Ottawa-based HR leader Heidi Hauver never thought there’d come a day when her professional life didn’t revolve around the office.
“I went into the office every day,” she said of her 20-plus years of working at nearly a dozen organizations, including global IT services company Pythian and economic development agency Invest Ottawa. “I was pretty consistent on that front.”
But when the COVID-19 pandemic arrived in March 2020, she — much like 37 per cent of the Canadian workforce — shifted to working remotely. In doing so, she realized the arrangement offered many advantages, including greater flexibility and work-life harmony.
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Once the pandemic started to ease, Hauver said she became inspired by the “great re-imagination.” She felt it was time to pave the way for others at Invest Ottawa and that meant an opportunity to reimagine what was next for her.
“I loved my time and my team at Invest Ottawa. Once I knew I was going to continue my career journey, I had to make a decision. I appreciated that, as an HR leader, if I was to work locally I would very likely be asked to show up in the office and lead by example, three to five days a week. Which makes complete sense, except I wasn’t quite ready to give up the fluidity and the flexibility that I have working remotely. I’m super-productive working from home. I love being able to be more present and available for my family, avoid a commute and be able to flex my time. I wasn’t ready to transition from remote work. Not yet, anyway.”
This past January, Hauver joined Waterloo-based data-centric software company Shinydocs as its Ottawa-based vice president of people experience. She provides executive leadership to employees spanning seven provinces.
“It’s about having access to talent and not requiring them to relocate to Ontario,” she explained. “They can remain where they are, where they’re building their lives, and still be part of a really exciting opportunity and a growing organization. We are seeing a lot of great talent reaching out to us directly because of the amazing culture we are creating, which includes a work-from-home environment.”
Taking on a remote role has meant learning to approach things differently, Hauver acknowledged. “Finding ways to be innovative, to create that team connectedness is really important. I personally think it’s challenged me as an HR leader and I love it because it enables us to try and find new ways of doing things to meet the needs of the team.”
Key areas of focus for Hauver are communication, work culture, employee engagement, human connections, and trust.
“You have to make sure you take the best parts about working in the office and translate that into a virtual way,” said Hauver of recreating those friendly, impromptu office conversations in a different work landscape. “Again, it’s about changing your mindset, having that willingness to try something new.”
Hauver relies on messaging apps such as Slack to keep team members informed, aligned and engaged in the workplace. Group activities, such as virtual office Olympics, have been successful in promoting health, wellness and social participation, she added.
“I think you have to be trying different things, so it doesn’t get stagnant,” said Hauver, who also conducts short interviews with team members that she subsequently shares with everyone in order to raise employee visibility within the company.
Human resources has come a long way, said Hauver of a growing field that used to be relegated to administrative and transactional responsibilities. “It’s not a ‘nice to have’ it’s ‘a must have’. You need to have a great culture, you need someone leading that is being mindful, paying attention and iterating.
“I’m a big believer in making sure your team is part of the solution. We lean in, we get feedback, we encourage the team to come up with ideas … That’s something we all have to do, whether we’re in the office or not.”
Organizations that shed office space in order to operate remotely need to look at taking some of their budget savings, if they’re not already, and putting it into their employees, said Hauver.
“Make sure you have the tools to keep your people connected and communicating, make sure you have some money set aside to facilitate some of those in-person meetings, to invest back into your people to make sure you still develop the culture you want.”
While Hauver finds that her role keeps her in constant contact with others, the experience of working from home can get lonely for some employees who tend to work more on their own, she recognized. “You need to find ways to get that sense of purpose, that sense of connection outside of work.”
Shinydocs launched an allowance that enables its team members to self-organize in-person connections. “We pair team members up regularly for virtual coffee connects.”
Hauver gives of her own time and expertise to provide mentorship and support to a number of organizations, including Algonquin College, Women in Communications and Technology, the Children’s Hospital of Eastern Ontario and Hire Immigrants Ottawa. She was recently awarded a Businesswoman of the Year Award from WBN (Women’s Business Network) of Ottawa in the community impact category.
Hauver says that not having to go into the office every day has provided her with more time to volunteer. “I get a lot of fulfillment working remotely because I take the time I would have been driving to and from work and fill that time with other projects that are meaningful for me.”