Courtney Panik
Chief People Officer Symphony Follow

On today’s episode of the RecruitingDaily Podcast, William Tincup talks to Courtney from Symphony about navigating remote work.

Some Conversation Highlights:

But outside of actually seeing somebody struggling with remote work, it does really come down to, it’s two things. It’s one as a leader, manager or even colleague is having those relationships, the communication over communication, which I think that was identified very early in COVID and a lot of articles and podcasts and whatnot around. Managers and leaders really embracing that and the importance of over communication.

But having those with employees, understanding what they’re working on and creating that opportunity or that line if you will, to either you or somebody on their remote work team that they’re comfortable with sharing if they’re not okay. And even though it’s a little hit to the ego, I like to recognize that I may not be that person for everybody on my team. They may not feel comfortable telling me about that they’re struggling because maybe culturally we’re a global company. 

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Tune in for the full conversation.

Listening time: 27 minutes

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Announcer (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 over complicated 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 are now entering the mind of a hustler. Here’s your host, William Tincup.

 

William Tincup (00:34):

Ladies and gentlemen, this William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today, we have Courtney on from Symphony, and our topic is Navigating Remote Work. Then we could probably talk for a couple hours. Courtney and I were laughing about this before the show. We could take a full week and just kind of navigate this, but we’re going to try and get at least some of the high points and talk about some of it today during our podcast. So Courtney, would you do us a favor and introduce yourself and Symphony?

 

Courtney (01:05):

Sure. Sounds good. Well, thank you so much for having me, William.

 

William Tincup (01:08):

Sure.

 

Courtney (01:08):

Super excited to be here. And yes, let’s talk as much as we can about this interesting and fascinating topic that’s evolving around us. As Williams said, my name is Courtney Panik. I’m the Chief People Officer for Symphony Communications based out of New York City. And Symphony is a technology company for the financial services industry where our main product is really focused on a workflow and collaboration solution for financial services. And I’ve been with the company for about two years. So-

 

William Tincup (01:43):

Oh, cool.

 

Courtney (01:43):

Yeah.

 

William Tincup (01:44):

So you were a-

 

Courtney (01:44):

It’s not to you but…

 

William Tincup (01:46):

You were a COVID hire?

 

Courtney (01:48):

I was a COVID hire, yes. July 2020. In fact, I started at Symphony the same day and was part of the new hire onboarding with our current CEO Brad Levy. So we both were hired during COVID and we both did our remote on virtual onboarding together.

 

William Tincup (02:07):

Oh, good gosh, we could talk about that. Just the in and of itself. So was the company was Symphony, did they have remote workers prior to the pandemic?

 

Courtney (02:17):

Yes. Yes, they did. It was more of a hybrid work environment. So not so much changed from the company’s general approach. Of course, there were some tweaks and more things emphasized when COVID hit, but the general work environment was a few days in the office, a few days out of the office and was really dependent on the person in the role, but it was fairly flexible.

 

William Tincup (02:40):

That’s cool. So I’ll definitely ask the HR from your perspective, what do we get and wrong initially? What do we kind of simple fixes or simple mistakes that we make around remote?

 

Courtney (02:56):

I think one of the things that has really stood out to me, even given here at Symphony, even given that we had a fairly flexible environment prior to COVID, and we continue to have that here is the people’s comfort level with such flexibility. So some people like myself, I love to have options. I like being able to have discretion over my work schedule and I try to provide that for my team. But there are, what I’ve noticed, and we’ve gotten a lot of feedback from employees is some really would prefer to have much more clarity around when do you want me in the office on what specific days.

(03:39)
And that was something that we weren’t anticipating. I think our general approach was people will appreciate the flexibility of what we’re providing them in COVID and hereafter, but we neglected to realize that maybe some additional clarity or direction was needed for some of our employee segment groups. So that was a big learning that we took away at Symphony from this environment around how do we strike a balance of providing enough guidance and framework to get people what they need, but also to empower people to let them know that you should do whatever you need to do as opposed to us directing specifics on your work and timing.

 

William Tincup (04:25):

Yeah, and it’s more outcome based. It’s less-

 

Courtney (04:27):

Exactly.

 

William Tincup (04:27):

I say micromanagement, that sounds like a bad thing. And I guess it can be for some, but the idea is you don’t have to actually get into how the works done. It’s just here’s the work, here’s what needs to be done Tuesday. Now, how you do it? If you need guidance, great, but if you don’t, great. And again, I think that for some employees, not all, but for some employees that’s empowering because they just want to get to the output. And for some employees maybe they need more guidance and want more guidance. That’s cool.

 

Courtney (05:01):

Exactly.

