A return to the office can’t be a return to the past: Wabtec Corp’s Nicole Theophilus
As the world of work shifts towards new working models. Wabtec Corp’s CHRO, Nicole Theophilus talks about the emerging workforce priorities and how the company is leveraging technology to support
Nicole Theophilus is the Executive Vice President & Chief Human Resources Officer for Wabtec Corp. Theophilus has more than 20 years of senior leadership experience comprising roles in both the human resources and legal departments. Prior to joining Wabtec, she served as Chief Human Resources Officer for West Corp.
The pandemic has left several permanent and temporary changes to the world of work. What’s on top of HR’s priority in your industry as companies navigate new workplace models including a hybrid model of work?
First and foremost, we only want to bring employees who have been working remote back to the workplace when it is safe to do so – and that will vary by geography. But overall, the past year and a half has shown us that employees who are able to work remotely can do so and still perform at a high level. The priority now is to come up with a model that allows for some remote work options, balanced with the need for the genuine face-to-face interaction that is crucial for collaboration and culture building. A return to the office can’t be a return to the past. We also know that this will likely be an evolution, so we need to set expectations with our people that we will reserve the right to get smarter about our approach as we go.
With an extended remote working culture, the conventional approaches to culture building must change. There’s a need to embed more trust and transparency now? How can businesses navigate this problem?
Having almost half our employee population working remote has meant establishing a more regular rhythm of communication to our people and, as often as possible, leveraging richer channels like webcasts and video conferencing to maintain connections.
The remote environment has also put a lot of additional pressure on our leaders so we have tried to focus on them as well by giving them additional context to help communicate to their people and added support to help them lead better remotely. With fewer opportunities for casual, unplanned interaction in an office environment, it’s critical for leaders to check in more regularly with their people, not just on specific work, but just to see how they are doing. That’s not a revelation, but it’s easy to lose sight of when you are managing a large team. We’ve tried to reinforce that and other good practices whenever possible.
Technology at the workplace has now become more pervasive. In fact, there is an excess of technology tools and services – right from onboarding to wellness. How are you thinking about making the most of technology? And how are you thinking about enabling human connection?
Right now, we have a good suite of tools to help our employees remain connected across our global business. But you can have the best technology in the world, and it won’t create a human connection if it isn’t used properly. That’s why, as I mentioned before, we have spent a lot of time helping our people leaders focus on establishing those connections.
From an employee standpoint, there’s increased focus on learning opportunities. How do you think companies should navigate the need to transform the learning culture?
As we have advanced our learning and development strategy, we’ve tried to adhere to a couple of key principles. First, anything we provide employees must meet them where they are. That means offering learning that is flexible, can be accessed from a variety of platforms on demand, and is available in multiple formats. Next, any learning and development we offer should be part of a thoughtful talent management strategy, which means targeted development as part of open and honest conversations between our people and their managers.
What is the role of leaders and leadership in this changing world of work?
There is a tremendous amount of change happening in the workplace today, so leaders need to be extremely nimble to be able to navigate it all. They also need to recognize that all that change impacts different people in different ways, and that requires quite a bit of empathy. You can’t navigate your team through change if you don’t listen to them and make an effort to understand what they need.