HR Tech Interview with Ryan Gormley, Head of People & Culture at Nylas

While Covid-19 has made businesses rethink their HR policies and HR tech stack, it has also forced transformation in how team leaders should train, communicate and manage their remote staff. Ryan Gormley, Head of People & Culture at Nylas shares a few experiences and thoughts in this chat:


Tell us a little about yourself Ryan…take us through your day at work as Head of People at Nylas…?

Originally from Vancouver, BC, I’ve split the last 10 years in the US between California, Maryland and now Colorado….

This is how my day begins – wake-up early for some exercise! Early morning workouts are when the mind, body and soul are at peace, and as we all know exercise boosts our mood, provides energy, and helps us focus. From there I eat breakfast and walk my furry companion. After that, spend 90 minutes on various tasks, programs, initiatives, etc such as sending and responding to Slack messages and Gmail; reviewing resumes and preparing for interviews; conducting research for various training programs such as Performance Reviews; and building a Culture Code program. Then the remainder of the day is spent on 1-1s, meetings and interviews.

Plenty of 1-1s scheduled to ensure all the people managers have time with me to discuss everything and anything that is on their minds. We also conduct Meet & Greets with the employee population since the majority of Nylanauts are new, so their well-being is important to my team and I. It also gives me time to learn about them; to hear their story and to seek feedback regarding their experience so far.

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What are some of key employee and HR initiatives of 2020 (diversity, health benefits, etc) that were introduced at Nylas through the year?

  • Remote First, Office Second: Treating employees with the respect they deserve. Employees are adults, so treat them like adults and give them more freedom on how to structure their work environments. There’s no need to micromanage where employees are during the workday. The objective is to trust and empower employees to do their best work, which means giving them more autonomy to make decisions. Because in the end, the inputs of work are not important. What matters are the outputs; that the work is being accomplished. Empower employees to make decisions. Trust employees to make the right decisions. 
  • Learning & Development Funds: It’s important to ensure employees have the ability to grow and develop throughout their career while also managing their stress levels and well-being. So to help with this initiative, Nylas grants employees funds to help with their personal and professional goals. For personal development, it’s anything that gives employees the chance to learn something new or continue with a current passion such as fly-fishing, kayaking, skiing, scuba diving, or whatever makes them happier human beings. For professional development, it’s designed for employees to learn new skills or obtain new knowledge specifically related to their job such as conferences, courses, books or whatever makes them smarter human beings.

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What are some of the ways in which you’ve seen businesses’ needs for HR Tech change this year – what are some of the ways in which you feel HR tech innovators can enhance their offerings to suit today’s changing needs for HR teams in 2021 and beyond?

The global pandemic has forced all organizations to rethink business needs for HR tech. The shift to remote work has altered the way organizations interact with employees. The employee experience has now become a massive opportunity to redesign how we think about work and collaboration. From onboarding to performance management, there will be an emphasis for programs, processes and platforms that will engage, support and develop employees. Working remotely from anywhere is here to stay. Not all companies are going to return to the office, nor will all remain remote. There definitely will be a shift towards a hybrid model; less office space for more freedom given to employees to decide where and when the work is completed. It’s no longer about the specific hours; it’s now all about the outcomes.

Organizations will start to prioritize diversity, inclusion and belonging initiatives. The long-standing social, economic, and racial inequities can no longer be ignored. Embracing and fostering diversity, inclusion and belonging will only result in a richer and more engaged culture.

HR tech innovators can enhance their offerings to meet today’s changing needs in 2021 and beyond by developing solutions that will meet the growing remote first, office second. There will be a large number of companies like Nylas that will be remote first, but also have office space available in specific cities (hubs). There also needs to be more training solutions built for diversity, inclusion and belonging strategies. Unlike teaching someone about equity or benefits that may take 1-2 hours, diversity, inclusion and belonging requires more time and content as it needs to be defined internally and then taught in a thoughtful environment. Solutions such as platforms or tools that will improve the communication, collaboration and growth and development while adopting a more flexible work-life fit.

We’d love to hear about some top people culture and most successful company culture programs…that you feel most of us could take a cue from?

Overall, more training, transparency and communication. As humans we think we are great communicators, but we aren’t. We are just terrible at it. So, this is why in my role I’m constantly advocating more training and more communication. With transparency, it’s imperative that the end-user or audience understand why and how decisions are made. Being transparent about decisions reinforces the stronger culture and fosters trust. And to be clear, transparency is not equal to democracy. Transparency is the decision to explain the how, what, where, when, and why behind a decision. Not everyone may be supportive of the decision, and that is expected.

People = Consultants. The People team is not about saying “No”. The People team is focussed on asking “Why”? Our purpose is to coach, advise, guide, and support leadership, management and employees on a plethora of topics. In the end, the final decisions will be determined by the leaders.

