Evolve is a rapidly growing organization dedicated to elevating the vacation rental property experience for owners, guests, and service partners across North America. But transforming the vacation rental industry isn’t easy—it takes a team of brilliant, creative, and forward-thinking people.
We recently caught up with Communications Consultant & Leader, Tony Kihl, to explore how Evolve elevates the employee experience and supports its extraordinary team.
A Place for Everyone to Call Home
We spend a major portion of our time at work, so it makes sense that the workplace should be a welcoming and inviting space, whether you’re working in an office, working remotely, or in a deskless environment. True to its ethos of elevating hospitality experiences, Evolve fosters a work environment that invites Evolvers to engage and connect.
When asked what his favorite part about being a member of the team is, Kihl didn’t stop with one:
“I get to learn every day while creating lasting memories for our guests, seamless experiences for our owners, and a place our Evolvers want to come to every day. It’s a great, inclusive culture that allows you to bring your real self to work.”
As we explored what it means to bring your real self to work, it became clear that a commitment to inclusion and authenticity were bedrock organizational values for the Evolve team.
“Diversity and inclusion are front and center, whether it’s our Evolver resource groups, pronouns in Slack and Haystack, photos, video shoots—we want to make sure everyone feels comfortable and involved, that everyone in the organization feels represented, and that they're all part of one Evolve team.
We have regular listening sessions with senior leadership, and importantly, we take actions based on that feedback from those sessions. In fact, some of the feedback from those sessions led us to Haystack.”
“I get to learn every day while creating lasting memories for our guests, seamless experiences for our owners, and a place our Evolvers want to come to every day. It’s a great, inclusive culture that allows you to bring your real self to work.
Elevating the Employee Experience
Among other achievements, Evolve made BuiltIn’s “Best Places to Work in Colorado” three years running. And while Evolve famously disrupted the status quo of the vacation rental experience, its approach to elevating the digital employee experience is deeply rooted in common sense. Kihl highlighted the team’s core commitment to gathering and implementing feedback.
“We elevate the employee experience by simply listening to the voice of Evolvers. They tell us what they need and how they need it. One of the first projects I led when starting at Evolve was a communication survey, so I could better understand what’s working, and what’s not.”
Kihl commented further on that combination of common sense and a shared inclination toward positive change that guided his efforts at Evolve. “We shouldn’t be afraid to change our methods to meet the demands of our teams,” he explained.
That spirit of positive change made accommodating a major shift in workforce dynamics easier.
“It’s all about providing opportunities to succeed and connect. Over the last couple of years we have adopted a flexible work environment that allows Evolvers to work anywhere in the United States. So, we meet them where they are by providing collaborative tools like Slack and Haystack that allow them to connect with each other and find the resources they need when they need them.
The biggest thing I think of in a remote environment: you may have some team members that never step foot in your corporate office. So, we must create a digital environment that connects them to the culture.”
"It’s all about providing opportunities to succeed and connect."
Implementing a major tool can be a stressful time for leadership, but Evolve’s commitment to employee feedback freed Kihl and his team to deliver a brand new digital employee experience without anxiety. As he explained, “our committee of employees is telling us it’s going to work before we even roll it out.”
Rather than basing decisions on best practices or what worked for other companies and hoping for results, Evolve stays laser-focused on accomplishing its own organizational goals and meeting expectations across the full spectrum of its employee stakeholders.
That new system, dubbed “Home Base,” not only met expectations, it surpassed them. “Within the first week we were over 70% adoption, which is outstanding,” Kihl said. “It reflected that our Evolvers were ready for a tool like this one.”
“Within the first week we were over 70% adoption, which is outstanding.”
A Culture of Growth through Learning
One of Evolve’s core values is to Learn Every Day, and that ethos extends through every facet of the organization—all the way to the team itself. With its new Home Base, Evolve was able to bring in missing pieces such as the Evolver Directory, Evolver Glossary, Org Chart, and more. That allowed Evolvers to better understand the organization, but also to learn about one another.
“Haystack has helped immensely as it tells us so much about our Evolvers. About what they are searching/looking for, what they may be struggling with, and what they are passionate about.
It also tells us more about them, from their background, to their hobbies, and everything in between. It allows me to create a better map of how we should be communicating to our Evolvers and how we should be managing Home Base.”
In this way, Home Base became a unique place where the leadership team could both gather and implement Evolver feedback in a tight loop. With so much to gain from sharing, learning, and connecting, it’s crucial to make doing so simple—and that’s exactly what Kihl and his team accomplished. Although they achieved an enormous win, Kihl stressed that the learning journey doesn’t have a finite end point.
“Even when we get great feedback about communications, I never want us to rest on our laurels. There’s always room for improvement, whether that’s adding new features, adding more channels, or improving the ones we already have. I’m always collecting feedback, trying to see around corners and continuously elevate the digital experience.”
“Haystack has helped immensely as it tells us so much about Evolvers."
Ease, Efficiency, and Personalization
Evolve has continued to scale its operations rapidly year over year, and while that’s exhilarating, that sort of growth presents a lot of complexity. With so much to accomplish, it’s crucial to have tools and systems that both new and longstanding Evolvers can get value from easily.
“Haystack has simplified our world,” Kihl said, and he explained why this was so important:
“During my time at Apple, I learned that we must make experiences that are just easy. And that is what Haystack is, it’s easy—easy to use, easy to understand, easy to set up and manage.
It allowed us to take communications that were too Slack-heavy and hard to find, and put them into a more organized and personalized format. Evolvers can see all of the events and communications they need to see, and they can easily find the resources they want through slick navigation.”
