hybrid work arrangement, flexible work, wise

"The people team at Wise does not dictate what each team should do, but rather we work closely with team leads and empower them with tools and resources to manage their team", shares Elyza Mae Telog, People Operations Lead, APAC.

With a team of 3.000 employees (aptly named Wisers) of over 90 nationalities, Wise has been able to work efficiently and collaboratively all over the world, even during a pandemic. Valuing trust, autonomy, and empathy, find out more as Elyza Mae Telog - People Operations Lead, APAC (pictured above), shares with Arina Sofiah more about how the group strives to be agile enough to adapt to what tomorrow brings.

Q How has hybrid becoming mainstream impacted your entire employee experience? What are some opportunities and talent challenges that have arisen from this?

We were thankfully pretty well prepared for the shift to hybrid work, as flexible ways of working even before the pandemic were not new for our 3,000-strong team of over 90 nationalities around the world. We found that a hybrid work environment can add to efficiency, creativity, and work output. It begins by trusting your team — we’ve been able to work efficiently and collaboratively all over the world so working from home or a few kilometres away in a cafe have their similarities.

Over the past years, we continued to grow our team from 2,000 to over 3,000 Wisers (our employees). This was both an opportunity and challenge for us, as we could attract more top talent with our hybrid work programmes, yet also had to take into account seamless onboarding processes to set people up for success from day one during global lockdowns. It was certainly harder to onboard new members virtually during that period, but our people team was able to quickly adapt the onboarding programme to the situation, and the added benefit where the company was already used to remote working definitely helped ease the transition.

Now, as the world moves out of lockdowns, we’re looking for opportunities to improve. How can we do things differently, and more effectively? For example, with company onboarding, we know that having new joiners together in the office has tremendous benefits in really connecting and building relationships with other Wisers, so we’re bringing the action back to our offices.

Q Accordingly, how are your strategies to hire, engage, retain, develop, and transform talent evolving? Share with us the roses and thorns of your current people priorities.

We know the hybrid work environment has been well received and is working well for our teams across the business based on feedback from Wisers. We acted quickly to update our policies to suit new ways of working, and this has been key to our retention and engagement strategies. For instance, while our teams already had the flexibility to work remotely, in 2020 we extended the remote work policy to give Wisers 90 days on a 12-month rolling period to work remotely from anywhere. This doesn’t just mean from home, but from almost wherever in the world they choose to.

Equally important is also offering a great onboarding experience for new joiners. We know that when Wisers feel engaged and part of the mission from day one, they’re likely to stay for longer. The onboarding experience for us is more than signing contracts, issuing equipment, and granting system access. It’s the chance to celebrate new Wisers joining our mission, as well as to foster connection, excitement, and inspiration. Now that we’re assimilating into a post-pandemic era, we’re taking the opportunity to make more adjustments and improvements to this process. Of course, onboarding can and has been done virtually — and we could have been content with this — but there is just no substitute for being in the office and interacting in person. So as a start, we’re bringing back in-person onboarding to enhance our new joiners’ Wise experience, bringing newbies across the APAC region to our Singapore office for company onboarding in their first week of joining.

We have observed increased team retention and a stronger ability to recruit talent, with the latter being particularly important as we’re increasing hiring across the business.

We’ve also noted more efficiency on teams, with Wisers feeling more motivated and supported in their work by having increased flexibility. Our goal is to make living globally easier for our customers, so it makes sense that we offer our employees flexible working environments too, and we continue to look for opportunities to improve.

Q How are you as the HR leader co-creating the future of work for your organisation – while revamping how employees work, the type of work they do, and even, where they work?

Wise is a mission-driven company; we’re building money without borders — instant, convenient, transparent, and eventually free. Wisers have a cause to stand behind, a problem in the world they’re passionate about solving, motivating them in creating a positive change for not only our customers but for the world. As a result, our strategy doesn’t emerge from the top-down; there’s no corporate hierarchy or a select group of people making decisions on behalf of everyone. Instead, we work in independent, autonomous teams where it’s up to individual teams to set their own strategy and work together to realise their plans. This way of working is also reflected in our employee initiatives.

