TecHRseries Interview with Orkideh Shahidi, Vice President, People Operations at SADA

The new normal will come with its own set of advantages and challenges making it the need of the hour for teams to adjust to various evolving workplace norms. In this interview, Orkideh Shahidi, Vice President, People Operations at SADA talks about her biggest highlights in HR and People Management while sharing a few tips and thoughts on the future of work.


Tell us a little about yourself Orkideh, what are some of the biggest highlights of being in the HR / HR Tech space today for you? Why (and how!) did you venture into this space?

I fell in love with the Human Resources field many years ago, when I was placed as a temporary employee in the HR department of a local hospital. One of the first initiatives I experienced was the hospital giving away a Porsche Boxster for the employee who successfully referred the highest number of candidates. Wow! For a fresh law school graduate, I still remember how in awe of this I was. It opened my eyes to the possibility of the endless ways that a single department can reach and affect so many people.

From helping someone out with their benefits all the way to employment law, I was able to use my degree to not just support the employees but also to guide the employer on proper courses of action. I have experience in several different verticals, and now work in the tech space. Being in tech is not only exciting but provides a unique opportunity to play “outside the box” more often than other industries. For example, when COVID-19 hit, even though we were not an “all remote” company, I was pleasantly surprised at how seamlessly we were able to transition to being fully remote in a matter of weeks, with very few hiccups. I always knew that having the proper tools and working in the cloud was essential to today’s workforce, but working for a tech company gives us leverage to help others become self-sufficient more quickly. I love using my expertise within the tech field to elevate our HR initiatives every change I get. Continuous growth and improvement are essential for progress, and I seek it at every opportunity!

Read More: TecHRseries Interview with Nancy Knowlton, CEO at Nureva

How have you helped enable employee motivation while boosting morale in your team the last few weeks as the Covid-19 pandemic played out?

SADA understands that motivation, morale and connectedness may have been impacted negatively during this pandemic. From the beginning, we brainstormed ideas to battle any negativity headed our way. To start, we put together weekly virtual team events (coffee breaks, trivia and puzzling games, employee-led lessons in cooking, cocktails, drumming and more). We started a company-wide health initiative called #SADASix, to build a healthy competition. We held virtual sessions for managers on how to optimize performance and lead successful teams remotely. We gave employees a stronger voice through virtual Town Hall Q&As and monthly “pulse” reviews. And we ratcheted-up employee kudos and recognition using a tool called Reflektive.

How would you help strike a balance when it comes to motivation and ensuring productivity for the rest of the year – given that existing team members would need a slightly different management technique and process while new hires may need another approach along with adequate training?

As the Google Cloud Global Partner of the Year, SADA was already well-positioned with cloud productivity thanks to G Suite, which includes collaboration tools such as Google Meet and Chat for video conferencing and messaging, as well as Google Docs, Spreadsheets, and Slides for real-time collaborative working.

However, we recognize that the “new normal” comes with a host of new challenges, from a lack of dedicated workspaces to distractions and video burnout. We aim to balance a need to keep employees engaged, informed and productive, while also remaining cognizant of these new roadblocks. To that end, we send out monthly pulse surveys via Google Forms to get a general idea of how staff are feeling, how they’ve adapted and where they are still struggling. We analyze the responses and brainstorm ways we can actively remove any hindrances, taking a people-focused approach.

We also encourage team leads to maintain and enhance their regular processes with daily or weekly virtual team meetings, weekly or bi-weekly 1:1s with each of their reports, and goal-tracking to maintain focus. For new hires, our People Operations team schedules check-ins with them several times in their onboarding journey to introduce ourselves, address questions and ease their remote transition onto the team.

We’ve also found communication is key, and employees want to be informed of how the business is doing and what our plans are for returning to the office. To address this, we have weekly 30-minute town halls with the CEO, a weekly newsletter from the People Operations team and a weekly email from our CEO.

Read More: A QnA with the Team at Reflektive on Employee Needs During a Time of Uncertainty

When it comes to measuring employee productivity for a distributed workforce: what are some of the top HR Tech products you’d advise teams to implement as part of their tech stack: what other suggestions do you have here to address the issue of measuring productivity while ensuring motivation levels are kept at an all-time high given the personal challenges employees have been facing during this uncertain time.

We use a performance management tool called Reflektive, which has helped to keep our teams aligned and our employees motivated. As mentioned before, we also do regular manager/employee check-ins, quarterly reviews and goal tracking and management to ensure our people are doing well and feeling connected to their colleagues.

Could you talk about some of the innovative employee best practices/team building activities companies have been doing (or that you’ll have been doing) during this challenging time?

With a workforce that was already 50% remote prior to COVID-19, the groundwork for maintaining our culture and connectedness was already in place. Once Covid hit, we took things to the next level by experimenting with things such as weekly guided/virtual meditations, game nights and happy hours. We’ve also had a number of employees step up and ask to share their special talents, from cooking to drumming, in hour-long learning sessions for the entire company. As interest groups have emerged through these events, we’ve added to our already active employee groups with topics around travel, fitness and working from home with kids. We also initiated some longer-term projects such as an ongoing community cookbook, a six-week fitness challenge and ongoing training around empathy, stress management and inclusivity.

What top best practices would you share for the team to ensure they are able to maintain the overall workplace and company culture while they work from home and as they slowly return to a work-from-office model over the next few weeks and months? 

We’ve found three practices to be the most helpful in maintaining our workplace and company culture. First, we intentionally over-communicate by sharing updates and company plans using a variety of tools (video, newsletter, email, etc.). We want to be as helpful and transparent as possible. Second, we set expectations in advance. This includes having open and honest discussions about goals, which we do through regular check-ins and updates on company performance. Lastly, we survey staff and incorporate their feedback by working to remove any roadblocks they’re experiencing, and we share their successes to let our people know that we hear and support them.

A few general thoughts / tips for businesses worldwide dealing with the current world pandemic?

During this very difficult time it’s more important than ever to stay connected! I would encourage HR leaders to go out of their way to bring people in their organizations together using whatever tools are at their disposal.

SADA is a privately-held global leader in providing business and technology consulting services that transform organizations through innovative cloud-based solutions. As a Google Cloud Premier Partner with Specializations, SADA has gained global accolades and awards including the 2018 Google Cloud Global Partner of the Year and 2017 Google Cloud North America Partner of the Year.