Remote working conditions are not going away any time soon. Amid evolving workplace culture and working conditions in this new normal, finding the best strategy for better overall team collaboration will also need to evolve over time. “It’s up to leaders to hear out their teams’ concerns and feedback and use that to identify new strategies or tools until they find a way that is most effective. There is no one size fits all – trial and error will be key to solving this challenge,’’ shares Martha Angle, Vice President of Global Culture, Diversity, & People at OneStream Software in this conversation with TecHRseries where she talks about her journey into HR while breaking down the changing scope of HR and HR Tech.
Tell us a little about yourself Martha …your journey in HR, the biggest highlights / takeaways!
My Gallup Strengths Finders would tell you that I’m a developer, learner focused on responsibility and positivity who prides herself on winning others over! Building meaningful connections and trust with those around me is at the core of every action. In my world there are no strangers, only friends I haven’t met yet.
This passion for connection brought me into Human Resources in 2004. After graduating from the University of Michigan-Flint with a degree in English & Philosophy, I joined a small tech start up called UpStream Software as an Office Manager. In this role, I wore many hats from hospitality and people care to basic HR compliance and benefit research. Fortunately, UpStream was growing rapidly and my position matured to focus on what I love the most – our people. I became a one-person HR department and over two years helped grow UpStream into a $18M+ international company.
Shortly thereafter, UpStream was acquired and I moved on to gain experience in much larger HR orgs. Along the way, I built and maintained my professional network through local HR events, social media, and staying in contact with my colleagues.
In 2014, I was invited to build an HR team at OneStream Software, a tech start-up lead by the same brilliant minds who had started UpStream. At that point, the team consisted of almost 30 people and we were working on our first expat to enter the EMEA market. The culture was electric and tight knit. Fast forward to today, that same team includes 620+ employees across 14 countries and we’re closing in on $100M in revenue.
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I’m proud to have successfully supported the accelerated growth and doubled the size of the company year over year. I could not do this alone and am fortunate to have built an HR team of 18 extraordinary people-focused team members all driven to meet and exceed the needs of our employees. Along the way, we’ve leveraged various HRIS tools, payroll solutions, and performance management systems. We’ve built benefits packages and pension plans in multiple countries. We’ve engaged PEO’s, outside counsel, and global HR experts to influence our employment offering country to country.
It’s been a crazy ride of constant change and incredible growth. At the core of everything we’ve built is our consistent commitment to caring for the people we serve. This commitment has prepared us to best support our employees through 2020.
During the last few months, as the Covid-19 pandemic has played out, how have you observed the global workforce and top HR teams react and respond? At OneStream Software – how have your policies been modified to adapt to the new normal?
The intensity and focus on Employee Relations and Communication are now at an all-time high, with the added challenge of being done 100% remotely. For a team like ours that is close-knit, constantly growing, adding new managers, changing org structures, inventing new departments – maintaining consistency across all employees is a challenge. Now take away in-person meetings, happy hours, coffee talks, team dinners, office snacks, ergonomic kid-free workspaces, whiteboarding sessions, ping pong banter, handshakes, and hugs. We’re left with a stressful mess.
It’s HR’s job to help our managers stay connected with their teams virtually. Work with IT to find collaboration tools like Yammer and virtual whiteboards. Leverage intranets to share information, follow up with emails. Meet with individuals who have expressed concerns and need an alternative work schedule. HR and managers must be receptive, open, and flexible to truly hear what our employees need and adapt.
Communication is the strongest, most critical component to our company’s success during this pandemic. Employees were not left to draw their own conclusions. We’ve hosted monthly all-hands meeting for our CEO to candidly address all employees with updates on our plans, highlight the health of the company, and reassure them of their job security. HR and Risk Management have shared monthly (at certain points, weekly) email notices to all employees informing them of what’s happening in the offices and reminding them of our Employee Assistance Program. Our HR team has called every employee to check in to see how they are handling their work from home situation and ask how OneStream can help them. These check ins gave our employees a level of comfort and reassurance at a time of great uncertainty.
Our top priority is always the wellbeing of our employees. At the beginning of the pandemic, we began researching local and federal mandates and CDC recommendations. We ran tabletop exercises across all departments to test our readiness for office closures and interruptions in business. We developed a business continuity plan and communicated this plan to our department leaders. One week after completing that exercise, we began closing offices as Covid cases began to rise. The proactive nature of our team was critical to our company’s success. When it came time to stop travel and require employees to work from home, we had the communications drafted and management team informed well in advance.
