On this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup is joined by Keca Ward, global senior director of human resources at Phenom, to talk about the hybrid workplace as an employee retention strategy.

Keca is an expert in everything Covid-19 and workplace safety, as well as talent acquisition and employee retention, so she’s naturally the go-to for a discussion like this.

Listen in and let us know your thoughts!

Listening Time: 34 minutes

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Keca Ward
Global Senior Director of Human Resources Phenom

Reporting to the Chief People Officer to lead, grow and manage a diverse global talent acquisition strategy and employee experience. Driving, supporting, and modeling a Not Normal culture with a focus on employee engagement and retention, safety and service excellence for the fastest growing HR Technology SaaS Start-up in the Philadelphia area.

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Music:  00:00

This is RecruitingDaily’s recruiting live podcast, where we look at the strategies behind the world’s best talent acquisition teams. We talk recruiting, sourcing, and talent acquisition. Each week, we take one overcomplicated topic and break it down so that your three year old can understand it. Make sense. Are you ready to take your game to the next level? You’re at the right spot. You’re now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

William:  00:33

Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup. You’re listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast. Today, we have Keca on from Phenom and be talking about the hybrid workplace as an employee retention strategy. Great topic and great guests. I just can’t wait to get into it. So Keca, would you do us a favor and introduce both yourself and introduce Phenom?

Keca:  00:56

Absolutely. My name is Keca ward and I am the senior director of talent for Phenom. Phenom is a platform that looks at all talent experiences across the entire talent life cycle. We deliver personalized experiences. The Phenom platform uses technology and experience designed to enhance that talent journey. So we transform the candidate into employees within then become enthusiastic brand advocates while also recruiters and management boost productivity and communicate seamlessly throughout that. That is Phenom. We are on a mission to help one billion people find the right job.

William:  01:42

I love that. And obviously as you cross over from candidate to employee, do y’all also either now or in the future, do you think you’ll cross over into the alumni, the post-employment area in those experiences?

Keca:  01:58

Yeah. Good question. We have, we’ve already begun that. We have parts of our platform that are focused around career pathing, gigs. We just launched mentoring as part of our platform as well. So we are getting into the employee part of the talent lifecycle.

William:  02:21

Yeah. The easiest part from where y’all started to where you are now is obviously internal mobility, helping people find jobs externally, yeah check, but also internally. So I can see that. And then, it’s just a logical conclusion and you help people find jobs post employment. So I’m looking forward to that. Let’s jump into the topic. So hybrid workplace, I’ve this feeling that no two of these are going to look the same for a little while, that in years from now, it might shake out that there’s a dominant model, but that there’s for a while now, it might just be everyone’s going to be doing something a little bit different or what fits their company and values employees, et cetera. But I love the idea of what keeps HR and TA up at night is retention. So actually talking about the two simultaneously is actually really interesting to me. So let’s start with your take on the hybrid workplace and what you’re seeing with yourself and with customers, et cetera.

Keca:  03:35

Agreed. We are seeing all different types of work, but what has been consistent is that the remote work revolution is here, right? We’ve begun and that’s the good news. And I like to say that we have an opportunity as a society, not just as clients, to get this right, right? So Phenom’s approach too, is we are we are looking at the data, we are looking at what other companies are doing. And the thing that resonates most with Phenom and our customers is allowing employees to have flexibility in the future. And clients and customers that are able to increase flexibility in place I think are going to come out on top. I think this is long overdue. The traditional workplace of eight to five, it was on its way out and it wasn’t sustainable. We’ve had remote workers for many centuries, right? But we’ve now realized that come companies who are flexible and have more engaged employees, have giving employees autonomy in their work and also are driving even diverse and inclusive environments that we have not seen before. So it’s just an opportunity for everyone listening to really think about we’re making history here, right? And whatever customers decide to do, whichever way they go I think keeping that flexibility in mind is going to be paramount.

