As an entrepreneur and a Denver native, I took immense pride in building the headquarters for my company, Guild, in the heart of my hometown.
But I’m certain that, going forward, Denver will be more of our spiritual headquarters than an actual one. I’ve come to believe that traditional headquarters are a thing of the past.
Last summer, we watched companies launch, retract, and swirl over their return-to-office policies. Meanwhile, other organizations declared they were fully remote with no intention of reconvening. Our company decided we wanted to do things differently, and sought a third way.
We imagined a world where we’d whiteboard with our colleagues again—especially after two long years of being strictly remote—but we also had come to love much of the current flexibility of remote work. We wanted to build for the long haul, beyond the horizon of the pandemic and into the future of work.
We wanted to incorporate a sustainable digital world but one that still honored the present. And we resisted the idea that some jobs were virtual forevermore while others ought to return to their desks as soon as it’s safe to do so.
What we realized: The answer was in how we spent our working hours.
Here’s how we think about it.
- Heads down work is what has thrived under COVID conditions: writing, coding, email correspondence, heavy focus time. This type of work doesn’t require an office or other people, and sometimes it might even be easier to get done outside of that setting.
- Heads up work is more collaborative and team-oriented, and best done in person. Think: A sales kickoff, a product brainstorm, or a planning session with marketing, communications, and policy teams.
And perhaps most importantly, we realized that every role at the company had a blend of heads down and heads up work. Many people are 95%/5% and will primarily convene for team gatherings and on-sites, while partner-facing teams are eagerly returning to significant amounts of heads up time in the office and on-site with our partners.
To sort it out, we’ve empowered our teams, asking each leader to think through the right ratio of heads up and heads down work for their teams. We’ve also asked individuals to think about their roles and responsibilities—and their goals—as they plan their time.
Many companies have aimed for a top-down, command and control model of answering this question.
As tempting as that might be, it’s both more complicated and less effective. More importantly, it designs only for the future of work, not the future of workers. With more than 1,300 employees, we’ve found that an empowered and flexible model works far better than any more rigid system we might design.
Our offices are now primarily retreats for heads up work. We now host on-sites in Denver near weekly for different teams, but desks are fairly irrelevant. In a few weeks, we’ll gather nearly all of our team members, from all over the country, for what we are calling Guild IRL (in real life!) — a two-day internal summit that will mix big ideas with human connection.
Since we launched our approach last summer, we are seeing results, even amid fears of a greater resignation recession. We’ve had a 1.9% quarterly attrition rate at Guild, annualized to a 7.6% turnover, far lower than our industry and the nation as a whole. We believe this third way is what employers are seeking, and they’re staying with Guild as we navigate it together.
This strategy is also helping us diversify our workforce.
When the pandemic started, we were roughly 500 employees, entirely based in Denver. Today, we’re about three times the size, with colleagues from Waukesha, Wisconsin, and Atlanta, Georgia, alike. And our team is more diverse. Over the past 6 months, nearly 40% of our new hires came from underrepresented communities, and 40% of our team lives somewhere other than Denver.
These outcomes have all been bolstered by an early-COVID decision to pay according to national pay scales. We have differentiation for hard-to-fill roles, but not for hard-to-afford zip codes. We’ve watched too many companies hem and haw about geographic pay rates this year. While local pay is certainly justified for roles that require workers to live in a certain place, the contorted justifications for paying remote engineers a different rate based on their zip code have run out of steam.
Another important part of our compensation philosophy is a best-in-class benefits package aimed to differentiate based on employees’ needs. We provide robust education and skilling programs, $0 contribution healthcare plans, comprehensive mental health services, and family benefits that include daycare and IVF.
We’re not perfect, and we’re still iterating on all of this. In fact, I don’t think the iteration on our ways of working and supporting employees will ever stop—nor should it.
What I know for sure is that our office will never be the same. And that’s just how it should be.
Rachel Romer Carlson is the CEO and cofounder of Guild Education.