Meiyea Neo is the HR Director for Zendesk across the Asia Pacific. She has over 20 years of HR experience, largely in technology and consulting. Her experience lies in business partnering, coaching, leadership, talent, and organizational development, as well as change management.
At Zendesk, Meiyea is tasked with evolving the employee experience at Zendesk’s eight offices across the rapidly growing region, located in Singapore, Melbourne, Sydney, Manila, Bangkok, Bangalore, Seoul, and Tokyo. Her strategic priorities include enhancing the candidate and employee experience; elevating leadership and organizational capabilities; and investing in HR automation and data insights to improve effectiveness and efficiency. In an exclusive interaction with People Matters, Meiyea Neo throws light on how organizations need to rethink performance and rewards in the new normal.
The colonial mindset around working from home being synonymous with lesser work being done has been challenged by the endless hours of work being put in by leaders, managers, and employees. However, there continues to be a need to prove online presence. What is your take on this?
We are facing unique times and circumstances. It is very rare that the entire world is catapulted into a series of transitions at the same time. Currently, even though the economy has adapted to the transition to a remote workforce, work culture is evolving to catch up. We may still be holding on to old practices or habits while transitioning to the new.
The need to prove an online presence stems from the need of being physically present at the same location at the same time.
As months go by, we have seen that these assumptions no longer hold water. As the pandemic continues to unfold, it has taught us so much; each person, each family is coping with both personal and work circumstances all at once. For companies who have successfully pivoted to adapt to the situation, not only has productivity not been impacted, we have been thrown to the other deep end where we are now struggling to maintain a balance between professional and personal life.
Trust and empathy play crucial roles in defining the new normal of work culture. Leaders need to be cognizant that each employee’s situation is different and ensure that their team is feeling supported and empowered to do their work to the best of their ability, while also having the freedom to take the pauses they need to rest and reset.
What should employers keep in mind while revising the performance framework for their remote employees?
Often companies overlook employee experience (EX) while striving towards building good customer experience (CX). At Zendesk, we believe that happy employees equate to happy customers. In the current environment, an employee-centric approach is crucial for companies to maintain employee trust and keep business going as usual.
From a business standpoint, it may be obvious that a changing work culture would lead to a revision in performance frameworks. However, this may be a sensitive topic from an employee standpoint. Therefore, ensuring regular and quality communication is key to approaching this situation.
Before revising any existing performance framework, managers and leaders need to establish open and transparent communication with their employees.
There needs to be a conversation around understanding the changes - the reasoning for its necessity and nature, for instance, whether it is permanent or likely to change once they return to the workplace. Also, there need to be open channels for employees to share their feedback and inputs at all times.
What are some of the pillars of performance that you focus on? In your opinion, which performance metrics will now determine compensation?
How we assess an employee is grounded in both performance and agility. And this varies for an individual contributor to a people manager. Agility is demonstrated in many ways from problem-solving, speed to action, comfort with ambiguity, to continuous learning. All these qualities are especially relevant and important when applied to our very volatile situations right now. We have also launched a more streamlined approach to feedback and development. Now, feedback is an ‘always-on’ opportunity that allows employees to be helpful—it can be quick, in (or out of) the moment, and to the point.
We also expect our people managers to have regular conversations around their teams’ development, careers and performance while guiding them to re-evaluate their priorities keeping in mind the ‘next normal’. At Zendesk, we are aligning our focus on the Objectives and the Key Results we’re measuring at the company level and for each function to ensure we consistently translate our strategy into outcomes. Overall this ensures that we have the agility as a company to pivot the business to respond to changes that these unprecedented times bring. Of course, we are also trying to anticipate and consider other impacts that the ‘new normal’ workplace would have to ensure that we continue to be able to attract and retain talent.
Industry-wide pay cuts have sent several employees 2 or 3 years behind in their financial standing. With finances expected to be in a slump for an unpredictable time period, what reward strategies can organizations consider to help employees navigate these challenging times?
The scenarios described above are very specific to companies and industries that need to adapt their strategy accordingly as they cope with the pandemic. Ultimately, an employer would have to make tough decisions in consideration of not only financial metrics but also their long-term relationship with employees, and even future employees. This is a fine balance to strike though.
Talent retention remains relevant and an important focus for organizations to continue to engage, reward and motivate their talent as they “ride out the storm.
These are challenging times for both employees and companies with a tremendous amount of uncertainty that affects companies differently, so strategies developed will need to address the specific challenges faced by the organization and employees.
As business and HR leaders look to reset the workplace and people policies in the new reality of work, how is the benefits landscape changing? Any specific initiative you plan to take around performance and rewards?
Currently, at Zendesk, we are still monitoring the situation on a regular basis and using timely information to make informed decisions about adapting to the new normal. We have rolled out a series of initiatives during this period to keep the teams motivated and connected at all times, including more frequent virtual executive Q&As along with regional and functional Town Hall meetings. During this long period of WFH, we recognize that ensuring our employees’ well-being is even more important hence we have increased our health and wellness programs such as access to licensed therapists, professional coaches, and wellness resources through companies like Modern Health and more.
We have been piloting various self-care programs from Wellness Wednesday to the latest Flexi Friday & Additional Time Off which is a quarter-long self-care program with the purpose of giving employees more time to breathe, think, and re-focus.