How does an organization adapt when it's suddenly thrust into the limelight? Zoom should know better than most!

February 16, 2022
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Zoom have gone from a platform fighting for space in a busy market, to a verb and a platform synonymous with our global struggle against isolation and the pandemic. What does that do to a business, and where does it go once we're confident of meeting colleagues, friends and family once more?

Our latest series of 'In Conversation With' interviews focuses on the USA technology sector. Working in collaboration with Unleash and Harvey Nash USA, we're able to bring you the best insight from leaders across the sector, starting with Zoom's Head of Talent and Organizational Development, Jodi Rabinowitz. At the end of May our series will draw to a close, just ahead of recruitment, people and talent professionals gather in Las Vegas for Unleash America.

Full transcript of today's episode

Dave Savage: Welcome to today’s episode of ‘In conversation with…’. This fourth series is five episodes focused on the US market in association with UNLEASH America. And I’m very happy to be joined by one of the speakers from that conference today, Jodi, from Zoom. Thank you for your time.

Jodi Rabinowitz: Pleasure to be here. Thanks for inviting me.

DS: Look, before we hit record, you kindly showed us a picture out of the window. It’s a beautiful white morning in Connecticut.

JR: It sure is. It’s snowing and lovely. And it’s good until it ices over.

DS: Absolutely. So look, before we get into anything else, what do you do for Zoom.

JR: My role as head of talent and organizational development means that my team is responsible for Zoomies (Zoom employees), their integration into the company all the way through their careers.

So the second they start, my team is responsible for the onboarding experience, not so much from a benefits perspective, but more for feeling like you’re a part of the community and understanding our values and how things work around here.

We are responsible for the growth, the development, and the engagement of our people. So I say we’re sort of like the happiest part of human resources.

DS: That’s a lovely way to look at it. Certainly in this time, where we’ve been forced to be home, the word ‘happy’ cannot be overstated enough. It’s important.

This might sound like a really stupid question, because quite clearly, Zoom is a video conferencing platform, but there are a number of different enterprise video conferencing platforms out there. And Zoom does feel, I suppose a little bit different from some of the others. Well, how would you characterize it? What would you say that Zoom does as an organization?

JR: I think the reason why we became a verb, noun, adjective, and everything else in the midst of this pandemic, was because our platform is so simple and user-friendly. We’ve got 85-year-old grandmas and grandpas using it, and, you know, five-year-olds using it. It’s just simple.

And I think this platform with chat for people who are introverted to talk, and colored boxes for people who like to talk, who are more extroverted, really creates a sense of inclusion and equity that people haven’t experienced before. So I think just the simplicity, and again, ease of use, and the experience it creates, is a degree of intimacy that has made us so successful.

DS: I think it’s interesting to point out that Zoom has become an adjective for video conferencing in all of its forms. And I mean, it’s such a powerful thing for organizations such as, say, Uber – everyone talks about getting an Uber, whether it’s a taxi or another firm, when did you realize that Zoom was beginning to be more than just ‘Zoom’?

JR: We became the Kleenex of tissues, right? It just showed up everywhere in the press.

I have a subscription to buying cartoons; you put in the subject, and up pop the cartoons that are related to that subject. So I just put in hybrid work and 90% of the cartoons had a reference to Zoom in, in the picture, and the tagline.

So again, we were made for enterprise. We weren’t made for grandmas and five-year-olds, per se. But because it’s so easy, everybody was zooming; birthdays, people were zooming funerals, unfortunately. Zoom had its first adoptions, marriages, court cases. It was just everywhere.

[At Zoom] we have something called Inspired Chat / Inspiring Stories. And Zoomies post inspiring stories that come from everywhere, and that chat channel is just blowing up. So I think that’s when we realized we were truly cooler than we ever knew.

DS: I think it’s really interesting that you stress the point that you were created for enterprise because the surge in use has certainly been in that consumer space.

