New Normal, New Customs: Workplace Trends and Challenges in the Era of COVID-19 with Katie Burke, Chief People Officer of HubSpot (Part 2)

November 4, 20206:15 pm933 views

The COVID-19 is here to stay – whether we like it or not. For the last couple of months, the world has seen the biggest work-from-home experiment encouraged due to physical distancing protocol. With the trial and error method, many have been done by businesses globally to redefine and deal with the new normal.

In the first part of our interview with Katie Burke, Chief People Officer of HubSpot, we discussed the challenges and trends that the pandemic has left on the workforce. Now, we will move to see how HubSpot adapted the way of work in their offices to overcome the woes of interacting and working in a socially distant world. In this part, Katie will share with us the best practices that have worked for HubSpot and offer us insights on how to replicate these successes within our organisation. Read on!

At HubSpot, what arrangement will be made to welcome the ‘new normal’, and how will this impact the organisation?

The challenge as we see it isn’t about how to return ‘back to normal,’ it’s about how to not default back to what we used to know. So, while our global facilities team works hard to ensure the office is safe and inclusive when the time does come to return, we’re also focused on how to take our new working habits into the future of the company.

As part of our commitment to building a hybrid company, we’re focused on a few core things:

  • Ensuring that all of our culture programming can be enjoyed regardless of where you’re located
  • Providing people managers and leaders at HubSpot the training and support they need for building  psychological safety, inclusive hiring, and more, virtually.
  • Creating a fair and transparent hiring process to be wholly inclusive of remote candidates and an amazing experience for both candidates and hiring managers.
  • Evolving our new hire experience to be inclusive of everyone regardless of their location, working style, or region.
Keeping employees engaged, assured, and happy during uncertain times is a challenge for leaders today. Can you share with us some tips for this?

It’s important to remember that right now, we’re not just working remotely. We’re working from home during a global pandemic. And so while we’ve been able to quickly transition to working remotely which has allowed us to continue to deliver support for our customers, there are a lot of external factors that cause stress. We’re all balancing work and home life in the same area at the moment, and whether you have children who are also home and you’re doubling as their teacher, or are caring for an elderly parent, it’s a lot to juggle at the moment.

We’re leaning into our core values of flexibility, transparency and empathy as we work through these unusual times together. With that as a starting point, it becomes a lot clearer what a company should do to keep our employees assured and engaged.

SingSpot and SydSpot enjoy a virtual cooking class with Chef Russell from Shinji Restaurant.

To cultivate these mindsets, we started a number of initiatives to help employees remain engaged virtually:

  • Monthly global company meetings and Ask Me Anything sessions: Keeping aligned to the new habit of over-communicating, we want to create an environment where every employee has the opportunity to engage with our leadership team and founders. Over the past six months, and particularly while the situation was uncertain and changing rapidly, we held a series of monthly meetings and AMA sessions. In such times of uncertainty, ensuring that we are being as transparent as possible, and increasing our communication, can really help reassure, provide a level of comfort and help boost morale.
  • Establishing intentional spaces within Employee Resource Groups (ERG): HubSpot has a number of ERGs (as do 90% of Fortune 500 Companies) – Women@HubSpot, Parents@HubSpot, People of Colour @ HubSpot and LGBTQ+ Alliance. ERGs are a space where employees are comfortable being their full and authentic selves, and they help create safe, open environments for personal and professional growth. Our Singapore team created that space through Rojak, a local branch of our ERG support programming focusing on identity, race, and culture in JAPAC, and all of our ERGs have been creating more space for community check-ins simply for people to share how they are feeling and talk through their experiences.
  • Centering the conversation on work-life balance: Incidentally, HubSpot celebrates Health and Wellness week in October, so our Singapore team have just had the option of joining exercise classes via Zoom, meditation and yoga sessions and a nutrition seminar with a dietician. Since March, when we all moved to remote work, we’ve had a huge range of remote-inclusive programming, from pet behaviouralists, to cooking classes (our Singapore and Sydney teams were hosted, via Zoom, by a Singapore-based chef), to weekly yoga, virtual trivia and happy hours. We’ve also launched Micro Breaks, a series of 5-min meditation guides and stretching routines that aim to help employees relax, and take a quick break to recharge during work hours.

Supporting our people leaders is an area of focus for us as well. We’re all getting used to leading our teams remotely and helping managers reduce their reliance on facetime is hard. Doing business face-to-face, be it with colleagues or customers, is even stronger in Asia than many other regions, so we’re supporting our team to be more comfortable with being vulnerable. One of my favourite traditions on this front is our “Failure Forum,” in which HubSpotters share professional stories of times when they feel they could have done better for themselves or their team. It normalises the fact that so many people whose work you admire daily have experienced failure in profound ways, and creates space for people to ask for help when things aren’t perfect.

Last question, what is one lesson that HubSpot has learnt through this crisis?

I mean, where do I begin! If it’s okay, I’ll share two things that have really stuck with me. One is the value of empathy and of living your values when things are hard–I think at the beginning of the pandemic really made a conscious choice as a leadership team to use our values as a guidepost for all of our decisions, and doing so meant we focused on three things: taking care of each other, taking care of our customers and partners when they really needed us, and taking care of the world. Being that clear about our values and approach helped empower all of our employees to understand what mattered and treat each other and our customers with utmost kindness during a challenging time.

The second is to give yourself and others a break. I’ve fallen in love with the Buddhist concept of the “Second Arrow” in quarantine, which essentially boils down to the fact that the first arrow of suffering, which in this case is the pandemic, is completely out of our control. But the second arrow–our response to the pain and suffering, we have control over it, so rather than constantly comparing yourself to others or focusing on being perfect, I find it’s a lovely reminder that we are all just doing our best during an incredibly difficult time, and I’m trying to spend more energy focusing on being kind and patient with myself and with others recognising that dynamic is hard for everyone.

About Katie Burke

Katie Burke is the Chief People Officer at HubSpot, where she oversees HubSpot’s global employment brand to attract top-level talent as the company continues to grow and enter new markets. She creates and delivers the optimal candidate and employee experience for HubSpot’s offices around the world. Katie manages the team responsible for HubSpot’s award-winning culture and commitment to transparency and autonomy.

During her time at HubSpot, the company has received culture commendations from Entrepreneur, Fortune, The Boston Globe, Glassdoor, and The Boston Business Journal. Katie’s emphasis on a culture of inclusion, diversity, and support has also placed HubSpot on Fortune.com’s “100 Best Workplaces for Women” list.

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