When most of us think about the role of an HR manager, our mind often immediately goes towards hiring, training, performance reviews, and other front end HR tasks that fall within the role of an HR administrator. Although these things are incredibly important to every company, some of the most crucial HR responsibilities lie in the backend of HR. This past week, we had the pleasure of interviewing Ibo Tomlinson, the Senior People Operations Manager with Complex Networks, a well known and successful media company of over 300 employees, based out of New York and California. Complex Networks positions themselves as a modern entertainment company that champions the people, brands, and new trends their audience needs to know now and will obsess over next, and builds consumer universes around them.
The global youth entertainment network creates and distributes original programming, with content spanning across music to movies, sports to video games, fashion to food, and more. Ibo’s primary responsibilities within the company are focused on backend HR processes, such as compliance; including yearly sexual harassment training, updating employee handbooks, and working through policy changes. Ibo spearheads the annual performance management reviews for the entire company, which ultimately ties into compensation. He works hand in hand with his cohort who leads benefits, compensation and payroll. Together they come up with the compensation strategies for the entire company.
“Our goal is to support and nurture youth culture and stay ahead of the brands through different verticals: music, pop culture, lifestyle, sneakers, and entertainment”
Ibo shares that at Complex Networks, they aim to stay ahead of the curve, by constantly innovating and coming up with new shows, ideations, and unique ways of spreading the voice of different cultures.
“A lot of our core values are based on creativity, inclusiveness, respect, integrity, everything that wraps around the idea and premise of what someone wants to bring to the industry and how we can best facilitate their ability to do so”
According to Fast Company, Complex Networks was selected as one of the Top 10 innovative media companies of 2020. I was curious to know whether there was one particular key element that contributed to this achievement. According to Ibo, it is the company’s creative and innovative nature, which translates to their constant focus on looking at new ways to approach problems, and different ways to utilize what they currently know to further grow and expand.
Managing Coronavirus as an HR Administrator
This is not an easy time for neither employees nor employees. I was curious to gain some insight from Ibo, to find out how the current pandemic was shaping the way they ran the HR department.
How has your team managed the mandated ‘stay at home’ order by New York state?
The key for Ibo and his team lied in the phased approach they took towards the situation. Before coronavirus, some employees were previously working from home, but once everything kicked off Ibo worked closely with the head of HR to come up with a clear plan for moving forward. Together, the team put into motion different phases, even before the government had mandated restrictions in place. Complex Networks closely followed the news to ensure they were staying up to date with the latest rules and regulations. Their phased approach began by restricting all non-essential travel, followed by allowing people to work from home while the office was still open. Before New York enforced the ‘stay at home’ policy, restricting only emergency and essential staff to work, Ibo and his team had already made the call to have everyone set up working remotely.
How has the transition been for your employees, of switching to remote work?
In the early stages, people were glad to be working from home, Ibo shares; however, like many employees, no one could be prepared for how everything was going to play out. Thankfully, Complex Networks was pretty well set up to work from home, which for other organizations has been a struggle. Many companies face an array of work from home challenges. In particular, trying to juggle the countless work from home tools, new routines, and managing the new work/life balance. Luckily, for the vast majority of departments and staff within the company, the transition to working from home as far as logistics was concerned went smoothly. Ibo attributes this smooth transition to the phased approach they took to manage the situation. This shows just how important it is to have HR processes digitized so in the case that remote work must be enforced, productivity and efficiency won’t suffer along the way.
What are the differences or changes you’ve needed to make to your processes as a result of the COVID-19 Pandemic?
A key focus for the team at Complex Networks was safety. As a result, the first change that was made was that of how business travel was conducted. Anyone who had travel scheduled, either internationally or domestically, had to notify the department head and head of HR before it could be approved. Ibo notes that safety was the key factor here and the reason for restricting any non-essential travel.
Much of the recruitment at Complex Network was shifted from onsite interviews to video interviews and digital onboarding. Although the company was already interviewing and hiring digitally to some degree, their process of selection and hiring still needed to shift. Interviews began to be conducted through video and/or a phone call, and they prioritize the hiring of essential positions only. Although the new way of hiring did take some adjustment time and made the hiring process a bit challenging, it didn’t extend the length of the processes itself. Ibo attributes this to the ATS they use, and for the fact that they were very well prepared for online recruitment. He mentioned how having an applicant tracking system was key to continuing recruitment and selection without the COVID-19 situation affecting their processes too badly overall.
Complex Network has come up with a new series of programming over the last few weeks to encourage engagement. His team recognizes that many employees who live by themselves and are not used to being alone so much, and thus face a constant reminder of how they miss the office.
