During a global pandemic, at the height of mass layoffs, how do you re-assign employees to other crucial tasks to ensure job continuity? Mazi Ravid, VP People & Culture at Outbrain dove into their company’s OB (Outbrain) Assist program that served to do just that while sharing her thoughts on the impact of Covid-19 on the future of work and HR.
Tell us a little about yourself Mazi…what inspired you to venture into an HR role?
I started my professional career in human resources back in 2000 when I started working as a recruiter in the high-tech industry whilst studying for my bachelor’s degree in behavioral sciences. I went on to complete a master’s degree in organizational consulting and worked in a variety of global high-tech companies in Israel.
I was initially drawn to the field (and stayed on) because it sits right at the cross-section between business and people, and this winning combination in strong organizations can really be inspiring. I also genuinely believe a successful human resources person plays such a vital role and can make a real tangible impact towards the success of people and organizations.
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How has your role evolved in 2020 to meet changing employee and business needs in the time of a pandemic?
This year has been a crazy year in all areas of life – isolation, closures, restrictions – words we previously didn’t know have suddenly become regular parts of our vocabulary and our lives.
But on a personal and professional level, this year has been a kind of catalyst. Many things we had previously experienced as ‘workplace futurists’ have now become the norm – remote work, flexible working hours, zoom meetings on a regular basis, the list goes on. The whole employee experience has completely changed and these adjustments had to be recovered in real time.
Our role as human resources during this period was to make quick adjustments to the functional needs of the business. At Outbrain, we began with a big focus on training – we developed training and support for managers on remote management, management programs tailored to the challenges raised during this period, and we ensured employees had constant training on how to adjust to WFH.
In addition, we also offered all our employees lectures, fun surprise home deliveries, maximum flexibility in working hours, and of course we personally supported any problem or distress that arose. Our people always come first and so we really wanted to help build up their resilience and stability to get through this time.
Can you take us through some of the top changes and processes the team at Outbrain underwent to ensure business productivity despite the challenges of this time?
One of the challenges that we were faced with almost immediately as soon as we moved out of the offices was the fact we had employees who were left without their core assignments (i.e. those whose work was related to the operation of the offices).
We as human resources and as a company quickly made the decision to retain all of our employees and launched a project called “OB (Outbrain) assist”. The aim of this project was to re-assign employees to other projects and provide support to other teams which had experienced an increased volume of work due to the pandemic. “OB assist” was a huge success and people really enjoyed the opportunity to experiment and contribute in other roles.
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We’ve also had to adjust as some of our offices start to reopen. We’ve decided to offer the option to work remotely or work from the office (if permitted by local regulations). But this of course has meant we’ve had to ramp up communication to ensure everyone has the opportunity to be seen and heard no matter where they are working from. Meetings are held on Zoom and decisions are made accessible in webinars, emails, and various other communications channels.
At Outbrain we’ve accepted the fact that the future of work will be a hybrid between the office and home and we want to support our employees across both environments. We’ve allocated budget to help each employee create a comfortable and optimal work environment for themselves at home.
We’d love to hear a little about the top collaboration tools and other technologies that helped the team enable a seamless remote experience despite the lockdowns?
As a technology and global company, luckily for us a lot of the changes that came from transitioning from the office to home happened quickly and smoothly as we’d always had a flexible working model, been able to adapt quickly, and relied on tech tools to get our jobs done. The main difference was that we started utilizing the platforms a bit differently.
Our team has always used Slack but during the pandemic we definitely relied on it more and used it in more social ways. We opened up new channels to encourage conversations outside of work – recommendations for TV binge series, fun activities and challenges, sharing images of kids and pets, etc.
In addition, our senior leadership team also started regular management updates via webcast, recorded specifically for employees to ensure there was clear, constant, and transparent communication.
And of course Zoom. We obviously used Zoom for video conferencing calls but we also moved our regular office routines such as coffee catch ups, town hall meetings, or fun social activities onto the video platform.
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 better technologies matched with strong processes to drive business goals in 2021 and beyond?
I believe the new normal will be a hybrid combination of work from home and the office. The most important digital tools to help drive business goals in 2021 and beyond are the ones that will enable interpersonal connection and remote management support (like project management tools), and ones that will enable data-based decision making and reporting.
Despite this, I still believe that we as humans need physical, personal and social interactions. To counteract digital fatigue we need a healthy balance of human connection.
What are some of the top tech trends and in-demand skills you feel will dominate HR / HR Tech in the near-future?
I’m a big believer in data and therefore think that tools that will enable data analysis for decision-making purposes will become more and more powerful in human resources.
As the world becomes more globally connected and people can work from anywhere, HR professionals will need to have familiarity with tools for remote employment, a deep understanding of labor laws and taxes around the world, and be open to hiring employees across a variety of capacities (full-time, part-time, supplier, consultants, temporary, local, remote and more).
And of course the recruitment and onboarding processes will also need to be adapted and managed with tools that allow the process to take place remotely.
Before we wrap up, we’d love to hear a little about the employee culture and experience at Outbrain – what’s working at Outbrain like?
Outbrain has a very strong corporate culture DNA. As a global manager I’ve had the pleasure of visiting a variety of our offices around the world and I’m always happy to see that no matter where the office is located or the size of the local team, the people and culture are consistent. It’s always a delight to meet Outbrainers – they’re smart and sharp people who have a ‘get it done’ attitude and are charming and fun to be around.
We believe in the constant learning and development of the company and our people, so we offer training programs, knowledge sharing, and provide many promotional opportunities for all levels. We really focus on personal development above anything else.
There is something very special about our Outbrain family and I think it shows in the number of people who have chosen to loyally stay at the company for many years. We genuinely really enjoy being together and working together and I can’t wait until we can all see each other again!
Outbrain is the world’s leading discovery and native advertising feed for the open web. A third of the world’s Internet-connected population explore and discover information through our feed technology, which is trusted by emerging to established brands and integrated into thousands of media companies’ tech stacks to manage and monetize their publishing operations. Outbrain operates in 55 countries and is headquartered in New York City with offices in 18 cities worldwide
Mazi Ravid is the Vice President of People and Culture at Outbrain and leads the People & Culture teams in Israel, APAC, Brazil, Japan and Slovenia.
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