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B+E Wrapped: What's "In" at Conscious Companies?

What we saw working with 50+ people-first teams in 2023. Plus: what we think is coming next.

Hi! We’re Bright + Early, a company that builds great places to work. We’ve worked with everyone from startups (hundreds of them!) to tech giants, governments and international charities to help them design future-forward and human-first workplaces.

Through thoughtful design practices and an inclusive lens, we work as fractional HR leaders, craft modern policies, and build hiring programs, work environments, growth frameworks, compensation systems (and more!) for companies that care.

We also publish Early, a digital magazine focused on the future of work, and donate a portion of our revenue to The Bright + Early Better Workplaces Fund, a portfolio of charities focused on underrepresented groups at work.

A pair of hands shaking
  • Built over 100 projects for 50 organizations across tech, nonprofit and creative spaces, including...
  • A global pay strategy for a leading international charity
  • Trauma-informed HR frameworks for folks helping survivors of human trafficking
  • A diversity and inclusion strategy for one of the country’s biggest tech conferences
  • Career paths and organizational designs for changemakers in healthtech, climate, and AI
  • Modern workplace policies for defenders of innocent folks behind bars, organizations working to solve homelessness, and changemakers in healthcare for Black Canadians
  • Maintained an average employee engagement score of 83% across all our client organizations, compared to a worldwide average of 23%*.
  • Brought our total contribution to the Bright + Early Better Workplaces fund up to over $47,000 CAD


A set of French doors left open

What we saw in 2023

We mostly work with companies in the tech, creative and nonprofit sectors*. At every organization we work with, we run a twice-annual employee survey, complete 1:1 interviews, and take a deep dive review of their existing policies and programs. Aside from helping us design their shiny new systems, this process also gives us a lot of data on how different things impact employee engagement. Here’s what was trending this year.

*meaning: these insights might not apply to other kinds of workplaces, like retail or blue-collar jobs. We’re mostly talking about office work (in less traditional, less corporate environments) here

We’re in the era of the designed, intentional workplace. Between the continuing adjustments to remote life (so much documentation!) and the big strides toward pay transparency, the message is crystal: clarity is king. Teams with well-defined and documented approaches to how work gets done have higher trust, belonging and engagement.

Defining and designing things like career paths, compensation systems, and feedback mechanisms is nothing new, but candidates and employees are getting savvier about asking how they really work.

Clarity is also inclusive; with solid processes in place, there’s less room for the subjectivity that can hold underrepresented folks back in things like work performance or interview assessments. That said, leave room for the human. Work itself shouldn’t feel robotic or prescriptive, and your frameworks should be reviewed by a person or firm with experience designing for inclusion.

What you can do:

  • Share your compensation philosophy transparently with your team. Even if you aren't ready for open salaries, you can communicate things like how and when compensation decisions are made.
  • Write employee user guides for things like career paths and performance reviews. For extra credit, you can even share your processes openly on your careers page.  

Case: Building connection and culture, remotely.

The Challenge

Our client, a distributed startup in the robotics space, was struggling with human connection. Some staff worked on a production site while others worked from home remotely in other time zones. Work was getting done, but people wanted to get to know their coworkers and build genuine relationships.    

The Plan:

As we mapped out points of connection, we saw ways to add more "human" into their existing rituals, and add one important new one. Manager 1:1s and team meetings, previously focused only on leader-led status updates, were reframed as growth conversations and personal check-ins. Their virtual town halls, once quarterly, were updated to happen monthly and include time and activities for team bonding as well as opportunities to see what others were working on. Finally, we helped the team launch their inaugural annual offsite, bringing everyone together for a few days of interactive workshops and community building.  

The Outcome:

Feedback about the offsite was unanimously positive. Interaction at the monthly town hall increased, with more people participating and sharing their work, thoughts and selves. This also led to an uptick in psychological safety; when surveyed, a higher percentage of people now felt safe to bring up questions and concerns at work. 

Case: Unfair pay, or lack of clarity?

The Challenge:

Our client, a tech organization, had a team that was unhappy with their pay. When surveyed, the team's sentiment on whether their pay felt fair averaged at only 54%.

The Plan:

When we dug in, we realized the problem wasn't just the salaries, but the process. With very little in place, we got to work designing a compensation philosophy, calculator and market-aligned salary bands that the company could use going forward. After research, many salaries were indeed adjusted. However, we also found that many of the team's existing salaries were already very competitive relative to industry benchmarks; the problem was a lack of clarity in how pay decisions were historically made. So next, we focused on education. Leading an employee session on the new framework, we transparently shared how salaries are determined and how raises and promotions work, and made sure the information was available to openly access anytime.

