HR The Unsung Heroes of COVID: A Conversation with Debbie Smith, Executive Vice President, Human Resources with E2Open

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Continuing our blog series, “The Unsung Heroes of COVID, Interviews with HR Professionals” Tom Dorsett, CEO of RazorMetrics, spoke with Debbie Smith, Executive Vice President, Human Resources with E2Open.

Debbie Smith has more than 25 years of domestic and international human resources experience. She joined E2open in 2015 and currently serves as Executive Vice President, Human Resources.  In this role, she is responsible for developing strategic and tactical human resources programs, plans, and processes that support company growth.  This includes recruitment, providing competitive and attractive reward systems, and ensuring the quality and depth of leadership throughout the company.  She has to lead a global HR team supporting the growth of E2open from 425 to 2,400 employees and the integration of 13 acquisitions. Debbie holds a Bachelor of Science degree in business management from Saint Joseph College, Connecticut.

Tom:  What were your greatest challenges responding to COVID?

Debbie: It may sound surprising, but we did not face any significant challenges. We have 2,400 employees at E2open, 2/3 of them are in the Asia Pacific region.  We were able to pivot to a work from home environment in short order. Our local leadership had the foresight to obtain laptops for those without them before the pandemic, so all of our staff were equipped to continue working remotely.

We anticipated that stress and uncertainty would be a factor, so we leaned into our strong culture of transparency, reassuring people of the company’s strength by continuing salary increases, promotions, and bonuses. We are still hiring, and our remote onboarding is going very well. We know that turnover went down after the quarantine went into effect.

Keeping our people informed and responding to questions is a high priority.  We encourage people to ask questions during our regular ‘All hands’ meetings and our CEO does a great job addressing questions and reassuring people on the strength and stability of the company. HR gives a regular update to assure people that working from home is fine.

In addition, we quickly installed a global employee assistance program to help our employees manage stress in a culturally relevant way and while it was deemed to be an urgent need, to date it has had low activity.

Tom:  How are you managing a return to the office?

Debbie: We are in no hurry to get everyone back to the office. We have 25 offices worldwide and are at different stages in the slope of the virus spread so some will open earlier than others.  We have published guidelines for what returning to the office will look like, however, we are going slow erring on the side of employee wellbeing.   When it is deemed safe to do so, we are allowing certain staff into the office if they wish to return.  There is no penalty for staying home during this time, in fact we are now offering to help cover internet charges above standard needs. We understand that some people have underlying health issues, kids who are remote learning, aging parents, or any number of other reasons that require working from home. There is no rush back to the office, however, we expect that a return to the office will happen as we gain stability

Tom: Do you think ‘work from home’ will become the standard?

Debbie:  I do not think that will happen for us.  Work from home offers some appealing savings in real estate, travel, and materials but only time will tell if that becomes the dominant work format.  Some of our staff want to get to an office because they say working at home is too distracting or the space isn’t productive for them.

We have been able to successfully run large scale meetings via virtual means during the last six months, so we know this can work.  However, the loss of networking and team building that happens in physical settings is felt.  We look forward to coming together when it is safe.

Tom:  Do you have any advice or recommendations for resources to help other HR professionals who may also be confronting this challenge?

Debbie:  Supporting the remote environment and ensuring managers are equipped to manage their teams is imperative.  Listening to your employees and having regular, open communication channels.   Helping employees set boundaries has been important.  Working from home does not provide a bright line between professional and personal life, so while people may feel more productive by working more hours, it isn’t the healthiest approach.  We encourage people regularly to take time off to refresh and relax.

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