right. Yeah. We almost taught ourselves where we can do this in a lot of positions that maybe we wouldn’t have looked at pre-pandemic. Some people flourish there and some people don’t and are just been waiting for an office to open up, even if it’s in a flexible way. I want to be able to leave my home office and go to a place and be around other people, be around other adults, et cetera. So I think that, again, it comes back to some flexibility in both marketing the job before doing with candidates and saying, “We are headquartered here. We have an office. We’d love for you to come. But if your best self and your best work comes from you’re working remotely, great, fantastic. The work is you’ve prioritized, I wish I probably should think that we probably should have always prioritized. The work has to get done. It has to get done at a high level. Do you notice any difference in generations? Has anything sussed out at either the retention of talent or even the recruitment or the attraction of talent?
I don’t think generationally. I do think job-specific it has. I think people who do engineering, they want to stay remote for the most part. They’ve thrived in that environment. I think people that are in HR and marketing want to be with the people more because we are internal customer-facing or external customer-facing and we thrive off of that energy. Something that I have found super interesting that I wonder is CallRail-specific, we actually told our whole customer support team, “You can be remote fully. You don’t have to come in. It’s totally fine.” A large majority of them have chosen to come in, which I think is super interesting. I do think for some roles, support and sales, when it’s inside sales, inside support, you do learn a lot hearing other people around you on the phone talking to customers.
Yeah, I could see that. It’s almost like you’re not just observing, but this is some of your training. When you’re remote, you don’t get the same energy. I worked in a sales environment, where I sold in front of 20 other people. It was interesting because they would be selling in front of me as well. From a sales perspective, there’s a universe of nos. The faster you learn, the universe of nos the better. If you’re doing it solo, you’ll still learn them, you’ll still get there, it just takes longer. So, I can see that. I can see that in support. That makes sense to me. Let ask you about awards, HR awards for this best places to work, great places to work, things like that. Have they ever been important to you in the past? In the future, do you think it helps you going forward with any of those awards?
So, it’s interesting. I did see the awards modified their process a little bit this year. So there was sections explicitly on diversity, equity and inclusion, and then explicitly on how did the company handle the pandemic. I would say from an employee feedback standpoint, those things are always going to be super important to me, and to get that anonymous feedback from employees so we can determine where we focus is always going to be super valuable. I think from a recruiting standpoint, people look at that when they’re going to interview from companies and want to see that you’ve won a best place award and want to know why you’re the best. It does get attention from people, but I don’t know that I need to continue to receive all the awards. That’s probably not the right answer, but…
No, I think that, first of all, it’s the right answer because you feel that way, A. B, I think a lot of HR leaders are starting to feel this about awards in general. Well, they come from a good place because it’s indicative of your compensation strategy. You get a ton of feedback, either anonymous or otherwise. You get a bunch of feedback that you can then do something with. Yeah, it is kind of nice to put it in front of somebody and say, “We are an employer of choice. We are a best place to work,” whatever you want to call that. I think it’s going to be really interesting to see from my perspective how candidates look at those awards in the future and whether or not they care or whether or not they care about the job. I care about the company and the company being great, but I also care about my work and my role, my manager, that type of stuff. So some of that’s encapsulated in an award and some of it is not.
It’ll be interesting to see, too, the award, the process continue to change and are flexible over time as the way we look at work changes.
I like that you brought up diversity and inclusion and also some of the social things that are going on. Again, dealing with best places to work in a hybrid work, how have you all found communicating and talking to people? I know you said your ERG is… That you do a lot of work there, which also helps recruit. I would tell people that your ERGs are either way both can be great recruiting tools for folks, but how have you found, as an HR person, just talking about these things that are going on with your employees and with candidates?
So I think it’s very much a getting comfortable with being uncomfortable situation and you just have to do it, especially I am a white female. I know you can’t see that on your podcast, but that is what I am. A lot of these issues have to deal with struggles that people are experiencing that are black or Asian, and I just have to know that I don’t know everything. We have really called on external consultants to come and help us, and have done a lot of training on how to hold space for people on conversations about race and how to get comfortable being uncomfortable and what is your role in this conversation and things like that. I think that has really helped, because when you bring someone in from the outside, they don’t necessarily have preconceived notions about the organizations and can help you figure what the best practice should be.
