On a Rocketship: Connecting a Brand New, Global Team

Candice Saffer, Senior HR Director at Social27
Oct 27, 2021

Measurably engaging both new and seasoned employees is something that is still heavy on many leaders’ minds. On this episode of PIVOT, you’ll hear how one HR leader standardized processes to listen and learn from team members around the world.

Measurably engaging both new and seasoned employees is something that is still heavy on many leaders’ minds. Candice Saffer, Senior HR Director at virtual events company Social27, recently had the added challenge of hiring, onboarding, and engaging 150 new employees—at the same time. In this episode of PIVOT, you’ll hear how Candice standardized people ops processes to listen and learn from team members around the world.

On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [02:27-04:41] How the pandemic caused a reframe in thinking about people ops
  • [04:42-09:11] The benefits of a holistic approach to hiring and onboarding
  • [09:26-10:14] The challenges of hiring fast and in bulk
  • [10:14-13:43] How HR can encourage healthy work schedules in “high season”
  • [14:01-17:01] How Social27 does performance reviews and gathers employee feedback
  • [17:54-19:09] How Candice’s team puts together packages for overseas employees
  • [19:10-21:34] The “secret sauce” to connecting across time zones 
  • [21:43-22:55] Why up-to-date employee handbooks are more crucial than ever before
  • [22:56-24:15] Processes and programs to have in place before hiring more employees
  • [24:16-25:40] What to automate to optimize recruiting efforts
  • [25:40-26:57] How to build an empathetic organization

After you listen: 

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POPS Star Bio

Candice Saffer is the Senior Human Resource Director for Social27, an event platform for virtual and hybrid conferences that serves clients like Microsoft, SHRM, Capgemini, and the United Nations.


Didi: On this episode of PIVOT by Zenefits. 

Candice: The success of every company starts with having a great product and a service that depends entirely on attracting and retaining the right top notch talents to execute the company, vision, mission, and objectives.

Didi: The People Ops Podcast from Zenefits, the only show dedicated to small businesses, sharing stories of pivotal moments. I’m your host Didi D’Errico. how do you meaningfully and measurably engage a globally distributed team. Oh, and how do you do that with a team of more than 150 people who are brand new to your company?

In this episode, we’re exploring the incredible growth story with Candice Saffer Senior Human Resource Director at Social27. Candice not only helped to build a global team and the HR department from scratch, but was also instrumental in standardizing processes to listen and learn from team members around the world.

Candice: We grew tremendously and very little time setting up an HR department from scratch is already no easy task. And then having to hire about 200 people right after it’s really putting on your Olympic shoes and trying to be the fighter. Brace of winter, we are designing and implementing company policies, creating a really healthy work environment, understanding and developing compensation and benefit plans globally.

Which has been very insightful. We work in seven different countries. So understanding compensation and benefit plans abroad has been a very big part of our learning path and obviously overseeing the recruitment process and basically shaping the employer Rand strategy 

Didi: or how. With that background, let’s jump into the conversation, starting with a pivotal moment that caused Candice to reframe her thinking and people operations.

Candice: As an HR professional, we have to be very emphasized. Virtually and accomplishing that is through transparency, communication, knowing exactly who your employees are, their core strengths and weaknesses, and really diving into how can we compliment this person’s career growth inside of social 27. But over the past year, as you all know, we are a virtual events company.

So. You know, a lot of the technologies that were in place for the next three years, I would say for things to go a lot more virtual had to happen and happen successfully in a very short matter of time, because for a lot of people, you know, even our CEO says that the world might have stopped, but it actually didn’t, it accelerated like three.

’cause a lot of the meetings and business objectives that are still having to be met on a daily basis in person, how to be continued on online. And this past year has really showed that we were able to accomplish that. Now we’ve experienced now, by the time I spoke to you last in 18 X. And this is across key industries, you know, such as FinTech, health, healthcare, professional services.

And it’s all led by our founder and CEO, as well as our CTO, the company last year. Um, and this year has delivered over 400 virtual. Uh, attracting 500,000 plus attendees, you know, through customers, such as Microsoft cap, Gemini Tableau, amongst many others, including the one that we’re working on now, which is amazingly beautiful to participate in, which is a United nations cop 26.

And I believe the success of every company starts with having a great product and a service that depends entirely on attracting and retaining the right top notch talents to execute the company, vision, mission, and objective. So 

Didi: let’s talk a little bit about the all in approach. A lot of companies may be higher out of desperation.

And if you start with that mode hiring out of desperation, you’re missing the big picture. And I was really taken by the fact from the, from the time that you guys teed off what you were doing with talent management, it was not about. Just hiring. It was, you were already thinking about your first performance reviews as you were hiring people.

