How is F5 Getting Hybrid Work Right? 5/26

The Getting Hybrid Work Right call series has become a well-attended and wide-ranging discussion for HR leaders on all aspects of hybrid work. On this week's call, i4cp CEO and Co-Founder Kevin Oakes and Senior Research Analyst Tom Stone facilitated a conversation with special guest Ana White, EVP and Chief People Officer at F5, a Seattle-based tech company that focuses on applications, application security, and application performance, with around 7,000 employees in around 45 countries. Here are some highlights from the call:

  • White described how several years ago F5 took a fresh look at their organization's values, which numbered a somewhat unwieldy 14 at the time. Their goal is for F5 to be one global and diverse team that is both human-first and high-performance and attracts and grows amazing talent. They ultimately came to focus on 5 key behaviors for all employees that were called "BeF5": We are owners; We make F5 more agile; We obsess over customer needs; We create a more diverse and inclusive F5; We help each other thrive.
  • Related to this were some key F5 leadership behaviors, aligned with their view of leadership as being a mindset, not a job title: We create clarity and alignment; We find and shape brilliance; We boldly raise the bar.
  • To reinforce these leadership behaviors, F5 has aligned their leader rewards and recognition programs, a revamped performance management process, and also their leadership training programs to these specific behaviors. Also, candidates for succession planning, which White refers to as "progression planning" instead, must demonstrate that they live these key leadership behaviors to even be considered candidates. Lastly, leadership off-site meetings are held every six months and are framed around either the BeF5 or LeadF5 behaviors.
  • Prior to the pandemic, F5 had already started to focus more on flexible, remote, and hybrid work approaches. They first tested their approach with their IT organization, and then after the pilot they expanded it to the entire company. They didn't have massive take-up initially, but at least the foundation was laid.
  • Today the approach has been solidified as their "Freedom to Flex" policy, which White described as "radical flexibility." Employees are allowed to choose between entirely or mostly on-site as their location, all or mostly remote, or a more hybrid approach. Even with this degree of flexibility, most F5 employees have chosen some degree of a hybrid work arrangement.
  • To support this, White noted they have created a "hybrid hub" and a manager toolkit to provide ample resources to enable the many ways of working.
  • Regarding hybrid meetings, F5 has adopted a "One virtual, all virtual" philosophy. This both equalizes the experience for all participants, and allows them to use features like chat to enable more input and insights during the meeting.
  • White said they have advised employees and managers to be intentional and purposeful in their decisions about when to come into an office location. Consider choosing Tuesday, Wednesday, and/or Thursday as in most cases those will be the days where the most colleagues will be in the office (but if your team differs, then come in on whatever days make sense for the purpose at hand.)
  • Once per quarter, F5 dedicates an entire day to employee learning. This includes some degree of flexibility as well, with employees choosing what and how they want to learn something relevant to them.
  • F5 also periodically hosts "Thirsty Thursdays," at their HQ location, where they provide appetizers, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic drinks, and a range of activities to increase connection and networking between employees.
  • White also noted that they offer their employees "Wellness Weekends," which are an outgrowth of their former once-per-quarter wellness days where employees got an extra day off to focus on their own wellness. Now the entire company takes a four-day weekend, Friday-Monday, once per quarter, to again focus employees on their wellness, work/live balance, etc.
  • F5 has extended their "human first" approach to their company events. White described the thought process behind two recent events, one a recent all-virtual Black and LatinX conference, and another an in-person off-site meeting for the VP level and above (first such gathering since COVID). Some F5 events involve "after parties," to further the relationship building from the day's activities.
  • During the call, we asked a poll of participants: "How much pushback from managers (frontline leaders, middle-managers, directors, etc.) are you seeing around your organization’s flexible / hybrid work policy?"
    • 19% - Significant pushback from management—they want greater flexibility regarding hybrid work options
    • 19% - Significant pushback from management—they want less flexibility regarding hybrid work options
    • 57% - We are not seeing much pushback from management
    • 6% - Not sure
  • White described the many ways that F5 has expanded their consideration and support of mental health. In addition to the Wellness Weekends mentioned earlier, they have rolled out the Headspace app which employees really like a lot. They also first piloted, and then expanded, a Mental Health First Aid course which gave managers a better understanding of the most common mental health challenges. As a result, they can lead with more empathy and understanding. Interestingly, the program has been very well-received, even in countries where there has traditionally been more of a taboo regarding mental health issues. Communications have also been increased about range of mental health offerings the companies provides, including more webinars on the subject. Lastly, F5 has also upgraded their medical plans so that all types of therapists are covered as in-network,
  • Onboarding at F5 had been largely digitized just as the pandemic hit in early 2020, so the timing of that transition couldn't have been better. They also focus additional effort on what is called "pre-boarding," even before an employee's first day. Like some other organizations, engaging earlier than day one reduces the chances an employee will ghost their new employer and not actually show up.
  • F5 has extended their "human first" philosophy to the situation in Ukraine, both in support of their contractors there, but also in supporting their European colleagues who have taken in war refugees.
  • Up next at F5 and their people practices? White said they are going to focus attention on innovation and how to drive this best given all the varied ways that people are collaborating today. Second, she noted a focus on their strategic promises which were all recently agreed to by the entire leadership team. And then third, an increased focus on encouraging managers to share talent, increase mobility, and build out an internal talent marketplace.

Links to resources shared on the call: