It is not very often that you will find a 25-year-old leading the HR operations of a company. But at WeWork India, it isn’t age that defines roles, but the expertise and exuberance that a person can bring to the table. Surabhi Washisth, People Director, WeWork India is one such young dynamic leader who has broken these myths and has outshone herself as an HR leader on a mission.
Washishth has made it a mission to revamp the perception of Human Resources from being seen as a function which is reactive, by proactively making employee first decisions. She holds a B.Com. Hons (Finance & Investment) from Christ University, Bangalore and is a Global Shaper with the World Economic Forum. She started her career working with Target in their Finance team. She then moved onto join Headout, a 500 startups alum. Here, she donned various hats, from looking after their operations team to establishing herself as a HR manager. She then joined WeWork India's founding team in 2017 and was promoted to the post of Director of HR. Here, she manages People Strategy, Talent Acquisition, People Operations & Learning pan-India.
At WeWork, the HR team holds an ‘Employee First’ mentality that supports & harnesses the power of the people as opposed to conventional practices. Her passion for changing the culture of HR in India starts from revamping it in the organizations that she works for, and then ensuring these organizations are looked up to by other organizations within the country. Naturally a problem-solver, her aim is to constantly remove redundancies and question the status-quo and conventional cultures cape when required.
Here are the excerpts from the exclusive interview with Washishth:
With a degree of Bachelor of Commerce and specialization in Finance and Investment, you have worked in diverse roles in different companies. What triggered you to join the HR function? How and when did your journey in the field of HR begin?
Entrepreneurs identify a gap in the market and create a business around it. I tailored my mission around the gap in the HR experience delivered to candidates and employees. I was looking for opportunities in startups back in 2015, and a certain less-than-ideal experience made me realize the massive gap present in current-day recruitment. This experience helped propel me towards my mission of revamping the perception of HR. Owing to this, my work has never felt like a “job”, and is a mission and purpose that I’m working towards.
In 2017, what led you into the co-working world at WeWork? From joining WeWork as an HR Business Partner to being a member of the India launch team and now heading the People/HR team, how has your journey in WeWork been like?
Having been in the startup circle and being an early adopter of a lot of tech products in the market, my respect for companies which solve real-time problems has sky-rocketed. Back when I was at Headout, we needed a solution for our remote employees present across New York, San Francisco, London, Berlin, and other upcoming global locations. This is when we discovered WeWork (much before it launched in India). Experiencing the product first-hand and finding that it solved my problem of office space and engaging employees from thousands of miles away left me in absolute awe of the product.
Working for a company which you have been a user of and experiencing its solutioning-power first-hand leaves one feeling immensely inspired, as you are fully aware of the impact and value it delivers. My journey at WeWork has been absolutely breath-taking and gratifying. We provide a platform to those employees who are ready to soar, and we propel them to do so and break their own glass-ceilings. Experiencing the kind of passion and vigor our people put in on a daily basis leaves me feeling immensely inspired and grateful. To be surrounded by a bunch of energetic, driven individuals ensures that you are always motivated to do better and be better!
Is hiring any different for companies in the co-working industry? Can you share how similar or different it is?
The biggest difference when hiring for a co-working industry as compared to any other industry is the expertise you are looking for, especially in roles which require a strong technical background. However, the two traits I always look for (be it a co-working or any other industry) is having an owner-mentality and a good attitude. Having an owner-mentality means that you are treating your work and the business like it’s your own, and it translates into employees being immensely driven and motivated. Having a good attitude is immensely crucial, since we spend 8+ hours at the workplace, 5 days a week. We spend the majority of our waking hours in the office. Being surrounded by people who create a good working environment is key to a fulfilling workplace. This is not commonly spoken about, which I find quite surprising. This is something we take very seriously at WeWork, and will always strive to get better at.
For high-growth companies, what skills and behaviors are generally prioritized, while hiring?
This is one of my favorite conversations as an HR professional. Having a great attitude, being a self-starter and having an owner-mentality must always be prioritized, since these behaviors make achieving our super ambitious goals easier, together!
How can these skills and behaviors be identified during recruitment?
At WeWork, we are continually trying to ensure we better our recruitment practices and train interviewers to be able to identify these during an interview. We conduct a mandatory “Cultural Interview” where we ask various situational questions to be able to assess these qualities. An important tip to keep in mind is to ensure these interviews are conducted in the form of a conversation rather than a rapid-fire interview. The more the candidate is at ease, the more authentic they are and then their personality truly shines through.
WeWork is famous for its unique work environment and culture. And you have always stated that 'Culture is king'. According to you, how critical is 'culture' in the hiring process? Can it be assessed? If yes, how?
Culture truly is King. It is of prime importance since it leads to an environment where employees feel fulfilled; it increases their productivity as they feel trusted and empowered. It creates a strong employer brand and attracts even better talent. It is a continuous cycle of delivering a great employee experience and attracting top-notch talent that then leads to overall business success.
At WeWork, we believe that culture is an output -- the result of intent and action achieved through a system of inputs. Our goal is not to maintain our culture as we grow, but to enrich it. It is essential that this culture evolves, expands and is built on a system designed to support change.
Culture can be assessed by strengthening your recruitment practices and training your interviewers. An important point to remember is that you needn’t have the exact same company culture at 500 employees as you did when you only had 50 employees. However, establish your basic tenets of culture and ensure this foundation is rock-solid and unshakable.
Do you have some unique hiring practices as well or is it more or less similar to other corporates? If you approach hiring at WeWork differently, can you share more about the process with us?
The biggest differentiator at WeWork: Our entire hiring and recruitment team treats employees like humans. We extend basic courtesies, we empathize with our candidates, we are respectful of their time in interviewing with us, and most importantly, we ensure we always close the loop with our candidates. We have received this feedback time and again from our rejected candidates, and it helps validate that we are on the right track.
Having said that, we continually strive to be better with our candidate experience and believe there is always scope for improvement. Remember that candidates who are job-hunting may be in a sensitive stage of their lives, and the more we empathize with them, the better experience we are able to deliver.
How do you plan to further lead the people's agenda at WeWork in the coming years? How do you see the new people strategies shape as per the growth and expansion plans of the company?
We will continue to ensure that we have people-friendly practices, we always think of people first in every new situation, and most importantly, break the norms when it comes to people practices. Questioning the status-quo is a great way of ensuring we are changing with the times, and are not blindly following any existing practices.