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Post-pandemic perk alert: Compt’s CEO on what it now takes to attract and keep employees

Presented by Slack

This is the seventh article in a series of conversations with Slack Fund portfolio companies, which explores their growth and the roles they play in creating the future of work. In this piece, Jason Spinell, head of Slack Fund, sits down with Amy Spurling, CEO & Founder of Compt to learn about her journey and explore how companies are thinking about perks in our new hybrid era.

See the first five in this series featuring Hopin CEO Johnny Boufarhat, Daily Co-Founder Nina Kuruvilla, MURAL Co-Founder & CEO Mariano Suarez-Battan, Notion COO Akshay Kothari, Paige McPheely, CEO and Co-Founder of Base, and The Browser Company’s CEO, Josh Miller.

As a three-time CFO, Amy Spurling has had a front row seat to the ways employee compensation has changed over the past decade. Now, as CEO & Founder of Compt, she’s helping companies across the world offer more inclusive benefits packages tailored to the needs of every employee.

Compt enables companies to offer an inclusive range of employee perks and rewards through a flexible stipend program. With themed stipends for everything from wellness to remote work, the platform empowers employees to customize their own perks, and handles taxation and reimbursement on the back end.

Attracting and retaining a talented team is harder than ever — and offering an outstanding collection of perks is a key pillar of any strategy to recruit top talent.

I recently sat down with Amy to talk about her journey and learn more about what employee compensation and company culture looks like in the future of work.

This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.

Jason Spinell: Let’s do a quick introduction – can you tell us a little about yourself and your journey to becoming the CEO and founder of Compt?

Amy Spurling: I’ve been a CFO at three different companies, so I’ve spent a lot of time building and growing finance and HR functions for other founders. In that time, I’ve had a front row seat to the changes in the way we compensate employees. These days, roughly 80% of a typical compensation stack is salary and health insurance, and the remaining 20% is made up of perks designed to attract and retain talent.

In all the companies I worked at, that last 20% became a really big mess, and I saw that all across the market. There’s so many point solutions: utilization always ends up being low and there’s all kinds of tax issues. Perks are really a critical piece for supporting employees, but nobody had built a delivery system for them. So I decided to build it myself, and we founded Compt in January 2018.

As a CFO, I wasn’t sure how I was going to figure out compensation for my future teams without a tool like Compt. So at the very least, I knew that with Compt I’d be building a tool that I could use in the future.

Jason Spinell: With Compt, you’ve been at the epicenter of the whole future of work discussion for a few years now. What does the future of work mean to you, and how do you think software will help shape the future of work?

Amy Spurling: There’s been a discussion around the future of work and what it means for a few years now, but everything accelerated so fast in that one week in March 2020 where everyone was thrust into remote work immediately. There was no more dipping your toes in the water to test it out, companies had to embrace it.

It was one of those once-in-a-lifetime market shifts that forces companies to do everything very differently from how they had done it in the past. My wife’s company still used desktops, and they had to figure out how to move to laptops very quickly.

Clearly, there’s going to be a longer-term future of work that we’re still building towards, but over the last twenty or so months, we’ve seen a major shift in how we work, and things aren’t going back to how they were pre-COVID. We’re realizing that we can work in ways that give individuals more balance, eliminating the two hours a day we spent commuting and freeing people to spend more time with their families.

Software is critical in making that happen. Software helps us maintain connections with people, letting us see and talk to people when we’re not physically with them. Software also streamlines a lot of the processes of how we get work done together.

Jason Spinell: You mentioned cutting away things like commuting that added no value to work. Are there other long-term impacts you think the pandemic will have on how we work together and collaborate?

Amy Spurling: We’ve seen a lot of new tools emerge, and we’re still in the infancy on that. But we’ve seen the ways people use existing tools change a lot too. Pre-Slack, aside from engineers chatting on GitHub, there weren’t many communication tools, but now platforms like Slack are central to how work gets done. That’s going to continue evolving.

Another big shift I’m watching is the changing concept of office space. Some companies have a big footprint, and need to figure out what they’re going to do with these huge, expensive office spaces that people don’t want to commute to any longer.