 

William Tincup (05:01):

But there’s a freedom there that that’s nice. What do we with remote employees that maybe are struggling but they’re… How do I identify that they’re struggling outside of the outcomes? Maybe they’re not hitting deadlines. That’s kind of obvious. But it’s like in a fully officed environment you can see someone struggling, generally speaking, you can see someone struggling and then you could take them out to lunch, you could do different things. There’s an intervention, you could do different things. How do you an intervention with someone that you want to keep that’s just going through a bad time for whatever reason, personal or professional, whatever, they’re just going through a bad time. How do you do intervention via remote?

 

Courtney (05:48):

Yeah, this is incredibly difficult, and we talk about this a lot actually with our leaders and managers and even within our own HR team here at Symphony. The manager’s role is so critically important. A manager’s role in general is very important in the success of their employees. But in particular because it is a balance of getting things done, productivity and also culture and part of that culture are the individuals in your team and that retention of the talent. And so when you don’t, not physically with somebody, video certainly helps. But outside of actually seeing somebody struggling, it does really come down to, it’s two things. It’s one as a leader, manager or even colleague is having those relationships, the communication over communication, which I think that was identified very early in COVID and a lot of articles and podcasts and whatnot around. Managers and leaders really embracing that and the importance of overcommunication.

(06:55)
But having those with employees, understanding what they’re working on and creating that opportunity or that line if you will, to either you or somebody on their team that they’re comfortable with sharing if they’re not okay. And even though it’s a little hit to the ego, I like to recognize that I may not be that person for everybody on my team. They may not feel comfortable telling me about that they’re struggling because maybe culturally we’re a global company. So in some cultures you wouldn’t necessarily openly tell your boss that you’re struggling with something you would tell a colleague. And so my US team very different. They tell me everything sometimes too much. So having that environment where it’s safe. So if it’s not me and I have had this conversation with people, you don’t have to tell me, but do speak with somebody who you feel comfortable with on the team and then we’ll work. We’ll find a way to work together to get you what you need.

(08:04)
The other piece of it is… I’ve also had this conversation many times is employees also need to speak up and raise flags on when things aren’t going well and to the extent that they’re comfortable, but help the managers and leaders help them myself and any other people manager, we can’t help fix or solve for something that we don’t know is broken or going off track. So it is a two-way conversation and that level of transparency and trust and safety between whether it’s you and your manager, you and somebody that can is in the position to help you is really important.

 

William Tincup (08:48):

Because you’ve been in HR for a while, the pillars of talent management from recruiting kind of all the way to compensation or learning or whatever, how have you seen remote impact? I would say recruiting or talent acquisition, onboarding, performance learning, succession planning, again, some of those kind of historical pillars of HR. How is the intersection of remote and those pillars and have you seen some of the changes?

 

Courtney (09:20):

There definitely have been changes. The thing that I think is an advantage to remote work and hybrid work is that it is flexible, and it can flex to the need of the business, which my business hat is on more days than not, right? Everything should really stem from what does the business need. And so depending on what the business need is, should then be from that comes how you operate your company and how you apply remote work and therefore how do you apply your programs, initiatives and the pillars within HR and other elements of the organization. So if I think about how that works for remote working for, from a talent acquisition standpoint, it would go down to what is the business need, what is our location strategy, and where do we want to find talent? And are we okay with people either being fully remote or in a hybrid environment, or do we want people in the office five days a week and we’re going to go back to a more traditional working model?

(10:27)
And then that really has an impact on your workforce planning, on your recruiting strategy because if you are okay with people working anywhere in the world, now the world is really your oyster to find talent. But if you want to have a more defined location strategy, then you may be competing with people or companies that have more flexible. If I think about talent developments and talent engagements, I’ve spent most of my career working in tech and so I’ve had probably some tools and advantages that maybe some other industries or companies didn’t necessarily have at their fingertips. Had been on video conferencing for more than 10 years. It wasn’t new to me in COVID and a lot of my colleagues who worked in tech. So having on-demand learnings and on-demand trainings or opportunities for virtual meetups is something that you can apply with the technology that we have here.

(11:31)
But I do also think there is a huge value in that inner person to person relationship and having that sitting across from somebody and having a cup of coffee together or being able to have a conversation in person with someone. So Symphony just acquired a company yesterday and I have been working with the CEO of this company for months as part of the due diligence process. All virtual, all on video, and they just got to shake his hand this morning.

(12:04)
And there’s just an element to that that cannot and will not be replaced, I don’t think, in a virtual world where if you can get in front of people, whether it is coming together for quarterly offsite or if you have a much more a team that’s more localized where you can plan a day or two in the office to sit and have lunch together to work on a project that does amplify that experience and engagement and developments to be able to learn a skill sitting next to somebody versus on a TV screen. So there are pros and cons to both for sure, but the company, I think that companies should look at a hybrid work environment as something that conflicts to what they need and what makes sense for their business. And then HR teams are flexing in the same way.

