case study

Optoro is the world’s leading reverse logistics platform. Using innovative technology, they help some of the country’s largest retailers recover value from returned and excess inventory. It’s their mission to power the future of sustainable commerce, in which products have longer lifecycles, brands can create value throughout their supply chains and more products are kept out of landfills.

Optoro’s employee engagement task force

Emily Holland White, Senior Director of Talent and Culture, wanted to ensure that when it came to engagement survey results, it wasn’t just HR leading the charge. She says, “‘Collaborative’ is one of our core values, so it felt natural for me to think about a way to collaborate with others.” Employees who were interested in being on the task force completed a robust application and volunteered their time to be part of the initiative. A team was selected that represented each department across their corporate and operational workforces. “It’s a pretty big commitment; they meet every other week. We almost have it set up like student government. I know it sounds cheesy but it holds people accountable,” says White. They get face time with executives and speak at almost every all-hands company lunch each month. Not only does it help the HR team with engagement, but it’s a learning and development opportunity for members.

At the close of a survey, results are shared company-wide within three days. Over the next two weeks, focus groups take place in every department. White says, “A task force member will join me or a member of my team for those focus groups and act as co-facilitator. It really works well because they know their team better than I do, and they can help make sure that it’s a successful conversation. They just get stuff done. All of our success with improving engagement would not have happened without the task force.”

Deciding on a survey cadence

Initially, White was set on a quarterly survey cadence. They didn’t have baseline data on their culture, and White believed that having a quarterly survey schedule would ensure that they could gather data and quickly act on it while also measuring their successes and areas of opportunity on a regular basis. However, this year, they’ve made the decision to survey bi-annually. “What’s left for us to tackle as a Talent and Culture team and our engagement task force is more deep-rooted organizational change. These things are going to take at least six months, if not longer, and we want to make sure employees continue to feel invested and know we’re continuing to act on their feedback. Moving forward we’ll do informal pulses as needed supplemented by bi-annual engagement surveys. And then we have a monthly round table with our two co-founders where people can ask questions and get feedback.”

Enablement increases 24% in one year

Before 2013, Optoro’s small team of corporate employees worked alongside the operational team in one facility. After their series B funding, they were able to move part of the team into a corporate office. However, one year later, the corporate headquarters was getting full, and employees started to express frustration. In the quarterly survey, 84% of employees said that they needed better resources to do their jobs.

In order to address this issue, Optoro moved into a larger space in June of 2016. From the beginning, the office was built to fit the needs of their employees. “We’ve seen productivity go through the roof. It’s been amazing to see how much the work environment can impact people feeling enabled with the right resources,” says White. There is room for collaboration, but also 16 conference rooms, phone booths and other quiet spaces. They also have a meditation room, access to their building’s gym and an outdoor workspace. This decision had a big impact on engagement – that quarter the survey results skyrocketed to 85% of employees strongly agreeing they have the resources they need to do their jobs.

In addition to accommodating the need for larger and more collaborative spaces, White used data from previous surveys to demonstrate a need for professional development budgets and flexible work schedules that allow people to work from home, which helped increased enablement. She noticed a contrast in enablement scores among the engineering team and other departments. Engineers were given state-of-the-art equipment on their start date along with a generous conference budget, while other departments got a small stipend for technology equipment and were only able to participate in internal learning and development sessions. Now, all employees are given a generous budget to put towards their technology equipment and can choose a setup that works for them. Additionally, each employee works with their respective manager and department head to determine what external learning opportunities are appropriate for their development while also providing business impact.

Data decisions and why culture matters

Optoro has an average participation of 95% on their engagement surveys, which White is immensely proud of. It builds confidence that she is hearing from the majority of the company, and can use that data to make decisions. “I think some of our executives find it funny that I always say this, but whenever I’m asking for something I can now say, ‘as you’ve seen in our most recent engagement survey, X, Y, and Z.’ It’s really become a powerful tool for me as an HR leader to have this data at my fingertips, to build a business case.”

When it comes to culture, White says, “It drives our business forward, it’s our competitive advantage, it’s usually a big part of what makes someone join the company so we need to always focus on that.”