Nicola Watson on her path to becoming an HR Manager

In this, the 19th episode of StartWell's Gathering series, Nicola Watson joins us to share the story of how her career in HR has evolved. Previous experience in recruitment led her to larger roles in HR at Ryanair in her native Ireland before becoming the HR manager at a Toronto based remote-first software development consultancy called TribalScale.

    Spend time with this conversation - here's the full transcript

    Leadership, culture, and digital transformations in a remote software development consultancy.

    Nicola Watson 0:02
    What kind of leader you are, is where it starts, right? Because your team are going to look up to you. And that's where culture is cultivated as well. Understanding that, you know, your team or your people, and they're here to learn, they want to, they want to learn, they want to do cool, good work. And they also want to have fun having that element of personable, being empathetic, you know, when something goes on their personal life, understand that they're not going to reply to your Slack message, every second, having that empathy and being really transparent. On the other side of it, and what you expect it's good. That's what grows the trust, I always try to encourage the managers to give honest feedback, be transparent to your direct reports, but have that fourth element. And I think that's really what tribal scout is about and showing that you care, show that we're here to do good work. We're a group of passionate smart people, we're hungry, bringing that to what they do in their work for tribal scale, too, and just having fun while doing really good stuff.

    Qasim Virjee 1:09
    So Nicola Watson. Yes. Welcome to the studio.

    Nicola Watson 1:12
    Thank you so much.

    Qasim Virjee 1:13
    This a little bit of background on this series. So we're, we're kind of in studio here at start well, for our gathering series. Gathering is something that we set up as a content series, that's live events, so a mixture of kind of a tentpole conference once a year, and then monthly socials that we just kicked off last week. And these podcasts, and yeah, the goal is to have conversations with people who support teams to unveil the nature of your work in this changing kind of rapidly changing environment of how people are working, and hopefully knowledge share so that you know, our audience, which are the same group of people, as we're having on the show, and in the series, can kind of learn from each other.

    Nicola Watson 1:53
    Amazing. Excited, wicked. Yeah.

    Qasim Virjee 1:57
    Okay, so you're with a company called tribal scale I am and how, I guess let's break it out. What does tribal skill do? Okay, I know, I know, the like foundation story a little bit. Okay. But I haven't caught up with tribal skill with

    Nicola Watson 2:10
    the latest. Well, I will give you the latest gos on what we do and everything that we're trying to do. So essentially, we are a software development consultancy, which I'm sure you know, that's a high level part of what we do. We're fully remote name. Okay, solely remote, there's only remote. So that bacon thoughtless office that they had pre COVID is no longer there. All right, or is no longer tribal scale. So we have 75 people dotted around North America, and then South America, which is absolutely amazing. So we've delivery team have in house engineers, QA engineers, product managers, and product designers. So we're partnering with many different clients across many different industries to build their digital products. Alright. A lot of the stuff we're doing recently is a lot of digital transformations as well, which, of course, comes with the scene at the moment within tech that, you know, there's organizations out there, they might have adopted technologies a couple of years ago, but are they up to scratch right now? No. And they just don't have the engineering capabilities that we have. So they partner with us, we'll do a complete digital transformation for them. And yeah, that's the secret sauce, but we don't give away too much ahead. We do it.

    Digital transformation and AI in the workplace.

    Qasim Virjee 3:21
    It's really interesting to hear that though. For me, the idea that like, you know, I mean, like, Look, I'm not that old that I remember punchcards. But but the first wave or second, or we might be in the third wave of digital transformations. People are kind of updating tech from 510 years ago now. Yeah, it's insane. That's, that's crazy. I'm sure the cycle of this, like, you know, upgrade path is going to only increase or hopefully become, yeah, absolutely automated. I don't know what I

    Nicola Watson 3:53
    think as well, like, you know, considering all the status, AI and Chachi Beatty, and all of AI interfering in every aspect of our lives. And, yeah, I mean, it's great for them. That's what the market is right now. And that's what the industry is doing. So, you know, organizations need to make sure that they're getting themselves up to that level and adopting, you know, in order to be competitive from, you know, not getting into the people thing already. But, you know, from HR departments, you know, what I say to some of my, you know, my people in my network is that, you know, have you started looking into AI tools to help you and your team kind of stay ahead of the competition with talent acquisition alone. You know, it's, it's a world of opportunities for each and every team in any organization to kind of take a look of how they're doing take a look at the tools they're using, and seeing if there's better tools out there to help them do their job,