And I have done quizzes and been on Zoom late at night in the pandemic with family members, and as you said, I know people have been married over it and so on, with people dialing into those big life events, and I suppose the interesting thing is, how do you avoid fatigue in that consumer base, and also translate some of that growth back into the enterprise usage?

If that is the strategy because that might be a bit of a challenge, right? Because it’s become so associated with those life events in the consumer market?

JR: Look, we’re happy they’re not calling it Microsoft Teams fatigue, quite frankly. But, the idea is just the association of being in front of the screen. And, people are fatigued by sitting home in front of a screen, people sometimes feel compelled, depending on your company culture, to keep the screen on.

We teach people to turn [their] screen off, get up, walk around…on Wednesdays, we have no meeting Wednesdays, literally. So, we try to minimize Zoom fatigue, but it’s really code for making sure that you’re doing things to take care of yourself, and you’re not just sitting in front of the screen.

It’s hard for people to feel ‘on’. And as I said, the good part about Zoom is that it creates a level of intimacy and connection and focus, that may not have been as present live, because it kind of demands this [recognition of] ‘you’re looking at me and you’re paying attention’.

And so if you need to contract around shutting your screen off…we say things like ‘sorry, everybody, I’m eating lunch’, and someone’s walking around, and they might be walking around their kitchen. So they’re not present on the screen, but they’re like, I’m listening…those are the kinds of things that we’ve gotten comfortable doing to combat the Zoom fatigue.

DS: I hope this question comes across in the manner which is intended because I don’t want it to appear trite in any way. but you mentioned before we hit record that 15% of Zoomies, as you called them which was new to me today, were remote pre-COVID-19.

And then if we think about it, Zoom became the tool that enabled homeschooling and education, it became the tool that we saw governments use that we saw the World Health Organization use, [so] it’s really been at the heart of society and getting through the last two years.

Now, whilst you mentioned that the organization started as an enterprise, and you would have had company values and cultures, that’s a significant responsibility for an organization to bear for the last two years that is not the same as ‘here’s a video conferencing platform, please use this in your business’. How has that impacted the culture and the thinking of your organization?

JR: You know, it isn’t trite to say that values drive behavior. We hear that a lot, especially in the organizational development world, and in companies who are trying to recruit, but our values around care (care for ourselves, care for our customers, care for our team, care for our community) was so amped up in the midst of this crisis [that] Zoomies were hyper-vigilant around caring for our customers in the midst of this crisis.

But what we forget is that while companies have scaled at rapid rate, none of us have ever experienced a pandemic. I don’t think the two have ever been combined – that rapid scale in the midst of a pandemic, with this hyper responsibility to take care of people.

So in March, just like everybody else, Zoomies went home and Zoomies had kids to homeschool, and Zoomies maybe had family or friends who were sick or died or were out of work.

There was no Zoomy that wasn’t experiencing the effects of the pandemic: loneliness, isolation, like every thing that every non-Zoomy was experiencing. [And] while we had the privilege of keeping the world connected, we took very seriously that we were helping companies keep their employees connected and keep their employees safe.

And so my team’s role ordinarily is to help with growth and development but there was no time for training in the midst of this crisis.

And so change start of sentence what we did was we took an hour and had our tech teams go through a very structured intervention around, ‘how are you doing? How are you taking care of yourselves? What are you learning? What are you learning about each other? What are you learning about your leadership? What do you want to take forward after this crisis?’These were really powerful and positive experiences.

One of the roles we have is business development representative, and their job, non-pandemic, is to fish for leads all day; it’s all they do. Fish, fish, fish. “Hey, do you have Zoom? If not, let’s talk.” But the fish were jumping in the boat, so those employees were deployed to other parts of the organization.

They learned to answer Zendesk tickets, and they learned to fulfill orders in the surge of the business coming in. And so when we say to those Zoomies, what are you learning? Well, they were learning about parts of the business that they never knew, they were meeting people in the business that they never knew.

