Updated: Dec 14, 2021
The penultimate episode our Road to Recovery series of the year, kicked off with an introduction from Tom Holmes, Co-Founder and Director of Veran Performance. Tom enlisted the help of Katie Banks, the Senior Director of Global People and Workplace at Nitro Technologies to explore how we can develop organisations to become great places to work. Katie’s role involves overseeing the entire global people function of the organisation, with one of her key responsibilities focusing on supporting Nitro’s culture and values. As such, her experience during the Covid-19 pandemic and the subsequent success of Nitro lends her an invaluable lens into ensuring workplace success even at the most difficult of times.
Nitro Technologies is a document and productivity software company, providing powerful and affordable PDF and eSignature solutions. Katie highlighted to us just how impressive growth in the tech industry has been during the pandemic, with Nitro seeing an incredible 35% growth in 2020. One of the key reasons for this was that the introduction of Working from Home Policies led to organisations having to digitalise their functions almost overnight. In fact, Katie explained how the companies that purchased Nitro’s solutions may not have done so for 3 to 5 years, had the need not arisen so suddenly. This success has led to Nitro being able to open new offices in Toronto, where since Q1 of 2021 they have hired 30 members of staff.
Tom described Nitro as an ‘almost Nomadic business’, as Katie explained how their Head Office was originally in Australia, before relocating to San Francisco and finally unofficially residing in Dublin. In addition, Nitro has various offices across Northern America and Europe, with the latter being a hub for an excellent range of both talent and diversity.
Due to the pandemic, Katie has been unable to visit any of Nitro’s offices in the past 18 months, a similar situation to many of her colleagues, some of whom will not have set foot in a Nitro office ever. It is, therefore, even more impressive that last year, Nitro was celebrated with a ‘Great Place to Work’ Award in Canada. Katie attributed this to changes implemented at Nitro such as the ‘Flexible Forever’ scheme, where offices remain open using hot desks and collaborative spaces for people to meet their colleagues and work with their teams should they wish.
For new starters, Katie highlighted how important it is to
‘make them feel like they are a part of the team before they have even started’.
At Nitro, this is achieved by ensuring there is no vast gap between signing the offer letter and the start date. Katie mentioned that the company have implemented Enboarder, a science-backed People Activation Platform. In between these two events, the employee is added to a workflow where they are drip fed via email or text, information about the company, asking questions about their hobbies and interests and generally trying to find out more about the individual and sharing back information on the team they will be working with. On day one, onboarding commences with meetings with each team member as well as an individual mentor. Again, the purpose of this is to make the new starter feel welcome and bring them in to the team before they even start. Tom focused our attention on how Nitro manages to have the feel, energy and culture of a small company or a start-up through these methods and wonders how this can possibly be maintained. Katie explained that a large focus for Nitro is the future, whether that be technology, consumer trends or the integration of people in the workforce, and that by staying at the forefront of changes in the industry, they can scale these changes, take them in and use them to adjust their training and people functions.
In addition, Katie highlighted how using a platform that caters for onboarding, offboarding and pre-boarding has been instrumental in helping Nitro reach their employees. Nitro have also offered more benefits to their staff, including Linkedin Learning, which gives access to thousands of learning paths and course videos, allowing personal growth and development.
Katie then focussed on the importance of reaching out to a network of your peers to find out what works and what doesn’t work within your industry. She went on to explain how communication within her network was initiated quite simply through an email chain of 4 or 5 partners within her firm. Over time, the e-mail chain has grown, and it now has 25 members who are business leaders across varying firms within the industry.
“Even though we are competing for the same talent, we’re all trying to navigate the same changes and challenges.”
We then moved on to the most significant challenges that Katie has experienced within Nitro over the last 20 months. We began with the obvious challenge that has faced all previously office-based companies: remote working. Particularly, the challenge of managing isolation, day-to-day stress, and mental health. Another significant challenge that Nitro has faced is the Covid-enforced relocation of workers. We recommend you listen to Katie’s anecdote on Nitro’s struggles to relocate their CEO to the UK which highlights the significant work there is still to do on the concept of flexible working and what that means for Global Mobility.
The third biggest challenge to have arisen during the last 20 months is the impact of Covid-19 on talent and interviewing.
“A huge part of gauging what it is like to work for a firm is walking into an office for an interview and seeing what the environment is like. Without being able to attend an office or a physical interview, we don’t have that.”
In response to this challenge, Nitro have focused on Glassdoor reviews, LinkedIn and Employer/Talent branding so that interviewees can understand what it is like to work at Nitro without having set foot in a physical workspace.
Walking through the doors of a company can teach a lot to a candidate about whether the place is a cultural fit for them. But also, the one-to-one interaction in a physical workplace can be so important to allow a candidate to be able to showcase their skills and personality, more than they can from the ‘shoulders up’ virtually.
“Certain people are really good at virtual interaction; other people are not as comfortable with it and are actually much, much different in person.”
How have Nitro gone about addressing this? Well, one way is by conducting cultural interviews with ‘potential Nitronauts’ and Cultural Ambassadors within the business. Unlike traditional interviews, Cultural interviews are not structured and are a more relaxed form of questioning where you gain real insight into the person.
Katie then steered our conversation towards how Nitro facilitates an open, inclusive work environment to allow their Nitronauts to shine. Katie explained the processes Nitro have in place to ensure their Cultural Ambassadors are aware of their own biases when part of an interviewing panel. Katie recommended a Ted Talk from Jerry Kang and the Implicit Bias Tests from Harvard.edu that were suggested viewing for the entire Nitro organisation as part of Global Diversity Awareness month.
“It’s subconscious and it’s unconscious for a reason, so you’re not ever going to be able to perfect it but there are things you can do to become more aware of it.”
As Nitro look to re-open their offices in Dublin and San Francisco and open new offices in Canada, Katie went on to highlight what you lose from not being physically around your colleagues. Mainly: the benefits for new hires putting faces to names and the element of organic learning. Katie makes a good point for business leaders that there is a balance to be struck between mandating the office entirely and being able to work from home, especially for those with families.
And to round off our discussion, Katie hammers home 4 key words that have guided Nitro during the pandemic and have formed the business’ thought process post-Pandemic:
“Output over hours worked”.
Our discussion with Katie is recommended for Business Leaders and employees alike on what makes a great place to work post-pandemic.
For more information, email the team on email@example.com