    Qasim Virjee 4:45
    you know? Absolutely. Yeah. And it's interesting because I think working with companies that are competent in in that focus is essential. It's too difficult to constantly procure things. Don't necessarily organizations don't necessarily have the means to approach tech procurement. In this way you can hire a procurement team to replace tools or create tools that enable them to get notifications on the latest stuff. I know so many different kinds of like nuanced skews of software completely. So I'm sure you guys are finding great success in, you know, helping clients and finding clients to help. Yeah,

    Nicola Watson 5:26
    we are, we've got one of the most recent projects that we're working on at the moment, is a complete digital transformation with a manufacturing company, they're frozen food manufacturer, and it's McCain, the frozen french fries, so sexy all together. And we're working with a company called scale AI, to digitally transform their manufacturing systems out there, and to use AI to drive efficiencies with their manufacturing. So they're doing a pilot project out on their Florence Vale plant. And if that goes, well, they're just McCain are gonna, you know, roll that out globally. I think they've like 70 other manufacturing plants globally. So crazy. It's just shows you even you know, from manufacturing perspective, how you can kind of drive efficiencies with the latest technology? Oh, for sure. Yeah, it's incredible, really, when you start digging in and going down the amount of opportunities for organizations to get some benefit and drive efficiencies for themselves?

    Qasim Virjee 6:21
    Well, especially in that in like kind of mass manufacturing. There's a lot of kind of data indicators that are not necessarily going into changing processes on the fly, historically, but now, you could probably do that, you know, pre fry on the french fries, one second longer, because there were extra rains. Yeah,

    Nicola Watson 6:39
    let's go for a little bit more crispy. Who knows? I'm not sure. But yeah, it's really interesting to see what's going on there. So that's a snippet of what

    Qasim Virjee 6:48
    we're doing. And so your role of the company is yes,

    Nicola Watson 6:50
    so I am HR manager. So essentially, my role is to be looking after the whole employee experience from hire to retire. So hopefully, that person will stay with us from day one to retire. But all I can do is influence that decision and make sure that what we're creating a tribal scale is someplace that they want to do that so

    Qasim Virjee 7:10
    and tribal scales being a tribal, tribal scale. Why did I miss tribal scales? Because it

    Qasim Virjee 7:17
    gave you say, now that you're distributed?

    Qasim Virjee 7:19
    I haven't seen, you know, your founders face and the logo and my face? Oh, yeah. In the tech scene in Toronto, you know, tribal skill was definitely present. And she thought Jaitley, of course, being a character who people know in the city, yeah. Now he is he now living in Miami,

    Nicola Watson 7:39
    he is he's living and loving the sun down in Miami. So and that's where he's at at the moment. And he's trying to grow our US presence out there as well. He's doing fantastic. He's meeting incredible people down there in Miami, and just getting to network with new people and new groups of people, you know, and that definitely helps tribal scale and growing our brand down there. And but he does come up often as well, he is actually speaking at the FuckUp Nights next week, okay, he's the headliner act. So he's not letting themselves being forgotten about here in Toronto, I don't think ever will. So that's incredible. So he's doing great things. Still, he's still obviously our CEO, you know, the main face of the organization, and, you know, being that person that we can turn to when we need that support or need guidance, or, you know, he is the CEO, so we're gonna run across, you have run most of our plans by him, obviously. But he's also someone that, you know, if you're having a challenge, or you're just stuck on something within, you know, a project, he can give them a call, say, hey, oh, I'm stuck with the direction that we need to go here. This is what I'm thinking, what do you think, and you just end up in this amazing conversation, and he gives his two cents on it, and you come away knowing the direction you're gonna take make sense? It's

    Qasim Virjee 8:51
    interesting that you bring this up, because this came up in a live discussion panel that we had Fireside Chat kind of thing. Last week at our event studio, that I was just telling you about off air at our first ever gathering social. And we were talking about kind of like the changing nature of leadership in this new era of distributed work and of global identities. And one of the key things that both of my interviewees, my guests on stage were saying is that leadership is now moving into a kind of away from that historical, you know, at least an office context, top down kind of hierarchical power dynamic and more and instructional and more into this kind of cultural and the idea that like, you know, she still at your company is already playing this role of, you know, adding value into the working environment and the lives of the employees is cool, because it sounds like it's the zeitgeist. He's on the zeitgeist.

