Zwift: Interview with Jana Fainrossen

With a growing community of support around the world and booming workplace growth, Zwift, an innovative fitness gaming company specializing in interactive gaming, has been reimagining how its physical workspace can best serve its people well before COVID asked the rest of the world to do it. Here, we’re sharing what Director of Workplace, Jana FainRossen, has up her sleeves.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the Zwift and your role? Tell us what excites you and what the company is currently working on. . .

Jana Fain-Rossen: Zwift is the fitness company born from gaming. It is a game driven by fitness components; the game only works if you’re physically active.

We have actually been doing pretty well during the pandemic because everyone has been in their home [laugh]. Our plan for the next year has been accelerated these last six months. It has been innovative.

We took on a huge challenge this year and executed a virtual Tour de France for competitive cyclist and amateurish cyclists. It was three weekends long which was a huge undertaking. Our art and creative team designed the race in an extremely short amount of time. Marketing teams and so many others gave everything they had to puling this off. Normally, it take anywhere from three to six to nine months to build a world like that.

It has been really cool to be on some of the Zwift forums and Facebook groups to see how people are really coming together. We have avatars to meet other avatars in the game and you can compete against someone in Switzerland or Japan from your living room. To bring people together and give them an outlet has been very rewarding.

I have been with the company for a little over a year and I am really moved that the company has been able to give people an outlet during such a difficult time and connect with people. Right now, we are working on a hardware component that will be called our “fitness technology division”

Q: That’s great that you’re getting people active at home. So, are you guys working from home? How has your workplace environment changed from this COVID-19?

Jana Fain-Rossen: We have three main office locations in Long Beach, London, and Rio de Janeiro. When the pandemic started to become real and began to circulate around the world in March, we were actually able to pivot to a work-from-home situation for every single employee pretty quickly mostly because we’re a tech company, and we were able to provide the infrastructure needed for our staff at a rapid pace.

In addition to that, we redirected our office furniture budget and immediately hopped on purchasing small desks designed for apartments in New York. We also delivered workplace chairs to homes of employees locally. We partnered with delivery services in London and Rio de Janeiro to get people their chairs – especially for the engineers who are sitting all day.

We’ve been working from home since March 16th. In the beginning, we thought it would be for a few weeks, like the rest of the world, and then, we thought it was just a few months. Now, obviously, we think it will be next year before we’re able to bring everyone back.

The culture changed in that it has become harder, obviously, to have those water cooler spontaneous interactions. We had an all-hands meeting last week which was so great hearing, “This is what you’re doing, this is what you’re doing”, In the office you get the benefit of ‘bumping’ into someone and are able to just have casual conversations. We did open up a “watercooler” zoom that is open 24/7 for any employee that is lonely or bored or just wants to chat about current events or movies or whatever . You log in and you never know who might be hanging out In there.

So, there are some barriers with the culture that we are still trying to figure out, but overall the work has not stopped. I think people are working longer hours and we’re trying to encourage more self-care, more downtime. We’re developing different start-work and end-work times, like you would do in an office instead of getting up at 7 a.m. and logging on to work or not working at 7pm or after the kids go to bed. So, we are all just sort of learning together on how to navigate these really uncharted waters.

Q: In understanding the way of working has changed, do you feel that your team has been able to work efficiently? Just meaning the physical production of the product. Has it been better, worse, or mixed?

Jana Fain-Rossen: We haven’t hit many roadblocks on the physical production. It’s been more of the socialization, cultural aspect. I don’t think that that aspect of it has changed.

Q: As far as the workplace culture aspect, is it better, worse, or mixed?

Jana Fain-Rossen: I think mixed.

Q: So, to expand upon that, do you feel that there would be different perspectives from different departments and seniority levels. For example, some might hate not being able to pop in on people, but the accountants love just being by themselves and crunching numbers [laughs].

Jana Fain-Rossen: For us, it is mixed and sometimes feels regional. Our London team for the majority loves working from home (long commutes!) Rio is mostly engineers and they aren’t really thrilled with being home all the time.

For Long Beach, I will say that the accountants have said they are happy to not be interrupted, but on the other hand miss being in an office setting. There are alot of people that are saying that they’re getting more done because they are not being interrupted and other people who are getting less done because they keep staring at the dirty pile of laundry that needs to get down. So I guess we are all over the place. What a nutty year!

But some of this could also be because people are at home more and they are not able to go anywhere. I think most of us would prefer to be in an office some of the time. That’s probably where we are going to go next year. We would keep it optional like a lot of companies are doing – come into the office or work from home.

We will figure out how to support our entire team however they need us to show up for them. In the end, I think about half to three quarters of the staff would go back into the office

Q: Do you feel that there’s an urgency for the company to get back into the office for critical projects, milestones, or anything like that?

Jana Fain=Rossen: There’s not an urgency. I would say that there is a desire from staff, specifically our QA team. It’s difficult for them to work out bugs with the game at home because some don’t have the room to have five trainers or treadmills sitting there, and we also don’t have the capability of transporting a trainer to their home and then back again when office reopens. We don’t want to risk breaking something.

So, there are some departments where it’s much easier to go into the office. They can go into our QA lab, get on the bike and start working out the bug. For accounting, it’s not an urgency at this time. For art and design, it’s not necessarily an urgency, but again, they’re very collaborative. It’s really mixed all over the map.

Q: Do you see the rule of the physical workplace kind of changing in your business?

