HomeCase StudiesHow Vista’s remote-first framework increased female leadership by 233%

How Vista's remote-first framework increased female leadership by 233%

by HRD Connect | Case Studies

Vista’s founder, Robert Keane, stepped down as CEO in February 2023 after 26 years. Keane’s favored analogy for Vista was for its workforce to be a “school of piranhas,” where employees can adjust rapidly and make decisions quickly. In August 2020, this analogy sprang into action as Vista quickly pivoted to a remote-first culture. Through candid feedback from its employees, allowing them to constantly improve their remote experience, Vista has made a smooth transition to remote-first work, despite being historically remote-averse, with outstanding results:

  • $9,000,000 in estimated annual cost-savings by operating as remote-first
  • 94% of remote-first team members would recommend Cimpress and Vista to people looking for an outstanding remote working environment
  • 300% increase in job applications since the organization went remote-first
  • 233% increase in global hiring of women for people leader and managerial roles from 2019 to 2022

Paul McKinlay, VP of Communications & Remote Working at Vista, has been involved in this transition from its inception. He shares his perspective on Vista’s journey to create the best remote-first working experience in the world.

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Establishing remote working guardrails

Since going remote-first in August 2020, Vista has aimed to make remote working a towering strength of its culture and a competitive advantage. Although it has continuously evolved and improved its approach to remote working, it set early guardrails to ensure it achieved these goals. McKinlay was quick to point out why these guardrails are so important.

“Remote working doesn’t define culture, it reveals it. What drives that is people being focused on creating a great culture, not whether you’re remote or whether you’re in an office.”

Firstly, Vista wanted to be sure remote work allowed it to recruit, retain, engage, and motivate employees, regardless of location. It quickly recognized the dangers of proximity bias, as McKinlay explains:

“We didn’t want any employee’s location to be an advantage or a disadvantage. We wanted to eliminate the location advantages for those near executives, or those benefiting from presenteeism in the office.”

Accordingly, Vista set about building a culture based on output and delivery. But whilst it recognized the power of a remote-first approach, in-person collaboration is not off the table. Another guiding principle for Vista’s remote working was to still allow employees to meet and work together; to empower employees to work when, and where, suits them best. It was also open to consistent and extensive feedback throughout the transition. Vista wanted to ensure its employees felt reassured that their voice mattered.

Vista wanted to create a remote-first culture driven by a self-service approach. It created and curated an extensive collection of any tools and resources its team might need. Vista’s leadership defined this goal as being able to answer any question about remote working with a link to a highly relevant resource.


Creating the remote-first team member success team

Vista looks after the long-term health of its remote working strategy with a dedicated team. Initially, this team was comprised of cross-functional business leaders, including senior directors from HR, finance, and real estate. Each took on added responsibility to their existing workloads. However, in January 2021, the team began to take a new shape. Vista redeployed existing team members and hired new employees into what is now an eight-person strong team, to focus fully on remote working. McKinlay explains the rationale for this shift:

“We needed the members on this team to have a sole purpose: Create a world-class experience for remote-first team members. Initially, this meant the team could prioritize improving remote-first learning and development, and remote onboarding. Since then, they’ve also been able to tackle collaboration skills and knowledge management.”

The business has also hired and converted dedicated leadership on documentation, asynchronous working, onboarding, learning & development, and more. Moreover, to equip its workforce for remote working, Vista has re-invested cost-savings from remote working into a range of tools and support schemes, including:

  • Investment in L&D tools such as 360Learning and Udemy
  • Retained and redesigned centers for in-person collaboration
  • Pay-per-use access to WeWork for every remote-first team member
  • Monthly expense to offset home-working costs
  • $500 (or equivalent) stipend for new hires to spend on their home office working space
  • Subsidized well-being products such as Peloton and Headspace

Tracking remote-first progress

Vista tracks the progress of its remote culture and work practices through an extensive biannual survey. Over the course of 70 questions, the survey gives employees a chance to share feedback, both good and bad, about their employee experience. Vista emphasizes to its employees that the feedback from this survey will heavily influence the improvements it makes to its remote-first strategy. Indeed, 75% of team members agree that they’ve been given multiple opportunities to provide input into the transition. It publicizes the survey findings to employees and uses feedback as input for its OKR goal-setting methodology. Results from October 2022 include:

  • 94% of remote-first team members would recommend Cimpress and Vista to people looking for an outstanding remote working environment
  • 85% agreed or strongly agreed that “I can achieve my job responsibilities as well as or better than when I worked in an office.”
  • 86% of team members credit remote-first as a reason they will be more likely to stay with Vista and Cimpress

There is also a shorter survey for employees that have finished a 100-day onboarding program, and even a small survey for prospective candidates to share what attracted them to Vista. Beyond this, regular engagement surveys offer more frequent insights into employee attitudes toward their remote-first experience.

Vista also studies data from the tools employees will typically use for remote working. Analyzing how employees use and interact with tools such as video-conferencing platforms, or whiteboarding software, gives Vista a clearer picture of how remote collaboration is taking place in practice.

Beyond cost-saving benefits

Vista’s remote-first policy has driven several remarkable outcomes. The most obvious is the estimated $9,000,000 annual costs it saves by operating as a remote-first company. But cost saving, explains McKinlay, has never been a primary goal.

“It’s been a nice-to-have that has enabled net investment in remote-first working, but our CFO has never asked how much we’re saving. Our conversations center on how much we’re investing and what we can afford. The focus is on how it’s shaping our employee’s experience.”

“94% of our team members agree that we’re on the right track. Only 2% of our team members think going remote-first was the wrong decision. But we know that 100% remote working is not for everyone, and we made this transition with a lot of existing team members who had to make substantial changes.”


How remote-first is reshaping hiring

Vista’s remote-first culture is allowing it to build and scale a more diverse workforce. Indeed, following its move to remote-first, Vista has seen a 300% increase in job applications. To date, McKinlay believes the program’s biggest success story to be its impact on diversity.

Since implementing a remote first working model in August 2020, more women are applying to open roles and prolonging their careers with Vista. Global hiring of women for people leader and managerial roles has risen by 233% from 2019 to 2022, while the rate of exits has decreased from 24% in 2019 to 10% in 2022.

“By hiring beyond the 30-mile commute of some of our big hubs where we used to hire, we’ve increased the diversity of our workforce. We’ve improved racial diversity, cognitive diversity, and cultural diversity. We’ve added such a complete mix of team members that helps add far greater perspective to each conversation. Our customers are all over the world. Now our team members are as well.”

In the U.S. for example, Vista previously hired employees in only nine states. It now has employees in over thirty-nine states. In Spain, it previously hired employees in Barcelona. It now has employees all over Spain. The employee surveys have also shown how remote-first working is positively impacting Vista’s workforce.

“Engagement amongst female leaders has increased, and more broadly, we’ve improved retention and have seen positive responses that people are more likely to stay with us because of our remote-first model. The talent we’ve been able to bring in because we can employ people all over the world has been phenomenal.”

A remote-first practice has helped Vista address common caregiving and healthcare challenges that disproportionately affect women at work. Women who are caregivers can better navigate school, childcare, or eldercare schedules, and women experiencing pregnancy or menopause can avoid a physically daunting commute and manage symptoms discreetly.

How remote-first is helping tackle burnout

Moving to remote-first working also offered Vista the chance to tackle burnout among its workforce. As McKinlay notes, remote working does not define a culture, and burnout can occur in remote and in-person working environments. But Vista took this huge shift in work practices as an opportunity to review its processes and take a more considered approach to employee burnout, including:

  • Nonlinear workday. Team members are encouraged to structure their workday so that they’re productive and deliver results while also being present for personal life events
  • Asynchronous collaboration. Vista has established an efficient framework that allows employees to work collaboratively across different time zones and working hours, without the need for unnecessary meetings
  • Recharge Fridays. This policy provides team members with time away from work on Friday afternoons from May to August, to enter weekends without zoom fatigue
  • Remote-first learning team. This team develops easily accessible content to train Vista employees on setting boundaries and on professional, physical, logistical, mental, and digital well-being.

“The shift to remote-first allowed us to train people to manage their calendars and have more autonomy over their time. As a global company, people had historically taken meetings late at night or early in the morning. So, we focused on people achieving their highest productivity by working when and where they want, and achieving a standard of work-life harmony.”

“We have found that people are investing the commute time they have saved in work. But now they have the flexibility to eat lunch with their spouse or pick up their children from school. We had a team member recently who shared that they can now work one week a month from their elderly parents’ house. They told us that they have built a relationship they never previously had, thanks to the flexibility they have at work.”

“Remote work isn’t the future of work,” explains McKinlay. “It’s the future of living.”

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