Worried About Retention? Individualize Your Return-to-Work Plan

A conversation with Debbie Gunning, Vice President of People at Human Interest

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About the episode

No matter your thoughts on remote work (“It’s the future!” “It’s the end of us!”), one thing is clear: Work-from-home is here for the foreseeable future — and people teams need to be creative, empathic and flexible in building culture for remote and hybrid employees.


Today’s guest, Debbie Gunning, Vice President of People at Human Interest, has been managing the complexities of a geographically distributed workforce since Covid began. Two years ago, Human Interest was a 50-person office in San Francisco. When the company entered a period of rapid growth, its hiring needs accelerated. Today, Human Interest boasts nearly 500 employees, two thirds of whom are full-time remote workers. “Hiring remote workers allowed us to scale faster,” she says. “When you have really aggressive hiring goals, you can open up a candidate pool that you maybe couldn’t tap into before.”

Debbie sees value in both in-office and remote work — and her San Francisco employees will return to the office in a hybrid capacity when the time is right. But she challenges the perception that remote is detrimental to productivity. Moreover, she posits that one of its benefits is retention.

“Office life for some people means an hour commute or more per day, probably an hour on the lower side,” she says. “If you can use that time for work, for wellness, to connect with the people you love, you’re going to be more productive and happy. And if you’re more productive and happy, you’re probably going to stay a lot longer in your current role.” 

That said, Debbie recognizes the need to create opportunities for remote employees to stay connected. She shares the details of a forthcoming Human Interest remote program intended to replicate the sense of interpersonal connectivity that in-person employees develop organically. 

For HR teams that are drawing up plans for remote, hybrid, or in-office arrangements, she offers this advice: Instead of creating a blanket return-to-work plan, take time to understand the unique stressors of individual employees, then create options that accommodate them — to whatever extent you can. 

“I challenge all of us to put on a variety of lenses — to put yourself in the mindset of all sorts of different people that are employed at your company,” says Debbie, who specifically calls out caregivers and people with health conditions. “Listen, learn, and use that in building out a plan.”

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