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Ep 511: How To Be A Global Employer Of Choice

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It’s now three years since the pandemic changed many people’s work trajectories. While some companies have returned to the office and others are desperately trying to, remote and hybrid work continue to be the norm for many organizations.

So putting aside noisy narratives and vested interests trying to take us back to the pre-pandemic status quote, what are the actual benefits and challenges of a distributed workforce? Also, with the opening of global talent pools, what can employers do to position themselves as an employer of choice in 2023?

My guest this week is Sarah Fern, Chief People Officer a Velocity Global. Velocity Global has employers working remotely across six timezones and 27 countries, and Sarah has some valuable insights to share on the benefits and challenges of being a distributed employer.

In the interview, we discuss:

• The benefits remote work offer to employers

• Opening up access to the best global talent

• Why presentism doesn’t drive high-performing work

• The genuine challenges of a distributed workforce

• Loneliness, disconnection, productivity and burnout

• Turning challenges into opportunities

• How to stand out as a global employer of choice

• Crafting meaningful benefit packages for remote workers

• Rethinking recruitment marketing

• Building culture remotely

• What is the new future of work?
Listen to this episode in Apple Podcasts.

Transcript:

Paradox (0s):
Support for this podcast is provided by Paradox, the conversational AI company helping global talent acquisition teams at Unilever, McDonald’s, and CVS Health get recruiting work done faster. Let’s face it, talent acquisition is full of boring administrative tasks that drag the hiring process down and create frustrating experiences for everyone. Paradox is AI assistant Olivia, is shaking up that paradigm, automating things like applicant screening, interview scheduling, and candidate q and a, so recruiters can spend more time with people, not software.

Paradox (40s):
Curious how Olivia can work for your team? then visit paradox.ai to learn more.

Matt Alder (1m 5s):
Before we start the show this week, I wanna tell you about an event that I’m hosting later in the month. The combination of technological disruption and the current economic uncertainty is causing all of us to think deeply about the future of talent acquisition. To help you cut through some of the noise out there around the future, I’m running a webinar looking at the road ahead for talent acquisition. It’s taking place on Tuesday, April 18th at 11:00 AM Eastern time, and a recording will be made available for everyone who registers. So don’t worry if your calendar or time zone don’t align to watch it live. You can register by going to bit.ly/mattalder.

Matt Alder (1m 47s):
That’s bit.ly/mattalder.

Matt Alder (Intro) (1m 53s):
Hi. there this is Matt Alder. Welcome to Episode 511 of the Recruiting Future Podcast. It’s now three years since the pandemic changed many people’s work trajectories. While some companies have returned to the office and others are desperately trying to, remote and hybrid work continue to be the norm for many organizations. So putting aside noisy narratives and vested interests trying to take us back to the pre-pandemic status quote, what are the actual benefits and challenges of a distributed workforce? Also, with the opening of global talent pools, what can employers do to position themselves as an employer of choice in 2023?

Matt Alder (Intro) (2m 39s):
My guest this week is Sarah Fern, Chief People Officer a Velocity Global. Velocity Global has employers working remotely across six timezones and 27 countries, and Sarah has some valuable insights to share on the benefits and challenges of being a distributed employer.

Matt Alder (2m 60s):
Hi Sarah and welcome to the podcast.

Sarah Fern (3m 4s):
Hello, Matt.

Matt Alder (3m 4s):
An absolute pleasure to have you on the show. Please could you introduce yourself and tell everyone what you do?

Sarah Fern (3m 10s):
Wonderful. I’m so happy to be here. My name is Sarah Fern. I’m based in the UK and I’m the Chief People Officer, a Velocity, Global. Velocity global help companies hire, employ and pay people anywhere in the world in 185 countries and legal entities and counting.

Matt Alder (3m 29s):
Fantastic stuff. And is your, is your organization a remote organization as well? You kind of, do you have people all over the world or all over the country? How does it set up?