William:  05:19

It’s funny you’re absolutely right, this is a hundred years overdue, right? I remember my mom in the seventies talking to my dad and all of us about flex schedules about being… With the job that she had, she had the ability to come in a little bit late, leave a little bit early as long as the work got done clearly. But that was damn near revolutionary at the time, right? As working mom that rare. But COVID, it pushed us into, Hey, everyone’s going to be remote, period, hard stop. There is no going to the office. Now what? And I like that. I think you’re absolutely right. I think the air’s out of the bottle, I think it’s going to be very hard. And I think candidates now that we’ve learned and we’ve taught ourselves and we’ve taught everyone else how to work remotely, I think candidates are going to drive some of this change if not all of this change.

William:  06:20

Employees are probably going to have a hand in it as well. So you’ve heard all about the great resignation and things like that. So clearly people are either thinking about moving or wanting to desire the job and work the way that they want to work. So what do you… I mean, first of all, just retention in general, we know we’re at a place right now where we need to focus on both attraction and retention simultaneously. What’s your best gut take on retention strategies right now for HR and TA?

Keca:  07:03

Yes. We have heard about the great resignation, it’s here. And we’re seeing that as we speak to our candidates and bring them into the organization. There’s certainly a great talent pool out there, but we also have people leaving the organization as well so feeling it on both sides. I think companies have to… I keep going back to flexibility, but one ways that I think of when it comes to retaining talent as we look at the future is putting a structure in place that works for each individual client, whether that be hybrid remote or a hundred percent remote, right? Because I think we’re going to find that there are different types of workers now, right? And our candidates are telling that us that, right? The reasons that they’re leaving or the reasons that they’re considering other options is because their work life balance has changed, right?

Keca:  08:10

And they may be mothers in the workforce that are now involved with taking care of children at home on different occasions and things like that. So the wellbeing of the employee has changed and the happiness and what that means to work life is different than it was pre COVID. And so when we think about retaining these employees, again, I go back to flexibility and thinking of that. But the customers and the clients and candidates that are asking us, what is your policy on hybrid work or are you flexible? What is the future hold? And we always use the caveat we’re not sure yet, but this is where we think we’re going. And what we’re doing is we’re looking at the data. We’re asking our employees what they want too, right? That open communication across companies needs to be over exasperated in a virtual world, right? And teams and companies that are getting that right are over communicating, right?

William:  09:19


Keca:  09:20

So ensuring that that conversation keeps going, it’s consistent around from top down among team members about everything I think is really key to retaining retention, when you asked about retention, right?

William:  09:35

I love how you… First of all, flexibility is going to come up more often than not. And actually I did a podcast last year with an HR leader and she said, radical flexibility, which I thought was really a fascinating way to think about it is like, yeah, you’re not just flexible, the ground beneath you shifting so you got to be radically flexible. I love how you also positioned, “Hey, we don’t know. We can’t predict the future. We don’t know, but here’s our current state. And here’s what we think is going to happen.” First of all, I just love that transparency with candidates and employee that we don’t have it figured out, we’re still technically in a pandemic so we don’t know. What’s your advice for folks in terms of job descriptions and career pages with laying out again, just as you did for Phenom, it’s ambiguous, but at least you’re communicating something, right? At least you’re telling people, candidates and employees, Hey we don’t know, but here’s what we think.

Keca:  10:46

That’s right.

William:  10:48

What’s your suggestion or what’s your advice for your prospects and customers?

Keca:  10:53

Yes. So I think we need to be transparent on the job description and share out what options, what you’re considering, right? And it’s okay if it changes, we are in a pandemic as you mentioned, right? But if your organization is considering a hybrid work model for the future, your recruiter should or be discussing that, but it also should be on that job description. Also, something that we are considering right now is having our vaccination policy on our career page [crosstalk 00:11:32]. Yeah. So there’s no questions because we’re getting it from candidates. So we are incorporating that as we speak into our career site. So when you come as an applicant or candidate considering Phenom, you are now going to understand where we stand on our vaccination policies.

William:  11:54

And again, I think you get back to flexibility. We talk about it sometimes in extremes that remote, where everyone wants to work remote. Well, not really and maybe not every day, or maybe not every week. Maybe there’s a couple weeks where, you know what, I want to go into the office. I actually want to go see people. I want to be whatever, for whatever reason. So when we first started the conversation, we were talking about experiences, candidate experience, employee experience. One of the things you’ve brought to light is how we create highly personalized experiences. We’re talking about flexibility, but Jane, John. Jane needs this, John needs that. Okay, we can tailor those experiences to what they need so that we can get the productivity and the outputs that we need.

