Employee Experience Happy Hour in San Francisco August 2023

Employee Experience Happy Hour in San Francisco August 2023

Epoch and Collective hosted a Happy Hour for leaders and innovators in the Employee Experience space to mix and mingle in San Francisco. The event also featured a fireside chat where Jade Choy, Epoch's CEO and co-founder, has conversations with leaders and innovators in the employee experience and engagement space.

In case you missed it, here are some key learnings and takeaways from our Fireside Chat featuring Omar Ramirez, co-founder of Collective Inc., Zoe Macinsky, MS, Internal Events Manager at Chainlink Labs, and Sahar Naim, Head of Operations and People Experience at BetterHelp. View the full recording here. Scroll on for notes! 👇

Meet Omar, Zoe, and Sahar 😊🎙️

Omar is the Co-Founder of Collective, but you probably already know that. Before creating Collective, Omar developed workplace, design, and facilities programs at top companies such as Atlassian, Netflix, Dropbox, Stripe, and Google. He is also a husband, and a father of two awesome boys. 

Zoe is the Internal Events Manager at Chainlink Labs. Zoe has been at Chainlink Labs for almost two years, where she leads internal employee events for a fully remote company. Prior to Chainlink Labs, she spent over five years at Workday focusing on employee experience and events. Zoe's experience includes scaling company culture during hypergrowth, cultivating employee connection both IRL and virtually, and keeping her dogs quiet during virtual events. Fun fact: Zoe received her Master's in Meeting and Event Management during the pandemic! 

Sahar Naim is the Head of Operations and People Experience at BetterHelp, the world's largest online therapy platform. Prior to joining BetterHelp, Sahar worked in People Operations as a team-of-one at early stage startups in various industries.  Sahar is also a founding member of StartupExperts, a community of HR, Finance, and Ops leaders at Series A or later companies that come together to meet, support each other cross-functionally and improve their people-first organizations. Sahar is passionate about curating meaningful employee experiences for teams of all sizes with a focus on employee wellbeing and mental health.

Where does your team sit under your organization? 

Omar shares that there is a noticeable trend within organizations where more teams are gravitating towards being under the general people org, operations org, or being under C-level executives. Whereas traditionally, Employee Experience teams were under the CFO org. 

Zoe's team at Chainlink Labs falls under the people organization. At BetterHelp, Sahar's team reports directly to the founder/CEO of the company.

Priorities and challenges in the EX space

In the exciting year ahead, Chainlink Labs is placing a strong emphasis on building and nurturing company culture. As part of this effort, Zoe and her team are working on bringing their employees together in person to foster face-to-face connection. With 60% of their workforce based in the US and 40% internationally, it is essential for Zoe and her team to ensure that all their employees feel connected, regardless of their location. They are also prioritizing effective onboarding processes to help new hires integrate seamlessly into their organization. 

For Sahar, a major challenge is managing rapid growth and preserving a unique company culture, especially with limited space and a small people team. Sahar's office can only accommodate 150 people, but the organization has grown to 250 full-time employees over the pandemic. It is a challenge finding enough space for all teams to meet. Another challenge is planning offsites with such a small Employee Experience team (2 people). Sahar and her team are always wondering how they can scale events and preserve their unique company culture with teams being in the most remote locations in the US.  

Omar has seen a lot of teams prioritize social cohesion within the organization. However, the biggest challenge is adapting to the hybrid and remote work environments that have become prevalent in today's workplace. With teams scattered across different locations, it becomes crucial for teams to find ways to maintain effective communication and collaboration. Additionally, he recognizes the need to reinforce social cohesion after periods of stress and burnout, ensuring that teams remain connected and engaged.

Exciting employee experience programs that have gone well

Sahar implemented a program called WOW (Work Onsite Week) that has been incredibly successful. Once a month, the program invites different teams to come onsite and connect with each other. Around 80% of teams are expected to come onsite 4-6 times a year. These on-site weeks are carefully planned and include various experiences like coffee bars, food trucks, and team bonding exercises. The engineering team reported that their recent WOW was the most productive week they had experienced. Sahar shares that while remote work has its benefits, nothing can replace the value of gathering and connecting in-person.

