READ the June 2021 issue of our magazine: The Digital Culture Reset
As Chief People Officer, Matt Norman leads the global people team and is responsible for building DigitalOcean’s people strategy to support the company’s continued growth, culture, innovation, and profitability. In this role, he oversees talent acquisition and development, compensation and benefits, diversity and inclusion, facilities, and employee engagement programs.
Matt has broad experience leading multiple functions across vast global locations, with his most recent role as EVP, Human Resources at Denihan Hospitality Group where he was responsible for creating and executing global human resources administration, integration, and strategy over the course of seven years. Matt has transformed people teams, injecting a business mindset into structure, processes, and systems, continually looking to find alternatives to improve, reach further, and drive success. Prior to joining Denihan, Matt held senior human resources positions at Gilt Group, Conde Nast, Universal McCann, DoubleClick (a division of Google, Inc.), and Honeywell.
Here are the excerpts.
How do you see the world of work today and how is it going to evolve in the coming days?
The pandemic was a sea-change moment. It’s not how the world of work will change. It’s how it already did. For many of us, things will not go back to the old way. The good news: this could actually help make things better. As a company that was largely remote before the pandemic, DigitalOcean has always empowered its employees with a high level of flexibility and autonomy. Now, employers globally are realizing the importance of this flexible work model. Moving forward employees and managers will need to personalize their work relationships and how they get things done. Not every employee will want to go back into a traditional office, and many will want to keep flexible hours to better accommodate their personal and family responsibilities.
What’s your take on remote or hybrid work with a large chunk of workers across several organizations reluctant to return to their desks as offices start reopening?
Personalization will be key - both for workspaces and work cultures. There will be no one-size-fits-all solution. The more flexibility and bespoke work arrangements employers can provide the better they can attract, retain, and effectively help employees manage their personal and work requirements. This includes working with employees individually, but also putting systems in place to support the employee population as a whole. At DigitalOcean, we provided home office and Wi-Fi stipends to help employees set up a comfortable and productive working environment. We plan to extend this benefit beyond the pandemic to those who still wish to work from home.
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As companies start marching on in the COVID-stricken world, how critical is getting work ‘culture’ right especially in the hybrid world of work?
Getting culture right is the first imperative always. An organization cannot be successful unless it has a strong foundation in place. Culture feeds performance and performance feeds culture. These things are not dissociated from one another. Building a culture is tough, maintaining it is harder, and building and maintaining a culture in a pandemic takes extreme diligence and attention to detail. In these times, we cannot let distance erode company culture or an organization’s commitment to its values. Onboarding is extremely important to ensure alignment, as is hiring the right people who will uphold the culture and values.
The workplace has undergone significant changes ever since the pandemic has struck businesses and economies across the globe. With a distributed workforce, what’s the best way to ensure their work culture is adaptable and aligned with organizational goals?
The climate within which we work always has the potential to change. The pandemic is one major example. While the way we work may evolve, the key is to establish a culture that endures and holds true to its values and business goals no matter what the world, economic or organizational climate may be at the time. First and foremost, companies need to make sure culture and goals are representative of each other. Culture should inform company goals and goals should inform company culture. Any disconnect will result in misalignment.
Next, companies must invest in building a high-performance culture. This is achieved through better channels of communication, clear objectives, and a strong culture of accountability. Finally, companies must take a hard look at their leadership. The culture of an organization is only as strong as its worst leader. Especially in distributed work environments, companies must ensure managers are living the company values and supporting employees in achieving their goals. Investments in management training can go a long way in helping organizations thrive.
In the digital world, how can organizations exploit tech innovations to reinvent and strengthen their work culture?
It’s important to remember that technology can’t come before culture. Culture is the foundation that everything is built upon and should be established early on, not as an afterthought and not driven by an algorithm. Technology can be extremely helpful to help support and feed into the culture. It can facilitate better communication and camaraderie. It can help recognize when the culture and values are being lived and when they are not. It can also unearth valuable data to provide a deeper understanding and inform better decisions across the organization.
As an example, our team uses technology to track key employee data such as time-off requests. A few months into the pandemic, we noticed that people were no longer taking vacations. We realized this could lead to higher stress levels and negatively impact our employee morale, so we decided to implement “recharge days”. These are company-wide days off throughout the year to ensure employees are taking the necessary time to relax and unplug.
What traits will distinguish highly successful companies in the transition to the post-pandemic workplace?
The companies that will be most successful after the pandemic will be the ones who listen. The world has changed for a lot of people, and we can’t ignore it. Companies cannot move forward without a deep understanding of their customers and employees. Only then can they anticipate the evolving needs of their customers, while supporting their employees' success.
What have you learned about from this pandemic? What are your top priorities today?
Our priorities remain unchanged. Our strategy is focused on three key imperatives: Grow faster, grow smarter, and grow together. We are focusing on optimizing our execution, building efficiency as we scale, and investing in everyone at DigitalOcean.
While our priorities have not changed, we have learned a lot about managing our organization through change. Growth comes with change and change can breed uncertainty. Therefore, it’s critical to help employees be more comfortable with change. This is where communication is critical. We must ensure our employees understand what we are driving towards and take time to understand and listen to their questions and concerns. We must all speak up when we have something to say and listen when others do. We also need to make sure that all of our actions are rooted in our values.
How do you see the role of talent leaders evolve in 2021 and beyond?
Talent leaders need to take a step back and think like an employee. The world has changed and will continue to evolve beyond the pandemic. Meanwhile, organizations are asking more and more of their staff. While change is inevitable, it’s the role of talent leaders to think about what their employees need to be successful personally and professionally. Flexibility and a deeper understanding of what employees really need will be the true benchmarks of a successful talent leader in 2021 and beyond. Keep it simple, listen to employees, analyze the data and stay focused on building a better more personalized work experience for all.