Start with a foundation of caring. If leadership truly cares about employee well-being, then managers will follow. And since the challenges to well-being will always be different, the prescribed solutions will also always need to evolve. For this reason, I would be interested in the success of a team that cares any day over a team that has a great system implemented, but doesn’t really believe in the priority of its impact.

The pandemic pause brought us to a moment of collective reckoning about what it means to live well and to work well. As a result, employees are sending employers an urgent signal that they are no longer willing to choose one — life or work — at the cost of the other. Working from home brought life literally into our work. And as the world now goes hybrid, employees are drawing firmer boundaries about how much of their work comes into their life. Where does this leave employers? And which perspectives and programs contribute most to progress? In our newest interview series, Working Well: How Companies Are Creating Cultures That Support & Sustain Mental, Emotional, Social, Physical & Financial Wellness, we are talking to successful executives, entrepreneurs, managers, leaders, and thought leaders across all industries to share ideas about how to shift company cultures in light of this new expectation. We’re discovering strategies and steps employers and employees can take together to live well and to work well.

As a part of this series, we had the pleasure of interviewing Alex Collmer.

Alex Collmer is the Founder and CEO of VidMob, the world’s leading platform for data-driven human creativity. Since founding the company in 2015, Collmer has raised more than $95M and led initiatives that earned VidMob official marketing partner badges from Facebook, Instagram, Google/YouTube, Snapchat, TikTok, Twitter, Pinterest, LinkedIn, Amazon, Reddit, Hulu and recognition by Forbes, AdAge, Inc Magazine and others as one of the best places to work. An engineer by background, Mr. Collmer has made a career living at the intersection of technology, design, and consumer entertainment.

Thank you for making time to visit with us about the topic of our time. Our readers would like to get to know you better. Tell us about a formative experience that prompted you to change your relationship with work and how work shows up in your life.

I think there are probably two main factors here — one that happened over many years, and one that was more rapid. The first was just the accumulated experience of working for 25+ years. As I got older and more experienced, it became clear that if I wanted to live a happy life, work was too large a portion of the hours of a day to not also be enjoyable. So this led me to re-think the way I approached every day and all of the tasks along the way. I realized that I needed to be the same person 100% of the time, no matter what I was doing (personal or professional), or who I was interacting with. This simplified work and life immeasurably. Then, I wanted to be proud of the work I produced and the type of company that we were building as a result. This pushed VidMob down a path of purpose that led to our foundation, VidMob Gives, and many other aspects of our model for stakeholder-driven capitalism versus just shareholder driven capitalism.

The second formative experience was having kids. I know it’s clichéd, but this really did change my perspective on success, my relationship with my parents, my relationship with my wife, and much more. It was easy to make the leap from here to understanding that every person who works at VidMob has some version of this in their life, and it became really important to me that we built a business that respected this fully.

Harvard Business Review predicts that wellness will become the newest metric employers will use to analyze and to assess their employees’ mental, physical and financial health. How does your organization define wellness, and how does your organization measure wellness?

We define wellness as the total well-being of an individual. This has physical, mental and financial components, some of which we can play a larger role in supporting than others. But if we take a step back, our overriding view is that people will be able to perform better in their jobs if they are well. It sounds so simple, but once an organization truly internalizes that point, it changes the nature of how you operate. For example, physical health is not possible if schedules are inflexible and do not allow time for exercise — whatever the exercise form an individual may choose. The path to mental health is different for every person, but you can get a good head start by fostering a culture of kindness and giving people autonomy to push themselves at their own pace into new areas to master.

To measure how we’re doing, we use a variety of subjective and objective tools. One of the most important is a quarterly survey through a platform called Peakon. It’s entirely anonymous, and we push people to be as honest as possible. In any given quarter, the data can be a bit murky to assess — as there are often many different opinions among hundreds of employees. But when viewed quarter to quarter, patterns start to become clear and it’s relatively easy to identify areas that we need to focus on.

Based on your experience or research, how do you correlate and quantify the impact of a well workforce on your organization’s productivity and profitability?

