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  • Adam Cheshier

Zwift: Interview with Jana Fain-Rossen

Recently, the coDesign team sat down with Jana Fain-Rossen, Zwift’s Director of Facilities and Workplace, to learn all about how the company is navigating COVID, as well as its post-pandemic plans. Some highlights from our conversation are shared below.

Q: Are your teams currently working from home? How has your workplace environment changed as a result of COVID?

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 able to pivot to a work-from-home situation for every employee… mostly because we’re a tech company, and we were able to provide the infrastructure needed… 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 the engineers who are sitting all day.

Q. How has working from home impacted Zwift’s culture?

Jana Fain-Rossen: The culture changed, in that it has become harder… to have those water cooler spontaneous interactions… In the office you get the benefit of bumping into someone, and you’re able to just have casual conversations. We did create 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.

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 and more downtime…We are all just sort of learning together about how to navigate these uncharted waters.

Q. Do you think productivity has been impacted by working from home?

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

Q. Do you think that different types of workers are impacted differently by having to work from home?

Jana Fain-Rossen: For us, it… sometimes feels regional. Our London team, for the most part, loves working from home. Rio is mostly engineers, and they aren’t really thrilled about 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, they miss being in an office setting. There are a lot of people that are saying 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 done. 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… 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 [if they could].

Q. Do you feel that there’s an urgency for the company to get back into the office for critical projects and to meet company milestones?

Jana Fain-Rossen: There’s not an urgency, but 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 the 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 because they can go into our QA lab, get on the bike, and start working out the bug. For accounting, there isn’t an urgency, at this time. For art and design, it’s not necessarily urgent, but again, they’re very collaborative. It’s really mixed all over the map.

Q. Do you think that the role of the physical workplace will change for Zwift?

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. Zwift actually just went through huge build-out for all of our offices. 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.

Collaboration 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 [is something] that you cannot get on Zoom. Something that simple is going to drive people back to the office.

I hear from people pretty often, about 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 coming in Monday through Friday. I think it’ll be two to three days a week. Then, the other days, people will be working from home.

Q. Are you going to be reconsidering the design of the offices, as they were created pre-pandemic?

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. Do you plan to use a desk booking system when you return to the office?

Jana Fain-Rossen: We use a third-party app called Office Space. Initially, we were using it last year because we were hiring so many [employees] and so fast, and we had to track capacity. But Office Space quickly pivoted and added all these COVID measures to it… It’s so cool!” – Jana Fain-Rossen

- Thanks so much for providing insite into what Zwift is doing with regard to COVID. It’s been great speaking with you!


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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