    Company culture and pair programming at Tribal Scale.

    Nicola Watson 9:52
    He knows what's on. Yeah, absolutely. Absolutely. And I think that really is how I would describe the culture of tribal scale. is having this caring philosophy and not just caring about the projects and the work that you're working on, but caring about each other, caring about caring about your colleagues enough that you will be there and provide insights and guidance, whether it's work related, or they come to you for personal related stuff, we actually added caring as whatever values last year for the organization because it really is what our culture is founded on. And I think it comes from the top down with Cheadle and how he portrays themselves to the employees and what he encourages us to do with each other. He's like, Listen, if you have a problem, don't suffer alone. We use Slack probably too much for God, to be honest, but we do you know how it is. But he's like, if you have a question posted in the pulpit channel, don't post it to someone on the side. Because I guarantee you there's someone else out there who probably has the same question. And there's nothing wrong with asking questions. It might be the most ridiculous question in the world. And you're super embarrassed to put it in. But once it's all super personal,

    Qasim Virjee 11:00
    throw it in there and everyone can learn. Like, everybody

    Nicola Watson 11:04
    can do it. Yeah, you think you can stop learning is the day that lie down? You know,

    Qasim Virjee 11:09
    I remember first touring the first tribal scale set up tribal school office. And at the time, I think foreign tower was was kind of helping out a little bit. Yeah, no, at Shopify. Yeah. And, you know, he's kind of an OG OG engineering guru in the city. Oh, yeah. And, and the big thing was like, even with the engineering methodology, that tribal skill was doing, it was pair programming from day one. So it was like two people solving problems together at every workstation. Yep. Which was really cool. Because it kind of like yes, de risked the work being too nuanced, or whatever. But also, they're learning from each other since they're.

    Nicola Watson 11:46
    So during that, like, that's part of our DNA.

    Qasim Virjee 11:50
    I think that's an amazing thing. Because the history there is at least with Sheetal, which goes back to even the company before which foreign was at. Yeah, so it's been many years of this culture. I'm sure it's deeply baked into the company at this

    Nicola Watson 12:04
    point it is. And what I always say, going back to that learning aspect is it's a mentor mentee relationship from day one that's already established for the two engineers, you know, you're paired with a more senior engineer, sometimes you're on the same level. But even in that you're coming away learning something, because no two individuals are the same. And no, two software developers will be exact and how they code you know, and then ultimately, from an organization standpoint, you're getting super high quality code, because you've two engineers working on the one device. So what you're getting is incredible, you know, two brains are better than the one most of the time.

    Qasim Virjee 12:41
    Absolutely, yeah. The let's talk about how you came into the organization because you said something about three years. Well, that's just in Toronto. Correct.

    Work experience and career choices.

    Qasim Virjee 12:51
    Okay,

    Qasim Virjee 12:52
    so give me the full lowdown.

    Nicola Watson 12:53
    Yeah, it's, it's not the most straight part, to be honest, from where I started, like, I don't want to go too far back. But I'll go back a little bit to paint the scene and paint the picture. I studied, and I have an undergraduate in environmental science and health. So I was a bit of a dork. I'm not gonna lie. I loved chemistry, absolutely died for biology and loved maths, and I just had a flair for it. So, you know, in Ireland, I was doing my versions of high school exams. What do you like college? There's like, in your final year, you do? Like a low level? Yeah. So I

    Nicola Watson 13:28
    did. Well, that's not what people do in Canada. That's what I did. That's what you did?

    Qasim Virjee 13:32
    Yeah. British system. Yeah. So you get it. For our non English, or, let's say, Jesus, it's not English on how would you describe it, let's say for people whose lives are not affected by the monarchy. You know, a levels would be typically three, maybe four subjects is what you study for the last two years of your high school?

    Nicola Watson 13:58
    Yeah, well, not in Ireland, they like to throw a bit of hard work on you, because you know, you're not doing enough until you're doing enough. So we have to study seven, what, seven, eight levels? Yeah. And the worst thing is, for the exam, you can only pick your top six. So they think they're being fair, because we're like, we're giving you an opportunity to like, do well, and at least six of them, and you have that one subject that might not be your biggest strength. So yeah, so like, they prepare you for the hard world do you know and it's fine, but it's a lot on students. You know, like, if people can't multitask, and I've managed to like seven exams at once at once.

