"Always listen to your people as they are at the heart of everything you do. By taking the time to listen and empathise with the challenges that they are facing, you will better navigate which experiences are working and which are not," says Khoo Choon Yen, Head of People Operations and Systems, APJ, Workato.

Workato, an intelligent automation platform, walked away with the silver award for Best Remote Management Strategy at the Employee Experience Awards 2022, Singapore.

In this interview, we speak to Khoo Choon Yen, Head of People Operations and Systems, APJ, Workato, who shares the secrets behind this win: key employee communication touch points the company focuses on in bringing together its decentralised workforce; three things to look out for in effective remote work management, and more. 

Q Congratulations on the achievement! Could you take us through the highs and lows of your winning strategy – how important is it for the organisation to have the strategy recognised this year?

As a global enterprise, Workato has always adopted a remote-first approach to work. A paradigm shift in the work environment, triggered by the global pandemic, led us to further refine our remote management strategy. The award is a timely and important affirmation that workflow automation is effective in creating an enjoyable remote employee experience. 

One of the biggest challenges that we faced while developing our strategy was navigating the difficulty of bringing distributed teams together. With the common goal of creating a seamless experience for employees, we found the process required a lot of collaboration and discussion, but was ultimately rewarding. Another challenge was ensuring that in-person interactions remain present in the adoption of our telework philosophy. Other than uncovering new efficiencies, striking a fine balance between human interaction and automation has been extremely crucial to the success of our strategy. 

Q Understanding and meeting your employees’ needs and expectations is never an easy feat. How did the organisation identify the business & employee needs, and craft the perfect solution? 

Being a decentralised workforce, our employee communication touch points include:

  • New hires’ check-in session at their one-month mark, with our CEO and leadership team, to discuss their observations about our business strategies and processes.
  • Anonymous quarterly pulse surveys and a 24/7 feedback platform directly monitored by the HR leadership team and CEO.
  • Weekly sync between HR and local managers to understand their business needs.

As our employee profile is diverse, we came to realise that the listed touchpoints may not be adequate in addressing all profiles. We also took it a step further to arrange for wellness check-ins/conversations with various teams. Through these avenues of identifying business and employees’ needs, we were able to analyse certain recurring themes.  Being agile has allowed us to tailor solutions based on internal feedback suggested by employees and roll them out on a larger scale accordingly. 

Q How did the strategy add to the overall employee experience in your organisation, in terms of ROI, when it came to fruition? Share with us the benefits of having such a strategy in place.

With the successful implementation of the remote management strategy, business productivity is maximised as we have created a self-sufficient environment for our employees, where barriers to efficiency and agility are lifted.  This strategy empowered all of our employees to be more productive and be involved in work, even beyond their core responsibilities. Since the implementation of our remote management strategy, we have observed high retention rates and a high Employee Net Promoter Score (eNPS), which affirms its vital importance. 

Q Could you offer some recommendations to your peers across industries – what advice or lessons would you have to guide them into implementing something similar for their own EX foundation? 

Firstly, always listen to your people as they are at the heart of everything you do. By taking the time to listen and empathise with the challenges that they are facing, you will better navigate which experiences are working and which are not. 

Secondly, set measurable objectives to determine implementation success rates. There will certainly be times when we may not be able to meet the objective. Hence, we often encourage our HR team to review their own successes and challenges faced along the way, regroup and revise the appropriate strategy.

Finally, creating a psychologically safe workplace is crucial in fostering open communication within the team. As a leading automation integration platform company, we pride ourselves on creating an open and honest workplace culture for our employees. 

Q If you were to reflect, what is one thing you’ll do differently in executing this strategy? 

An aspect that we could have done differently was the execution of virtual employee engagements. Our employee engagement had been designed to foster connectivity amidst a remote work arrangement. We conducted these virtual sessions in a significantly large group of more than 150 employees for each run. After a couple of runs, it dawned upon us that the set-up often did not meet our intended objectives since employees were experiencing ZOOM fatigue from countless meetings.

Based on employee feedback, we decided to revisit our employee engagement initiatives to see how we can best improve our efforts. Coupled with the relaxation of guidelines for social gatherings at the workplace and gradual transitions into a hybrid work environment, a variety of initiatives have since been implemented to cater to different groups and interests. Some of the initiatives include cosier employee spotlight-sharing sessions and fireside chats, which were led by some of our own fellow employees.

Q Looking ahead, how is Workato going to take this winning strategy higher and further in the coming years? Give us a sneak peek into your upcoming plans to grow the overall employee experience. 

Though our hybrid work strategy has a remote-first emphasis, we are also hearing feedback that employees crave in-person interactions. Managers want to bring their teams together for the purpose of collaboration and team building. To enable this, we have started setting up more satellite offices and will continue to review this based on demand. We are also expecting to facilitate more travel for teams who have employees based across cities/countries while being mindful of our overall carbon footprint.

Q 10 years down the line, where do you see the future of HR? 

Gazing into the crystal ball and as we move into the post-pandemic era, these are two key trends that will be the future of HR (from the perspective of an integration workflow company):

  • Our 2022 Work Automation Index found that recruiting automation grew 316% in the past year. As competition for top talent continues amidst the Great Resignation, it makes sense that HR is placing greater emphasis on employee experience, starting with an enjoyable and seamless recruitment journey. 
  • Employee experience starts with onboarding, where enabling employees to ramp up quickly contributes to greater job satisfaction and retention. Employee onboarding grew 256% in the past year, and makes up 20% of all automated HR processes. We envision a continued strong emphasis on self-service workflows, coupled with a human touch to ensure employees’ first, last, and important experiences within the organisation are enjoyable and efficient. 

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Read more interviews on why organisations have won trophies for their HR practices - head over to our Winning Secrets section!  

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