William:  12:48

And again, you might not have a great answer for this because I’m not sure a great answer exist, but how do we reconcile standards and treating people fairly, right? So there is a worry that in hybrid, baked into hybrid is going to be classes of employees, those that go into the office, those that go into the office. And there’s a real fear again. It’s early, so I’m not sure we need to make it a real fear until something’s there. But HR has always been about standards and recruiting too great recruiters. They do say standardized interviews. They believe in standards as well, but we’re on the backdrop of creating experiences and creating flexibility, we’re also creating minor inequities in terms of how people are treated or what flexibility looks like for Jane versus John versus Tabitha, et cetera. So how do you and just conceptually, how do you reconcile the two?

Keca:  14:03

Yeah. That’s something that does resonate and keeps me up at night thinking about that but-

William:  14:13

It’s not just you by the way. You’re not alone.

Keca:  14:18

I’ve done research and we always look at the data and understand that the pandemic really has brought forth more inclusive workplaces. So when we talk about, you talk about a little bit about there could be some barriers there that we need to overcome. I go back to communication transparency as the number one tool to overcome some of that. But also we have to look at the other insights that are out there regarding how this has transpired and what has happened. And the current remote environment has really brought about more inclusivity. When we think about women, when we think about those with disabilities, right? Even we weren’t able to touch some of those individuals from a talent outreach perspective, because commuting could have been an issue for someone with a disability. But now we have that opportunity to include them into that hiring strategy, right?

Keca:  15:28

That’s just one piece when we talk about inclusivity and diversity. So I think if we go into a virtual hybrid/workforce, there will be still be people that come in, but we have to come up with and support, technology has to support the remote work barriers, right? And allowing the technology to do some of that work. And managers and leaders have to think differently, right? It’s now about including everyone whether they’re on camera sitting in a little office somewhere in an island and also right in front of you, right? What strategies do you have in place to make that important to drive the outcomes forward? That’s the important piece. And so just thinking differently about what that looks like and ensuring productivity across the team, right? And there’s this out there that say that… Well, we talked about eight to five is over, but going back to I think we are more productive in this type of environment, because we are giving our employees autonomy to do what they want, right?

Keca:  16:49

Not want, but you understand. They have the flexibility to jump on a call for three hours and then take the dog for a walk and then come back and work, and your day is a little bit blurred, but you are giving them that flexibility and they become more productive. We’re seeing over production at Phenom, right? We’re trying to ensure wellness and making sure our employees are taking time off because they feel like they’re just on that hamster wheel and they need to slow down, right? Because there’s not any of that short interruptions, that water cooler talk that you used to have in the office, right? So they’re going from meeting to meeting to meeting and some of them need to breathe, right? So it’s just thinking about things differently and how we used to. And look, we’ve had 18 months to practice, so I’m sure that we could continue on, but I do think that the future of work is a combination of all three.

Keca:  17:46

It is hybrid, some a hundred percent still want to come into the office and then you’re going to have your fully remote, but we have to come up with creative ways to support that as leaders, but also the technology needs to support that too. So it’s rethinking. It’s going to cost some money front I think, but at the end of the day, I believe that that’s going to be the success.

William:  18:11

So a couple things that I want to impact. Yeah, you’ve mentioned autonomy, which I love, is letting people not focusing on the how as much as the output or the outcome or the conclusion of what is the work. And this really works extremely well with knowledge workers clearly, but it’s this idea that you have autonomy. Focusing on your mental health and your wellbeing and that leads to productivity, and those things all combined lead to happiness. Someone’s more happy. They’re happy that they have some autonomy, they’re happy that they are focused on their mental health, everyone’s happy when they’re more productive. And so their happiness spikes, ergo that they’re more likely to stay and you are more likely to retain them. And so autonomy becomes a game of okay, it isn’t just autonomy for autonomy’s sake.

