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How to Ensure Good Employee Experience with Marialena Savvopoulou

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December 9, 2020
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Today we're talking to Marialena Savvopoulou, Compensation and Benefits Specialist at Beat. Marialena shares her perspective on challenges with designing a good employee experience in different teams- remote, hybrid, and in-office. When should onboarding start, what to do before the new hire joins and how to manage people that are working from different locations.

Anja: Welcome, Marialena. Can you tell us a bit about yourself and your background?

Marialena: Hi, good to be here. My background is not so traditional; I'm a humanist at heart but a scientist by profession. Once I decided to transition into HR by joining Beat, I never looked back. I work at a company that supports people in their day-to-day lives in urban mobility. We're trying to shape the future of how people move and interact with cities. I get to engage with people across many nationalities, which is exciting.

Anja: Engaging with different nationalities must be amazing. Today, we are going to talk about how to ensure good employee experience. We've seen many different company models in the past- fully remote, office-based, hybrid. How does a company decide what works best for them? How does that decision-making process happen?

Marialena: Based on my personal experience, when you deal with people, there isn't a one-size-fits-all answer. In the past, many companies were fully office-based, and some were fully remote. Then we started seeing hybrids. I believe that hybrid is the best solution a company can have because human beings have their needs and are never black or white.

Anja: How was it for Beat? You started as a traditional office-based company and then moved to hybrid. How was that decision made?

Marialena: Well, it kind of came in in a split second. When the first Coronavirus cases appeared, our CEO decided that everyone is going to work remotely. Even though the current global situation is not great, that was a great opportunity for everyone to realize the remote model is working. At Beat, we realized we don't have to be office-based, although we do like coming into the office. So that's how we came around and decided to combine the flexibility and the love of being open to knock on someone's door and discuss things in person.

Anja: You just mentioned one of the possible challenges a company can have when working in a hybrid model. Personally, I think it's one of the most complex setups because it's a mix of two models. You need to make sure that you have policies and procedures that fit both remote and in-office employees. Apart from not being able to knock on someone's door and ask for something, what are some other challenges you faced at Beat?

Marialena: Well, I wouldn't call them exactly challenges; they're more like opportunities. The only issue or problem I see is not being able to knock on someone's office door. I mean, considering people's schedules are different, and if you just need to be with one another, you need to schedule a meeting in advance, which is fine. I don't see other issues. How do you deal with being fully remote at Deel?

Anja: I'd say it's slightly easier for us since we started with being fully remote, and we grew organically. In the beginning, we were only 5-6 people, so we were like an extended family in a way. We just had to figure out a way to develop the processes to make it work. Now, as we grew a bit more in the past couple of months, we slowly realize there's still a lot to figure out. We're learning, and we're just amazed to see where we're 40+ people now.

Marialena: Actually, I thought of a challenge that we might not have felt because we didn't start as remote. Starting as fully office-based, we do have a lot of extra space now because people are staying at home, and our offices here in Athens and across the other cities have a capacity of  300+ people. So this is a challenge that we need to overcome.

Anja: Did you have any ideas about utilizing the space?

Marialena: Yeah, it's in the making. We figured that companies like ours might need office space from time to time. We thought we could sublet our space to other companies or individuals who work remotely with their teams.

Anja: Let's dive into the topic of onboarding a person. When you get a person on their day one, there should be some kind of onboarding process. That's the first touchpoint if we exclude the recruiting process. However, that's the starting point of good employee experience. What kind of onboarding is a good fit? Do you think the process is different for a remote, hybrid, or in-office team?

Marialena: That's a good question and something that has been challenging us during the last months. As you mentioned, I don't believe the onboarding starts on the first day of a new employee in the office, but rather than their first interaction with a recruiter. It's how we present ourselves, keep them in the loop throughout the process, and not just leave them hanging without knowing what's next. Basically, what we prefer as a company is to have everyone for the first, most crucial week in-house. Now, that's not possible. We've managed to turn that into a hybrid model as well. When someone gets hired, we start the communication and invite them to our onboarding platform. We infuse them with our culture, give them insights, milestones of the company, and try to relieve some of the admin burdens by having a more seamless and fun environment for them along the way. Then we give them a little surprise- we send out the onboarding kit. It's a book with something handwritten from their team, so they start getting a sense of belonging. They then choose if they want to come into the office or work remotely. Both options are fine because we deliver the onboarding in both ways, with people at the office and on "the other end of the screen". We plan things to fit everyone's needs.

Anja: That sounds great. I love the human touch, and I think it's needed. Some people struggle with remote working but it's great that you still don't lose that human touch regardless of their location. Another thing that I believe is important and some people struggle with it- bridging the gap of their work style and personal connection between remote and office employees. What's your take on that? How can you bridge this?

Marialena: I have a question for you, actually, and I'll tell you what I think afterward. You must have experienced a few managerial styles by now. Some were micromanagers, and others were enablers. So when have you found yourself performing the best? 

Anja: Working with the enabler managers, of course!