 

William Tincup (13:06):

So this is something that’s fascinating that we got here because I’ve heard a lot of the executives for people that want the opposite, everyone in the office all five days. So in fact, I just read an article this morning about another company that’s basically every day, by February I think it was, everyone’s going to be in the office all five days. All right. And there’s really no need to argue whether or not it’s a good thing or not. It’s probably by company. They have to figure these things out. I get it.

(13:38)
But the argument that I’ve heard a lot is this soft skill development, not just because people want to see people work, there’s that for sure, but it’s also kind of couched them. This is where the interactions are. This is where you can get a lot through Zoom, but you can’t get everything through Zoom and specifically couched and kind of the framed up with soft skills. This is a way you develop soft skills is you’re around people, you bounce up, bounce around, you bounce into each other, and you learn, and you make mistakes and this, that and the other. Now, I don’t know how much of that I buy, so I’ll give you my bias, I’m not sure, but I’ve heard it more than once. What’s your take on soft skill development and remote or not remote, right?

 

Courtney (14:27):

Yeah, I do see that there is some value. There is value in being with people and that soft skills, where this really stood out, I’m really glad you brought this up, was this summer at Symphony. So we are a 600 person company and we’re a growth scale company. So we are at the point now where we are starting to pilot internship programs globally and we’re right at that point in our phase of maturity. So we piloted an internship program this summer in our New York office and got some feedback from our interns, wonderful group, talented individuals, and specifically asked them about what they thought about coming into the office. And we have a hybrid work so they could work from home, and they could come into the office and was very interested to see because this was their first experience in a corporate environment coming from, and this is the generation that had two years from of their university time remote.

 

William Tincup (15:31):

Right.

 

Courtney (15:33):

And-

 

William Tincup (15:34):

They’re almost tired, but maybe more apt to be around people. I was going to say burnout or exhausted. I’m like, “Eh, I shouldn’t use any of those words.” But you know what I mean. They’ve been through the bit and now they want to actually have some of the human interaction, not all.

 

Courtney (15:52):

Not at all.

 

William Tincup (15:54):

Some of the interaction.

 

Courtney (15:56):

But I was also curious to see if they were, that didn’t see the value in coming into the office. I couldn’t have seen those conversations going that way because they’ve grown up on technology and always on the phone and the video. And so I was wondering which way the conversation was going to go as far as the feedback of, “Oh no, it’s fine. We could do everything on video. I’ve done most things on video versus no, it’s helpful to come in.” So the feedback was consistently across our entire in turn population that they appreciated and valued the flexibility to work remotely some days of the week. But they learned the most when they were in the office and when we dug into what did you learn when you were in the office? And they pointed out pretty much every person, the soft skills.

(16:55)
Yeah, examples were, I really like sitting next to so-and-so and listening to them on calls. I learned a lot about how they framed things. I noticed so-and-so used these techniques to influence others. I didn’t realize that you could have the same conversation in two different ways with two different people to drive an out a shared outcome.

 

William Tincup (17:19):

Wow.

 

Courtney (17:19):

It made me pause and reflect because as I think about my career, that’s really how I learned as well. If I think about not the technical part of HR, how do you calculate a compa-ratio? How do you find a great candidate? How do you build a great program? But those soft skills, the influencing skills, leadership, consulting, advising, and I think about where and how I learned them. I worked in Silicon Valley tech for a large part of my career and the early years of my career in HR and I sat in an open floor plan next to vice presidents and leaders across the HR function and sitting next to them and picking up on those same elements that the interns this past summer noted around listening to people’s calls and watching how they interacted with each other and how they engaged even when they were on a call in a conference room with someone in the side notes when you’re writing the post-it note and sliding it across the table. The offline notes that occur.

(18:30)
And as I reflected on that, after I heard their feedback, I was thinking, that’s right. That’s actually where I learned or started to learn my soft skills. And those things you can certainly read in a book, but they have to be put into practice.

 

William Tincup (18:46):

I remember a hundred years ago I was selling, and I’d stand up during sales calls and it was an open floor, open environmental, no offices, things like that. And I had a bunch of interns around me, and I’d stand up and after the call people would come up and ask me questions. I didn’t know that. I mean, I was selling, doing a bit and they’d come up and ask me a question, “Hey, why’d you say this? Or why’d you do that? Or what this and that.” And the other I’m like, it was almost like theater, and I didn’t think of it that way. I was running an ad agency and I was selling, and so I was just doing a bit, but I can see that now.

 

Courtney (19:27):

The body language, right?

 

William Tincup (19:28):

Yeah.