What is the purpose of an office going forward? Some companies don’t need offices, but some do. Offices aren’t necessarily where work gets done any more, but it’s still unclear what their purpose is now — are they where we gather together? The places we do collaborative work? I think these hybrid environments, along with new software and systems, are really changing the ways that we get work done.

Jason Spinell: As an investor, I’d be out of the office meeting people for most of the day, but I’d use the Slack office as a home base: somewhere I’d return to, to build social bonds, meet people for lunch — those kinds of activities. But it wasn’t really the place I got my work done.

Amy Spurling: Looking back, it’s strange that people would commute to an office and put on headphones so they wouldn’t be distracted. Now, that idea seems ludicrous.

Jason Spinell: You talked a little about the shift from fully in-office to fully remote. Now, we’re kind of in this hybrid world. What do you think are some of the challenges that organizations are going to have to overcome, and what kind of tools do you use at Compt to help with the hybrid work environment?

Amy Spurling: At Compt, we’re fully remote, and we plan on staying that way. But it’s easier to do that with a small team than it would be with thousands of people.

I think the pendulum is going to continue to swing back and forth between in-office and remote as companies figure out what works best for them. I see so many companies putting a stake in the ground, saying that they’re definitely going back to the office-first culture. But I think companies that try to force everyone back into the office are going to lose a lot of employees.

The meaning of hybrid is going to vary by company. Figuring out how to maintain high productivity levels is going to be a huge challenge. If you’re only in the office a couple of days a week, and you’re using that time for the primarily social activities that you talked about, you might see productivity plummet. It’s going to take a lot of trial and error for every company to figure it out.

The tools we use are going to be a critical part of that. They cover everything from managing employee leave, with a platform like Tilt, to communication platforms. Our team lives on Slack, and I can’t imagine how we’d work without it. But recently, we’ve been onboarding people who came from companies that didn’t use tools like Slack or Google Workspace, and it’s been interesting watching their learning curve.

Jason Spinell: As a leader, how do you foster a culture of connectivity and inclusivity at Compt? How do you think other leaders should think about this in hybrid environments?

Amy Spurling: It’s been interesting. We’ve hired over half of our team since the start of the pandemic. Most of us hadn’t met in person until this last quarter, when we were finally able to bring everyone together. It was challenging to think through how to incorporate people who’d met in person and those who hadn’t.

Our team is pretty unique as tech companies go. Most of the team doesn’t drink, and a lot of people have kids, so they don’t want to attend things after hours. We had to adjust to find activities that worked for us. We do coffee chats where you spend time with your teammates and just chat without an agenda. We also play virtual games. It’s important to make time to connect outside of meetings. It helps make up for those missed connections of bumping into someone or catching up over lunch.

We assign everyone a new person to get a virtual beverage with every quarter. We pair up sales with engineering, or customer success with marketing, so that people that aren’t in meetings together get to know each other. It’s helped us tremendously: our marketing and sales team are besties, and so are our product and engineering teams, which are friendships I’ve not seen in many organizations.

Jason Spinell: At Slack, we use one of our portfolio companies for that. It’s called Donut, and I use it at least once a week to connect with people from all over Slack.

I’m sure you have a lot of thoughts about employee benefits. What impact do you think the changes to the way we work will have on employee benefits, and how do you think employers should be thinking about benefits going forwards?

Amy Spurling: The system was broken before COVID, but the pandemic helped everyone see things in a new light. Pre-COVID, the overarching goal for a lot of companies was to build a campus with a lot of perks that kept people there longer. There were a bunch of other perks too — dry cleaning, dog walking, food, childcare, and more.

But all of these perks would have really low utilization. It was expensive for companies to offer these perks, and they didn’t work very well. Now, all these perks don’t have as much value in a remote environment as they did when everyone was in the same space. Companies are having to evolve their thinking about perks to differentiate themselves.

Perks now have a more altruistic purpose, and are truly about giving people comfortable, productive remote environments. The need for personalization of perks has never been more obvious. Tools that enable companies to do that are becoming really popular, and we’re seeing a lot of companies move to stipends that enable them to be more inclusive.

We’re trying to build tools that allow HR teams to effectively support diverse teams, rather than trying to find the select things that a particular group wants. Everyone needs different things, and to be competitive for great talent, companies need to offer that. Our tools enable that, and we’ve seen huge growth — last year we grew over 400%.