Some programs we’ve implemented: 

  • Meet & Greets: employees love meeting with people and having a fun, thoughtful, engaging conversation about their experiences so far in life and at Nylas.
  • Diversity, Inclusion, and Belonging: teaching the organization exactly what diversity, inclusion and belonging are, expectations for employees and managers, and how these philosophies are important to the overall success.
  • Culture Code: everyone tends to talk about culture, but no one has a complete grasp on what it means. With a Culture Code program, it gives the organization to clarify exactly what the values, beliefs, and goals are and how employees are able to find success during this journey.
  • Compensation Training: it’s imperative for the culture and employee lifecycle that organizations take the time to explain as much as possible about paybands, market data, equity, and how exactly performance reviews function. if an organization is claiming to be transparent

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As HR leaders respond to the business needs of the new normal; what are some of the top thoughts you’d share with them when it comes to implementing HR Tech and human connection to drive business goals and strengthen employee practices and policies in our new normal?

Employees have become more interested in the cultural experience that comes with career opportunities. And then the pandemic arrived, disrupting the ongoing social interaction that comes with our careers. The pandemic has resulted in less social interactions and more isolation, which has led to anxiety, stress, depression, and burnout for some. This is where the People need to devote more resources in creating a more flexible and healthy work environment. This is where mental health programs become a necessity. Whether it’s access to medical professionals who specialize in mental health and/or time devoted for employees to focus on positive activities such as exercise or meditation, companies need to ensure the wellbeing of employees is their top priority.

What are some of the top tech trends and in-demand skills you feel will dominate HR and hiring in the tech marketplace in 2021? Some technologies you feel will drive the year?

 Top tech trends:

  • Employee experiences delivered remotely: recruiting, onboarding, engaging, etc will be delivered via technology to meet the growing demands of a distributed workforce.
  • Employee engagement and experience platforms: a centralized platform where employees can connect with the company; find answers to their questions; and feel supported and recognized for their accomplishments.
  • Artificial intelligence: AI will continue to have a significant impact within HR, specifically recruiting. AI can help find more and better-qualified candidates at a faster rate.

The future of work will now be about each individual. Less focus about offices and more focus on the employee experience for each individual. There will be a large number of employees who prefer to work from home (or anywhere), and a large contingent who thrive within the confines of buildings. Organizations will need to curate the experience for each employee by offering more workplace flexibility and improving employee wellbeing.

Before we wrap up, we’d love to hear a little about Nylas’s employee and company culture plans (changes / new plans?) in 2021?

We’ve realized that in order to be successful, the culture needs to be embraced, and with that we need to define our Culture Code. It will be Nylas’ manifesto about the mission, values, behaviors, norms, expectations, and goals.

Culturally, there will be less emphasis on micromanagement and more on empowering and trusting employees to make the right decisions for the business, culture and our customers. In the end, it’s detrimental to the culture, business and employees if a company micromanages. WIth empowerment, you are in effect trusting them to do what’s in the best interest of the business. The end result is happier teams, and better outcomes.

We’ll also launch a New Hire Orientation program for all future Nylanauts. It will cover Nylas’ journey, mission, values, industry, products, performance reviews, 1-1s, promotions and anything else that new hires need to know when joining Day 1.

Finally, we are implementing a new HRIS that will centralize all the various tools such as benefits, compensation, and payroll. And a knowledge management system (KMS) to help centralize all content so employees are able to that is created internally.

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And lastly, a few of your biggest takeaways and tips on working effectively from anywhere….and adjusting to the new normal and a few tips on technologies every remote worker should have on their work devices to stay organized!

If the plan is to adopt a work from anywhere philosophy, there the need for more and constant communication is crucial. It does not work if there isn’t more communication from all levels and roles.

A few apps workers should adopt on their devices:

  • Slack or Teams: can’t live without it. As a communication tool, it’s so much more easier and productive.
  • Zoom: work from anywhere requires more interaction and something Slack or Teams cannot fill that void. Zoom ensures that humans are still engaging with others, collaborating and building relationships.
  • Google Calendar: this is imperative as we are now more than ever required to structure our days. Block out time not only for meetings and 1-1s, but also for you to unplug, eat lunch, mediate, exercise or whatever will recharge your mindset.

Nylas is a pioneer and leading provider of productivity infrastructure solutions for modern software. Over 50,000 developers worldwide use the Nylas platform to quickly and securely build productivity features into their applications. With Nylas, developers get unprecedented access to rich communications data from their end-users, pre-built workflows that automate everyday tasks, embeddable UI/UX components for fast front-end development, and comprehensive security features – all delivered via a suite of powerful APIs that make integration easy.

Nylas was founded in 2013 and has raised over $55M to date from 8VC, Spark Capital, Slack, Citi Ventures, Round 13, ScaleUP, Data Collective, Fuel Capital, and SV Angel. Nylas customers span from large enterprises such as Ceridian, Hyundai, Fox News Corp, Hubspot, and to high-growth start-ups like Dialpad, Pipedrive, Lexicata, and Qualia.

Ryan Gormley is Nylas’s Head of People, leading the company’s efforts in recruiting, total rewards, learning and development, diversity and inclusion, employee engagement, and performance management. Prior to Nylas, Ryan held similar roles at Earnin, Slack, Symantec, ZeniMax Media and EA. Ryan holds a double B.A. in Political Science and History from the University of British Columbia; B.A. Business Administration from Simon Fraser University; and MBA from the University of Maryland.


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