Hybrid work deep dive: A view from Mixpanel’s global HR leader

Hybrid staff can sometimes be considered professional jugglers: running from one household errand to another while still tending to the requirements of their professional work.
That’s one of the reasons hybrid employers are often hailed as an ideal place.
A believer in finding the proper balance between remote and onsite work, Hsuan fondly mentions her typical “very structured” day, with a schedule that is typically dictated by her two young children.
She goes to the office just once a week, or once every fortnight, because for her, “it saves me a commute, I get to see my children more. And there are other (professional) benefits to that.”
This, and more of her insights on the emerging trends at work. Read on.
COS Asia: What has been the impact of working from home on organisational culture at Mixpanel?
Hsuan: There are a lot of benefits that cultures can maximise in a work-from-home environment. In our case, we’re experimenting with a hybrid setup and sorting out many cultural elements to know the best model. Now, people feel a lot more comfortable reaching out across time zones, and our hierarchy.
People reach out directly to me. It has removed those not-so-obvious barriers. Everything has gotten flat and virtual. Our all-company meeting every two weeks is now entirely virtual, which makes it much easier to employ flex-working in a virtual environment.
COS Asia: Which setup do you prefer?
Hsuan: I’m a big advocate of finding the right balance in hybrid (working models). The key to maximising both in-person and remote is to identify what works well virtually, what works well in-person, and how you can encourage tapping into those when you need to get the most out of each experience.
My team goes into the office for planning because it is more efficient than a virtual meeting. However, some social interactions are also hard to replicate virtually. In virtual happy hours, when one person’s talking at a time and everyone’s listening, that’s not a happy hour! Another great example was our year-end party, the first time in two years. We flew people in from across the country because there’s no substitute for a real party in person!
COS Asia: Do you have a special tool to gauge stress in working from home?
Hsuan: At Mixpanel, we now have audio learning and development programmes where you just listen while you go for a walk. We’ve encouraged people to do meetings on a telephone call aside from Zoom. Some of my calls every day are on my telephone so I can go for a walk. I don’t need to be in front of my computer. Sometimes, changing the environment gives a different perspective.

The Great Resignation: It’s not just about the money

Chief of Staff Asia delves deep into the most pressing talent phenomenon facing HR teams around the world. Hsuan offers her first-hand view of the workforce phenomenon that is sweeping the globe from the place where it first began.
COS Asia: In the US, what has been fuelling the Great Resignation, so far?
Hsuan: The Great Resignation is driven by different factors. Covid-19 was one of those “black swan” events that you never could have predicted would happen. That gave a tremendous amount of value in trying to maximise the things that matter to individuals, recognising that life is short and fleeting. You just never know if you can plan the next in-person event, for example, because you never knew when the next variant was going to happen. People feel that time is very precious and this has forced them to reflect.
In the US, we’ve seen, for the first time in many decades, an increase in entrepreneurship. People have begun founding their own companies to do something impactful. That is one reason we see the Great Resignation.
The second reason is the Great Disconnect. In the US, it’s been unfolding for multiple generations. People have been moving away from some of the traditional community structures, such as churches, schools, or neighbourhood entities.
There’s been a real focus on productivity and efficiency. People want to reinvest their time in other ways and are searching to find a mission, community, and connection. They’re not finding it through work, where there’s a lot of focus on just efficiency but less on community-building.
The Great Resignation has a compounding effect. A great number of people are switching roles and jobs. We see this accelerated wave of job transfers that were delayed because people hesitated to make any big life changes during Covid. For Mixpanel, it’s interesting to see record-low attrition levels now that we haven’t seen in many, many years.
COS Asia: So, you’re saying that the Great Resignation is not just about the money, but also about emotional and mental well-being?
Hsuan: Yes. People are looking for meaning that’s broader than what has been focused on; issues like financial security, productivity, and operational efficiency. People have previously used these to measure success in life. A pandemic forces you to reckon with why you do and chase those particular goals. Losing people close to you has punctuated this even further.
Each of us has some personal story about Covid that has forced us to reflect on why we spend 10 hours a day on the computer.

What the Great Disconnect means for employers

Hsuan says it is now vital to balance the needs of both employers and their staff.
COS Asia: On resignation and attrition, how should the growing employer-employee disconnect affect an HR leader’s strategies in 2022?
Hsuan: It’s a good question. Work has been transformed in people’s lives around the world. Our perspective at Mixpanel is that we need to give people opportunities to volunteer for the causes that are important to them. We have a “volunteer time-off” of 40 hours a year which our employees can donate their time to causes they are most passionate about.
At a company level, the whole Corporate Social Responsibility realm becomes increasingly important. We have to do a lot more than just take care of our employees and investors now.
COS Asia: How well do staff participate in these corporate-level activities?
Hsuan: It’s a highly-popular program. People get behind a cause and dedicate their time. We are data analytics and digital product experts, so donating time to causes to help them improve their products is the next step we’re evolving in our Corporate Social Responsibility strategy.
COSAsia: Do you foresee that this generation’s changing relationship with work will prevail for decades, even post-pandemic?
Hsuan: Covid will probably be ongoing, and it is hard to say for how long. But the lack of certainty that people feel is going to weigh on their perception of their future for a very long time, which dictates daily life decisions in the near term. We’ve been seeing this shift in the role of work for some time. Corporate Social Responsibility is, by no means, a new concept.
COS Asia: As an HR leader, how do you strike a balance between the needs of the employees and the business?
Hsuan: The number one investment our company makes is in our people and supporting them; it’s probably consuming 90% of our expenses. Attracting, recruiting, and retaining talent is such a huge investment. My employees are my customers. If you truly understand what employees fundamentally want, and you regularly survey and treat them like customers, it’s good for your business. You may not give them every product and service they want, especially if it’s not going to fit the broader needs of your customer base, but it’s vital to know and understand your staff as well as you would your customers.
In this market for talent, employees have a lot of say, choices, and different companies they can go to.
For example, hybrid for us is “employee choice”. We’ve reopened most of our offices, but they have the choice if they want to come in or continue working from home. Some would say it’s a questionable business decision; 30 people coming in every day does not make sense financially.
We ran a pilot to see at what point people want to be in the office more regularly. It’s worth our understanding of the ways that employees want to engage in a physical space now. Because we can be a hybrid workplace, we attract more talent who want to come to the office but not daily, and people who want to be fully remote. That helps us with our efficiency, engagement, and employee retention. Employees, like customers, have constantly evolving needs.
COS Asia: How do you encourage and motivate employees in that mixed environment?
Hsuan: I encourage everyone to look at some of the positive sides of this uncertainty because a lot of experimentation and innovation is happening. Things are changing in the organisational culture and people space and this is a huge opportunity.
Up until the pandemic, we’ve not leveraged nearly what we could have (in terms of) technology that can afford to give people flexibility and to experiment with different formats. I see this period as a tremendously opportune and exciting time.
Many new tools allow people to live their best life and spend less time on things that they don’t want to spend on if they don’t want to. Giving people a chance to have the balance they need is exciting.

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Chief of Staff Asia