Jana Fain-Rossen: You know, I keep reading these dramatic, breathless articles about it, but I don’t think that the office is going away. However, I do think it will be used in a different way. We actually just went through huge build-out for all of our offices. (Article about the buildouts here) At Long Beach, we are just finishing up this massive 60,000 square foot expansion. Same with London and same in Rio although not as big.

Again, the collaboration aspect of it is going to become important and I think the ability to be able to meet with your team and look at someone’s face and get an expression from them that you cannot get on Zoom . Something that simple is going to drive people back to the office. I hear from people pretty often how exhausted they are at the end of the zoom day. Whereas in an office you can draw energy from people. It energizes you to be around them. However, I don’t think people are going to be in Monday through Friday. I think it’ll be two to three days a week. Then, the other days, people are working from home.

I think the office will function in more of a social, collaborative state as opposed to where you’re commuting, you are there, you are looking at the clock, waiting to go home. I don’t think that we’re going back to that any time soon.

Q: That’s the trend that we have been picking up from doing these interviews – the idea that the physical working place will become a more social experience. May I ask, will you be screening for temperatures at the door when people start coming back?

Jana Fain-Rossen: We have a massive COVID return-to-office workplace safety plan. We haven’t shared it with staff yet so I can’t go into detail but we will follow all local, state, federal , CDC and WHO guidelines for our RTO.

Q: Will you be requiring masks for the first phase of returning to work?

Jana Fain-Rossen: Yes.

Q: I know you said you just expanded your space in a high rise building. . . Do you have furniture in the building yet?

Jana Fain-Rossen: We do.

Q: Are you going to be reconsidering the layout of that furniture?

Jana Fain-Rossen: Well, apparently we were fortune tellers when we designed the space because we actually designed it so that there are small workstation neighborhoods– six desks – and they are divided by big felt panels. We did that for privacy reasons, but it’s totally going to work in this COVID world because we’ll have the six desks fit three people and the groups of eight desks can maybe fit four. It’s almost like we designed it for our predicament now. So, it’s all ready for our Covid world.

Q: Are you going to be using a hot desk situation where anyone can work at any desk or the assigned desk?

Jana Fain-Rossen: Normally, we put people with teams, but in a COVID world we are reassessing how we book desks , teams and hot desks while observing social distance guidelines

Q: Is that your guys’ software? Or is that a third-party software?

Jana Fain-Rossen: It’s a third-party app called Office Space. Initially, we were using it last year because we were hiring so many and so fast we had to track capacity, but Office Space quickly pivoted and added all these COVID measures to it. We can even add on the in-app office map where the sanitizer stations are located. It’s so cool!

Q: Are you doing anything with your HVAC system, whether it’s UV disinfecting or anything like that?

Jana Fain-Rossen: We just installed a new HVAC system, and our ceilings are very high, so the building is using special filters. We feel pretty comfortable with that.

Q: Are you doing any conversion of your restrooms to touchless?

Jana Fain-Rossen: Yes, we are adding foot pedals to the bathroom doors and locking every other stall.

Q: In the physical workspace, you mention hand sanitizer stations. Are you purchasing and installing the free-standing hand sanitizer stations in the middle of the work area?

Jana Fain-Rossen: We are installing in-wall stations along with a standing station.

Q: Are you going to be maintaining a supply of PPE on-site for staff?

Jana Fain-Rossen: Yes.

Q: Any signage for pointing out where social distancing lines begin and end?

Jana Fain-Rossen: Yes.

Q: Do you expect to use more, less, or the same amount of real estate for your workspace going forward?

Jana Fain-Rossen: Less.

Q: Is there a percentage you see that decreasing by?

Jana Fain-Rossen: I think next year when we offer the office up with our COVID workspace plan where it will be purely voluntarily if you want to come to the office or stay working from home or we prioritize a “need” for the office versus a “want” to come to the office. We are still refining. I think we’ll be operating at about 50%of the real estate space to begin with.

The more people start to return to work into summer, it will be 70 percent. Then, obviously, the longer we go next year, I think will come back to probably 78percent of our real estate usage. I don’t think 100 percent of our workforce are going to come back to the office.

Q: As far as a COVID return-to-work plan goes, do you have a certain budget that’s set aside for COVID response, or is it based on the number of employees? For example, “We have 20 grand set aside for hand sanitizer, PPE, etc.” or “We’re budgeting $500 per employee”. . .

Jana Fain-Rossen: We will have a budget set aside for all of our offices to make sure that we are providing what we need. What that amount is? We don’t know quite yet.

Q: Are you aware of the credit from the prospective of the stimulus conversation that could provide up to a thousand dollars per employee for post-COVID return preparation cost?

Jana Fain-Rossen: No. I am unaware of that.

Q: Well, we will definitely send that information over. Many seem to be unaware of that stimulus talk.

Jana Fain-Rossen: Great! Thank you.

Q: Thank you for helping us and giving us insight into what Zwift is doing, in terms of COVID precautions, as an industry leader.

Want to keep learning how other companies are adjusting their strategy and workplace methodologies? Don’t miss our previous conversations with:

· Tom Suro MCRw, a global real estate expert specializing in workplace strategy, facilities management, design and construction.

· Assal Yavari, LEED AP Senior Director of Global Workplace Management at Okta, Inc.

· Introduction to the #TheWorkplaceMix Series.