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TecHRseries Interview with Patricia Barnett, Vice President of Human Resources at Jenzabar

With the onset of the Covid-19 pandemic, more industries and companies have come to the conclusion that remote work can be a good solution, if the right processes and HR technologies are put in place. Patricia Barnett, VP of Human Resources at Jenzabar shares her thoughts on how there will now be a shift in telework analytics given the new normal that will be introduced in to workplace cultures.

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Tell us a little about yourself Patricia, and a little about your journey in HR over the years! How have you seen Jenzabar evolve and in your time in HR – how have business changes led to the evolution of your role?

I have been with Jenzabar for over 20 years and with the company it purchased, Campus America, for a total of 34 years. I have seen the role of HR change from being called Personnel, when we only worried about the admin piece, into where we are today. As our business grew, there became more opportunities for HR to contribute to the well-being of employees. We found ourselves trying to figure out the best way to measure their performance, determining what were the best benefits to offer instead of them just accepting what was given. The other large piece that began to evolve was the hiring piece. As we grew, we needed experienced, educated employees, who were sometimes very hard to find. I think it was in the late 1980s that we began to see the need for technology in the HR department. How can we speed up the work we are doing and keep track of the human side of the business? Employees were no longer happy just coming to work to do their job; they wanted us to recognize them and provide some “fun” to their workday, so we needed to tend to more physiological aspects. Move forward to today, things for Human Resources are more complex than ever; the laws, the needs of our employees, the state of our world, and the needs of the business itself are all more involved than they were 20 years ago. Today, I am a business partner to Jenzabar; I value each of the employees at Jenzabar and the ability to contribute to our great company. I am very thankful that we have a company that truly cares about each other and that our employees are working remotely to stay safe and healthy.

Read More: TecHRseries Interview with Sarah Hamilton, Sr. Director of Human Resources – Workhuman

Given your time and expertise in the human capital management industry, we’d love to know your thoughts on how the typical role of the HR manager in the tech / e-learning / education industry has evolved over the years. What are the demands/requirements for HR leaders today, especially skills that today’s HR leader needs that the one of yesteryear didn’t necessarily need to have?

The hiring of educated, experienced tech workers is complicated for HR. We must understand enough about the needs of the role to source and select the right people for managers to interview. The more effective we are at this, the better the hire and the less time it takes. The management of remote workers is also a newer factor in HR’s responsibilities – policy writing for telecommuting agreements and home office reimbursements, tailored performance reviews and communication, and training managers on how to properly manage remote workers. This is something that requires continuous assessment and adaptation as technologies evolve, which leads me to believe that HR needs to have the graceful ability to make a 180-degree turn at any time, keep up with competitors and the research provided by groups like SHRM, and consult with IT and other related departments about changes we need to consider regarding our tech stack (like our implementation of PluralSight).

Other factors we need to consider include:

  • Constantly evolving technology is a big challenge and priority. In the past, teams used to mail paper forms, then it switched to emailing electronic copies. Now, digital signatures and correspondence are common.
  • Managing generational shifts. HR needs to manage the transition from the Boomer mentality (secretive comp) to Millennial/Gen Z (transparency).
  • There is no 8-5 job in the office anymore. Today, we are dealing with remote populations, telecommuting, flexible schedules, and more.

HR Tech is enabling the efforts and goals of HR teams worldwide, could you share your top five must-haves or must-dos when it comes to selecting/adoption an HR Tech stack – what are the top factors that you consider?

  • Aside from cost and what is best for HR, what is best for employees and managers? Will it be easier and more beneficial for them than the system we have now?
  • Can this integrate with our other systems to keep our processes as simple as possible?
  • Does it have enough reporting features to easily produce the analytics we need?
  • Does it help us work smarter, not harder?
  • Implementations are not fun, so will it help us accomplish our team/company goals more so than our current system?
  • Is it easy to use/user-friendly?

In what ways would you advise HR teams to use their HR Technology and Tools to enable better employee engagement at a time when work from home is becoming a norm due to the current global pandemic?