Sarah Fern (3m 38s):
We are indeed, Matt. We are in 53 countries and growing, and we have a very healthy mix of people with no offices in their country. We have people who are traveling and working from anywhere. We have people who frequently go into one of our [unintelligible] offices. So it’s a really, really interesting mix around the globe, across six continents and timezones.

Matt Alder (4m 2s):
That makes you the perfect person to answer these questions because what I’ve noticed when it comes to the way that conversations about hybrid working and remote working happen, we seem to be stuck in this rut of a debate about people going back to the office and, you know, hybrid’s amazing or hybrid’s bad, or remote’s amazing, remote’s bad. And there just seems to be a kind of a desperate move to restore the previous state of status quo and not as much debate as there should be about the advantages and the challenges of hybrid and remote working. So talk us through, you know, from your perspective in terms of the way your company works and what your company does, what opportunities do remote and hybrid work offer employers and employees?

Sarah Fern (4m 50s):
I love that question and you know, as you say, Matt, there’s been so much debate. It almost feels like there’s been a collision. And, it’s almost a war that’s sort of raging between employers and employees and different groups. You know, I think the opportunities are they’re there. The opportunities are huge. And when I look at the way we work around the globe across six different timezones and continents the opportunities really are there for employers where you have access to the best talent across the world, no matter where they are. You know, you might be expanding your group and you are looking for the best, best project manager anywhere who is to say that best project manager.

Sarah Fern (5m 37s):
You know the most fantastic project manager lives within five miles of where you happen to be based. And so even the idea of, you know, everyone has to be in one place all the time and everyone has to gather in one place, it, it doesn’t make sense for businesses. It doesn’t make sense for when you are looking for the best person. And so when you have the globe at your disposal and you can look for the best project manager anywhere in the planet, you have to have that trust, you have to have that leadership style as well where you go. Actually, it doesn’t matter where they are. I need the best quality person.

Sarah Fern (6m 16s):
I need the best skill. I want that person to do A and B, and that’s all I care about. And that ultimately challenges the beliefs of, I’ve got a sit from there for eight hours to be seen to be successful. I’ve got a sit there for eight hours so that my boss thinks I’m productive. And so that idea of I need to be visible, I need to be in someone’s phase so that they give me a promotion it becomes nonsense. And so the opportunities really are here for people to say, “Look, you are implying me to do X, I’m doing X. When I do it and how I do it, you may not care so much about.”

Sarah Fern (6m 56s):
And I think the good leaders have understood that. And so I think for me, when I think about hybrid and remote, I think it’s also about leadership, Matt, because we’ve heard this the kind of social media and the press is all over this the mandate to come back into the office so that we can see what you’re doing. So we can control you. We can see whether you are protective. We can make sure that you are not going jogging or going to the gym three times a day and then walking your dog five times a day. We wanna see what you’re doing. But actually, that is not how good work happens, right? That is not how high-performing work gets done.

Sarah Fern (7m 37s):
And so that idea of you’ve gotta be visible, it’s just really disappeared when you look at the really amazing practices that the opportunities Thatn hybrid have to offer.

Matt Alder (7m 53s):
If we move away from that presenteeism argument, because as you say, in many cases, it’s a, a non-argument. When you look at some of the great things that are happening. What are the genuine challenges in hybrid and remote working? What are the challenges that you face? What are the things that employers should be really working through to get the most out of this new world of work we find ourselves in?

Sarah Fern (8m 20s):
They are plenty of challenges. I will say that. I truly believe that we need to have the real conversations versus the kind of textbook. This is the best practice handbook. If you do it like that you’ll be amazing. The challenges, if I look at my own team via in 27 countries across all different timezones. And so, you really have to rethink how you’re going to engage with that team. How are you going to reach that team? How are you going to speak to that team? Because that team may never be awake when you are awake. So the timezones may make it even impossible to cross paths. And so, you’d have some technology tours. You’ll have some understanding of the team on how work gets done. But the challenges are also the opportunities.