Cause like how do I keep them and develop them? How is that kind of holistic thinking, even maybe more important in today’s environment where 8 million people have quit their jobs in the U S in the last couple of months, how does that play into nonconventional approach? Because it’s a new world. 

Candice: You know, the key to this is I have in the past, worked a lot with startups and I have a lot of operations background because of the past jobs I’ve had were mostly, you know, growth and strategy, strategic accounts, and it was all within startup environment and scaling very quickly.

There’s a big push when you have to hire a very, very quickly. So there’s two different kinds of hiring that I see. One is to fill sort of like a current need. So for example, we just hired 50 people in four days for the Yuan event. And. They were customer support, which I run a social 20 sevens customer support in that case, I’m hiring for pure skill.

So we have a certain platform that we use for customer support, which is called Zendesk. And I needed people that are subject matter experts in Zendesk and live chat to be able to fill this need answers. Obviously I have to go speed dating, right? Understanding that I have very little time to hire 50 people, but it still doesn’t stop me from wanting to meet every single person and really understand what their core competencies are because.

It is the difference between, you know, having somebody that is really skilled and what they do, and be able to execute on this dream very well and collaborate with you and somebody that’s going to completely bombed it and doesn’t know what they’re doing, or doesn’t have the proper guidance behind them, which will make a huge difference to the client and to the end user.

So. Being that I’m an opera that I was an operations for a long time. As I’m looking into setting up HR systems, I’m also looking at what is the process for the communication between the department? What is the flow between the departments? What are the leading indicators of success that we’re going to be measuring them on?

What is important for that specific department and all of that really takes understanding your organization’s needs. To the T and I feel that through communicating with the stakeholders within social 27, I am able to not only hire the right people and provide them a really great onboarding experience, but I’m also able to.

Tell them look, you know, these are the organizations needs. We need to make sure that those needs are met and while recruiting new positions, this is why we would like to, you know, offer you this position. And we have them interview maybe three or four people within the organization. And they definitely understand what that person’s core competencies are, how that is going to be measured against the current, you know, department goals.

And then our. Organization’s objectives. I always say, you know, HR, we are advocates for our employees and our contractors internally, but I also consider us consultants because we are planning people’s careers inside of social 27. So I think understanding. The needs of the organization, the needs of the department, the escalation needs between processes and departments.

If the process works, what are those processes? How do we explain that to the person coming in? So they know exactly what’s expected of them. I even have them sign a job description when they come in. So they are fully aware of what they, what they’re hired for. And I think those are very good indicators of.

Didi: love the thorough approach that you’re taking for HR to be advocates and consultants. If you’re not thinking about all of the connecting pieces behind the speed, you’re going to crash. 

Candice: Absolutely. I mean, massive, fast recruiting is not for everyone because you have to do it effectively. You can’t do a job that is half done.

You can’t bring people that don’t have the right qualifications because the undertaking is that the right candidate. Can revitalize an entire event and the wrong candidate can append operations. So it’s very challenging to find the right candidates in bulk. So that’s when I always say there’s differences and, you know, hiring for pure skill to fill a need, uh, for customer support, for example, and then hiring somebody that we know that we’re going to be a part of their growth, and we’re going to be able to see them thrive.

 you talked a little bit about hiring 50 people in five days, and that’s part of the spike that happens in the events business in general. But can you talk about how do you help as the advocate for your people and the consultant to, how do they stay healthy and all of this, where you got three months worth of crazy.

Didi: That go up, I think, through the end of the year. And then how do you make sure that people keep a reasonable enough work schedule while you can meet all of your client demands and then keep them going through the rest of the. 

Candice: So the key thing here D D is to never forget that the employees are people and within that you have to humanize every single process.

And how do you analyze that is through time-tracking and At the end of each month, I’ll usually analyze the amount of hours that each employee put in. We do a offshore, we do a punch in kind of punch out structure because all of our contractors and all of our employees, every single day, what they work on is all billable hours to the clients because we’re working on individual projects.

So we’ll usually advocate for people to no more work than more, more than 40 hours a week. Right when busy season happens, it happens that it’s a lot more than that, but that’s from the industry itself. That’s from the events industry itself and with the high season, which we’re in the middle of now, everybody is putting in again.

10 to 15 more hours on there because we are dependent on what the client sends us and when they send to us so that we can upload it. And sometimes it’s not on time. So we end up having to work a lot, extra hours to accommodate last minute customization requests. What my HR department does is we have touch bases every single week with department.

And we get a pulse on how they’re doing what their workflow is, how the resources are being managed. We micromanage that a little bit more because we don’t want people to burn out and it’s not because we’re doubtful on their efficiency level. It’s just because we want to help them cure any doubts they have or issues with resourcing that they have.

For example, I have one department that is really faster maybe than another. So what does that person and not department doing differently and how can we learn from that? So it’s a two kind of opportunity approach to where not only do we give managers the opportunity to showcase best practices in their process.

