Espresa client partner, SugarCRM is a privately-held and global company with over 500 employees on six continents, in 120 countries, and with seven global offices. As a veteran Espresa client, I had the opportunity to interview rising star, Amber Reed on the quick pivot changes SugarCRM made during the COVID-19 pandemic, and how they used the Espresa platform to turn on new benefits to support their global workforce.
Sylvia Flores // Amber Reed, it is such a pleasure to meet with you today. Amber Reed is a compensation and benefits analyst for [SaaS technology company] SugarCRM.
I’m curious to get to know you. Tell me about your role with SugarCRM, how you arrived here, and what you do as an analyst.
Amber Reed // First off, thank you for having me. I’m really excited to be here today to just chat with you as to the HR industry right now and what we’re doing as an organization. I have been with SugarCRM now for a little over three years. Throughout my entire career, I’ve been doing HR and I was recently graduated from a master’s program in Human Resources Management.
At the time, I was searching for a great opportunity and an organization that would allow me to take my excitement and passion for the functional areas of HR, support employees, and build out programs and policies that support the organization as a whole.
When I came into [SugarCRM], I was in a generalist position assisting with all the different functional areas of HR from new hire orientations, HRIS implementations, immigration, benefits, engagement. Essentially anything that touched HR.
I’ve grown a passion for the total rewards aspects at SugarCRM – that’s when I was given the opportunity to move into the compensation and benefits analyst role.
While I still assess the HR team in its entirety, I am more focused on how we continue to create a compensation philosophy that meets the needs of employees, ensuring they’re paid effectively to market while meeting business needs.
I ensure our benefits, both in the health space and voluntary benefits are providing a value and a resource for employees to help them not only in their work-life but in their personal lives as well.
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Sylvia Flores // First, three years in Silicon Valley in an HR role is unheard of. Second, someone who has entered a role in HR, that’s not necessarily their path or career trajectory. There are people going into HR out of marketing and data tech positions.
Are balancing both the data story from the HR tech you’re using internally with the human empathy aspects? How do you balance, not just telling the data story, but telling the human story in your decision-making?
Amber Reed // Absolutely. From my experience, the most successful people teams at organizations today are the ones that treat both of those aspects of the employee experience as equally as important. If you’re not taking into consideration one side, you’re not fully utilizing the data you’re receiving from the other side. So, it’s easy to use systems and technology to gain this kind of data on employees.
If you don’t understand the emotional drivers and the aspects that create that data, you’re not fully understanding your data in its entirety. To that point, you’re never going to be able to innovate and support your people team to the best of your abilities.
If you only know what they want in the now without knowing what they want in the future, that something data can provide as an analyst. It’s a very delicate balance. It’s hard to find what works as every organization is different from their culture down to each individual employee. It’s finding the right way to collect most of those data points and figuring out how they align with each other and what you can gain for the future from that information.
Sylvia Flores // I really appreciate that you use the term people team versus HR. Human Resources as a term sounds detached and doesn’t speak to the cultural aspects of what it is that has fully arrived in the space of HR. It’s now the human and the people side of the business versus just the administrative burdens and legalities. HR is going through a kind of rebrand and a reboot.
Amber Reed // Which I love to see because we got a bad rap for a while. I love to see the strategic direction that HR is taking and how over the last decade, we’ve been offered a seat at the table, in terms of the executive suite and business leaders understanding their people. It’s such a core element of understanding your business and how it’s going to work most efficiently. It’s nice to finally have that awareness of our capability and how we can impact the business even if a portion is administrative, it’s nice to see that we’re finally being given time to shine.
Sylvia Flores // You should have always had a seat at the table. There is such incredible turnover because leaders get frustrated and saddled with large burdens that are well beyond what a single person or a small team is capable of. And it took a disaster to get us there.
That’s one positive! What are you most passionate about? You’ve answered that a bit, but what are you most passionate about right now in the space that you’re in and with SugarCRM?
Amber Reed // I am most passionate about finding the most valuable ways we can support individuals as a whole and as unique individuals. There’s no longer a focus on who people are as employees and how it relates specifically to the business.
Work-life balance has been such a buzzword for so long.
And it’s one of those phrases that people don’t like to hear anymore because it’s become so much more than that. It’s not so much a balance, but how interconnected they are and the synergies between work-life and balance. Especially now given that the distinction previously between work and life was distinct, whereas that is no longer the case for pretty much all of us.
We work where we live, we live where we work. It’s a never-ending cycle. We’re always within 20 feet of our laptops and it’s created a blur between the work and our personal lives. What I am passionate about – especially given the effects that we’ve all experienced due to the pandemic – is how we can create policies and develop programs that find that balance between compensation, benefits, wellbeing, learning, and personal development.
