Meet Heather Beckstead – She writes the book on remote culture and careers
She earned a degree in English and a Masters in Human Resource Management, then set about finding work and gaining HR experience in and around Silicon Valley. Twenty-four years later, his LinkedIn page shows 50 skills, with many recommendations for his skills in talent management, talent acquisition, leadership, HR information systems, performance management, workforce planning, employee engagement, succession planning and other HR activities.
His company is a FinTech startup applying information technology to the freight industry, providing automated invoicing, collections and payments – aka factoring – to industry players. It focuses on small and medium newcomers to automated factoring, highlighting dramatic cost reductions for its clients. It opened for business as an office-less “remote business” in 2019, and is firmly committed to staying that way as Covid wreaks havoc on physical workspaces.
Her name is Heather Beckstead, her company is Axle Payments and she worked with company founders Bharath Krishnamoorthy and Shawn Vo to create a ‘remote by design’ business with a ‘remote culture’. It’s a company that doesn’t allow people to work from home, insists above. This means, in Beckstead’s words, “making sure people are truly connected and feel that they value and are valued.” How, however, can you do this?
Michael B Arthur: So, you joined Axle in November 2021, as businesses around the world struggled to transition from a desktop to a hybrid approach, and make the most of it?
Heather Beckstead: Exactly. We have strived to attract the best talent across the country. We now have approximately 80 employees across the United States, even in Hawaii, and growing rapidly. From the start, we encouraged people to seek flexibility in their working lives. It’s not about being hybrid or being in the office, it’s about being flexible. It’s about meeting people where they are so they can do their best work no matter what circumstances they work in. Having a remote culture allows us to do that.
Arthur: Can you say more?
Beckstead: There is no office. There is no place we would go to do our normal business. So we’re taking that overhead savings and applying it to quarterly external sites. We camp in a hotel for a week and work together a lot. But it’s just as important to build relationships. We move sites offsite across the country – our last was in April in Atlanta, before that we were in San Diego.
Also, when we move to off-site locations, we take the time to provide some kind of community service. In Atlanta, we helped residents prepare packages for refugees entering the country. We do something for the communities we visit, since we don’t have our own physical community. We want to make sure our employees feel their company values service, and reach out and be part of other communities.
Arthur: Other initiatives?
Beckstead: The first thing I did after joining was to join the benefits system. We have to be a real company, we have to have real HR services. One of the things I did next was run an employee engagement survey because I wanted to understand what has been culture, before diving into it and trying to play with it.
I’ve been doing these kinds of surveys for 20 years and in my experience a good score is 80. So when our survey result was 94% I was a bit blown away because I thought to myself, what am I supposed to fix? But any score is just a baseline to think about what’s important. For example, I learned that our workers really like to experience high levels of communication and transparency.
Another thing that struck me was empathy. It’s not something I’ve seen before as a business value. But if we really are a team and we all contribute to the success of the company and all that kind of stuff, empathy is fundamental. Then there is the importance of maintaining good managers who are well trained, have development plans, know where we are going in a competitive market, and can add another building block to our culture from afar.
Arthur: Is good management linked to effective employee training?
Beckstead: Absolutely. We do a lot of training internally, especially in our operations team – credits, collections and all that kind of stuff that we have to do. They had already set up $1,000 per person per year for educational purposes before I arrived, but we added more training opportunities, especially in our onboarding, for the company as well as for each department. With a distant culture, you can’t just sit next to someone and watch them all day for a week, so you have to think more about how to get people to succeed.
Again, however, we favor relationships. All new hires meet our co-founders, we assign each two buddies, one from their own team, one from a totally different part of the business. We do 30 and 90 day checks with every employee to make sure they get what they need to be productive and to give feedback. So there’s a lot of sharing at the start, but it feeds into the culture of transparency that we want to maintain.
Much of the above stems from the nature of our co-founders. They are deeply invested in helping people on a large scale, among employees, customers and clients. Their business model therefore reflects this investment. The other day we shared an article about working remotely, where people had to choose between a $30,000 raise for working in an office and no raise if they worked from home. 70% said they would choose to work from home. We realized we had a huge advantage as a remote company by providing the flexibility that many people were looking for.
Arthur: You tell me a lot about how the company seeks to recruit, engage and support people. But what if someone says it’s fine, but I’m not sure I want my career to go where you’re taking me?
Beckstead: This is a great point, as we have just done our homework to flesh out our view of the career ladders in each of our departments. We know things are going to change, but we want our managers to be able to participate in a career conversation at any time and say what our needs are. In turn, we want our employees to contribute their own ideas so that we can strike a balance between what they want and what our business needs. We want a conversation rather than a corporate fiat, and people are going to be more invested in their career development if they feel like they’re helping to shape it.
When I started my career in HR, the usual advice was not to hire them if they had been in the job for less than five years. Now it’s really upside down, so I want people who are curious about growing up and making things happen. And if someone ever finds out that their best option is somewhere else, I’ll celebrate.
Arthur: Does this fit the business case for Axle Payments?
Beckstead: The business case is that we want to create wealth for our shareholders and benefit our customers. It will always be there, but on another level, we want to deliver value to our customers’ employees and our own employees. And when you have a business rooted in people, it creates a different dynamic. It really is something that stands out for employees, especially in light of Covid. Many people look back and reevaluate what is important. We want to match that. We want to meet them where they are. We want to attract the best talent.
Arthur: These are great goals, and it’s great to know you’re working on them. Thank you very much for your time.