And, when you think about once the crisis abates, if you were to hire somebody who has had lots of different experiences at Zoom versus an outsider, you probably take the person who has lots of different experiences at Zoom.

And so there were lots of silver linings in the middle of the crisis [where] we stopped and let teams pause and reflect, and rejuvenate and move forward. So it’s been very stressful, but it’s also been really cool.

And, I use the word privilege, because I am – and our Zoomies are – really proud to be a part of the first adoption ever via Zoom, and those kinds of stories.

DS: I suppose, as head of talent and organizational development, it now gives you an enviable headache in as much as, if we ARE coming out of the other side of this now – how do you balance what you’ve been through the last two years, versus perhaps what you were and what you may be, because it might be that you [go] slightly more back to the times where your business development teams need to go looking for leads and so on.

I don’t think we’re ever going to go back to five days a week in an office culture; there will be less time spent on video platforms, people will want to meet in person. And we are moving into a hybrid world where lots of people have gotten used to these platforms. So I suppose there’s a balancing act there for you, right, in terms of – what what is Zoom now?

JR: I can’t imagine that progressive companies that want the best talent will get employees that are required to work in an office five days a week. There’s lots of talk about The Great Resignation, and employees picking employers of choice and employers who may traditionally have said, ‘oh we’re a five day a week kind of place’.

So I don’t think Zoom is ever going away. I think Zoom will, like you said, be part of our nomenclature. And we do have technology where you can be in the office, and have people at home and still have a unifying experience. I think it’s just going to be part of our DNA.

And in terms of, where we were, where we are, where we’re going; We’re so lucky to have all of those experiences in our evolution that have made us more nimble and more adaptable, and also from an HR perspective.

We cannot – and I don’t believe we will – ever go back to a workplace where the word ‘feelings’ doesn’t come into the conversation and understanding the depths of people’s personal lives and their humaneness.

I don’t think we’ll ever be able to go back to that, because we’ve lived it for two years. That’s really positive, you know, to bring that authenticity into the workplace.

I think it’ll be interesting – the balance of how much like we saw a lot of people’s personal lives: before, we saw almost nothing, but I think having the experience of understanding that we’re all human is really positive moving forward.

DS: So you mentioned talent acquisition, in terms of what organizations might look for. I suppose this would be an interesting place to finish – I’d love to just find out whether or not recruiting technology staff for you, as an organization has gotten harder or easier in recent months.

JR: Every single person on my team has been hired online. I’ve met one person on my team live. What do you not get here that you would get if somebody was sitting in a room?

DS: Oh, absolutely. I was just curious, I suppose, if you’re finding the market is more competitive now.

Because it’s such a big pool that you’re fishing in versus the idea that do we need some proximity to the office, and then also, you’ve got the added factor of all of a sudden, you’re a name that everybody knows, whereas prior to the pandemic, perhaps a smaller proportion of the market would have been familiar with your brand.

So, I can make a huge bunch of assumptions about how that’s affecting your hiring, but I don’t really want it to jump to conclusions.

JR: It is an employees’ market. Top talent is always sought after. I think the engineers that get offers at Zoom also get like seven other offers at other companies.

You need to be a compelling employer, outside of salary, you know?

Professional development and career mobility, the culture, all those things are things that candidates are weighing up: are you a company dedicated to diversity and inclusion? How active are your practices? How active are you in your community? I think candidates are really more discerning than ever before. And talent is hard to get.

As you said, you don’t need to be 20 minutes outside the office, the brick and mortar office buildings. Not anymore. It’s hard.

DS: I think there’s some fantastic food for thought there for HR and talent leaders. I really appreciate you taking the time to talk to us today. I know that the conference is obviously coming up in March at the end of March so I hope that you enjoy that as well.

JR: Thank you so much. And I appreciate the honor of being part of your platform and having a voice on behalf of Zoom.

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