#HighGrowthMatters spotlight: Head of People Trav Walkowski on Honoring Evolving Employee Preferences

By Zoë Rose, May 4, 2022 1:41:23 PM

This interview with Trav Walkowski, Partner & Board Chairperson at Employmetrics, explores the 4 day work week, making time for “deep work” away from your computer, and how leaning into change boosts performance and engagement. 

 

Tell us a little about your background and how you ended up at Employmetrics. 

 

For over a decade, my entire career has been in People Ops. My first gig out of grad school was with a company that did employee experience measurement and consulting. After spending some time on the business development side there, I left to start my own employee experience consulting business. That became a team of three plus me, and we found a lot of success. 

 

We were eventually acquired by Employmetrics. In 2015, my team and I were brought onboard and I worked my way up to Chief People Officer, designing best-in-class programs and processes to enable our own employees to thrive. Over the last 7 years, we got our systems so well structured that I didn’t have a whole lot to iterate on or innovate with. 

 

In a move to take on more strategic work again, I left my role as CPO earlier this year and transitioned to Board Chair and Partner at Employmetrics. Best of all, I was thrilled to pass the CPO title to someone on my team.

 

What’s one of the top priorities for your new role? 

 

What’s most interesting about this new role is that it’s essentially about predicting the future. My top priority is to determine the “next big thing” that we can contribute thought leadership on to support our clients. I’m keeping my ear to the ground, doing panels and webinars, and listening to what people are talking about so I can identify the next trend to get ahead of. 

 

Any trends you see coming down the People Ops pipeline? 

 

First, I believe that the four day work week will have monopolized the conversation by summertime. I also believe the companies that adopt this approach will have much more success in talent acquisition. With knowledge-based jobs in particular, candidates will inevitably start gravitating towards companies that prioritize performance over time-spent. 

 

I’d encourage companies that are resistant to focus less on the amount of time per week employees work - such as the “standard” 40 hours - and instead shift their attention to employees’ output and accomplishments. We work with a lot of startups who have employees working 70, 80, 100 hour weeks, but that doesn't mean that things are actually getting accomplished. 

 

For example, I know someone who was essentially able to automate everything he’s tasked with. So while his predecessor took 55 hours a week on average to accomplish the work, he has it done in about 15 minutes. But he has to stick with the concept that it takes 55 hours a week because the company is hyper-focused on time. He literally has to punch time clocks even though he's sitting in his bedroom.

 

Second, I think we will see a continued backlash towards companies that force employees to come back into the office full-time. Overwhelmingly, the data tells us that the majority of people would prefer a fully remote or hybrid work-from-home environment. What anti-remote companies don’t realize is that the office isn’t going to be the same as it was in 2019. It's going to be radically different. Those who fail to listen and adapt to what their employees want are about to get a very rude awakening.

 

Third, I think the biggest pain that companies feel right now is around talent acquisition. Everyone needs tech talent and there’s very little to go around. I think the silver lining here is that a lot of engineers are happy where they are and don't want to make a change. That's fantastic. It’s just very difficult when you’re the one who needs to hire. 

 

What key things have you noticed about the work-from-home trend? 

 

The collective expectation of going remote was that productivity and engagement would suffer. This is only narrowly true. Engagement for extraverts may have slightly declined, but engagement for introverts has skyrocketed. Overall, I think people are more focused, less distracted, and happier not having to commute. To meet the needs of those extraverts who crave connection, facilitating conversations that go beyond project or work based topics is key. Once COVID is fully under control, we’ll also be scheduling offsites and retreats for our teams to look forward to. 

 

It’s also important for companies to realize that deep work doesn’t always take place at a laptop. For example, sometimes I need to let my mind go in order to think about a big challenge. In that case, sometimes I will start doing a mindless task like washing the dishes, and then a solution will come to me. So just because my Slack status says I’m away, doesn’t mean that I’m not doing important work. It’s about giving employees autonomy, trust, and respect. 

 

What big bets are you making, given what you’re learning?

 

While our standard hours are Monday through Friday nine to six, our mantra has always been “work when it works for you.” And we have data to back up our approach. We see that by trusting our employees to set their own hours, both engagement and productivity go way up. 

 

For example, one of our employees has to pick up her kids from school every day at 3pm. When she's waiting in that pickup line, she'll respond to a couple of emails from her phone. It’s perfect because her clients feel respected, her time feels respected, and her kids are getting her when they need her.

 

We’ve also planted our flag in the ground as it relates to remote work. Some of our enterprise clients felt like they needed to be in a conference room with us to be productive. However, we’ve ultimately decided to not take on clients who demand this from us. We’re interested in working with progressive companies who are open to change and will prioritize what the majority of employees want. 

 

How are you addressing some of the common remote work challenges at Employmetrics? 

 

Employmetrics started experimenting with remote work in 2018 and officially closed our offices in 2019. So when the pandemic hit, we had already worked through most of the challenges. 

 

One of the greatest challenges for my role was figuring out how to continue collecting observational data as a way of measuring employee engagement. Prior to the pandemic, we used to be able to observe things like: who’s engaging with one another in the kitchen, who seems energized throughout the day, or who appears annoyed a lot of the time.

 

Collecting that same type of data remotely has been interesting. But we’re working on a hypothesis that we think could stick. Essentially, we’ve started replacing the old criteria for observing folks with new inquiries like: who’s showing up to meetings on time, who’s more responsive to emails, or who isn’t engaging on Slack. I don’t know if these indicators exhaustively capture all of the insights we’re looking for, but they have been a helpful place to start. 

 

How can the High Growth Matters Community best support you in your work?

Members of the community can help me simply by sharing what's on their mind. Ask questions, share what's working, and what's not. I'm always looking for more data to help me map the evolving trends in our industry.

 

What should companies do if they have questions or want to work with you?

If you have questions, get in contact with us; it makes our day.

 

We've actually doubled down on a zero marketing, zero advertising strategy. And in fact, if a potential client doesn’t have a connection to us, either through a referral or contact on the team, they might be turned away. We do this because we’ll only work with folks who we know will be fully engaged in the process and aren’t just looking for a pat on the back or a checkbox exercise. 

 

If you want to create actual change and welcome critical feedback, get in touch and use my name as your internal connection. Come prepared with a friendly, open, forward-looking mindset and we’ll look forward to partnering with you.

 

About Employmetrics: Employmetrics is a global People Operations Consultancy offering embedded and project-based services. Our Partners are Organizational Psychologists who design strategies informed by people analytics and Put Data to Work™!

 

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Zoë Rose is a Content Marketing Manager at OpenComp and has held roles at Fuel Cycle, CorePower Yoga, and TrueCar. She pens the monthly High Growth Matters Spotlights. Connect with her on LinkedIn here.