Competition for tech talent is hot–for HR, that means employee experience has to be exceptional in order to retain an in-demand workforce. At global software company Datasite, which employs more than 5,000 people, HR has kept that top of mind as the organization pivoted continuously over the last year to address employee needs.
Embedding flexibility into work models, prioritizing recognition, reducing stigma around mental health–these all have been at the forefront of Datasite’s recent HR strategy, says CHRO Deb LaMere, who took on the top HR post in February, after two years as vice president of HR. She started her HR career in the healthcare field and shifted into the tech industry, leading HR initiatives at Lawson Software and Ceridian before joining Datasite.
LaMere recently shared with HRE lessons from her career journey, as well as where she wants to take HR at Datasite.
HRE: What sparked your interest in and prompted you to pursue a degree in HR?
LaMere: I chose HR for several reasons. When I went to college, I knew I liked working with and getting to know people and I wanted to make an impact and help people. As I continued to pursue my educational goals, I also knew I wanted to contribute to an organization’s success. HR today plays such a pivotal role in influencing an organization’s strategic business decisions. To be effective, it’s all about understanding the business, then partnering with other leaders to execute on the vision from a people perspective. That can mean assisting in the development of an organization’s employees or helping create the culture of an organization.
HRE: Looking back to the start of your career, what’s one piece of advice you wish you had then about finding success in HR?
LaMere: I wouldn’t change anything about my career path. I’m glad that I always remained open to new opportunities, which led me in some different directions, but I learned so much from them. I started off working in an HR service center for a large healthcare organization and soon took on a variety of other assignments within the function, including benefits, analytics, recruiting and generalist work. Additionally, when an opportunity came along to move into technology, I jumped at the chance. I’ve always been a firm believer in challenging myself and moving outside of my comfort zone. It’s not always easy and there may be setbacks, but so long as you are growing, you are moving forward.
HRE: When the pandemic started last year, what had been your HR priorities–and what did you have to quickly shift focus to?
LaMere: Datasite is a fast-growing global software company in a competitive market for talent, and to continue to attract and retain top talent, we know we need to lean into activities that make our employees feel connected and seen if we want them to stay and give their best work. And while it was definitely a process to deal with all our global operations, we were able to effectively and efficiently switch to fully remote work at the onset of the pandemic without missing a beat.
We did pivot to address some priorities including ensuring the continued safety and wellness of our employees. For example, we prioritized physical and mental health, including checking in with employees on a regular basis and offering resources to assist them–and we’ve done this through a variety of channels, including email, virtual town halls, monthly newsletters, etc.
We’ve also maintained flexibility. We appreciate the clash the pandemic has created between professional and personal responsibilities, and while we currently support a remote working environment for all employees, we are looking to establish processes for supporting new remote roles on a permanent basis. We’ve reallocated talent whose roles were impacted by our closed offices. In some instances, we’ve given them new responsibilities and opportunities that they wouldn’t otherwise have had, and this is helping accelerate their development.
HRE: How did you and the HR team seek to maintain the culture at Datasite despite the challenges of the last year?
LaMere: A key area of focus has been on leadership and communication. To overcome the absence of in-person meetings, as well as ensure regular communications with employees, we created a central hub for announcements and resources on how the company is responding to the pandemic and what might be coming up next. Like other organizations, we’ve also leaned into technology to keep connected and to provide recognition. For example, we’ve been using video conferencing and other multimedia platforms to drive more frequent employee touchpoints and bottom-up feedback from employees. We’ve also held virtual events and distributed communications that celebrate our accomplishments as a company and our employees. For example, we hosted a panel discussion in celebration of International Women’s Day, the first in a series of virtual events focused on diversity and inclusion.
HRE: Burnout has become a serious concern for many employers; what do you think employers should be doing to not only support employees who are feeling the strain but also proactively address the issue?
LaMere: At the height of the pandemic last summer, we gave all our employees an extra two days off for mental wellness and to recharge. After weeks in crisis, employees needed a chance to step away. This year, we updated our time off policy to provide a single bank of time off (25 days) for employees to use however they see fit. Additionally, we’ve been partnering closely with our health plans globally to provide resources for physical and mental wellness, such as access to virtual workouts and other resources. At a time like this, we know we need to keep our people top of mind.
HRE: Beyond employee health and safety, where do you think most HR leaders should be focusing their energies today in order to build sustainable organizations for tomorrow?
LaMere: The pandemic has laid bare some serious system and institutional weaknesses, so one area that may require additional attention this year is diversity and inclusion, especially since women and minorities have been hit particularly hard by the pandemic. To be effective, leaders need to continue to address these issues, including providing training on inclusive teamwork and watching for biases under pressure. At the same time, with more opportunities to work remotely, organizations have more diverse talent from which to select.
HRE: How do you personally stay connected to the mission and purpose of Datasite?
LaMere: I always keep our people and our customers top of mind.
HRE: Outside of work, what are you passionate about?
LaMere: I love cooking, music and volunteering. I love the whole process of finding a great recipe, gathering all the ingredients and preparing everything. Then at the end, I love that I’ve created a wonderful dish that I made and can share. Music is another passion of mine. I played the flute and piano for many years and have a great appreciation for all kinds of music. Plus, music just always puts me in a good mood. Finally, volunteering is a significant and fulfilling part of my life. I strive to create an amazing employee experience in my work life, and I am also committed to helping others and my community in my personal life, especially youth. The next generation is the future and I want to do what I can to support their growth.