  • Microsoft Teams has been an incredible asset during this period of remote work. The entire company can keep up with each other all in one place. We use Teams more for non-work-related conversations so that employees can feel free to express themselves and have the lighthearted “escape” they used to have at the office via breakroom conversations. I think the video chat feature is a great way to stay in touch on a deeper level. I know many systems have that feature, but it’s nice to have everything all in one place. I have also heard of managers using the video feature to replicate the office environment by staying logged in to the chat but doing individual work rather than collaborating like a typical meeting would.
  • LinkedIn Learning, PluralSight, and EdLogics have also seen a big boost in activity after we began advertising courses and promoting self-improvement during times of boredom while stuck at home.
  • Jabber and other instant messaging solutions have become a critical component of keeping in touch. We use these platforms frequently.
  • We also try to keep things fun and interesting and easily accessible. People don’t want complicated, drawn-out systems or processes; solutions must be short and sweet, to the point, and easy to use.

Read More: HR Tech Tools That Can Enable An Easier Remote Hiring Process

What are some of your top leadership tactics that you’d say help enable better team building and alignment of goals across an organization?

  • Perform periodic task assessments. Having each team member write down their tasks, starting with the bigger, overarching category and then listing specific tasks from there (e.g. the category is new hire on-boarding and the tasks would be running background checks, completing new-hire check-ins, etc.) and how long it takes them to complete them/what percentage of their time tasks take up can be helpful. Teams can go over these together and reassign tasks when things become unbalanced. If done frequently enough, there are less judgmental feelings, and teams can better understand what everyone is doing. It also helps to pick out areas that need more attention or ones that are receiving too much.
  • Promote learning and development through assigned courses. Personal and professional growth requires continuous learning. As a goal of Jenzabar, we promote education every way we can. Many managers have their team complete the same course in LinkedIn Learning or PluralSight and schedule a team discussion about it, what they learned, and how it relates to their work at Jenzabar. This helps team building and works towards one of our company’s goals simultaneously.
  • Remain approachable. I try to maintain a human element to all my interactions…not just a clinical business transaction. We work towards building a culture of honesty, openness, and transparency.
  • Encourage frequent interactions/communication and integrate humor into day-to-day activities.

Can you talk about some of the most innovative HR/ Workplace Culture trends that you see taking over the tech / B2B / learning and education industry, given the current world situation? How according to you is the Future of Work (and life!) going to evolve given the current pandemic and the influence of HR Tech?

I have seen a big increase in mental health education and awareness from companies, which is really wonderful. Employees in industries that have been working remotely are feeling genuinely cared for more than ever, and a new kind of openness has been introduced to their teams, which has bonded them further. Mental health education has made great strides during this time, and I’m optimistic that we won’t regress to its previous state after this pandemic.

Companies are learning that remote work works! I expect to see a shift in telework analytics now that companies know they can get an equal amount of productivity without paying for a big office to fit everyone. Offices will still exist, of course, just less square footage and cubes.

Remote work and flexible schedules will also be very helpful for people with disabilities and chronic conditions. Likewise, remote work will become more available for people in rural areas and small populations.

What are the top 5 points of advice you’d give leaders and teams who are struggling to cope in times of global uncertainty?

  • Put mental health higher on the priority list. Check in and check in often. Mandate a team video meeting once per week just to chat and catch up with each other. Video calls make it a little easier to catch if someone is struggling mentally and gives employees a sense of belonging. Check in often with your team, both one-on-one and as a group.
  • Drive the “innocent until proven guilty” mentality. Trust that your employees are doing their work unless you see they are not. This isn’t a time to suddenly flip on the micromanaging switch. The trust will only bond the team further.
  • Create an avenue for fun and non-work-related conversations. Keep things lighthearted by talking about things other than work.
  • Remind your team (and yourself) that it’s okay to use vacation time or sick days.
  • Communicate, communicate, and then communicate again. Over-communicating can be helpful in times of remote connectivity.
  • Provide resources for mental, financial, personal assistance.
  • Encourage transparency on company strategy and financial stability, if applicable

 

Jenzabar is higher education’s trusted advisor, offering technology solutions and services that are tailored to fit the evolving needs of institutions both today and in the future.

Patricia is the Vice President of Human Resources at Jenzabar