The Outcome:

Armed with more clarity, the team's sentiment on fair pay rose to  


Tightening budgets and slowed hiring meant that market rates for salaries generally declined. Many tech teams we worked with were restricted in their cash flow and couldn’t offer salary bumps at the cadence staff were accustomed to, and that staff had grown to expect.

Meanwhile, inflation and high costs of living sent employee pay expectations upwards. Even a typical annual increase of 2-5% will barely enable them to keep up with inflation, let alone make more money. However, they are generally staying put, as open jobs in tech remain down due to layoffs and hiring freezes.

Amid this frustration, there is a wave of activism (and new laws) supporting pay transparency. In many states and provinces, employers now must openly publish salary bands when posting open roles. People want to know exactly what they are being paid for, and why.

What you can do:

  • Get the data. Make sure you have a solid compensation philosophy and research– we have a handy guide for that.
  • If you can’t afford increases at the moment, you can still keep your team engaged with things like time off, perks, and recognition. Align these with your values. For example, our own team offers 3 annual Spiritual Days, which team members can use for non-Christian centric holidays or anything that fuels their spirit, like camping or Indigenous ceremony.

We’ve all heard the rallying cries around remote vs in-person work. “In-person work is more productive!” “You’ll never find good candidates if you aren’t remote”. This was why it surprised us when employee engagement scores, along with work life balance and wellbeing, remained very similar across every type of work model.

One possibility? Different work models work for different people. By now, talent in the tech sector may have shuffled and chosen new roles according to their own personal work style preferences, whether in-person, hybrid, or remote.

What you can do:

  • Put in the effort to make your chosen work model really work. Clearly design your work environment, curate your tools, and communicate expectations and when/how collaboration will happen. Companies who did not set clear expectations on remote vs in person processes scored lower on engagement.

Case: Can a 4 day workweek work for an agency with demanding clients?

The Challenge

Our client, a marketing agency, was struggling with burnout and a lack of downtime. They were curious about a 4 day work week, but skeptical that the model would work for a business based on frequent communication with a number of clients.

The Plan:

Easing into a 4 day workweek, step by step. The company took a phased approach, starting with no-meeting Fridays, then moving to every 2nd Friday off, to eventually moving forward with the full 4 day work week. Clients were given plenty of notice, and received proactive extra care on Thursdays.

Feedback on both employee sentiment and productivity were collected along the way. Through all phases, the plan was framed as an experiment, which helped take the pressure off; if it didn’t work, walking it back and trying another plan would be less painful. 

The Outcome:

By easing in, the team was able to maintain their same engagement score of 80%, and no clients were left hanging. Ratings on company alignment, feedback and recognition improved from 81 to 86%

Nora Jenkins Townson - Founder, CEO(She/Her)
Nora Jenkins TownsonFounder, CEO

-"Seeking more community (but not romanticizing 5 days in a cubicle), remote and hybrid workers will choose more specialized, boutique coworking locations that cater to their interests, vibes and social groups. Friends will rent offices together."

-"More vacation spots will cater to working vacations and coworking. Going beyond the early adopters and full time digital nomads, more remote workers will simply choose to take a “working vacation” without taking actual time off. Hotels and resorts with both great wifi and childcare will win."

- "I also think someone will invent and brand a system of remote work for teams that they'll claim is foolproof. CEOs will try to force their teams into it in-masse, like the agile transformations and Spotify squads of the 2010's.

-"Employees will place more value on parts of compensation that protect their financial wellbeing now (e.g. cash base salary, RRSPs), vs. incentives that require "making bets" on the company's future to receive a reward that may benefit them later (e.g. equity). With the rising cost of living, coupled with disillusionment from constant layoffs and instability of many companies, employees are less keen to design their compensation around hypothetical value. They want things that will help them financially that feel real."

-"Side hustles and having more than one job will become more popular, again to protect people from instability."

-"Similarly, small companies may partner for secondments. Instead of having to do layoffs during tough times, they might agree to split employee time and resources with another, similar organization. This could also create communities of companies that share common threads, spaces, and people

Nora Jenkins Townson - Founder, CEO(She/Her)
Gillian Jose-RizHR Consultant(She/Her)
Nora Jenkins Townson - Founder, CEO(She/Her)
Trisha NeogiSenior Consultant and Compensation Lead(She/Her)

- "Sourcing salary data online has become a lot easier because of AI, but I'm finding that a lot of the generated salary data that comes up in a quick google is less and less accurate. Employees are finding these sketchy sources and, if they're higher than what they make, feeling underpaid. This means companies need to get really confident about not only using real, researched salary data sources, but explaining to staff how their compensation actually works. This can only really happen when there's a philosophy and sound strategy in place."

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