William:  19:18

There’s still going to be productivity. At the end of the day, that’s what we’re paying for. So there’s got to be productivity, but the what we’ve learned over the 18 months is these things are tethered to one another. And I love the way that you brought that to bear. I did have a question about the extremes that I’ve seen and I just wanted to get your take on. You have some firms that are everybody’s backing office period, hard stop. And I won’t name names, but we’ll just leave it. There’s let’s say extreme A, everybody’s in the office, extreme B, everyone’s remote. And so what’s your take on the extreme, the polls of those things. And again, maybe there’s flexibility in those, but it’s not as flexible as what you’re thinking about in terms of a hybrid model that says, work how you want, work where from wherever you want, just get the job done and make sure that you’re healthy physically, mentally, et cetera. What do you think about these extremes? I mean, you’re reading some of it if not the same article you’re reading the same articles I’m reading. So what do you think about these things?

Keca:  20:43

It is interesting the extremes. I think there are jobs that we have that do require in office work. In order to do your job successfully, you need to be in the office.

William:  21:03

What is an example? Not to push back, what’s an example of that? Not hourly, not nursing, not bank tellers and things like that. But from a corporate setting, do you have one in mind?

Keca:  21:19

I’ll use an example of a software company that may be monitoring banking software, let’s say, right? Something that’s critical that you would not be able to remote access that information and it’s critical that you are protected by IT infrastructure in house, right? I can see anything that has to do with IT related [crosstalk 00:21:49] privacy, security, things of that nature. And every company may be different, but there’s probably common themes across IT and security and privacy. So that would be one area that I can think of that might require that. Now there could be rotational flexibility built into that as well. But that’s one area I think could. I’m not sure if there’s any others off the top of my head, right? I’m sure there are, as it relates to outside of healthcare is the other one I think of. So I’m not sure about these extremes because I do have friends that are in that position and we all do, right? And struggling to decide whether to stay or go because of that. And I also think too, at Phenom we’re looking at the data, but also we’ve surveyed our employees to see what they want. Some employees and some workers may not even know what they don’t know.

William:  22:58

A hundred percent.

Keca:  22:58


William:  23:02

I for instance, I don’t, but let’s say I have three kids under the age of six. I want to go to the office. I’m just going to be honest. I don’t care if it’s an hour commute, I want to go to the office, so again.

Keca:  23:20

Yeah. And there’s teams also that re require collaboration to be successful. So if you think of a creative team such as a marketing team that feeds off each other’s insights and white boarding, that requires collaboration. Does that mean that they have to be in the office five days a week? No. But there are reasons that the human interaction is not going away. We need it as humans. We know that, right?

William:  23:48


Keca:  23:50

And so it could be as we are doing is looking at it team by team and seeing who really knows what teams really do require that collaboration. I don’t think there’s any need for five days nine to five or the old way, but there are teams that do require to go in there often in that hybrid model, and then there’s teams that really don’t. So it’s looking at them individually across the organization and understanding what works for one might not work for the other too. That’s important to know too, right? If companies can give that flexibility within their own four walls, that’s going to go a long way too.

William:  24:32

I think it’s interesting because even taking ad agency, you got a Chicago office and a Dallas office, and that collaboration at design shred, all of that type stuff. One office crew, creative director has fallen in love with remote, and there’s plenty of software to be able to do the things that they want to do and you got another creative director in a different city that loves being in the room with the people having the ideas. And so I can see even the flexibility within even one company and maybe even one office where people are just like, we’re going to approach this differently. As it relates to retention and again, none of us know the future, but what’s your take on candidates and employees focusing on working the way they want to work versus or wins over monetary or benefits, et cetera?

William:  25:38

Because one of the things I’ve seen is that people, especially in the extreme, everyone wants to be back in the office. I’ve seen two things that have in general A, it’s usually older managers. So I’ve actually seen that there is some generational things going on there, which is interesting to unpack and the other is they want to throw money at it. Like just, “You’re making 180? Great. We’ll pay you 220, come into the office.” Okay. So everyone’s motivated differently, I respect that, but at the end of the day, what do you think what’ll settle out? Will it be that the candidate and employee gets to work the way they want to work or do you think that you can manipulate that or get through the outcome by just throwing more money and benefits and perks and things like that at it?