It’s easy to implement all these different platforms that do different great things for employees. However, t’s understanding exactly what’s important to employees and ensuring we are building policies that are adaptable and flexible to the current climate that we live in. With the pandemic, essentially our processes and our work culture were turned upside down within a matter of days.
SugarCRM was focused on having employees in offices hoping that created that connection with coworkers when you’re working together face-to-face and you’re having in-person meetings. It was an adjustment when all of a sudden that was no more, and we didn’t know when we would get it back.
Finding ways in which Sugar and the people team can take a broader approach to support humans, rather than merely the aspects of being an employee. Also determining how we can adapt our policies to fit the unique individual needs of every person and how those can really continue to evolve as we grow as an organization and how the new normal will look like in the future.
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Sylvia Flores // We’re living it whether we like it or not. I was reading in the New York Times the prediction that people aren’t going to be returning to the workplace until July of next year.
People teams like SugarCRM have done an amazing job at doing that quick pivot to help everyone. People are upset, they’re depressed, they’re feeling disconnected, they need their communities. Figuring out ways to create community has become a role that is in that people team and HR environment that maybe was there previously, but not nearly as prevalent as it is today.
When you got hit with COVID and this pandemic, you were already working with Espresa and quickly deployed virtual fitness, challenges, and rewards and recognition programs. Can you tell me how you use Espresa to help you with that culture shift, from workplace and water-cooler moments? Can you tell me how this has assisted SugarCRM in your efforts?
Amber Reed // Yeah, we’ve been using the Espresa platform for over two and a half years. We had implemented it within the first six months that I had started at the company. I personally must give a lot of recognition and appreciation towards the Espresa platform and the team that I worked with very closely to build our specific programs on the platform.
Those were initially driven by Espresa themselves. They weren’t things I had inquired about. Espresa so easily pivoted to continue to support their clients, given the change in the corporate environment. I was very impressed with how quickly they were able to adapt. Because, when we had first launched the platform, it was purely to manage onsite services at physical office locations.
That’s what they did well and that’s what we used them for. Not all companies can easily pivot so quickly and recognize the need before questions start coming up. Very quickly we were able to use the Espresa platform to offer virtual fitness classes for employees.
Because of all other enhancements on the platform, we were able to expand it globally, which was a huge win for us as a people team and for our employee population. That made our lives a lot easier. Espresa had completely configured this new module on their platform called challenges, which our employees have been loving since the start. You know, it’s great that each month Espresa builds these fun ways to get people involved and each month has a topic, whether it’s fitness-related or staying socially connected, or focus on learning and development.
They’re so unique in their own ways that it really keeps people engaged. And because of that, we were also able to build our rewards and recognition program on the platform as well. Which I have to say I’m very impressed with, I think that it was a relatively new module when we had configured our personal program on it.
And the way that we had initially envisioned this program was more complex than we had had it initially. And even though the platform is still in the early stages of what it could accommodate, the customer success team was always open to hearing my suggestions and what we were looking for and it felt like in no time they were realizing enhancements that were then accommodating what we needed the platform to do.
I really must give a lot of recognition to the Espresa team for being so quick to see the needs of their clients and building in that functionality to help support that. I’m grateful that we already had a platform in Espresa in place when the pandemic hit as it really helped us support employees, virtually both from a culture standpoint, as well as a benefit standpoint as well. It’s been great.
Sylvia Flores // We like to think of ourselves as a development partner. What makes us unique is that we’re not building the platform and telling them what we think that they need. People leaders are telling us what they need, and we build it around them. And if one leader needs it, then it’s going to be needed with other people organizations. I like to think of it as a crowdsourced HR platform.
Amber Reed // I would fully agree with that. It’s been a great partnership we’ve had and has really allowed our culture to become more cohesive, especially since we are globally distributed. It’s brought us together on a platform that we all use in the same way. It’s nice that it’s no longer just for on-site employees and something that those individuals benefit from. It’s had a huge impact on how our organization has been able to assimilate to this new always-virtual type of environment – it’s been wonderful.
Sylvia Flores // COVID changed your future at Sugar. From the people and culture perspective, is working from anywhere your new normal? How are you rebooting your office environment? Do you have that mapped out?
Amber Reed // At SugarCRM, we have an idea of what that will look like. We have no intention of thinking that one day the shelter in place orders are going to be lifted and we’re going to all go back about our days to how it was in early March 2020. For us and many other companies worldwide, it’s helped us realize that people can be productive and work from home.