 

Courtney (19:28):

The body and language in and even in roles in leadership management, definitely in human resources where you pause, you put down your pencil, your pen, you sit back, you’re quiet, you actively listen to your point is you don’t realize its theatrics, you’re doing it. That’s how you’re engaging, and maybe a little bit is strategic, but once you do it for a while you kind of forget. But to this early, this next generation coming in, they’ve never seen this before. That’s how they’re learning it.

 

William Tincup (20:02):

So let me ask you about HR. How is the remote work world? Obviously, February, March of 20, it’s all of a sudden, “Okay, well everyone’s going to go home and work from home on Tuesday. Good luck, HR, take care of it. So good luck.” So how has it impacted the way that you look at the role that you do? I mean, in HR in general.

 

Courtney (20:30):

It was a great challenge to have as an HR organization. The role, it didn’t really change the way I’ve looked at the HR role. What it did was solidify the importance of the function because the decisions and the approach that many companies took, and I could speak from my experience, I was at two companies during this period. I was about to leave my previous employer and come to Symphony. So I got to see it in both lights. What I have observed was while HR was a leader in a lot of this, so were the executive teams, so were the operations teams, finance, it was definitely a comprehensive leadership effort. And HRs role was always of course a huge player in protecting the company and thinking through some of the things that we’re specialists in around laws and medical coverage and so forth. But also, being a leader in driving culture and having the conversations around. And a lot of, once we got through that March timeframe into where we… But I think the world kind of realized, “Oh, this isn’t a two, three-week gig. We’re kind of in this for a while.”

 

William Tincup (21:53):

It’s not going to be over by Easter. Got it.

 

Courtney (21:54):

It’s not, yeah. Even though we thought. So the conversation not so much about how do we maintain the culture, but how is our culture going to evolve, and what does this mean for our company? And so I’ve been fortunate and I look forward in any place I work that HR is a seat at the table. HR is considered an executive and has a voice and it very much solidified that. But it also I think helped to kind of strengthen that glue that HR becomes because it does touch the culture, our people, the talent, how we work, approach work, all the things that create culture. It really did kind of solidify that in a more comprehensive way across every element of the company.

 

William Tincup (22:44):

I don’t know if you saw this, but I saw it from my vantage point that a lot of companies through COVID or the pandemic, they kind of have a crisis around culture. The definition, maybe if it was, and you’ve been in the valley for a long time, so if you worked at Twitter, you commuted in, you worked there and you were there 80 hours a week or whatever the bit was, and there was, the office in some ways was a surrogate for culture. It wasn’t all the culture, obviously there was a lot of other things. But when I saw some companies go through, well, if we don’t have an office, what is our culture now? They’d never say that publicly of course, but I could tell that people were struggling with what is the definition of culture? How did you personally, how’d you confront that and kind of reframe culture is dot, dot, dot for the rest of your peers.

 

Courtney (23:40):

And the office environment does play a role in culture and I’m sitting in my office right now and we just had a shared lunch together and people came together and that is going, that influences the culture. But I’ve always viewed culture as a living, evolving thing. It’s not just one thing, it changes, it evolves. Things such as the people who work at the company, people come and go, leaders come and go. Companies are acquired and brought in or divested and exited out. And that shift in the people I think has even a bigger influence on the culture and tied to the people I is how we interact with each other and how we work.

(24:26)
So physical location, yes, definitely a player, but we can uproot ourselves. I’m in midtown New York right now, right by Rockefeller Center. We can uproot ourselves to the financial district and have a completely different office experience. And that would impact our culture because some people would, that would make my commute double. I don’t know if I’d be in the office as much.

 

William Tincup (24:47):

I would definitely be using more flex time. Yep, absolutely.

 

Courtney (24:50):

That’s right. And then that may have a ripple effect Courtney’s not here that could be a great thing. Maybe not. Who knows? So the people and how they engage also play a role and are people taking the time to get to know each other. Are there team of events? How do we work together? Do we hold each other accountable? Do we listen to each other? Do we value diversity? All of that stuff to me are the major players in culture, not so much the office location. So in the height of the pandemic, when we were all in our respective offices, lounges, dining room, [inaudible 00:25:31]. Wherever a hole in our house we found that was quiet and had good internet. When we were there, the focus around, and I know a lot of leaders did this. Spending that extra time doing team events, virtually more one-on-ones, reaching out, looking at using some technology and collaboration tools to get things done. And that didn’t take into account an office space. We just took into account the people and how those people engage with each other.

 

William Tincup (26:02):

I love it. Thank you so much, Courtney. This has been wonderful. And again, we just started to peel the onion. We got plenty more to go. But thank you so much for carving out time.

 

Courtney (26:11):

It’s my pleasure, William. Thank you. And happy to continue the conversation at another time.

 

William Tincup (26:16):

Absolutely. And thanks for everyone listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Until next time.

 

Announcer (26:21):

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Authors
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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