But we also like to uplift them and congratulate them on their undertakings and the success and their undertakings because managing a tech team, managing CSM department technology, project manager, departments, that’s no easy task when the deliverables are so high and there’s so much piled in. So I would say remembering that your employees are facing.

Humanizing the process being empathetic, collaborative, I would say at social 27, most people will huddle up and try to help each other out when needed. Even if you’re not part of that department, we always lend a hand and that’s the culture that we’re trying to always build inside of social 27. 

Didi: I love that.

I love the idea of both trying to make sure that the individuals are not overwhelmed and then to kind of encourage innovation that uplifting the managers when they come up with ideas that make it more human for their people to survive and thrive. I think that that is. So you just completed the first official performance review for dozens, if not more than 150 people and essentially brand new employees.

So can you share a little bit about that performance process, your primary focus for the first time out? What were you guys looking at? 

Candice: So we start very early on with a 30, 60, 90 evaluation of the person coming in. So we’ll usually sit down with their manager and take a look at how their performance is going, where they need to be re-skilled if needed, where they need to be.

Up-skilled if needed. And I’m going to use these two words a lot, because that’s really a theme and will continuously be a theme as the company evolves and grows. So a lot of the time it’s, you know, sitting down and taking that granular approach. In the beginning, we have reviews twice a year and the reviews, they are comprised of a self evaluation and manager evaluation, and then a peer to peer evaluation for each department.

So essentially we’re getting feedback from everybody. The rating scale that comes in, and then we empower the managers to give the results to their team individually and have one-on-ones. So it’s a really good opportunity for us to not only get a really healthy pulse on where that person, that particular person is.

In their department, one where they’re headed to or where they need to pick up. For example, if they need to pick up additional skills. And it was very insightful. I mean, we had percentages that grew a lot. So last year, for example, some people were saying that they wanted more feedback from. Executive management so that they could know what was happening with the company, because everything, everybody was growing so fast.

And based on that review, we were able to go back to executive management and say, Hey, can you make an appearance twice a month at our all hands meeting or once a month at our all hands meeting and give an announcement of where the company. In every single department facet, which your growth perspective is a forecasting and things like that.

And so we began to have our CEO part of our all hands meeting and give company updates to people. So in our secondary view, that percentage. Went down because people were more satisfied with the result of that review. When it came to inter departmental communication, it was clearly spelled out that we needed more process in place in some departments, for example, our dev department with our products department.

So we were able to make changes in the communication and suggest changes. And the managers were able to make those changes. And work more efficiently. I 

Didi: love how your learnings from your review process reflected on the individual have reflected on the department reflected on how you communicated as a company was really kind of a performance check and alignment for the whole business as you talk about it.

And I think that’s incredibly, incredibly powerful and that you’re looking at trends. I think one of the things that’s tempting is to survey your employees. Wrap it all up and be done and go onto something else. And the fact that you revisiting, okay, this is where we started. How are we trending? How is this changing?

Because the environment like it or not that we are in as a businesses continues to change. And if you don’t stay in front of all of that, you’re missing some of the opportunity to, to do the operations magic that you do right. Is to fine tune and learn. How big is your people operations team today? Is it too, or are you growing.

Candice: I lead as a senior HR director. And then I have, you know, general, which is just an amazing accomplishment. She is a force of nature. And in India we have Nimisha in that we also have a technical recruiter. I work very closely with a finance person that I have also offshore in that is giving us insight into.

The different levels that we’re creating right now in terms of salaries and creating packages for different people, keeping in mind that offshore it’s different. Like we’re working in seven different countries. So we’re putting together benefit compensation plan. In seven different countries per their local kind of culture and salary ranges.

So it’s been extremely interesting for us to also learn about the different functionalities and the different pension plans and payment forms and taxes and tax brackets that you have in seven different countries. Wow. I couldn’t do it without my HR team. They are the most amazing team. 

Didi: Phenomenal. When you talk about the level of detail that you guys are thinking about, is there any secret sauce for other small businesses that are listening to connect a largely remote and new team across time zones and cultures?

What’s the, what’s the secret sauce or what gives in order to make that. 

Candice: So there’s a couple of really great takeaways. One is when you’re working with offshore teams, you have to be empathetic to their time zone. I’m working on PST and I’m not going to be bothering my HR partners in India right now because it’s the middle of the night for them.

So one of the things that we do is on our signatures on teams. We have our time zones that. So, you know, if somebody has any doubt or they can go on teams and they can ping somebody, they’ll be able to see the working times for that person. And that’s really important. The other thing that I would say is take time to devise your job descriptions, put together a good job descriptions and work with your managers on job descriptions.