With Chainlink Labs being a fully remote company, Zoe recognizes the importance of having in-person connections. Organizing team and company offsites to bring everyone together is important for a vibrant workplace culture. Zoe and her team focus specifically on team offsites for the first half of the year where teams can meet anywhere in the world (within reason). For the second half of the year, Zoe focuses on a company offsite that brings everyone together. The feedback for these types of events is overwhelmingly positive, with a 99% satisfaction rating. Employees are always excited to meet their colleagues in person after being primarily remote. 

Omar recognizes the yearning for in-person connection and community, not just for work, but to build connections and cohesion. He has noticed a trend in more people teams organizing offsites on-site, to get employees into the office and building connections. Teams are reducing physical space and reinvesting in people and programs to build social cohesion. 

Tips & tricks to enhance engagement

Zoe recognizes that what may be effective for one group of employees may not necessarily work for another. She emphasizes the significance of collaborating closely with business partners to gain a deep understanding of their specific needs and preferences. By engaging in open and transparent communication, Zoe aims to tailor the employee experience to align with the unique requirements of each team. 

To ensure a positive employee experience, Sahar suggests collaborating with department heads to identify the most effective practices. For example, some teams may find too many events too distracting for their team. It is important to put boundaries in place and work together with department heads to find the right cadence of events to balance work and social connection at work. Additionally, conducting team surveys is a helpful tool, but most important is taking action on the feedback that is received. This shows employees that they are heard and their opinions matter.

Omar encourages workplace professionals to be able to advocate for the necessary resources to take on specific tasks. This helps prevent burnout while ensuring employees maintain balance in their lives. 

Managing burnout in the Workplace

Omar understands the challenges of workplace and EX teams and the toll it can take on one's mental health. He recognizes the importance of addressing burnout and emphasizes the need for individuals to prioritize self-care. By acknowledging the stress and changes that come with their roles, it’s important to to create a supportive environment that values the well-being of employees. He understands that taking care of yourself is crucial for maintaining a healthy work-life balance and preventing burnout.

During the pandemic, Sahar found herself in the challenging position of being a one-person team, responsible for planning events and programming for the entire company. Having the founder's backing and assistance helped Sahar significantly, especially considering the immense stress that the company endured throughout the COVID-19 pandemic. Sahar understands the importance of being mindful of her team's well-being, giving them the necessary time and space to cope with these changes. While the timeframe to recover from burnout can be 1-3 years, the road to recovery is much longer. 

Zoe emphasizes the importance of prioritizing employee wellness, noting that EX and workplace teams often experience lower levels of wellness themselves. She highlights the need to be mindful of mental health and suggests the value of having an accountability buddy. This person can provide support and help identify when you’re not doing well, encouraging you to take a step back and prioritize self-care. This can be through a group Slack with weekly check-ins, or a simple text message saying “How are you doing?” By fostering a culture of open communication and support, teams can better address mental health concerns and promote overall well-being for everyone. 

Generating leadership buy-in

Zoe encourages EX leaders to speak the language of executive leadership. When communicating with the Chief People Officer (CPO), she emphasizes the need for connection and qualitative aspects of employee experience. For the CEO and CFO, Zoe highlights the impact on retention and the bottom line. When execs see the benefits of what the EX team is doing aligned with their priorities and goals, it makes getting budget and buy-in much easier.

Sahar mentions the importance of having executive buy-in from a strategic and vision level. When execs want employee programs to be a priority, the will be.  This ensures she has creative autonomy to plan whatever programs she thinks will make employees feel engaged. 

Omar emphasizes the importance of effectively communicating and managing expectations with employees to avoid a sense of entitlement and help employee expectations remain stagnant. Omar emphasized Zoe’s point of the importance of speaking the language of stakeholders. Tailoring messages and communication styles to different stakeholders can help bridge the gap and ensure effective communication, leading to better collaboration and understanding between all parties involved.

Parting words 

Sahar shares that it is essential to keep an open mind about the direction your journey will take you. If your passion lies in working with people, it can lead you to great heights. 

Zoe emphasizes the significance of collaboration, noting the immense benefits of witnessing networks expand and allowing everyone to participate in the collaborative process. 

Omar emphasizes the importance of maintaining an open mind toward the possibilities and roles that exist within the workplace, including being open to where your next role might lead.

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