Keca:  26:44

I tend to shy away from throwing the money. There is so much more to work than the paycheck, right? So I think the best companies, the best leaders will have to show their employees and help their employees along the way, understand those intrinsic value of working for the organization and how that value is really tied to their compensation. And I just think that the dollars are not everything, right? There’s other things that make employees happy and flexible. And yes, we’ll look at ways to provide better benefits, but we would do that anyways, right? We would always be looking at ways to improve along the way. But making sure that the communication strategy on really those intrinsic values and how that’s really tied to keeping them happy, right? And being a hundred percent transparent with how pay is even set up, right? Some employees don’t even understand how they’re paid and the compensation philosophy within an organization. And tying it back to career pathing and things of that nature.

Keca:  28:25

When we talk about talent management and how that all should be intertwined in those conversations and keeping it fair, right? It has to be fair, it doesn’t have to… So I’m tending to throw away the throw the money at it and talk about really what-

William:  28:45

How you like to work.

Keca:  28:46

How you like to work, right? And really focus on that. And look, we’re in the people business. So, I mean, you’re going to have, as you mentioned, extreme individuals and not so, people that go along with the way things… But fairness is key I believe.

William:  29:03

It’s interesting because one of the things that we’ve seen even in hybrid is people getting paid more to come into the office, we’ve seen again with remote, people reducing salaries if you live in Crestview or pick somewhere, Laredo. You work somewhere versus San Francisco that the pay is adjusted based on the location. But there’s an absolute inequity that’s built into that, that’s based on where you live. And it’s interesting to see how people are going to navigate hybrid and especially as it relates to retention, how they’re going to relate comp, not just communicating which I think you nailed, but also making sure that we don’t get further into inequities.

Keca:  29:59

That’s true.

William:  30:02

We’re already a hundred years late on dealing with inequities. We don’t need to make more inequities based on how people like to work and this flexibility and autonomy and where people work, et cetera. Last thing before we go out, Keca, is your favorite retention story. And again, you don’t have to name names or anything like that, but just your favorite something that you’ve done or you’ve seen or you’ve heard from one of your clients that you just love how they’ve approached retention.

Keca:  30:32

Well, our retention strategy is start a conversation. We talk with our managers to understand where they’re at with their employees and keeping those lines of communications open. Now, I realize can’t do that with being that trusted advisor across every single teammate, but relying on your managers to really be your advocates for retention is Phenom strategy. And I think that’s a generalized one, right? If you truly have trusted advisors within the workplace and these true business partners, I think that goes a long way. Specific to individual retention strategy or one that I’ve retained was… Well, I want to go back a few years, but I was many years ago doing head hunting in the recruiting industry and we had individuals that would go on site for interviews at the time and at the time we hand delivered them. This is going way back so I’m showing my age, but the individual gets their job, but some of the nuances of their dress were inappropriate let’s just say. Now I’m going way back. But lo and behold retention strategy was I had additional clothing in my car that I carried around for these such type scenarios after they were hired. So very embarrassing, but that’s exactly what happened. We retained that employee because of that, but that was many, many years ago, but it’s a funny story as well.

William:  32:16

Well, the thing is one of the things that I love on the front side is you keep a finger on the pulse. Retention is not one of these bespoke one you do it once a year. It’s something that you’re constantly monitoring. And I love the way you’re thinking about advocacy and trusted advisors. You got a finger on the pulse. No one’s blindsided or there’s no surprises that if you’re talking and you’re having this conversation, the conversation’s plural. You’ll know if someone’s unhappy and then you can treat it in many ways or you’ll know that they’re happy and you can treat that and deal with that. So I love that part. And the second part, I’ve actually been in the exact same scenario. So I’m showing my age as well.

William:  33:15

So yes, I’ve had a trunk full of different types of things to help people adjust to corporate life. When you come out of college, you don’t know some of these things. So I’ve been there as well so I understand that. And I think that’s a great story as well. Keca, this has been absolutely wonderful. Thank you so much for coming on the RecruitingDaily podcast.

Keca:  33:41

Yeah Tin, thank you very much.

William:  33:43

All righty. And everyone have a wonderful day and thanks for listening to the RecruitingDaily podcast.

Music:  33:49

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The RecruitingDaily Podcast

William Tincup

William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.


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