Sarah Fern (9m 1s):
And when people feel trusted and you know exactly what is expected of you. You know exactly what the outcome is going to be that you’ve been asked to produce, you can’t own that piece. You can’t be accountable for that piece of work. And you know where to find your boss. You know where to find your coworkers, you know, if, you have questions, If, you need to hop on a call to talk something through. And so I think it is all about mindset. Yes, they are challenges. We’ve talked about timezones a little bit. It might be something different, right? It might be loneliness. It might be the feeling of being disconnected. It might be the feeling of actually, it’s just me here, you know, I’m expected to do this, but actually, I don’t know how to do it.

Sarah Fern (9m 43s):
I need the help from someone else, but I don’t know who that someone else is because I can’t see them, I can’t bump into them in the office. I, I don’t who they are. And so for organizations very much from the moment when you onboard someone right through the entire employee journey. It’s really, really important that you give them the right setup, the right tools, the right infrastructure. And you show them where they can find information. You show them, you let them know where they can go to. Maybe they have a buddy as part of the journey when they’re here where you say, “Look, if you need anything there’s someone here who’s gone through that very same journey or a similar journey they are available in your time zone. So you really need to think about, what are the potential kind of day-to-day situations that that person may find themselves in and then go, okay, how do we solve that?

Sarah Fern (10m 29s):
And you have to listen. The employee has probably gone through some frustrations. They probably know exactly what the challenges are. Just ask them. You don’t have to make it out. You don’t have to read a book or talk to someone else about someone else’s challenges. You can say, what can I do for you? What would be helpful? What is it you need so you can get this piece of work done? And you talk about the challenges of remote work,. Another one is the kind of always-on culture, right?

Sarah Fern (11m 21s):
So you might work for an American company and your timezones are very different. And you are now finding yourself sitting there every evening, every night working because your boss is awake, or the majority of your team are awake. And all the data, Matt, that I’ve seen over the last few years, burnout has rip, overwhelm, overwork, stress. People work more hours. This is interesting. I wanna, you know, you can’t see my hand, but I wanna put my hand up at this bone and go remote workers are not lazy remote workers. If, you look at the data work a lot more hours.

Sarah Fern (12m 2s):
There’s usually no commute. There’s usually no distraction like you’d have in the office. And there’s a lot of work that takes place. And so how do we as companies and how do we as employees, how do we come together and understand and recognize that challenge? That’s a huge challenge. And what are the things? What are the conversations we’re going to have? What are the things we’re going to put into place? Because again, you might go, oh, I don’t mind if my person overworks. You know, I doing a good job. And they’re really productive, actually, they’re not going to be productive a hundred percent for the next few years. Their productivity is going to dip and dip and dip.

Sarah Fern (12m 43s):
And so it is something we’ve gotta talk about. It’s something we’ve gotta think about because if you are in an office with them, or you see them, you might be able to send them home, right? You might be able to go, “Hey, you know, we’ve had a long day now. Let’s go home. At home, you don’t know, you don’t know what that person is up to. You don’t know whether that person gets up, goes into their laptop, and maybe stays on their laptop until the end of the evening. And we’ve seen that. I have a lot of data points to suggest that that is what happens with a lot of people. Not to be confused with the people who are not productive at work, you know, working from home or working from remotely. But there’s a lot of work that takes place and we’ve gotta watch that.

Sarah Fern (13m 28s):
We’ve gotta understand the severe impact that will have on an employee’s health, on an employee’s ability to get good work done.

Matt Alder (13m 41s):
Wanna come back to that in a second and talk more about culture and how you can really kind of make people thrive in that kind of environment. Before we do, I just wanna literally just pick up on the point that you made earlier about tapping into this global pool of talent. If, you wanna recruit the best project manager for the job that you have in the world this gives you the opportunity to do it. How do organizations who want to do that, how do they need to think differently about recruiting? Because obviously they’re gonna have to stand out as an employer across global markets of talent. You know, they can’t use their office as a selling point or a way of describing their culture.