Jason Spinell: It’s interesting to hear the focus on inclusivity with these stipends. It helps people feel like they can get what they want, making them happier at work – it makes a lot of sense.

Amy Spurling: At the beginning of COVID, companies realized that their employees were at home with their kids, who weren’t in school. So they started piling on benefits to try and help these employees.

But there was this huge backlash from employees who didn’t have kids, but who also needed support – whether that was mental health support or something else. And so, companies were trying to figure out how to provide more tailored benefits, and these themed stipends became really popular – stipends covering broad areas like wellness or family.

Jason Spinell: Have you seen any interesting trends in your customer base about what perks people are embracing the most?

Amy Spurling: We have. Companies are including a lot of wellness stipends to support people’s physical, mental, emotional, and financial wellness. That’s usually the number one choice, and they might include a lot of categories within that stipend.

The other thing that we’ve seen is a lot of remote onboarding stipends, where companies give new employees money to buy a new desk, chair, whatever they need. There’s also remote working stipends, which include allowances for cell phone, internet and other services.

When we look at the perks that are being used on our platform, it’s true that a lot of people buy Pelotons, but there’s also a really interesting long tail. We ran a study in Q1 of this year that looked at 4,500 of our users, and aimed to explore how many unique vendors they used in a three month period. They used 6,500 different vendors! Every single person is using at least one thing that’s different from everyone else.

It also creates interesting ripple effects. If you’re using a vendor marketplace, you’re probably only going to have 20 or 30 vendors on there, because you don’t want to overwhelm people with choice. Inevitably, it’s always huge companies that end up as vendors on these platforms.

But when you give people more choices, we’ve seen that they spend the money in their local communities. All that money that employers are giving their team to spend on perks isn’t going towards building the next trillion-dollar company, it’s going into small local businesses. That has a really positive impact on the ecosystem around where employees are living — the money is flowing to local coffee shops, yoga instructors, and personal trainers. That’s been really cool to see.

Jason Spinell: You talked a little about how your employee base mixes with the coffee chats and other initiatives, but I’m curious if there are other strategies you’ve used at Compt to drive engagement inside the company?

Amy Spurling: It’s ever-evolving. Right now, we’re at an inflection point, and we’re revamping things. We’ve found that some in-person, where we can do that safely, is really good. The group that’s based in New England recently met up to go apple-picking. It was great to connect with people in real-life, horse around in an orchard and eat a bunch of donuts together.

I also met up with our sales team, who are mostly based in Arkansas and Texas, a couple of weeks ago. It’s really critical to have those touchpoints where you see people in person.

Every company has to figure out what works best for their culture. It’s important to find ways to connect that work for our team as a whole, instead of just taking ideas out of the box.

Jason Spinell: That idea of crafting strategies that are very specific to your own company and culture is critical. Obviously, your product at Compt is built to be more inclusive and flexible – can you share any product features you’re particularly excited about?

Amy Spurling: We get a lot of feedback from amazing HR leaders, and one of the ideas we keep hearing over and over is peer-to-peer recognition. It’s even more critical in a remote environment. There are lots of tools that do the recognition part, but the reward component is crucial too.

On Compt, we just rolled out the first version of a new tool that enables HR leaders to give budgets to people on teams to recognize others. It’s usually pretty small — $25 or $50 per team member per quarter, but it lets team members award micro bonuses to their teammates. It’s a very specific and targeted recognition.

It’s integrated with Slack, so people can see the recognition and reward in public, which is important. Our HR leaders are super excited about that, and it’s been especially important now we’re in a remote environment. People can’t just go up to someone in the office and give them a high-five and offer to buy them a cup of coffee; we need new tools like this to make recognition work.

Jason Spinell: That’s awesome. This is the last question, and it’s a fun one. Is there one emoji that you or the team at Compt use the most?

Amy Compt: We have a lot of amazing custom emojis, but my go to is the dancing woman in the red dress.

She’s my go-to: she’s fiery, spunky and has a lot of attitude. I’m definitely a heavy emoji and GIF user — it immediately adds a lot of personality to conversations.

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