People don’t necessarily need to be in an office having face-to-face interaction. It would be almost detrimental to an organization if they don’t have that awareness, that it is no longer a ‘person in a seat’ type in the environment and allowing for flexibility and understanding that you can find talent anywhere.
There shouldn’t be an expectation that employees should uproot their families to take on a position that’s office-based. The way that I see it is, we’ll be most successful if we’re constantly staying open and flexible to the needs of employees and understanding that, not only has the pandemic affected everyone differently, but they’ll also have different expectations moving forward.
For people that have shown they can do their job from home and they can be trusted to do that, we understand there should be flexibility in that. I know it’s been popular in the media recently, where some huge organizations are going to completely virtual environments and getting rid of all their offices, which is great if that fits their entire population.
Specifically, for Sugar, not all our employees enjoy working from home. Not everyone has that dedicated workspace where they can quietly join calls all day or take meetings at the drop of a hat. They have families and pets, maybe not the most ideal workstations at home – we definitely have another subset of our population that is itching to go back to the office, and we understand that.
Taking the approach of being flexible and providing flexibility for our employee population to work and live that most fits their lifestyle, is something that we’ll take on moving forward and hope that we can continue to help employees stay engaged while meeting their personal needs.
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Sylvia Flores // I think that you are nailing it on the head there. From Espresa’s standpoint, we feel the same way. We love one another, our team is tight. But we’ve got people like myself who love to work from home, especially after I moved out of the converted garage that I lived in.
Amber Reed // I don’t blame you, I’m at the kitchen table, so I feel for you.
Sylvia Flores // Yes, taking meetings from the bed is not super fun. But I also don’t have kids at home any longer and am not part of a multi-generational household.
So, that struggle is really real. People need to find their own path. And a company is not just a place where the business is happening. A company is a place where people are creating community and their work-family is a real thing.
Amber Reed // 100%.
Sylvia Flores // My final question, I always ask – what do you see as the future of HR and people teams? What does that structure look like? What does that team look like? What does  look like for HRM and people?
Amber Reed // From my experience I see the future of HR being made up of people that don’t have these very HR-focused backgrounds. As we start to fold in these new [work-from-home] requirements of safety and work-home setups, now the employees aren’t in an office, and we can’t control their workstation setups.
We can provide as many ergonomic resources as we can, but we no longer have that control and the ability to create those benefits within an office. From my perspective now, it is very likely we will have quite a large remote workforce in the future, pulling in professionals that can support them.
Not only in ways of like ergonomics but ensuring that we have programs that really focus on social connection. Espresa does that amazingly with their employee resource groups that they have on the platform that help connect individuals with like-minded interests and things that they align on.
Looking at ways in which you’re still ensuring the culture and that feeling of being a part of a company is just as strong for the individuals who are working from home versus people that may start going into the office again. From an analyst perspective, as I had touched on earlier, there’s been a huge shift towards the importance of HR analytics and how that helps create future roadmaps for organizations.
I see that is becoming a wildly popular area of HR that is going to grow exponentially to use the data that essentially has always been there, but that’s never been analyzed or looked at or dug into to see correlations and alignments to what that data then predicts for the future. Then as an HR team, being able to have this pre-[vision] into a year to five years ahead can help us plan and anticipate changes and employee needs before they require being tackled.
Sylvia Flores // So, that business intelligence role is going to become the human or the people intelligence role within the organization, which is what you’re really doing already. Do you think that’s going to blow out to a much more exponential level given what we’re learning right now?
Amber Reed // I do, given the advancements in technology and what it can do with data. I think we will start to find the information we can build upon from a human analytics standpoint. That is going to be a very interesting space for businesses. For us as SugarCRM, we deal with a lot of data, but it’s customer data and we take customer data and help create predictive insights of their own clients for the future.
Why would we not use that to learn about our own employees and what they might want in the future and what they’ll need from us as a company moving forward? When organizations have access to that data, the business would be so much more successful when you’re building those into future plans. It’s going to become a much larger space than it is even now. I’ve already seen it grow in the last few years. I’m really interested to see the future of that space.
Sylvia Flores // I really appreciate your time today. And do you have anything else that you would like to say about anything, you fabulous person?
Amber Reed // I just want to thank you for having me today. It’s been a wonderful experience. And just from a personal perspective, I would recommend Espresa to anyone. It’s been an amazing platform and has brought so much value to us as a people team and our employee population. I enjoy being able to tie in what I’m doing and how we’re utilizing Espresa to support our future initiatives. Thank you much.
Sylvia Flores // Thank you, Amber Reed! And that’s a wrap!