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  • Brandie Hopwood

Headspace: Interview with Darianne Kagioglu

Headspace was created with one mission in mind: to improve the health and happiness of the world. It’s October 2020 and I think we can all agree that this is just as, if not more important than ever before! So, how has one of the industry leaders in mindfulness and mental training pivoted in light of Covid? Here, Senior Manager of People Experience, Darianne Kagioglu, gives us a look inside their heads.  

Q: Tell us a bit about Headspace and about you. 

DK:  Headspace started about 10 years ago as an in-person meditation teaching company, which organically evolved into an app. We’ve expanded pretty far beyond meditation at this point. With our core app, we now have mindful workouts. We have a sleep product, as well as a focus section, and lots of other things that help people on their mindfulness journey aside from meditation. We also have an enterprise solution where the Headspace app can be purchased by employers to offer it to their employees.  Our Social Impact Team has been on the heels of all that work, allowing us to do something that’s been important to Headspace since the beginning, which is giving back. As of 2020, Headspace provides our premium subscription to all teachers and doctors in the US.

In response to the stresses of the pandemic, we created a collection that’s free for everyone called,Weathering the Storm.”. Most recently we launched a partnership with Snapchat to support younger generations on their mental health journey. 

I have been at Headspace for about 2 years. I’m the Senior Manager of People Experience. Traditionally, my role was centered around workplace planning and employee belonging. Now, my team’s focus is to find out what our employees need, develop programming around that, trial the programming, measure its impact, adjust and launch long-term employee policies & programs, and internal communications. 

Q: What was the workplace situation prior to Covid? Where was the headquarters, how many staff, percentage of people working from home...

DK:  We were an in-person company previously. Our headquarters is in Santa Monica and had about 250 people at that location. We have smaller groups in San Francisco, London, and New York... all in offices. Everyone is now working from home and we have continued to hire since the transition. We’re at about 300 right now with everyone working from home. 

Q: So, you said you didn’t have anyone working remotely. Obviously, that’s changed. How was that transition handled? 

DK:  A series of communications via email, as well as myself, the VP of people, and other leaders at the organization holding Town Hall meetings where we touch base with everyone to follow up any major communications and ensure they have all their questions answered. We speak to the human experience of it, aside from just policy being issued via email. That’s something we’ve continued as we extend plans to work from home, and update  all the various programs we’re offering.

Q: Do you feel that you guys nailed the work from home transition?  

DK: I feel really good about how it was handled because of the feedback we’ve gotten directly from our employee surveys. We’ve had consistent feedback from employees that the transparency, frequent and consistent communication, the programs, and the thoughtfulness we’ve put into everything we've done has resonated well with them.

While it’s certainly been challenging, so long as we are getting feedback from them that they feel heard and supported, I feel good. 

Q: In your opinion, since Covid and working from home, do you feel that Headspace is more productive, less productive, equally? 

DK:  Definitely more productive! Based on the nature of our product and the increase in demand that we’ve experienced we have, certainly and measurably, seen an increase in the number of product features, new initiatives and programs that we have been able to launch in this time. It’s a pretty remarkable body of work that the team has been able to produce. So, yeah, more productive for sure. 

Q: How has it been for culture? 

DK:  We’ve launched a Virtual Belonging program and kept a close eye on culture which we call Belonging and Inclusion. We’ve held various events and my team, for example, is specifically quite focused on that. We’re normally a very community-based organization. Like I said, we didn’t really have remote employees before and had a lot of travel between the offices. People were used to seeing each other on a very frequent basis. So, I think that the difficultly, socially, for people that feel isolated is working from home. But they know there are opportunities at their fingertips anytime they want to connect, whether that’s for team bonding or just random water cooler events across the organization.  

Q: For people operations teams, their former sphere of responsibility used to begin when staff entered the workplace and end when staff went home. Would you say teams are getting more involved and getting closer as they are now seeing people at home? Would you say that the challenges people face at home (such as schooling or whatever else) are now becoming actual work issues as well?   

DK: The short answer is, absolutely. It’s much closer than it had been. I would say at Headspace, we’ve long had part of our employer philosophy be that ‘the mind that you take from home to work is the same mind you take from work to home and you can’t divorce your experiences.’ We need to really think about each employee as a whole person and not just an employee...  