Since March 2020, HR teams have been in overdrive keeping up with new federal programs such as the FFCRA to manage employee paid leave for Covid-related reasons. To remain in compliance, we have drafted and implemented new sick and leave policies, educated our managers and employee base on how these programs work, and adapted our time off record keeping systems accordingly.
We’ve been meeting with leadership weekly to keep a pulse on how things are developing in relation to Covid. It’s truly a team effort to safely determine next steps. HR is pairing with Legal, Risk Management, IT, Operations, and Facilities to ensure that all employee support functions are considered, and options are fairly weighted always with the employees’ wellbeing in mind. Out of these meetings, we were able to confidently establish work from home procedures, guidelines for essential workers to enter the office, reinvent mail distribution, restrict building access, and establish a strong line of communication across all departments to keep our employees informed and calm.
We’d love to know your thoughts on the changing scope of HR in the new normal and beyond?
As organizations continue to emerge from the pandemic, HR has gone through a sweeping transformation that has turned operations into potentially something better and more efficient at meeting the needs of the modern workforce. A major shift we can expect is companies emphasizing the importance of learning and development initiatives, especially as more millennial and Gen Z employees enter the workforce. Unfortunately, the pandemic has caused many companies to overhaul their training technology, processes, and program structures.
However, group learning has seen an uptick, and there will be a continued increase in social learning, enabling learners to engage with their colleagues, instructors and fellow learners around topics and course content that will further their skills. Companies are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create more realistic and collaborative training initiatives. Moving forward, we can expect organizations to build, curate and distribute more L&D modules for mobile devices to deliver a superior learner experience optimized for the needs of remote workers and “digital nomads.
In addition, human resource departments are becoming more valuable as they’re charged with more than just managing employment contracts and administration. The pandemic has forced HR departments to re-evaluate their role and lead with empathy in times of crisis. In addition to planning for re-skilling and training following this global pandemic, HR departments must also embrace new ‘People Operations’ roles. Whereas HR professionals execute their job with a compliance and ethical lens, people operations professionals focus on effectiveness and empowerment. Embracing these new roles will allow companies to create a strong post-crisis culture, improving long-term retention and hiring.
What were some of the biggest challenges you’ve seen tech teams face as well as the general global workforce face during the start of the pandemic and the initial weeks of the lockdowns: tell us about some of the best HR initiatives you’ve noticed companies take up to help their employees deal better.
Open collaboration has been a tough challenge to crack specifically for more technical teams that can include engineers and product developers. Teams used to enjoy the luxury of brainstorming ideas in a conference room and jotting notes on white boards. The concept of “zoom fatigue” is starting to hinder productivity and even with video calls, it’s still not easy to take collective notes the way you would on a white board. With remote work conditions becoming the new normal, there still isn’t a solution that is as effective as a good old fashion, in-person storm session.
How according to you should business leaders adapt to this change in terms of the way they lead teams and plan strategies going forward?
Strong leaders are conscientious, empathetic, communicative, and kind. Changing the circumstances around them does not change these standards. But it does challenge the way they maintain them. Leaders must invest more time to stay in contact with their team members and be cautious of how they’re using that time. Communications and meetings must be substantive, otherwise they’re a waste of precious time. Zoom fatigue is a real issue and employees want to know that their leadership is leveraging their time wisely.
Dynamic Signal conducted a survey in 2019 and of the 1,000 employees surveyed, “80 percent of the U.S. workforce reports feeling stressed because of ineffective company communication – a 30 percent jump from just one year ago”. Leaders must be over-communicative of strategic changes and think ahead of how the game of telephone will play out across the crew. In order to anticipate these things and successfully manage change, leaders must be (or trust their managers to be) in tune with every person. Understand what motivates each individual and prepare answers to help put them at ease quickly. All transitions come with questions. The better you anticipate those inquiries, the less stress your team will experience.
We’d love your take on the top 5 long-term impacts of the ongoing Covid-19 pandemic on work-life and corporate structures in general and how you see this play a role in reshaping the future of work.
- Employee wellness programs focused on mental health will be vital: The demand for robust employee wellness programs has always been on the rise. Statistics show increases in employee stress, depression, anxiety, and feeling overwhelmed year over year, particularly in the US. The Center for Workplace Mental Health shares that “Excessive workplace stress causes a staggering 120,000 deaths and results in nearly $190 billion in health care costs each year” (Link). Employers will need to invest in virtual access to mental well-being support tools to best protect their people, particularly in 2020.
- Working from home will become a regular expectation: Demands of home life have taken employees away from their daily 9-5 grind. Childcare, eldercare, and selfcare needs take precedence over work that can be done during off-hours. Employers have adapted to these new needs and time constraints during Covid. They’ve seen how this alternative system can work. If employees can continually meet their deadlines and satisfy their essential job duties from home, employers need to be prepared to support that model long-term.