Matt Alder (14m 23s):
What can employers do to kind of really stand out and be that global employer of choice?

Sarah Fern (14m 29s):
I love that question, Matt. And you know, I think the answer is somewhere where we’ve gotta look at everything we’ve got here. Whether it’s a policy, whether it’s a playbook, handbook, the benefits, really look at why should they join us? What makes us different? What makes us special? And the good companies out there these days, they are really personalizing and putting stuff into place that actually matters to someone. So If you think about benefits, for example, yeah, obviously you’re right, that the free food or the fresh food or the pizza in office, isn’t relevant anymore. And so what are the benefits that matter to people? And at Velocity Global, I look back at the last few years and we’ve had a variety of benefits that we’ve tried and they’ve been really successful.

Sarah Fern (15m 13s):
Last year we made available the services of a resilience coach to everyone in the company. It’s hugely, hugely successful. We also had a travel fund program in place that enabled employees on their anniversary to take an amount of money and travel and work from anywhere. These are just two small examples. It could be something very, very different. But really as an employer, think about in this remote setup, what do my employees cherish, value, you know, benefit from? And you don’t know the answer. So you also need to have the ability to maybe give them an amount of money and say, “Look, I give you this amount of money.

Sarah Fern (15m 54s):
I want you to do X and Y. You choose the provider, you choose the nature of the benefit.” So we are getting very, very creative, right? When we think about why people come to a company, it is getting very, very creative when you look out there. And you know, the value proposition has, as you say, Matt, has really changed beyond recognition. The other thing, of course, I’ve gotta say it. You know, I’m a big proponent of it. This is how we work at Velocity Global. This is how the majority of our clients work. It’s that nature of working anywhere. It’s that flexibility. And a lot of people look for that. So I have a data point, I think it was summer last year.

Sarah Fern (16m 35s):
We had at one point, let me say 120 vacancies on the market, and we had over 100,000 applicants and people flocking to the website and checking us out. And the overriding theme here, it was the flexibility. It was the nature or the ability, the opportunity to work anywhere. When a lot of the employers out there were demanding or mandating the return to the office. When that collision started to really kind of comfort swing. Where people said, “Actually, I’ve moved away. I cannot. I cannot, I’m not able to move back. I don’t want to or I want you to trust me, employer.

Sarah Fern (17m 14s):
I’ve been doing this for some time. Or maybe I’ve moved back to my home country or I’ve just grabbed the opportunity and I’ve gone somewhere else and I don’t want that to be taken away again.” And so that huge, huge appetite match for people to choose their location. And If, you go back to that project manager example. I’m sitting here, I’m looking for the best project manager in the world, I don’t mind where they come from, right? If I have the ability to employ anywhere in the world, what I care about is do they have the right skill set? Do they have the ability to complete this project for me? And everything else becomes more or less relevant. And so when you turn that around your question is what are people looking for?

Sarah Fern (17m 60s):
How do we attract global talent? It is really about giving those flexibilities by giving that freedom. And also think about, you mentioned the global audience. A global audience may have a different language, might articulate values in a different way. And so really as an employer or as a recruiter or HR professional, look at your job descriptions. How are you selling the [inauidble]? How are you selling the company? What’s the impact that people that you are looking to attract can make at the company? And that all feeds into your new value proposition? What can you expect here? So, I’d be surprised if they’ve, is anyone who can just copy and paste what they’ve always done.

Sarah Fern (18m 43s):
I think it does require a complete rethink. And that’s challenging, right? You sit there and you go, “Okay, I want to make it sound fancy. But you know, I dunno what to say, it’s challenging. But If, you can get through that really question yourself, what do we have to offer here? I think that’s when the magic happens.