    Qasim Virjee 14:34
    And like who can do that? It's like, rocks for breakfast and potatoes for dessert. Yeah,

    Nicola Watson 14:38
    absolutely insane. You go a bit low, loud towards the end of the exam, but it's all good. You get through it. So I went into this university degree of science thinking I was going to be you know, saving the rainforests solving global warming with my summer large chemical analysis degree. Well, I had the opportunity to do like our version of a co op program in the third year of that course, I ended up landing in the pharmaceutical company on I absolutely after the first day, be crying going home the car, I was like, I just know, this is not for me. Like it was a QA specialist role. So it was basically reviewing the pharmaceutical documents, make sure everything was of quality and adhering to all the policies at that manufacturing factoring plant is needed and required to sell the product. Yeah, I just hated it. Like, flat out. I just knew this wasn't for me. I was like, I can't. Yeah, I can't sit at a desk. And my only friend is a piece of paper and a checklist. Like, it's not me. And everyone was super baked into their cubicles, and no one wants to talk. And I found myself like going up to the different floors chatting with you other teams that were a bit more like, outgoing. There's a HR team and their

    Qasim Virjee 15:52
    show on on Apple TV severance. Have you seen that? No, I haven't. Yeah, you should watch that one. It's totally it's kind of like a dark mockumentary about this whole corporate reality. Where it's like, everyone's brain at work is switched off, so that they can do their work. And they literally, well, the premise of the show is yeah, they literally to work at this particular company. Yeah, lumen enterprises are something amazing, right? It's just utopia. They they literally go through a process, a process called severance where, you know, your personal life and your work life are in your brain, like magically separated. So you have two identities. You go to work, you do your work, when you go home, your home person, you don't even know what you did during the day. That's scary. But it's kind of like this metaphor for

    Nicola Watson 16:38
    the reality of corporate life. Completely. So I knew that wasn't for me. And I said, Listen, I am not one of these people that can give up on things. I'm going to get to the great deal, but it after, and let's just go with that scene. So I got his degree. And then I was like, You know what? I'm 21. I'm too young to make decisions right now. I'm just going to flee my decision making issues. So I went to San Diego, did I go work or No, from Ireland? Yeah, Todd is going to find myself a surfer husband. Didn't happen. So we went over there with grateful through seven girls, and had a great time for the summer. And we just graduated. We're like, you know what, let's just live life. Got a job in Sunglass Hut. And I was

    Qasim Virjee 17:26
    this is the premise of a great Netflix series, you know? Oh, seven, in San Diego, San Diego working

    Career growth in recruitment and HR.

    Nicola Watson 17:37
    with rageous like it was honestly outrageous. How are you even cuz we're just living the life. We're in this faraway world like San Diego to Ireland is I think it was like 13 1314 hour flight. The other side of the world. Yeah. And I was 21. I thought I knew everything I absolutely didn't do you know, and but we went and sunglass odd, and I was just loving it. I was like driving, I was meeting with people every day. I was selling them sunglasses. I thought it was AMAZING selling all these designer sunglasses and just having that kind of personal interaction. So that makes me happy. I love working with people. I'm enjoying it. Then the manager at the time was like, we've got new hires starting, can you train them? I was like, Oh, absolutely. No problem. I'll do every day. Just call me. So then I went home and I was like, Okay, I'm not going to a lab. I'm not going to a pharmaceutical company. It's not happening. And my mom was like, why don't you just have a look of what other opportunities out there because you're such a people person. Right? Why don't you just have a look to see what you can do. I was like, Okay, so anyway, long story. Short, I got presented with an opportunity in a recruitment agency in Dublin, but for recruiting pharmaceutical employees. Okay, so yeah, like, I didn't waste my degree. I'm still kind of having a bit of a correlation here. Yeah. So we went in there on I loved it. It was two and a half years. But the thing of it recruitment agencies is and I think it's a great place for a lot of people to start their career and because it's very heavily sales focus as it is right. Oh, yeah. Like you're getting pushed out your comfort zone. You're ringing companies, at least 10 companies a day cold calling, and you're forced to do it. You know, you've KPIs first, so you got to do it somewhere. And you're just like, please don't put down the phone. Please just say hello for 10 that you want this, this call? And like don't hang up on me because during ringing people's like office staff violence

    Qasim Virjee 19:31
    to sides isn't as typically from what I gather, you're calling companies to say, you know, hire us to please candidates. Yeah, calling candidates to say completely. We've got an opportunity for you. Yeah, should apply for this.