I’m sure some larger organizations have much more sophisticated systems for monitoring productivity than we do. But there are a few core metrics that we pay attention to today. First is employee retention. Losing people is expensive –in morale, recruiting costs and onboarding. High employee churn is the most obvious sign of a sick business. Thankfully, even throughout the Great Resignation, we saw churn of around 5%. Second, I pay attention to Net Revenue Retention. I realize this is a round-about way of viewing the wellness of a workforce, but when our clients decide to grow the scope of their work on our platform, that’s a direct result of the quality of the code that’s being written, the interactions with members of our client success team, etc. If those people are not happy and healthy, at scale, our clients will be able to feel that and it will show up in a lowering of NRR.

Even though most leaders have good intentions when it comes to employee wellness, programs that require funding are beholden to business cases like any other initiative. The World Health Organization estimates for every $1 invested into treatment for common mental health disorders, there is a return of $4 in improved health and productivity. That sounds like a great ROI. And, yet many employers struggle to fund wellness programs that seem to come “at the cost of the business.” What advice do you have to offer to other organizations and leaders who feel stuck between intention and impact?

Someone I admire once told me that “if you can’t measure it, it doesn’t exist.” I think this has been a factor holding back investment in many critical areas for years. Clearly wellness is one. Creative is another, and that’s something that VidMob is pretty squarely focused on fixing. So, I would challenge companies to figure out how to build their own metrics to measure the impact of wellness investments. Once they figure that out, it will unlock far greater investment into this critical area. We’ve seen this exact process happen with our 501c3, VidMob Gives. In the beginning, we started the foundation simply because it seemed like a good thing to do, and we decided to fund it with 1% of gross revenue. But over time, the meaningful measurable impact (our KPI on this) has been so clear that we’ve expanded our investments across this initiative multifold, with full support of the Board because we objectively know it’s also good for the business.

Speaking of money matters, a recent Gallup study reveals employees of all generations rank wellbeing as one of their top three employer search criteria. How are you incorporating wellness programs into your talent recruitment and hiring processes?

Our people team recently hired a really talented consultancy to help us codify our employee value proposition (EVP) and get really tight about how we communicate that in every stage of the interview process. The basic thinking here is that the more transparency we can provide around what it’s like working at Vidmob, the better we will be at attracting people who will be happy here.

We’ve all heard of the four-day work week, unlimited PTO, mental health days, and on demand mental health services. What innovative new programs and pilots are you launching to address employee wellness? And, what are you discovering?

We’ve tried to be pretty experimental here. A good example is our travel stipend program. About 4 years ago, we saw that too many of our employees weren’t taking enough time off. We have an unlimited PTO policy, and it’s well reported that this can be one of the downsides of such a policy. But we didn’t want to switch to a X number of weeks policy, as it felt a little too big sisterish, for us. So we decided to offer a $1,000 stipend to every employee to help fund the costs of some sort of PTO experience. The lesson here was that financial help which was tied to some sort of experience, or material thing tied to wellness ended up being more impactful than just a $1,000 stipend. This program set a good example for us of a successful way to deal with a common problem, but in our own way.

Can you please tell us more about a couple of specific ways workplaces would benefit from investing in your ideas above to improve employee wellness?

The clearest example of the last few years is that increased flexibility really helps everyone. While I do believe there are many benefits to being in-person, around your colleagues at times, I love the idea of the new flexible worker. I don’t remember the exact quote from the Reed Hastings book on Netflix’s culture, but their model of “increasing the talent density and then stripping away all of the rules” really stuck with me. Spending a month in the winter working from an exotic, remote ski location? Great. As long as you have a strong internet connection, I trust you to get what you need to get done. Shifting your work hours so that you can spend a far greater percentage of the awake hours with your kids, great.

But I do have one somewhat contrarian perspective here, and I mentioned it above. I think many people are currently drastically underestimating the importance of being around co-workers. I know that there are great companies like Automatic that have thrived as fully remote businesses, but I think that will be the exception rather than the norm. Many people who entered the workforce during COVID think working in an office is a terrible thing. I would challenge that POV. When I graduated college, I didn’t know anything about anything. Everything that I am today, all of the relationships that I’ve built over the years, it ALL came from being around other people and struggling together. If I had traded all of that for better control of my home thermostat, a shorter commute, the ability to wear more comfortable pants — or any of the great benefits I hear discussed for remote work — it would have been the worst trade of my life.

