Leadership 2021: At Best Buy Canada, Carol Graziani has seen remote work make employees happier and more productive

The switch to remote work has only strengthened Best Buy Canada's diversity and inclusion efforts.

Not all B.C. companies needed a pandemic to show them the benefits of remote work. Take Best Buy Canada, which was moving toward a virtual model for its corporate staff before COVID pushed things along.

“We were already starting to hear from our incumbents and from candidates that people wanted the opportunity for more flexibility,” says Carol Graziani, the retailer’s newly appointed director of diversity and inclusion. “So we were going there anyway in a more conservative way, and when the pandemic occurred and we really saw the potential of real, total freedom and flexibility, we thought, Why would we want to go back?”

Graziani says the change has been a success in several ways, with more collaboration across departments and a general uptick in productivity. “Now when you’re online and you’re tackling something together, it’s quite focused and quite purposeful.”

Remote work has also given many employees the chance to move out of the Lower Mainland for more-affordable housing, as well as greater flexibility for personal matters like family, medical appointments and exercise. “It’s just a lot more, I’m going to say, human, even though it’s virtual,” Graziani says. “It leaves space for the humanity of everybody.”

Now that its 1,200-strong corporate team can mostly work from home, Best Buy is still going ahead with its move from Burnaby to a new HQ in Mount Pleasant. Scheduled to open next February, the building will give the company a bricks-and-mortar space for complex collaboration, team-building and vendor meetings.

Though some staff might be happy never going back to the office, it’s not one size fits all. “We also know that some folks do not thrive in isolation or may just need a change,” Graziani says. “We see the new office as the flexible combination of ‘me work’ and ‘we work,’ when it makes sense.”

Credit: Best Buy Canada

Having conquered WFH, Best Buy will use its new Vancouver HQ for in-person collaboration

Excluding exclusion

During her 15 years with Best Buy’s human resources department—she was previously director of HR—Graziani has always advocated for inclusivity through education and other initiatives, with a focus on the LGBTQIA+ community. Her new role was created to unify steps taken by various parts of the organization—efforts that going virtual has only helped.

“It has opened up doors for sharing that we never have really seen before,” Graziani says. “So, because we have technology, because we can do this type of a meeting across space and time, we’ve been able to invite a lot more people to participate.”

One way that Best Buy fosters an inclusive environment is through Continue the Conversation, which lets employees across the company share and respond to personal stories. Recent sessions focused on Indigenous History Month and Pride Month. Another program is Inspire Talks, which sees one person pick a subject for the group to explore.

But the company has always been an ally. “Nobody celebrates Pride like we do,” Graziani says. “Our work on helping LGBTQ employees feel accepted has been long-standing and ongoing.”

In recent years, Best Buy has found different ways to step up for LGBTQIA+ employees, such as providing pronoun options on name tags in support of nonbinary staff, financial benefits for people undergoing a gender transition and toolkits that help leaders and employees support their coworkers through the process.

Loud and clear

Although Best Buy was already moving toward remote work, no one was ready to transfer online at the start of the pandemic. Graziani says that challenged her to grow as a leader and to adapt to a new normal. “The best leaders know that they do not have to be the smartest person in the room, but they have to be the best listener,” she observes. “I’ve always thought that was a strength of mine. And the experience during the pandemic has served to amplify my belief in that.”

But Graziani says the digital shift presented its own barriers for the technologically challenged, with certain departments doubting it could work. “And that, I would say, is one of the best learnings of this process,” she notes. “When you go to folks and say, How do we make this work, they step up.”