Wikimedia Foundation: Global Guidelines Policies & Practices

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Since its founding in 2003, the Wikimedia Foundation has grown alongside our projects – from a small organization supporting a start-up effort to now hosting one of the world’s most visited websites and largest online volunteer communities. Our global movement of volunteers, including editors, developers, administrators, and global organizers, is the driving force behind this work. 

Whether developing our code base, improving our software, safeguarding our reputation, defending digital rights, or supporting community grants, programs, and events, Wikimedia Foundation staff also play an important role in the free knowledge ecosystem. Our staff live all over the world and bring a diverse range of skill sets from technology, engineering, product, design, non-profit, corporate, government, and volunteer backgrounds. Some of the Foundation’s longest tenured staff have been in the Wikimedia movement for over twenty years, while others are new Wikimedians excited to support a shared vision. How does an organization like the Wikimedia Foundation provide staffing systems, policies, and benefits for so many unique environments? 

This is the second in a series of posts about the Foundation’s staffing, hiring, and management practices designed to provide a clearer view into the daily operations. The first post discussed our remote-first workforce and approach to global compensation. Here, we’ll share information about how we try to harmonize support for staff living across every region of the world. These newly created “global guidelines” represent various policies, practices, and benefits to facilitate our ways of working together as staff members, across dozens of different countries. They serve as a more uniform and harmonized source of information on the Foundation’s work practices and staff benefits. They also provide clearer guidance to help managers and staff in all people-related processes from recruitment to exit (e.g., work practices, benefits, compensation, career management, learning and development, etc.).

New guidelines to support a global workforce

Before the creation of the Global Guidelines this year, the Wikimedia Foundation managed a disparate array of employee benefits and policies across the many countries where we employ staff. Managing a wide range of localized regulations, requirements, and policies is far more complex than most people imagine, and has required significant investment from the Foundation’s Talent and Culture team. In 2022, the Foundation’s new CEO Maryana Iskander started a project with the Talent and Culture department to create more equity and standardization (where possible) in the Foundation’s policies and guidelines across the many geographies where our staff are based. The goal of this initiative was to create a baseline standard of employee benefits and policies that could then be adjusted depending on specific country requirements and may be updated by the Foundation from time to time. This effort has taken more than a year to complete but a first version came into effect in January 2023. 

One of the main considerations for the global guidelines was creating common approaches for both US-based and global/non-US based staff. As of December 2022, the Wikimedia Foundation was employing around 711 staff across 57 countries (note that these figures change regularly as staff join and leave). Because the Foundation is registered and headquartered in the United States, the Foundation is the direct employer of US-based staff. The Foundation, like many other organizations, works with Employers of Record, which provide financial and legal compliance as well as payment in local currencies for the roughly 49% of staff located outside of the US. The Global Guidelines blend standardized policies and benefits for all Foundation staff with the specific differences that may apply only to a particular country. 

Creating a more equitable approach for all staff 

In addition to salaries, benefits are an important way for the Foundation to attract, engage and retain talent, as well as provide staff with safety around their well-being so that they can perform well in their roles. All Foundation staff receive a set of core benefits, irrespective of their geography. These benefits include comprehensive health insurance coverage, vacation and sick time, as well as access to a retirement plan. Additionally, staff receive benefits provided for in their local context like additional public holidays. The global guidelines have introduced more standardization around many common experiences and needs of our staff. This includes experiences like new parent leave, major life events, or voting in local elections. 

The guidelines have also provided an opportunity to better align our processes globally when staff leave the Foundation. This includes a new standardized severance policy for staff at all levels of one month of severance pay for every year of their employment, up to nine months (unless local laws require otherwise) – any exceptions require a joint recommendation by the Head of Talent & Culture and the General Counsel, with final approval from the CEO. The guidelines have allowed us to make these and other policies more transparent to staff irrespective of where they live and work. 

Perhaps more relevant for the day-to-day work of a remote-first workforce is the careful consideration of both culture and policies surrounding time management. The Foundation’s practices seek more equity by offering employees flexibility and work-life balance alongside productivity and ample time for collaboration across many different time zones. Most staff coordinate their working hours with their own manager and team, taking care to practice equitable inconvenience for shared meeting times so that no single staff member or staff from a specific region are always joining meetings at difficult hours. This can be hard to do, but teams also try to learn from each other. These ways of working typically place a strong emphasis on collaboration, which can give many employees a very meeting-heavy schedule. As a result many Foundation staff try to balance this need by also setting aside meeting-free time for projects that require focus, reflection, or creativity. 

As part of living our commitment to the ‘iterate and adapt’ recommendation of movement strategy, the Foundation regularly tries to learn more about these topics from others – including Wikimedia affiliates, relevant tech organizations, and other geographically distributed NGOs (although we haven’t yet found one with more hiring countries!). This learning process will continue as we understand what works for others, while adapting those insights to our specific needs. For Foundation staff, the latest version of our guidelines is always available on the Foundation’s intranet or through contacting our Talent & Culture department.

Up next in this series, the Foundation will share information about our annual plan, our global staff diversity, and the publication of our Form 990 tax form for the 2021-2022 fiscal year. 

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