Matt Alder (19m 34s):
And I suppose tying all of that together in terms of how you talk about the benefits and the organization and also dealing with the challenges of remote and hybrid. Talk to us a little bit more about culture. How do you enable people to thrive in this type of organization?

Sarah Fern (19m 54s):
Yes, and I welcome the question, and let me say this. And the people I work with, they know this because I say this frequently. We are all culture, Matt. Every single one of us is a culture carrier. And the reason why I say that, and why I believe that is when you are in a hybrid remote or asynchronous work setup, it’s really, really difficult to define or to direct or to control culture. You might be in an office, you might have the sense that you are in control of the culture. You probably not, but you might have that sense when you are in a remote work setup, you have no sense of control as it relates to the culture ever.

Sarah Fern (20m 38s):
And so what that means is for companies, for, for leaders, for CEOs, for people teams, is you’ve gotta be very intentional about the stories you share, the narratives, how you articulate, what we do as a company, and the values. Because someone gets up in the morning and they’ve never met any of their teammates, and they work in a silo or work in isolation. You know, how on earth are you going to foster a positive culture there? And so you need some really cool systems. You need platforms that enable people to meet. You need that sense of togetherness, belonging, you need that sense of community, and you need really, really good leaders that don’t leave you alone, that don’t allow silos that really drive collaboration, teamwork, being together, driving impact., that to me, all of that is culture.

Sarah Fern (21m 34s):
And I have a choice. I wake up in the morning and I have a choice what I contribute towards that culture. And I think it’s really important to say that because in enable mode setup the culture and the attitude and the behaviors of every single person, that is what makes up the culture. And in that sense, you also have a duty to make sure that people who are working with you, they’re living that. And so, if someone isn’t aligned with that, you take the same action that you would take in an office, right? You’d try and figure that out because there’s this famous quote that says, your company’s as good as the kind of worst behavior that we tolerate.

Sarah Fern (22m 19s):
And that is also true remotely. So make no mistake. The challenges are the same. It’s a little bit more tricky to deal with that and to identify it, but ultimately it is about being intentional. It’s about being really having really, really good leaders and leading by example.

Matt Alder (22m 39s):
Final question for you, just looking to the future. So if we go sort of 3, 4, 5 years into the future, how do you think we’re gonna be talking about the future of work, then? What’s next after this evolution that we’re going through?

Sarah Fern (22m 52s):
It’s a good question. I don’t think we are done with this evolution. I think it’s easy to think that we are, but there’s a lots of different trends, lots of collisions happening. And you know, I would say that the future of work I think is standard freedom. When I think of anyone, anywhere anyhow, you can be in Ghana or in Kenya or in Norway, or in Japan, and you have access to the same job opportunities that someone has who might be located in San Francisco, California. And you know, I think we’re moving that way, but the idea is so very magical anyone, anywhere, anyhow.

Sarah Fern (23m 34s):
We are not even 5% there, Matt. And so for me, you know, the features about choice, the features about freedom, the features about trust, and the features about getting work done rather than appearing to get work done. All of those are really radical concepts. We may have been talking about them for two or three years, but we are not done yet.

Matt Alder (23m 59s):
Absolutely. So much work still to do. Sarah, thank you very much for talking to me.

Sarah Fern (24m 6s):
It’s been a pleasure, Matt. Thank you.

Matt Alder (24m 7s):
My thanks to Sarah. And a quick reminder that you can register for my webinar on navigating the future for talent acquisition at bit.ly/mattalder. You can subscribe to this podcast in Apple Podcasts, on Spotify, or via your podcasting app of choice. Please also follow the show on Instagram. You can find us by searching for Recruiting Future. You can search all the past episodes at recruitingfuture.com. On that site, you can also subscribe to our monthly newsletter, Recruiting Future Feast, and get the inside track about everything that’s coming up on the show.

Matt Alder (24m 48s):
Thanks very much for listening. I’ll be back next time and I hope you’ll join me.

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