Amid return-to-office mandates, why Yelp is embracing fully remote work

In the last few years, as the nation rebounded from the height of the COVID-19 pandemic, employers across industries started rolling back remote work policies, with many calling workers back to the office part- or even full-time. However, online business review site Yelp bucked that trend and leaned more fully into remote work—with significant business outcomes.

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After overwhelmingly positive employee experiences with remote work—CEO Jeremy Stoppelman wrote in 2022 that 93% of Yelp employees and managers agreed they were meeting their goals in remote settings—and significant under-utilization of offices that reopened, Yelp began envisioning a remote-first future, says Chief People Officer Carmen Amara. That led to the closure of several offices and investment in a remote-first culture that allows employees to work “where it makes sense for them,” according to the organization’s Careers page.

Today, remote employees can receive a one-time reimbursement to set up a remote office, as well as monthly reimbursements for costs related to working from home. Yelp sends care packages to employees around the world every quarter, featuring items that support local Yelp-listed businesses and are themed around celebrations like Black History and Pride months. While the organization’s real estate footprint has been reduced, employees are invited to IRL (In Real Life) gatherings throughout the year to promote in-person collaboration.

Since formalizing its fully remote model, Amara says, the organization has seen significant ROI, particularly around recruiting: Visits to its Careers page increased 183% year-over-year between 2021-23, while the number of applicants increased by 43% during the same timeframe, and time to hire dropped by 9%.

Amara—who came to Yelp in 2022, leveraging her previous HR leadership experience at organizations including The Home Depot and eBay—recently shared with HRE the impetus for and impacts of Yelp’s remote work strategy.

HRE: What role has employee sentiment played in shaping Yelp’s approach to remote work?

Carmen Amara, YelpAmara: Our continued commitment to remote work has been shaped by both employee sentiment and our business results. Since we began our remote approach in 2020, we have seen positive employee sentiment toward remote work, both through employee survey feedback and significant office underutilization—leading us to close several offices in 2022 and 2023 that were not being fully utilized. In a 2023 survey of our employees, we found that 90% of employees stated that they found effective ways to collaborate remotely, and 86% said they found small ways to connect as a remote team.

In addition to increased employee satisfaction, we’ve continued to see strong business results. In the last year, we released nearly 60 new features and updates and delivered one of our strongest financial performances in our 2023 fiscal year. Four years in, we’re continuously refining our employee experience to adapt to remote work, and we are continuing to listen to our employees as we actively shape the future of work at Yelp.

HRE: What culture work have you undertaken to ensure success in a remote environment?

Amara: We’ve needed to throw out the old playbooks to create a successful remote work culture that encourages employees to create their own work/life fit. Gartner research has shown that emotional proximity is fostered through intentional connection, and at Yelp we’ve been intentional about building a workplace that allows individuals to connect deeply across time zones and even continents. We’ve introduced benefits that better support our remote workforce like our work-from-home stipend, our enhanced wellness benefit and our healthcare travel benefit, which provides employees with reimbursement should they need to travel outside their home state to access covered services like abortion or gender-affirming care. We’ve also implemented aspects like Core Hours and No Meeting Fridays to help employees better set and maintain work/life boundaries and rethought our learning and development programs to provide employees with opportunities to grow their careers with insights from key executives across the organization.

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And while we believe the future of Yelp is remote, we continue to invest in intentional in-person gatherings to allow teams to collaborate, learn and strengthen their interpersonal connections face-to-face. We’ve seen positive employee sentiment as a result of our remote work culture, with 96% of respondents in our 2023 survey stating that Yelp promotes an inclusive environment and 95% stating that their manager is considerate of them as a person.

Learn how leading organizations are promoting culture in a remote work environment at HRE‘s upcoming EPIC Conference, April 24-26 in Las Vegas. Click here to register.

HRE: What impact has transitioning to remote work had on the organization’s ability to find high-quality, right-fit candidates?

Amara: Yelp’s remote work posture allows us to search for the best talent, regardless of location. We shifted from a workforce primarily centered around eight office locations, mainly concentrated in the U.S., to one that spans nearly all U.S. states and five additional countries—with over half of our engineering team based outside the U.S. This geographical diversity has introduced a wealth of perspectives, ideas and problem-solving approaches to our teams.

HRE: How have you personally rethought your approach to HR leadership in light of working in a remote environment?

Amara: Though I had worked with global and remote teams in prior roles, my current role at a fully remote company like Yelp has been an empowering journey. It’s been incredibly rewarding to completely rethink how we work at Yelp, from onboarding to leadership development. Embracing our Yelp value to “Be Unboring” has been pivotal!

One key aspect that I’ve rethought in my time at Yelp is the importance of rest. Recognizing the critical role of intentional rest in boosting productivity has led to a shift in our culture, and I’ve personally seen the benefits of encouraging more breaks and structured rest times—not just for myself but across my teams. At Yelp, we’ve really focused on creating a workplace that supports work/life fit.

HRE: Yelp recently rolled out a new leadership development program. What are the skill sets you’re honing in on that leaders at Yelp need to prioritize?

Amara: Our new leadership development program is focused on equipping leaders with the skills necessary to thrive at Yelp and beyond, including leading with integrity and transparency. The program provides insights from Yelp executives on critical leadership skills such as how to communicate effectively through candid conversations. These kinds of conversations can transform the way we work, fostering a culture of open, genuine dialogue. We’re still in the beginning stages, and I’m looking forward to continuing to evolve the program based on employee feedback and the needs of our business.

HRE: What role is emerging technology, specifically AI, playing in Yelp’s people processes?

Amara: We are paying close attention to emerging technology, and believe there are a number of exciting opportunities for Yelp. We see these tools as additive to our workforce, helping individuals focus on more impactful work. It’s important for us that we use these tools responsibly, and we’re continuing to explore new ways to enhance the work of our People team using AI. One area we are currently evaluating is how AI can help us to become more effective in the recruitment of talent with possible automation of repetitive tasks and weeding out bias in the hiring process.

HRE: What do you think will be Yelp’s biggest people success story in 2024?

Amara: I believe that we’ll continue to see the positive impacts of our robust employee listening strategy in 2024. Our professional development programming and our enhanced wellness benefits are two great examples of meaningful changes implemented in 2023 that resulted from employee feedback.

We believe that our approach to employee listening has enhanced our employee satisfaction and retention rates, and that continues to fuel strong business performance. In 2023, 88% of employees surveyed recommended Yelp as a great place to work, up from 87% in 2021, and 75% saw themselves working at Yelp in two years, up from 63% in 2021. In 2024, we’re looking forward to continuing to listen to our employees and evolve our workplace to better support their needs.

HRE: What are you passionate about outside of work?

Amara: Outside of work, I love to keep active by running, practicing yoga and exploring Austin’s hiking trails. I also enjoy traveling and spending time with my three dogs.

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Jen Colletta
Jen Colletta is managing editor at HRE. She earned bachelor's and master's degrees in writing from La Salle University in Philadelphia and spent 10 years as a newspaper reporter and editor before joining HRE. She can be reached at [email protected].