It’s on my generation to make this case and prove its value so that people choose to come back. A mandate won’t work. But I feel a responsibility to make the case, and I’m doing it whenever I can.

How are you reskilling leaders in your organization to support a “Work Well” culture?

We’re starting by giving them the tools to be empathetic at scale. Culture and current events will continue to move at an ever-increasing pace, so I do not believe there is such a thing as a static sense of wellness. We’ve seen this all too plainly over the past 2+ years as COVID has had material impact on wellness overall. So, a key first step has to be instrumenting all of our managers so that they can monitor the wellness of their teams as it improves or decreases, giving them an early warning system to respond when things start heading in the wrong direction.

Second, we are making it clear to them that these are priority KPI’s for our company, that do not get trumped for some dime-a-dozen excuse to “put them off for just this one time”. But what we’ve found is that people really enjoy optimizing for a work-well culture, as long as you give them permission to prioritize it.

Ideas take time to implement. What is one small step every individual, team or organization can take to get started on these ideas — to get well?

Start with a foundation of caring. If leadership truly cares about employee well-being, then managers will follow. And since the challenges to well-being will always be different, the prescribed solutions will also always need to evolve. For this reason, I would be interested in the success of a team that cares any day over a team that has a great system implemented, but doesn’t really believe in the priority of its impact.

What are your “Top 3 Trends To Track In the Future of Workplace Wellness?”

  1. Return to work in a healthy way.

This is going to be an area of endless fascination for the next 1–2 years as the world feels its way into a post-COVID (or endemic COVID) new norm. I believe it will end up looking closer to the old way of working than many people believe now, but I could be wrong. Either way, many companies are going to struggle with the difficulties of a hybrid model, and how to maintain a sense of culture/connectedness with their primarily remote employees. It’s absolutely possible, but not without a lot of focus and investment.

2. Balance between financial wellness and emotional wellness.

As the economic fares of large tech platforms continue to diverge from the bulk of the rest of the tech economy (eg. Many tens of billions of dollars of free cash flow and cash accumulated on the balance sheet, versus venture funded losses during growth phases, or thin margins for others), many employees will be faced with a choice between prioritizing financial well-being or mental / social well-being. A lucky few will find companies that offer both, but for many that will not be the reality. As inflationary pressures continue to drive wage expansion, I expect this choice to become more common, and I think it will definitely be a space to watch.

3. Is hot-desking healthy?

I’m personally curious to see the studies 5 years from now on whether or not having a dedicated space is beneficial to wellbeing. There are many benefits to the current hot-desking trend from the employer’s perspective, especially in an era where employees are only coming in 2–3 days a week. But I have a nagging suspicion that there is some basic underlying human nature at play here that will make people less happy in a transient space. The same way people are drawn to customize their avatars in games and other online forums, I believe that aspect of personalization also plays a role when it comes to the physical spaces we spend time in, and I worry that when that ability is taken away, it may have conscious or subconscious ramifications.

What is your greatest source of optimism about the future of workplace wellness?

I think there is a lot more transparency into the state of employee wellness. And as it becomes more measurable, it will also be more easily correlated to business performance, which will make it easier for more companies to prioritize investments in this area. Given all of this, I’m incredibly optimistic about the future or workplace wellness. Sometimes I think people miss how far we’ve come in just a relatively short period of time, and the more it works, the more progress I think we’ll see ahead.

Our readers often like to continue the conversation with our featured interviewees. How can they best connect with you and stay current on what you’re discovering?

I write a lot on the VidMob Blog and on my Linkedin page. And I’m fairly active on twitter at @collmerica. But there are many people at VidMob who do work in this field, so I would also suggest our Instagram feed, which is one of my favorite follows.

Thank you for sharing your insights and predictions. We appreciate the gift of your time and wish you continued success and wellness.

Thank you. I appreciate the light you’re shining on this important issue, and enjoyed the conversation.