What is it like to start a new, remote job at Zillow?

Here’s a look at how the company is pioneering new ways to help new employees thrive in a distributed workforce

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“What was it like to join Zillow in 2020? Honestly, I was a bit nervous.” 

Back in July, 2020, Mary Ellen Fukuhara was feeling all of the usual anxiety about starting a new job — and then some. “Any time you join a company, it does always bring you back to that feeling in the middle of junior high when you’re trying to find the right table to sit at lunch,” she says. “And I really wasn’t sure how that was going to go if we were going to all be virtual.”

The senior investor relations manager was one of the more than 1,500 new employees who have started at Zillow since the company went fully virtual in March of 2020. Her fears put her in good company.

“There’s fear about interviewing virtually, and there’s fear that joining a team virtually won’t allow for the same experience you’d enjoy in person,” says Guadalupe Martinez, a technical sourcing recruiter for Zillow, who identifies and engages with candidates about open roles at Zillow and educates candidates about company culture. “People are interested in hearing about Zillow’s culture in terms of what the concept of a distributed workforce means for us.” 

The first thing she tells concerned candidates: Zillow’s distributed workforce is here to stay. While the remote work ethos launched in 2020 was initially a public safety response to the COVID-19 pandemic, company leaders soon recognized that at Zillow, a distributed workforce is the future of work: “About 90% of our employees will have the flexibility to work from home as an ongoing option, at least part-time,” wrote Chief People Officer Dan Spaulding at the time, “allowing them the ability to work where they are most productive, whether that is in the office, their home, or a combination of both.”

“People are interested in hearing about Zillow’s culture in terms of what the concept of a distributed workforce means for us.” —Guadalupe Martinez

Some employees might never return to the office, and new hires might work from anywhere in North America, within core working hours that keep teams connected across time zones. When it’s safe, teams can travel to meet and return to offices re-imagined with the reality of a distributed workforce in mind.

Martinez tells potential team members that new hires are eligible for $450 to set up their home offices, are given a monthly expenses budget for work supplies, and that, ever since the distributed workforce’s abrupt launch last year, Zillow has held “Zall Halls” — virtual all-hands company meetings to discuss important news and celebrate wins — and also provided social and wellness support via free virtual classes on topics ranging from Zoom fatigue to combating loneliness and stress, and balancing work and parenting. 

“All of this is a work in progress,” says Martinez. “By listening to our employees’ feedback, the virtual work culture and onboarding process is getting better and better.”

Since March 2020, Sarah McLamb, Zillow’s program manager for onboarding, has worked to adapt a formerly in-person onboarding process into a virtual experience that still feels personal and reassuring.

“Our challenge was: How do we create an experience of ‘welcome,’ and scale that to keep up with the company’s growth?” McLamb says. “First, we had to address what basics we need to share with new hires. But we also quickly pivoted to focus on the onboarding experience itself.”

Zillow has announced plans to hire more than 2,000 new employees in 2021 through an entirely online process. Here’s a look at what McLamb’s team has developed to bring all of these new people into the fold.

“Our challenge was: How do we create an experience of ‘welcome,’ and scale that to keep up with the company’s growth?” —Sarah McLamb

Before you start

Every new hire at Zillow receives their company laptop and a fun swag bag of goodies treats prior to their first day, McLamb notes — but now, they also now receive a personal introduction to a “ZPal,” a company buddy chosen just for them and who has been with Zillow at least six months. 

“In the past, a ZPal would be assigned by a manager and connected to a new employee during their first week,” McLamb says. “Now, ZPals will reach out prior to day one. They can serve as a resource before and during the coming onboarding.”

Zillow also sends new hires an email prior to their first day that outlines ways to get involved with others at the company, including membership in Zillow’s nine employee affinity groups, and via Zillow’s charitable initiatives. This information helps new hires learn where to find like-minded people.

The first day

New team members experience a “centralized” first day, with small welcome sessions offered by time zone. In those sessions, new hires get a walk-through of onboarding tasks, get personal introductions, and an introduction to Zillow University, the company’s vast library of internal trainings and informative webinars. Some courses are instructor-led, but many are designed for e-learning and self-paced study, McLamb notes, which is a benefit for an increasingly distributed workforce. 

Working remotely, I still feel supported by the company. I am very lucky to work here.” — Lilit Sloyan

“We received feedback from recent hires that some are more visual learners, while others want live interaction with others or the chance to ask questions in real-time,” she says. “We now hold a virtual open house each month, and it always includes a panel of new hires and facilitated questions about where new hires can go for resources at the company. This puts new hires at ease.” 

A new hire’s manager places special emphasis on preparing for their arrival, and first-day tasks are scheduled out through the day to help both employee and manager know they’re on-track. This attention to organization and communication gives employees reassurance that nothing important is being missed. It also allows time for socializing with new team members — a critical concern of some incoming employees.

“When friends and family ask me, ‘How is the new job?’ Honestly I’ve just said it’s been great.” — Mary Ellen Fukuhara

“It can be scary to join a company when you haven’t met the whole team,” says Lilit Sloyan, a technical sourcing recruiter for Zillow, who joined Zillow two years ago and works from San Francisco. Since at that time, most of the recruiting team was based in Zillow’s Seattle headquarters, Sloyan found herself working remotely from the rest of the team. But a combination of trainings still in use today — including a virtual “Zillow Group 101” course, as well as role-specific trainings, access to Skylight (the company Intranet), Zoom, and her team’s online routines — have made the sometimes disparate experience of working remotely feel somehow warm and intimate.

“I do live close to our San Francisco office, and I would love to go back there, at least sometimes, when that is a safe option again,” Sloyan says. “But working remotely, I still feel supported by the company. I am very lucky to work here.”

With 2,000 new hires anticipated in 2021, McLamb and the onboarding team will continue listening and developing Zillow Group’s welcome practices so new hires feel supported and empowered. “Every week we get new feedback,” McLamb says. “It’s an ongoing process.”

“When friends and family ask me, ‘How is the new job?’ Honestly I’ve just said it’s been great,” says Mary Ellen Fukuhara. “It’s a weird time that we’re all trying to navigate through, and the support systems that Zillow has put in place have really been helpful. 

“It’s allowed me to try to be a really good employee, still be a spouse, still be a mom with school going on in our home virtually. And the way this remote environment has been set up through Zillow, I feel like I’ve been able to do that … wow!”

Related: Ready to join us at Zillow?