“We’ve done things like different talks and activities to bring the company together as a whole. Ie. happy hour, where we chat about different things, we also created a safe space where new hires can be incorporated and introduced to the team”.
The HR team at Complex Networks has shifted its onboarding process. The change has ensured that their digital employee onboarding is just as effective as if an employee was to be onboarded in the office. With the introduction of a robust onboarding presentation deck for new employees, staff can become familiar with the company, and their role and responsibilities. As a result of the remote working situation, they are also rolling out an extension to their current onboarding which allows new hires the opportunity to become even more familiar with all aspects of the company; including, what each department does, how revenue is generated, and how they target their audience. The goal is to make sure employees have the basics of what’s going on in the company. Thanks to the comprehensive onboarding guide, they’ve been able to personalize the process of digital onboarding even more.
The United States isn’t well known for offering PTO; however, there are several leave types that employees can request. With that said, in times of crisis, companies often tend to be more flexible with the leaves they offer to employees. I was curious to know how Complex Networks managed the influx of leave requests and what they were doing to adapt to the situation.
Changes to Time off Policies
How has your team been adapting and offering time off to your employees?
Technically no law states a company needs to offer employees vacation. Ibo and his team have been incredibly empathetic towards the needs of their employees during this time and adapted their policies to be more generous. For example, the parental leave they offer equates to almost 3 months off of leave. Additionally, they offer unlimited PTO, a concept that for many US employees is intriguing yet brings up some fear.
“A lot of people are just afraid that there’s going to be a bad stigma if they take time off”
This raises an important issue that is being spoken about even more now than ever. Employees across the country are needing rest time, but many feel as if it’s pointless to take time off or unjustifiable since there’s nowhere to go on their ‘staycation’. It’s a difficult conversation to navigate and important for HR managers to communicate that even though an employee may not be able to go anywhere, taking time off to rest is crucial to avoiding burnout. Ibo’s team has been incredibly proactive in finding ways to make the team feel comfortable to request time off when they need or for whatever reason. From creating a mental health day, in addition to regular vacation days, sick time, and regular PTO days. This is where HR management software comes into play and why it’s so important. Human resources software not only helps a company better manage its processes, but it eliminates the headache around managing HR.
Through this situation, do you think that more companies have realized the importance of offering time off to their employees?
“I do think that companies will start to implement more rules and policies around time off, simply for the sake that employees are vital to every aspect and facet of the company and they need some time to recover”
Ibo shared that many companies appear to be offering more time off than they have in the past, to provide their employees with the support they need during this time. Although, not all companies are as sensitive as others when it comes to issues like mental health.
“Mental health is oftentimes not recognized as an illness, sometimes to the point that people get burnt out, and often companies fail to recognize that, or maybe even give their employees a hard time”
When it comes to sick days, New York is one of the few states that mandated that everyone gets 5 paid sick days. In many states, this doesn’t exist, which means that also, in many companies, during the COVID-19 pandemic, many employees were forced to come in because if they didn’t they wouldn’t get paid. This is something Ibo believes is huge destruction to an employee’s quality of life and he stresses that employers need to approach crises with sensitivity.
Returning to Work After COVID-19
It’s a question on the minds of many HR administrators; when will we be able to allow our employees to return to work? And, what will that process even look like? Ibo shares that like many companies, they too will take a phased approach to return to the office. Whenever that time will come, he mentions that employee mental awareness is something they are going to be focusing on. It’s not an easy time for anyone and returning to work will bring up a whole range of feelings and emotions. The simple thought of hopping on public transportation will make many people afraid, and left wondering, is it safe, clean? Ibo shares.
What is one of the main keys that have attributed to helping your team more easily navigate the situation?
“We’ve been very very open with communication when it was first happening, we communicated with the team – what’s going on, what we’re changing and how we’re addressing certain things to the point that I feel no one was left in the dark.”
Ibo stresses that it is this constant communication, whether it be through email or Slack, with updates to the staff, which has reinforced the team’s feeling that they were supported through the crisis.
What’s the biggest shift you think we’re going to see within the way companies operate?
Ibo feels that companies are going to start to look at different things when it comes to remote work. Through this situation, many organizations have realized that they can function remotely, which may spark something inside of them to start offering more flexibility when it comes to allowing employees to work from home. Also, companies will likely change their work from home policies or time off policies to find the perfect teleworking balance of some days spent in the office and some at home. All in all, Ibo feels that many companies and their HR administrator(s) have learned how to find new ways to adapt to these changes, something that is vitally important to the survival and success of every business right now.
“The norm that we were used to last year, may not come in for another year or so”