I love that phrase, be comfortable with being uncomfortable. That’s genius. Actually, as I’ve talked to people, you can see this as the world’s falling apart, all of that stuff. It seems like everyone’s got an axe to grind or everyone’s got an opinion about something. Cancel culture in general is really fascinating on some level. I’ve approached it very similar to you in that this is a great time to learn. This is just a wonderful… You’ve been given a wonderful moment to then listen and learn, ask questions, not be the authority on anything or everything, and then do something with it, because I think that is going to be a part of the role of allies is, okay, you got to do… It’s great that you get to listen and learn and all that stuff. However, it does come down to action at one point or another.
I think that you can’t necessarily shy away from it, the days where it was, “No, we don’t talk about this. This is work and we need to keep it professional.” But we’re also telling people to bring their whole self to work. A lot of people’s whole self is hurting and you can’t just not acknowledge that in some way. And so, I think it’s really important for companies to not just post a black square or not say, “We care about it.” They need to back it up with actions.
Yeah. Yeah. It’s interesting when people talk about want to bring their whole self to work. I mean, in theoretically, I agree, but because I’m such a dark person, I’m not sure that people really want the full me. I mean, I’m making fun of myself, of course, but it’s… Theoretically, I understand it and I respect it. In practice, I’m not sure that personally. I’m not sure that people would really want to know what’s going on in my head all the time.
That’s fair. I love my true crime podcast. So, no. Do people want to talk murder with me? Probably [crosstalk 00:29:07]. You don’t want HR to be [crosstalk 00:29:08].
Actually, I do. See-
I know, right?
… you’ve found another date line.
If we can see somebody die, this is going to be fantastic. I get we’re making fun of that, but that’s not necessarily the bit. We’re talking about people having to hide parts of themselves.
Yes. Yeah. Yeah. Yeah.
I think just knowing that if someone’s work is suffering and typically their body of work is very good, maybe just don’t go straight to discipline or, “What the heck is wrong with you?” What is actually around them to affect this and how can you help them get in a better place.
I think that’s just smart just to… I mean, again, partly, part of the job is to be empathetic. One of the things we did learn from the pandemic, thank God, is just to be a little bit more empathetic as to what people are going through, and then just asking questions, just being there in general. When people are going through something, “Hey, listen, I’m here.” And just letting people have the space to consume whatever trauma they were going through. Whitney, one last question on the way out is the way and advice that you give your peers around transparency. What’s your bit and how do you approach it and advice that you just give people like yourself?
I think that people need to… Especially in a hybrid environment, overcommunication is always better than undercommunication. You want to make sure people are finding out the same things at the same time no matter where they’re located. The same way we talked earlier about trust first, I think also assume good intent first. And then if that’s not the case, okay, correct for it, but just realize everyone’s a person and people are going through things and be empathetic, kind of like you just said, and also hold people accountable, but do all those other things as well.
Right. I think you said something really important in terms of, “You know what, we are going to talk. We are going to talk about things.” There isn’t technically probably some subjects that you’re probably not going to talk about, but by and large, the things that we’d put in a box before and pay equity. Let’s just deal with something relatively controversial. We all know we have pay equity issues, but we don’t… Pre-COVID, we might not have opened up Pandora’s box and talked about it, or at least as openly. Now, I find leaders like yourself, I find them a little bit more apt to like, “Yeah, let’s talk about it. You know what, it’s not going to go away by not talking about it, so we may as well.”
Some of the silver linings out of the pandemic have gotten us to a place, where you know what, it’s okay. Let’s talk about it. Let’s talk about some of these more difficult topics. Maybe not every topic we’ll talk about, but some of the ones that maybe had a little taboo around them. Yeah. I think we’re going to see a little bit more willingness from the C-suite and board and everyone else to then have those discussions and put plans in place to fix it.
Totally agreed. I think the other thing, you mentioned maternity leave earlier. I think seeing everyone’s kids this year pop up on Zoom and see… There’s a humanizing effect to all of that, and I think it also made my team, in particular, much closer. We had so many fricking babies on our calls all the time. It was just like, “This is what we’re doing. We’re doing it. Let’s go.”
Yeah. My kids, I remember doing webinars and having the door shut and, “Don’t come in,” this, that, and the other. Now, it’s like if my kids come in, and so they come in and it’s just a part of it. There’s no weirdness. I mean, again, this is a year and a half later. There’s no weirdness to it at all. Somebody cat’s on the Zoom call, yeah, it is what it… I don’t even think about it anymore. It’s just a part of it, which is a wonderful place for us to be that we’ve finally gotten to this place where we can accept people, that they’re not perfect.
Yes, everyone is fallible, even HR.
Great way to close right there. So, hey, Whitney, thank you so much for your time and your wisdom. Also, thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.