- Emotional Intelligence is of upmost importance: Leadership and management must develop their EQ and commit to practicing emotionally intelligent behaviors. This has always been a priority for successful leaders. But now, in a world where meetings are being attended through a computer monitor and employees are managing more stressors and uncertainties than ever before, employers will be counting on strong, high-EQ managers and employees to bridge the gaps and reshape the future of work.
- Companies will adopt new learning & development programs: The Covid-19 pandemic has required many companies to redesign their training technology, processes and program structures. To keep workforces connected despite their now remote relationships, collaborative learning experiences have become more prominent and there will be a continued increase in social learning, enabling learners to engage with their colleagues, instructors and fellow learners. Companies are utilizing artificial intelligence (AI), augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) to create more realistic and collaborative training initiatives. In 2021, organizations will also deliver more L&D modules for mobile devices to provide learner experience that is optimized for the needs of remote workers and “digital nomads.”
- HR departments must embrace the ‘People Operations’ roles: In addition to planning for re-skilling and training following this global pandemic, we will see HR departments embrace new ‘People Operations’ roles. While HR professionals perform their jobs with a compliance and ethical lens, people operations professionals focus on effectiveness and empowerment. This is an especially important evolution now as leaders re-evaluate their company cultures and learn to lead with empathy in times of crisis. Those leaders will turn to and lean on its HR teams to help guide that change. Embracing these new roles will allow companies to create a strong post-crisis culture, improving long-term retention and hiring.
What takeaways from the Covid-19 pandemic do you feel business leaders should come away with?
Society has long been focused on growth and bottom lines but is now reprioritizing mental and physical health ahead of professional goals. With that in mind, leaders must follow suit and ensure they effectively demonstrate and communicate that the impacts of these crises are felt personally, not just professionally. An engaged workforce trusts its leadership to have their best interests in mind when making strategic decisions. Today, leadership needs to be highly communicative and open with their employees. Reiterate what we know for certain – direction, goals, progress. Be honest with what we don’t know and talk through possible solutions with them. Make them part of the conversation. People need to know that they are safe in their work, supported by their manager, and valued for their input. These intangibles outweigh a paycheck.
A few general thoughts / tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic?
It’s imperative to the health of organizations and their workforces for HR departments to embrace the People Operations role and become prominent figures within the company. They must help lead with empathy in this time of crisis and not just drive re-skilling and training efforts, but ensure employees know the organization is there to support them through the pandemic.
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5 tips you would share with new HR professionals joining the tech / B2B marketplace in this new normal.
- Lead with kindness. At the heart of HR is people care. People want to be treated with kindness, dignity, honest, and respect. There are not always clear paths forward. But you can move with confidence when you know that your choices are guided by genuine concern for the employee and everyone involved.
- Don’t pretend to have all the answers. People respond to honesty. If you are faced with a question and don’t have the answer, tell them that you don’t know but will find an answer. No one expects you to be omniscient. Do the research and follow up with a confident conclusion.
- Listen. In the words of C.S. Lewis, “Shut your mouth; open your eyes and ears.” You are a conduit of change. In order to know what your employees and managers need, you must listen to them. Do not jump to conclusions or attempt to guide the conversation to meet your understanding. Meet your employees where they are and put yourself in their place. You’ll be more successful in communicating and making a case for change if you fully understand another’s point of view.
- Never stop learning. Dig into your company’s innerworkings. Understand the business. Teach your team members to do the same and keep everyone informed of how the business evolves. There are a wealth of learning opportunities out there ranging from presentation skills to emotional intelligence. Take certification courses, listen to interesting podcasts, follow your company’s brand to know what’s happening. Never stop challenging yourself to learn more.
- Seek to understand the change and embrace it. 100% of your job as a HR professional is to manage change. You’re helping managers design change. You’re helping employees understand the reasons for the change. Ask questions to ensure you fully understand the need for the change so you can be successful in this mission. Never assume anything.
OneStream Software provides a market-leading CPM solution that unifies and simplifies financial consolidation, planning, reporting, analytics and financial data quality for sophisticated organizations. Deployed via the cloud or on-premise, OneStream’s unified platform enables organizations to modernize Finance, replace multiple legacy applications and reduce the total cost of ownership of financial systems. OneStream unleashes Finance teams to spend less time on data integration and system maintenance – and more time focusing on driving business performance.
Martha Angle is the Vice President of Global Culture, Diversity, & People at OneStream Software