Article: AWS’ Annella Heytens on priorities in the new world of work

Leadership

AWS’ Annella Heytens on priorities in the new world of work

Employers must consider what works best for their needs in the new era of remote, hybrid, and traditional work models, says Annella Heytens, APJC head for People Experience and Technology at AWS.
AWS’ Annella Heytens on priorities in the new world of work

Organisations need to determine how to adapt to the changing world of work so that they can attract and retain the best talent. The physical workspace still has a crucial role to play in bringing employees together on a shared purpose. A hybrid workforce, on the other hand, can open many doors, including the opportunity to collaborate with diverse talent pools around the globe or provide employees with the freedom to manage their schedules. To find out how employers are adapting to the changing world of work, we caught up with Annella Heytens, Head of People Experience and Technology, APJC at AWS.

Annella has over 20 years of corporate and consulting experience across various HR functions, both as a generalist and specialist, and has worked in roles across markets in the US and Asia Pacific. She provides overall vision, and strategic and operational human resource leadership to the company.

Here are the edited excerpts.

Despite mounting worries about an approaching economic downturn, the Great Resignation hasn't actually slowed down, according to reports. What should leaders focus on to attract and retain talent?

According to McKinsey, the post-pandemic workforce has clear demands for current and prospective employers. Inclusion, diversity and equity (ID&E), purpose, and employee experience are now key non-negotiables that employees expect. Organisations that neglect these domains are likely to see a loss of talent.

To attract and retain talent, employers should relook at their company culture and consider implementing components relevant to their needs, like: 

Encouraging learning – Tech talent today is incredibly driven. To meet their needs for continued growth, organisations must provide employees with an environment that promotes their development, and opportunities to learn new skills to remain competitive.

Promoting innovation – Businesses seek to reinvent themselves and innovate. To do so requires a culture that promotes innovation, which starts with encouraging traits like risk-taking, creativity, and critical thinking, and extending opportunities to innovate to all employees to keep them engaged and purpose-driven.

Inclusion, Diversity and Equity – The best innovations are shaped from diverse perspectives from people of different backgrounds and experiences. Ensuring an inclusive workplace will enable workers to bring themselves as they are and do their best at work. 

How is the future of work evolving as a result of the tight labour market, talent shortages, and employee empowerment?

Employees certainly have more options now as the number of available jobs in the market has been on the rise. With employees playing a more active role in the workplace and wanting more autonomy over their career journeys, we believe that the future of work will see greater levels of collaboration between leadership and employees. 

The need for open communication and a workplace culture that supports authenticity cannot be overstated. We believe that empowering employees to take ownership of their careers and express themselves at work allows them to perform at their best and innovate freely for customers.

Thus, the call to action for employers is to do all they can to create a safe and empowering space for employees to show up authentically. Proactively listening and proactively addressing the most pressing and relevant issues employees are facing can help improve employee productivity and sense of belonging in the workplace.

Secondly, employers should continue to create opportunities for employees to look at their careers holistically and grow their capabilities and careers in the manner they choose. Helping employees take ownership of their career journey has the added benefit of reducing their impetus to look elsewhere for opportunities. 

Employees are also holding their organisations to higher standards and want to work for employers that are socially responsible, community-conscious, and purpose-driven. In considering how they are meeting the needs of individual employees, organisations should also consider the needs of employees’ families and communities. It is incumbent on employers to articulate this higher purpose. 

Employers are now drawing people back to the office, but there’s a section of employees who are stubbornly resisting resuming their commute? How are employers adapting to meet the shifting needs of workers, especially flexibility? 

Online meetings and collaborative tools have been helpful in maintaining productivity levels during the pandemic, but the physical workspace still has an important role to play in bringing employees together on a shared purpose. Employee engagement is most effective when employees come together in person and working in the same physical space strengthens team dynamics as well as an affinity for greater innovation and collaboration. 

Be it remote, hybrid, or traditional work arrangements, employers must consider what works best for their needs, in consultation with relevant stakeholders. A hybrid workforce can open many doors, including the ability to work with diverse pools of talent all over the world or provide employees with flexibility in managing their schedules on their own terms. With the right tools and infrastructure in place, employers can rest assured that going remote will not impact business proactivity. AWS has been a key enabler helping companies go remote and establish a successful hybrid working arrangement. 

Does this shift make the role of HR more critical in future-proofing organisational culture and making work meaningful for workers?

As HR, one of our roles is being custodians of our organisation’s culture. In a dispersed workforce, the artefacts, routines, symbols, common language that bring our culture to life are less visible and employees have less opportunities to experience them. 

HR will need to play a larger role in providing the same, equal visibility of these cultural markers and opportunities for employees to connect, communicate, and grow regardless of where they are at. Having clear goals, metrics and milestones across the organisation go a long way in giving employees a unified experience of the organisation. 

How are companies recalibrating their well-being policies  - which is one of the key focus areas for business globally today, in light of the pandemic's psychological and emotional scars?

The pandemic has blurred the lines between our professional and personal lives. As employers, we need to acknowledge that our overall well-being impacts how we show up at work and we can start by making employees’ well-being a priority and ensuring that they have access to the right support and benefits.

At AWS, we have invested more time and focus on the health and well-being of our employees, developing tools like our learning portals and assistance programs to support them. We are also helping them stay connected to the organisation through our various employee-led Amazon affinity groups. It is of utmost importance that we understand who our employees are, what they most care about, and what concerns them and challenges them to determine the help that they need to find balance and fulfilment in the workplace.

How is AWS reinventing its talent management? Are you facing any talent shortages? What are your priorities this year and beyond?

Our priorities are to over-index on hiring builders, attuned to our “Day 1” philosophy. Day 1 is both a culture and an operating model that puts customers at the center of everything we do. We strive to deeply understand customers and work backwards from their pain points to rapidly develop innovations that create meaningful solutions in their lives. The launch is just the starting line, and we are constantly curious, nimble, and experimental in our efforts to better surprise and delight customers of the future.

We see ourselves as a company where ‘builders’ come to build. To us, ‘builders’ are more than just engineers or technical staff. ‘Builders’ may be found across different functions, but they share common soft skills that help them solve problems and innovate to delight our customers. They are comfortable with ambiguity, curious about new possibilities, creative, inventive, capable of thinking big, and possess a bias for action – in short, ready for the challenges of tomorrow 

With companies looking for newer, better ways to implement technology, how has HR and work tech evolved over the last two years?

We are seeing an explosion of HR technology born in the cloud. It is exciting to have the choice of thousands of solutions for any need, no matter how specific. Be it talent acquisition, employee engagement, rewards and recognition, or employee wellness, many of these applications are easily available on cloud marketplaces like AWS Marketplace, where organisations can trial solutions before purchase. This reduces the amount of time, resources and upfront investments required, allowing organisations speed and flexibility in implementing the right solutions for their needs.  

We do not have to limit ourselves to HR-specific tech either. For example, AWS integrates simple data and analytics as part of our talent management process. We run daily polls that ask every Amazonian a workplace-related question. Data from these polls provide real-time insights and feedback that help managers understand how employees feel about our workplace culture and the steps we can take to improve. 

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Topics: Leadership, #HybridLeadership

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