When we surveyed our employees on how they want to be set up in the long term, the majority wanted flexibility, but also physical proximity to work, as they like the balance of spending some time in the same location as their colleagues some days of the week. This is why we offer a hybrid way of working to our employees — which means the flexibility to work from offices, from home, or remotely when needed. To do this, team leads work closely with their Wisers to find a balance between those who want to use the office space more, as well as those who want to be closer to family, and figure out the best way to do this at a time and space that is comfortable for their team. 

Q What are you doing differently now as compared to, say, three years ago? At the same time, how are you equipping your line managers — the middlemen between leadership and the employees — to better manage and engage their teams?

COVID-19 and its implications need no explanation: working from home has become the norm. Bedrooms have become offices while kitchens double as break-out spaces and even as classrooms for homeschooling our children.

Like many organisations, Wise introduced a formal hybrid work policy when the pandemic struck. While our team already had flexibility working autonomously, we formalised this policy in 2020 to give our team 90 days annually to work remotely in other countries to allow for more flexibility.

Additionally, to better support Wisers at the workplace, we also know that people want real benefits that truly enhance their work-life balance. It’s about creating a genuinely better place to work, so we want to be able to support our Wisers through every stage of their life and career. That’s why, from January 2022, we’ve introduced a new minimum standard for global leave policies in all our locations, to all 3,000+ Wisers.

We spend a lot of time ensuring our benefits and perks are fair and competitive across all the markets we operate in. This is why we came up with our new global leave minimums that better reflects the level of leave we think is fair, rather than being led by local laws. And with every policy we roll out, we keep transparency, open communication and flexibility in mind. We’re always gathering team feedback ahead of — and while implementing — new policies and are able to adapt and shift anything by region or globally when needed. For instance, we know that sensitive situations can’t always be managed with certain specific allowances, so our employees are always able to discuss their needs with their lead and find a solution that supports and helps them manage their time.

The people team at Wise does not dictate what each team should do, but rather we work closely with team leads and empower them with tools and resources to manage their team. This includes coaching programmes for new managers which helps them understand where they’re stronger and where they might need to focus their leadership growth.

Our open feedback culture not only empowers us to build better products for our customers, but also helps us to ensure our team members feel supported and know they are being listened to. What’s your approach to measuring the effectiveness of your talent strategy?

We’re both qualitative and quantitative in our approach to measuring success. This includes looking at increased team retention, stronger ability to recruit talent, as well as regular employee surveys and check-ins to understand Wisers’ sentiments at work.

Q Finally, how do you envision the future of work, the workplace, and the workforce? Tell us (briefly) how you expect each dimension to evolve further – what's next?

When looking ahead to the future of work, we’ve found the way to plan for the future is to be agile enough to adapt to what tomorrow brings. Our thinking is guided by these three main dimensions — trust, autonomy, and empathy.

Trusting your employees is one of the reasons why we’ve been successful in our approach to our ways of working, so I believe implementing autonomous teams that give employees greater trust is key to the future of work. It does not help to micro-manage people — in Wise we value trust and that is something we embed in all our Wisers and leads. Furthermore, in autonomous teams, you can move with agility and speed. This means we can scale our team and company, shift focus and tackle new challenges, quickly — all with the transparency, open communication, and candid feedback culture that makes working at Wise so unique.

Key to this is also empathy. Companies need to learn to accept that they are working with humans with lives outside of work. Sometimes, life happens, and that’s okay. What’s important is that we can support our Wisers through every stage of their life and career, and this applies to anyone: parents, caregivers, and more. The future of work should be an environment where people feel safe to fully express themselves and achieve their best because they are supported and feel free to be their authentic selves at work.

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