Marialena: Exactly. So having that in mind, we thought, "Hey, we don't need to enforce too many rules, let the teams be themselves, and we'll have quite a sense of, let's say engagement." People want to have a sense of belonging. They want to include others and bring them into the team. So we realized that if we just let the teams be, they will find something that works for them. We do have different models; some teams have their cameras on whenever they're working, others organize virtual happy hours. We have many ways of synchronous and asynchronous communication based on team preferences. It's as simple as that.

Anja: You mentioned the sense of belonging, and it's one of the key things that showcase a good company and good employee experience. However, you said those things happen organically. Is there anything you can do to endorse the sense of belonging or to break it up?

Marialena: On a company level, we try to get everyone virtually together at least once a month. That's when we set goals, discuss our vision, or generally help people understand why they're here and how they can contribute to the overall picture. So that gets them in the mood of "Hey, I'm here for a reasonI'm giving value to the company, not just my teammates". Everyone understands why they're here and what they need to do, so that's a pretty good thing. And then we try to enforce that on a company level as well, because as we tend to grow, the teams grow very fast, too. 

Anja: Another topic that has been brought up more these days is mental health. Not that it was less important six months ago, but I think it's something that people need to pay attention to. How can a company support or cater to the mental health of their employees?

Marialena: That's an excellent question and something that's been buzzing our minds as well. I think the greatest learning I've gotten from this period is that People Operations managers, or anyone with the capabilities, need to listen rather than just hear. Employees speak their minds, so they need to be heard. It's not about gathering feedback and asking, "What can we do for you?". It's about listening to people talk about the things they're passionate about that aren't just work-related. We tested this by creating employee groups to see how that would roll out. One was about how to support people remotely, within the company and outside of it, and how to support parents as well. Because, you know, some people went from the office into the work from home and then they had to balance the parent lives with the professional one. That was a good call because many people struggle with that challenge.

Anja: Of course. You mentioned that it's a lot about listening, but how do you approach the people who are not comfortable sharing with their work environment?

Marialena: With mindfulness, I would say. Not everyone is indeed ready to share on the same level or not in much detail. But as you build trust and your relationships, this is something that you gradually build up. If people start opening up and telling you things and then they see that after six months or a year, nothing has changed, then they'll stop. So you have to be mindful and grateful for what you get as feedback first.

Anja: I agree. So we're just creating this puzzle with different pieces of what's important for good employee experience. And one thing that, again, could be tricky given the current situation is the working environment. A person may be working from their kitchen table, a home-office desk for a lazy bag. How does a company set up the working environment for an employee to thrive?

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Marialena: Well, that's a tricky question; there are many scenarios because, again, one size doesn't fit all. The work environment is based on the employee's needs, and there are a million different factors. The first thing we do as a company is to take care of the recruitment in the right way. You need to give people the tools to work. Then, depending on our country's legislation or our company's capabilities, we might go the extra mile and offer additional equipment such as ergonomic chairs or other support equipment. Other than that, we make sure that if the employee is comfortable or able to come into the office, they have their own workstation. We try to compensate for the benefits that we can offer in-person because we have a variety of office-based things. So when someone is not in the office, we try to find another way to make it happen.

Anja: Do you also have a reward and recognition system? How do you design these systems for a good employee experience?

Marialena: I think our employee reward system is not based on location, so that's out of the equation, making it easier. What we really look for is good performance and then reward as subsequent. It's deliverability based on what's been assigned and then going the extra mile. Again, it goes back to trust, back to giving space to people to thrive. So when we do that, employees understand it and are grateful for it. How do you do that at Deel, being full remote?

Anja: Well, we have our hours, and each team has its own KPIs, something that they strive for, and each team is designing that on their own. We are not pushing it top to bottom, but prefer our teams to have full independence of their operations that, of course, contribute to overall company goals. At times we're all just working really hard to make something happen. At that point, you don't think about the hours or the stress because you're truly passionate about what you're doing. At the end of every bigger project, we recognize people for their work, either in written form on our Slack channel or a team call.

Marialena: That's super important. Traditionally, there has been a belief that people only care about the pay, that this is the only way to reward. But that's not absolutely true. And I can tell you countless examples of the other things people value instead. So there's a lot of room there to reward people.

Anja: It's time for the final question. If a company wants to design the employee experience but doesn't have a structure in place, what should they start with?

Marialena: I would say self-reflection. That is either for the person that designs the process or for the company. It's about how you want to integrate people and infuse them with your culture. You need to understand who you are and how the people see you. This is the bottom line of being able to set the base and build on top of it.

Marialena Savvopoulou is the Compensation & Benefits Specialist for Beat. She chose an HR career as she is deeply passionate about facilitating people. In Beat, that's ranging from traditional to fully remote teams, across two regions and 8+ countries!

Beat provides unlimited access to learning and opportunities to grow, along with competitive compensation packages. Beat headquarters in Athens, Greece, while additional development and operations offices are located in Amsterdam, Lima, Santiago, Bogotá, Mexico City, Buenos Aires with many more soon to come.

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