See how that job is going to impact other departments. How is the communication flow going to be? So process in place. Is key job descriptions for them to sign is key. Respecting people’s time zones is also extremely key. And I would say everything else is always keep check on how they’re doing and you know, how can you.

In addition to that, I would say have a really great handbook so that people can understand what the policies for the company is. Like, if you have PTO policies, time off for parents that just had children, both paternal and maternal, we had a lot of issues. With COVID the whole world did our company went above and beyond, um, to be able to give assistance to everybody that was impacted that had COVID giving their time off paying for their time off, sending them even funds for additional medications that might not be covered.

So all of these things we took into consideration and, you know, just really keep them close, communicate and have the right processes. And. 

Didi: So let’s wind down here. you’re in the mode of here’s some tips, um, things we just talked about kind of to keep an international team connected virtually.

And it’s interesting. We did a survey about handbooks And we’re finding that because there’s so much. That’s unknown in the world since COVID that 63 or 70% of people say they turned the handbook first when they have a question and it’s like, that’s very powerful.

It’s a very powerful motivation. Not only for the HR people to, to get it right, but to keep it updated and keep it right. Because it is a guide when you’re flying, you know, relatively blind in the business world that we’ve been in lately. So I think that that’s. 

Candice: I mean, and keeping the handbook that is pertinent to your country, and that’s the key and just being very culturally sensitive to that because there’s more holidays in some countries and there are here, you know, and giving them the choice.

To really be heard when it comes to, you know, working with, you know, us time zones. And it’s very important. It’s I would agree with you because all of our employees and contractors will go to the handbook first and look for answers and then they’ll come to us, 

Didi: which helps your job set up that way from a process 

Candice: perspective.

Well, yes, but then that also requires the HR team to be reviewing the handbook and we review the handbook of recent. 

Didi: Great. Some of the people that are listening to this show are, you know, our 10 person organizations, not 200 person organizations, but regardless of where you are, you know, if there’s a listener here looking to expand their team, even modestly this year, are there tips you have on programs or measurements that they ought to build in from 

Candice: the beginning?

Yes, use a really great our HRS platform. It’s very important because when you give your employees access to their information, organizational charts, uh, being able to send out contracts from one platform, being able to be compliant. All of that is a very hefty work that we do with. Is that it fits it’s really great because it also gives us updates on each individual states when they have like changes in any kind of policies.

It always gives us updates on that. I would also say that you would be very well invested into a management system if you’re in tech like JIRA so that you can have appropriate workflows and, um, understand what processes. You need to have interdepartmentally and per department and how they communicate with each other.

I believe that, you know, you can do a lot with that information and that is the basis for a very successful year. 

Didi: Are there programs, traditional HR programs that companies ought to think about skipping or automating to optimize their. 

Candice: So we use, for example, for recruiting, we connected on the backend jazz HR to Zenefits.

And that was really great because we would post the job on jaws, HR, and when the person was hired. All we had to do was click pirate on jazzy char, and it would automatically come into Zenefits. And so the, the person’s information pre-populates. So I would definitely recommend connecting a recruiting site to an HRS site.

So I would not skip that. I would not skip on putting together a handbook. And so everything to me is vital. So I don’t know if skipping anything is good because I always look to be slipped, thorough with everything we do, even when you’re hiring, you know, a lot of people hire them with purpose, you know, communicate with the stakeholders, just don’t hire to fill in a current, you know, need, think of it as a long-term engagement.

What that person and how that, that role is going to contribute to your company. So don’t skip on putting together a really great job description with all stakeholders involved. So as we 

Didi: wrap up, Candace, you had mentioned this earlier in the conversation, the word empathy, a lot of companies try to put together value statements or things that they stand for.

Some do a better job of actually living those values than others. But if you could talk a little bit about key to building and maintaining an empathetic organization, especially when it’s an organization where you don’t maybe physically see each other, how do you pull that together? And how do you measure the results of them?

Candice: So we definitely measure that through when we go to review people. Okay. But putting all of that into an equation is to really be helpful to them on a daily basis and have those pre scheduled check-ins one-on-ones with everyone. If it becomes too much to do it on a weekly basis, do it on a, you know, on a monthly basis.

But having these one-on-ones is extremely. To being successful in this particular topic. And. You know, HR is not only here to correct things or to be the bearer of bad news. We’re here to help, you know, we’re here to guide you through your career inside that company. And we have your best interests in mind.

So if you think about that, we’re, you’re like your best friend inside the company 

Didi: I’m Deedee, and this was pivot a pumps show. If you want to learn more about inspiring people, operations stories like canvases, check out zenefits.com backslash Pop’s dash podcast, or you’ll find bonus resources, profiles, and even a link to order our new book titled.

He guessed it, people operations. Also, if you have questions you want us to answer on our show, check out the link in our show notes below and we’ll connect.


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