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Interview with Alex Richenburg, our SVP of People Part 1: People Team Deliverables and achievements in 2021

We recently sat down with our SVP of People, Alexandra Richenburg, for a retrospective on her team’s work in 2021 and a look ahead to their priorities in 2022. In this first part, we share what we learned from Alex about 2021 deliverables.

2021 was a busy year for everyone at Eigen, what were the main areas of focus for the People team?

There are four key themes and areas of focus for the People team:

  • Culture – Making sure we have the right culture for where we are and where we want to be – we want Eigen to be a great place to work with a culture that aligns to our values
  • Upskilling – It’s the responsibility of the company to ensure people have the tools to do their job, stay relevant and have the chance to upskill where needed.
  • Retention – Creating a great environment, a place where people enjoy coming to work and want to stay.
  • Growth – We’ve been through a period of hyper growth over the past few years with recruitment being a high priority.

Back in 2020, our focus was on creating consistency across the organization in terms of culture, performance management, policies and processes. Laying the foundations to ensure our business could scale efficiently whilst ensuring fairness.

In 2021 we placed greater emphasis on building our diversity, inclusion and belonging programs as well as continuing to support our teams through COVID by providing mental health provisions and ramping up our support programs throughout the difficult lockdowns.

Looking forward to 2022, our focus is on making sure we have a culture in place that can help our business grow, especially now that we have opened a new office in Lisbon, and helping people come back to a new normal.

Inclusion and equality have been high on the People team’s agenda. What initiatives have been introduced and why are they so important?

Creating an environment where everyone, from any background, can do their best work is critical to Eigen. Diversity has been at our core from the very beginning with our co-founder and CEO Lewis, being Asian-American. Our management team knows we become better if we are more diverse and representative of the places, areas and customers that we are working with, and that is constantly our aim.

We have made improvements; we have increased our gender and ethnic diversity by 10% over the year, but we also thought about what programs we could run to accelerate our progress.

As a piece of our overarching People Strategy, the Diversity, Inclusion & Belonging program has three main goals:

  • Attracting & Onboarding – create a workforce broadly reflective of the larger community. Eigen has put in place processes to facilitate this aim, for example gender-neutral job adverts, flexible working arrangements, sponsoring the Tech Returners scheme, working with General Assembly and operating apprenticeship schemes.
  • Engaging & Developing – support employees in building the skills and capacity to work in an inclusive manner with one another and with the customers we serve. Our employee life cycle processes are designed to prevent discrimination against our people, for example performance review calibrations, awareness training etc.
  • Building the Culture – build a welcoming workplace in which employees recognize that their unique characteristics, skills, and experiences are respected, valued and celebrated. We currently have an employee committee to consider Diversity and Inclusion across the Company, as well as Employee Resource Groups to support employees. We are also members of Business in the Community. Our partnership with Business in the Community has enabled Eigen to sign The Race at Work Charter and provides opportunities for employees to volunteer. Eigen has hosted virtual field trips for NJ LEEP. NJ LEEP helps first generation and low-income students attend and graduate from competitive colleges, and build careers.

How has the ongoing pandemic affected the company culture and life at Eigen? What are we doing to support people?

The pandemic has affected the company culture at Eigen because people have not been able to come together and collaborate as normal. From running an engagement survey, we have seen good cohesion within departments, but less cohesion across departments, which makes sense as people within a team communicate with each other in a more regular manner, and you get a closer bond as a result. When it comes to people you have the occasional interactions with, you do not have the same experience when you are not face-to-face and you are not getting ad-hoc interactions.

To counter that, we are doing cross-department managerial training, some of which will be face-to-face so managers will get to spend time with each other. We will also host more events in our offices to give people the chance to do more together.

Effective internal communications have been critical to staying aligned as a business. We’ve been holding regular virtual company scrums, town halls and business updates, which have proven to be successful and will be part of our strategy moving forward.

We also set up employee assistance programs to ensure everyone had access to mental health support resources during the pandemic, including a contact portal and the Headspace app. This is something we will continue to offer to help people with their mental health on an ongoing basis.

When the pandemic started, some employees were new to working from home and did not have the equipment to work from home effectively, such as a keyboard, monitor or desk, so we made sure we provided the tools necessary to make working from home as easy this possible.

For new starters, we created an onboarding plan to ensure new team members have as much information as possible and all key equipment on their first day and have more touch points with leadership and support teams. We would rather give new joiners lots of information as it can be a big leap to join a company without ever having been into the office first. Providing the opportunity to meet as many people as possible has become a cornerstone of how we onboard people remotely.

What if anything has changed about working policies and procedures at Eigen because of the pandemic?

The significant policy change for us has been regarding flexible working. Previously, people had the opportunity to apply for flexible working, but now we have adjusted how Eigen operates to accommodate personal needs. These needs might be running errands or managing appointments or working at times that allow people to work when they concentrate best. Obviously if there are critical meetings, employees are expected to attend but otherwise, if adjustments need to be made to working hours, that is fine.

Eigen used to be a very office-centric organization. Before the pandemic, everybody was in the office all the time. Since the pandemic the intention is to give people much greater flexibility over returning to the office without having to apply.

People will be asked to attend the office for a maximum of 5 days a month. People have the option to turn up every day or not turn up at all unless there is a critical meeting, and they will always receive sufficient notice. The pandemic has changed the world of work and at Eigen we have changed to give people as much freedom as possible in terms of where they work and when they work.

What are the biggest challenges for HR and People teams currently? Any advice or thoughts on how to solve those problems?

We’re experiencing the same ‘HR challenges’ as others across the industry, which is how we operate as hybrid and remote workers, how we ensure there is a consistent management style across the organization and how we make sure people are aligned to the culture, particularly if they are operating in a hybrid and remote way. Additionally, I would say the threats of cybersecurity are ever increasing and with everybody working from home, those increase even further. Our IT team is constantly working to make sure our employees are appropriately trained and have tools to spot the situations where there could be security threats.

We have talked about hybrid working, how we have adjusted to that so far, how we are going to create more events so that our people can collaborate in-person in our offices and how we are going to try and find techniques to help departments work more closely together.

When I think about management and ensuring we have a consistent approach to management across the organization, I have spoken about how we are putting in place a robust management training program to help managers be the best leaders that they can be.

In terms of culture, that is always a piece of ongoing work; we think about our cultural norms as an organization and how we can create the best place for everyone to thrive within the company.

Stay tuned for the next instalment where Alex shares plans and priorities for the People Team in 2022. To find out about career opportunities at Eigen, visit our careers page for current vacancies.