Humaning with Maria Casella, VP of People & Operations at Skedda

February 23, 2024
Hybrid Work
Table of Contents
Humaning with Maria Casella, VP of People & Operations at Skedda

TL;DR Article Summary

Building Human Connection in a Hybrid World: Interview with Maria Casella, VP of People & Operations at Skedda

  • Hybrid work challenges include logistics (desk booking, meeting tech), time zones, and fostering a sense of belonging.
  • Intentionality is key in a hybrid environment. Both employers and employees need to plan their work locations and schedules strategically.
  • Equity for remote and on-site employees is crucial. A documented Mission, Vision, and Values (MVV) helps guide Skedda's hybrid work best practices.
  • Success is measured by team cohesion, engagement, and individual performance, not a strict adherence to an office policy.

Welcome to Humaning! In this monthly blog series, Skedda will interview visionary HR and People Leaders on how they build human connection and vibrant hybrid work cultures that drive employee satisfaction, engagement, and business results—no matter where or how their people choose to work.

Enjoy this installment with our very own Maria Casella, VP of People & Operations at Skedda!

What are some of the biggest hybrid work challenges that companies face?

Hybrid work is challenging to manage because as an employer, you have to make a cohesive, productive (and fun!) working experience for all team members—whether they are fully remote, hybrid, or choose to come to the office every day.

The easier bucket of challenges are the logistical challenges. If you have a hybrid meeting, do you have the right technology to make sure the experience is equivalent between those in the room and those that are remote? Do you use desk booking software to manage your desks and ensure people have the right setup when they come into the office? And then there are factors that are just harder to manage, like time zones. Our VP of Sales is onboarding a new Account Executive in Australia, and their overlap times are very limited. 

Facilitating hybrid work environments is what we do here at Skedda, but creating a sense of belonging for our own employees continues to be something that I think about daily. While we have made great improvements here, this is the kind of work that is never “done.”

While having a global team is a huge asset, it also means we have to be really intentional with how we spend our time together – and take advantage of the overlapping windows of time with things that cannot get done asynchronously. 

How do you drive a culture of connectedness with employees all over the world?

Facilitating belonging and togetherness when remote feels like an oxymoron, but we have found that small steps can make big impacts. We do company-wide All Hands and record those meetings to make it easier for a global team to access. The idea of having a meal together that's more informal can be great, so we're also trying to do a hybrid team lunch or breakfast.

Recently, employees in our Boston office all got together to send out end-of-the-year gifts to our global teams. The idea of sending something a teammate has physically put together holds a human connection that is hard to quantify. It's not just a process where we send you a new thing with our logo every year in December. Instead, it’s a gift with a handwritten note of appreciation from our CEO. There's an intangible value that's very different from just sending people money to buy something themselves.

A slogan that my past company always used at this stage is: “Do things that don't scale.” What we did packaging all these gifts ourselves certainly does not scale if we had 5,000 people. However, we were able to make this into a community building for the Boston office as well. This is where the dollar spent versus the impact on the employee can be very different.

What is the most important thing to remember when moving to a hybrid environment?

With all of the options and inherent complexity that a hybrid work environment creates, the most important thing to remember is intentionality. Both the employer and the employee need to be intentional in their choices in creating what they think will be the most productive setting. We’ve seen that some people work fantastically from home, and others still prefer to come into the office because of their role, the nature of their work, or their home setup. The challenge now is that the employer and employee must be more intentional with crafting their days, weeks, and months, and what types of work they are doing and when. 

For our team, we see that if people are coming in two days a week, those are the days they try to have bigger team meetings or have one-on-ones for more personal conversations. At home, they might fit in more individual work. For example, our salespeople will do a lot of back-to-back calls when they're at home. There's no need for them to commute to the office if all they're going to be doing is sit in a phone booth. Every company has to craft a policy that makes sense for their employees and gives them the right tools to optimize their days and weeks.

How do you ensure equity between remote and on-site employees in a globally distributed environment?

Our guiding question is: How do we create exceptional employee experiences no matter where you live? We had to be mindful of this when documenting our Mission, Vision, and Virtues (MVV). I wanted to create it with our existing employee base in more than 14 countries, so ensuring equity of voice was top priority. 

I created both in-person and fully remote brainstorming and feedback sessions throughout the iterations. The process took about two and a half months. We ended up having over 75% overall participation from our employee base, with the biggest participation from focus groups, which I hosted at several different times to accommodate people around the globe. 

Skedda has more than doubled in the last year. I wanted to celebrate and maintain some of the success that got us to where we are today, and also add cultural elements as we grow to the next stage of our business. Our cultural virtues should reflect where the employees are today but also be a little bit of a North Star—aspirational and a stretch from where we are today because that's how they guide us and get us to the next stage.

How does having a documented MVV help Skedda live out its hybrid work best practices?

Our first cultural virtue is “We are a community.” When we craft any people policy, we think about how that layers into us being a community, supporting each other, and fostering connection between our teammates.

We see a lot of companies forcing the return to work. It’s easier to enforce X number of days back in the office. The harder questions are: Why are people not coming into the office? Is there a logistical challenge with where they live? Is it a personal challenge of what's going on in their home life? Is the office a compelling place to be?

We have employees who love to come into the office but have a commute time that's over an hour. If we mandated five days a week of that, the amount of productive time you're losing from an employee is a trade-off that no business partner would want to make. 

You have to be clear and honest about why you’re asking people to be in the office. If there's a gap there, you have to understand why that gap exists. If you are setting up the right goals and motivations for people and getting them the right tools, then it should be very clear for the employee to say, “This is where I'm most productive.”

How do you measure the success of your hybrid work strategy?

Today, we have a two-day in-office policy. We think a few days a week on average is really impactful, and we see the cohesion of those teams that have done that. Some people come in more days, because for them the office is a nice benefit that they enjoy taking advantage of.

I get a lot of questions around what to do if people stop coming to the office or are not “meeting the policy.” Typically, if someone is not coming into the office or stops participating in company rituals – I view that more as a symptom of something else. So I tend to look at the bigger picture: How is that employee engaged in the broader business? What is that employee's performance? What else might be driving the change in behavior if this person was previously coming into the office regularly?

We want the office to continue to be a positive benefit we offer employees—not a negative mandate.

To learn more about ways to solve your hybrid work challenges, see how the Top 20 CPOs Shaping Hybrid Work do it at their organizations.

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