For a tool dedicated to amplifying voices, sharing resources, and connecting Evolvers across the country, ease and efficiency were paramount. That ease and efficiency also translate to access and inclusion, which help to push the team forward.
“Haystack has simplified our world.”
Part of that balance between access and efficiency comes from understanding what absolutely needs to be communicated, but also buffering the team from a torrent of information they don’t need. Slack is an effective means of quick and direct communication, but it can easily become overwhelming. “Slack governance was naturally a bit loose, and people didn’t always know where to go,” Kihl explained.
“I look at it from a push-pull perspective: what things do we need to push directly to Evolvers, and what things do we want to provide easy access to. We really strive to personalize our communications—making sure that if we need to share something with one part of the organization, we’re not defaulting to sharing with everyone else. If there’s a fun or nice-to-have bit of information, we make it available and easy to find, but we don’t broadcast it company-wide.”
Most intranets have the ability to broadcast content, but that can easily backfire. Just like with billboards or banner ads, the more you’re inundated with information, the more likely you are to tune it out. That’s why Kihl and his team focused on personalizing the experience.
“One thing that we really love about Haystack is user notification preferences. Evolvers can choose the type of communications they receive, when, and where. When they do need to find something, they don’t have to dig through Slack messages or emails, it’s all in one place, and that’s been part of our journey to solve for things Evolvers share with us.”
That personalization helps ensure that when Evolvers are presented with content, it’s engaging, and it’s relevant to them. “I’ve found that the more communications you force out there, the less people listen when it matters. Of course, there will always be really important things you need everyone to see,” Kihl explained, “but as for the rest—just make sure that if they want it or need it, they can get it.”
“That focus and restraint was lacking with our previous intranet. People were struggling to find what they needed, but at the same time being overwhelmed with information they didn’t need. If everything is a priority message, pretty soon nothing is.”
With a large organization, you’re bound to have a wide variety of personalities, functional roles, and preferences. To make sense of it all and deliver the best possible experience, Kihl employed a deft strategy:
“I developed a process called communication mapping, where information and communications map to a specific employee type or role. So, for example, engineers may need to interact with comms differently from a deskless worker, or someone working in a customer-facing role. Understanding the personas within our organization and mapping those preferences to meet them where they’re at.
If you explain to people that you’re working to personalize and make things easier for them, they’ll often open right up and tell you exactly what they need. I’m using that information to make continuous improvements to the experience.“
A Major Migration in Record Time
Kihl and company were under a major time crunch. They had only a few weeks to migrate over 600 posts away from their previous intranet before they lost access.
“My process will (hopefully) be different than most,” Kihl explained. “It was tough, but only because of the timing. The actual process and steps to follow was very easy. It didn’t require a lot of our IT’s time and I was able to create the plan, jump right in, and bring it to life.”
Despite that major time crunch, Kihl was able to get Haystack rolled out successfully. “It’s all about your project plan,” he said. Then he graciously shared some key elements of that plan:
- Ensure you have the right people in the project to make decisions quickly.
- Have a good understanding of your current content - what’s moving over, what isn’t, and how all of these pieces will fit into the new location.
- Create a framework of what your team wants the site to look like in Powerpoint (or your favorite tool) so you have something to work towards.
- Establish a solid Timeline of actions that need to occur and ensure you prioritize them the right way.
Success by the Numbers
Early post-launch feedback was and continues to be overwhelmingly positive.
“I’m getting a lot of messages from people talking about how much they like using the new Home Base, even though they barely used the previous one,” Kihl said. “People are making connections via things like ‘similar hobbies’ or ‘passions’ found in Evolver profiles. Admins from a whole range of technical skill levels mentioned how easy it is to just jump in and get started.
The executive team loves all the activity, seeing all the thumbs up and heart emojis, and the overall engagement with communications.
It’s just easy to use, too. I’m accustomed to getting a lot of support questions during a rollout, but there really haven’t been that many. That sort of feedback is really encouraging, and helps confirm we’ve made the right choice.”
While that sort of anecdotal evidence is encouraging and exciting to hear, the Evolve team was also able to back up those early reports. In addition to seeing 70% engagement within the first month, Evolve’s first monthly town hall meeting after launching Haystack saw a 20% increase in attendance, and engagement on posts was 30% higher compared to what they were seeing previously in Slack.
“I’m used to seeing much lower adoption rates over longer periods of time, so it was great to see all the engagement,” Kihl said.
As the person spearheading the implementation, Kihl shared one of his own favorite features:
“Personally, I really love the employee map, and seeing where everyone is located across the organization. It’s way better than trying to use a spreadsheet if you’re thinking about getting people together for something like a volunteer event—you can just quickly just pull it up and see who is local to which area.”
“I’m getting a lot of messages from people talking about how much they like using the new Home Base, even though they barely used the previous one.”
Since his Haystack implementation was such a resounding success we asked Kihl to sum up a few of his best tips for others to learn from.
- Emphasizing previous advice, having a solid project plan in place is essential.
- It’s all about the voice of your employees. Don’t create something you think they need or will like. Create something they tell you they need and will elevate their experience.
- When creating the digital environment, put yourself in your employees shoes and create something that is easy to navigate and understand. It should bring them closer to your culture, allow for opportunities for connection, and it should be something they look forward to going to each and every day.
We’re proud to work with organizations like Evolve that continue to elevate the digital employee experience, and can’t wait to see their Haystack story continue.