Q:  Not just from eight to five? 

DK: Right. Now, with all of the program’s we’ve launched, we have decision principles that guide each one.

The #1 decision principle for all our programs is: ‘consider employees whole lives.’

It's very much to your point of, ‘are they parents, or caregivers to older generations at home? Are they living with roommates? Are they far from their family?’ So, we’re thinking about all of this. 

Q: When staff do come back to the office, especially for companies who don’t place such a large emphasis on the overall well-being of the employee, do you think there will be a new bar of expectation for the amount of at-home support they receive?  

DK: I think that more than ever people are looking to their employers for clarity on important personal choices that they need to make, whether that’s how they should set up in their home environment for success or tips and best practices for public health…..

They are looking to us to define parameters for them. They want clarity. What we can do is take a chunk of time and say, ‘hey, for the next six months, we can promise you that this is what your experience will be like, at least as an employee, and here are some of the supporting programs we can offer you to help uplift any challenges you might have in your personal life.’ Try to offer some sense of control for them and create something tangible that they can hold on to, to make sense of their daily experience. 

Q: Back-of-the-napkin math, do you know how many members of your team are parents or have kids living in the home with them, school-aged children? 

DK: It’s about one-fifth of our employees. 

Q: Has that population required any changes or policies to the way that work is normally accomplished? 

DK: We have a parents and caregivers employee resource group that our people operations team is closely involved with. We’ve also done some listening hours, where we sat down with focus groups of parents and caregivers with dependents at various ages to better understand what their needs are. We are actively collaborating with the Caregivers at Headspace ERG right now to better understand what more tailored support could be offered as school and daycare closures continue to be a major challenge for parents. Parents are just as passionate about their projects, career growth and mental well being as any other employee. We want to get as creative as we can to provide them a supportive environment for themselves, their families and their careers. 

Q: How do you feel the role of the physical workplace is changing post – Covid? 

DK: Long-term, we don’t expect to have the same stance where everyone is in the office the majority of the time.  We don’t expect that focused work and individual work necessarily need to happen in the office.

The vision at this point, which is still in development, is that the office will really become a space that focuses more on community and collaboration.

The rest of people’s work can be done asynchronously from whatever location works best for them. All things that have already been getting reconsidered for many years now but this, I think, is sliding that forward five years ahead.  

We definitely know that we’ll need to sort those things out.  We really are taking our time. I think we’re just starting to scratch the surface of understanding how much space will be needed to accomplish those things. I mean, this is definitely going to shift real-estate. What type of spaces would we even go into? Is a co-working style office something we would consider in the future? 

The stress and anxiety people in the working world are feeling... the disconnect and cognitive dissonance they feel with company values if they are being asked to come in at a time when they feel it’s unsafe, drastically impacts their sense of culture, belonging, values and then, of course, productivity. So, we don’t want to be anywhere near that territory. 

Q: You mentioned that you hired people through Covid. Have you noticed any challenges with onboarding or training regarding company values and culture, and how are you overcoming those? 

DK: Onboarding, logistically, has been smooth. I think the real challenge is in their ability to get to know a wide breadth of people and to feel that those people know who they are and what they are here to do. That’s something we’re continuing to work on. That’s really where my team is coming in with our Virtual Belonging program. We’re finding out ways to engage people on Slack, to announce our new employees and make sure people know who they are and that they’ve joined us... because we would normally have done more in-person and we would have obviously gotten to meet people in offices. So pragmatically, the logistics of getting them up and running has been very smooth. We want to improve and keep a close eye on their sense of presence from the new employee to existing and vice versa. 

Q: So, you previously had between 250 - 300 people working out of a 43,000 square foot office. That’s somewhere between the 140 - 175 square foot per person. 

Post Covid, do you see the company sticking to that ratio, getting more space per person or even less space per person? 

DK: It would likely be less space, just because most people won’t be coming into the office on a daily basis. If you take the total employee count versus the total square footage, it looks like less, but we would consider daily attendance to square footage. They would definitely be operating with more space around each person present on any given day.  

This is a learning period for us. We don’t want employees to feel pressure. We don’t want anyone to feel uncomfortable.  


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

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