    Nicola Watson 19:44
    Yeah. So if you have any way of like, feeling you don't want to be rejected and you have any issues like that. Definitely not recommend because you have to grow like a strong interior and exterior for that job. Yeah, but it's great training. You know, you're pushed out of your comfort zone. So I did that. And then I was like, You know what like this is I've done this I've kind of I felt I've done a good job. I got what I wanted out of it. And I got I went internal Wait, Reiner. You probably know Ryan Of course. Yeah, airline. Yeah, very just massive big airline across Europe. So I did internal talent acquisition in there. I tried it. I loved it. I was like, This is great. I'm like recruiting from multiple different levels in that HQ. And we had a fabulous HQ in Dublin. It was absolutely gorgeous, really cool. Just that rough, funky side office. And people were so nice, full of energy. And I did that for a year on I failed like 100 heads. Within that year for HQ. Plus, a lot of people got a job. I'm not just young toot my own horn here. But I was like, what I got bored on. I just I'm so bad because I loved the feeling that I can do something about

    Qasim Virjee 20:53
    it was a new challenge. Yeah, you like challenges, love challenges, love throw

    Career growth and challenges in HR.

    Nicola Watson 20:57
    myself in the deep end. So I just said, Hey, the HR team, they look like they're super stressed and super busy. All you want to do that they looked like they're going through challenges every single day talent acquisition and HR were different. very separate. Yeah, completely and talent acquisition. And Ryanair was always like to happy people were giving you jobs. But hey, chore in mind, air. Similar to what it actually is a tribals get at the moment is central to the operations, right, it's actually quite funny, because a couple of years ago, he was always this department that was in the corner, go to them to drop off your payroll for more, go to the gym to pick up your new contract or your ladder that you need for leave, you know, but in Ryanair, everything went through the HR department. And that's what created this kind of level of challenge and level of people were kind of scared to go onto that team because it was so so busy. And like he had so much kind of ownership within that role in HR. So for argument's sake, like me and myself, I was in charge of the Dublin base to Dublin Airport pilots cabin crew on our job in HQ. So that was 1200 employees that a lot of people. Yeah, that was like too many people for nearly to count, you know, like lo me has to do all HR for all of these people make sense that I get off you go. So you get thrown in the deep end. But honestly, the best year of learning that I've ever had in my entire life, you know, and what I always say is because it's like central to the operations. It's hard hate your stuff you're doing, you know, that that pilot needs to turn off at that time with the cabin crew without flight. So if they don't, it's my fault. You know, so it's like that hard Hatori stuff to make sure that policies are in place, if the policies aren't being adhered to. What's the situation? You know, so a lot of strategy, a lot of strategy and a lot of kind of looking at data, we actually had like BI tools back then in 2019. When it wasn't as you know, fancy to have in Ireland anyway. Yeah. Be BI BI tools. Yeah, so

    Qasim Virjee 23:02
    basically, what's an That's an acronym meaning what?

    Nicola Watson 23:05
    Oh, bi, bi, Power BI. Do you know? What's the B and what's the I couldn't tell you just know, some sort of cool tool. Okay, there you go. Bi will look that one off. And that basically fed in data for when all of our aircrew would turn to the turn off to the base to clock in for the the airplane. So the myth there were one or two minutes late, you'd see that straightaway on this tool. So it's analyzing that and it was pretty cool those how they use check there. And what that of course myself, I'm never happy and I want to keep pushing myself and I was presented with an opportunity within Ryanair again to relocate to Vienna to head off their HR department there. Yeah, we acquired louder motion. You probably know Nikki louder. The f1 racer. Oh, yeah. So we acquired his airline so I didn't even know he had an airline. Yeah, louder motion and

    Qasim Virjee 24:03
    be scared to go. Wow, one race? Yeah, I

    Nicola Watson 24:08
    wonder faster. Do you know what Ryanair probably is that now? Their tagline are super cringy. But we'll have a look at that. Actually. I don't know if they have we

    Qasim Virjee 24:18
    crashed once in a while. Yeah. But the prices are cheap.

    Nicola Watson 24:22
    Yeah, we'll get you there faster. And I was at that stage my boyfriend and I I was like, you know was I need to do something scary. You know, I've been here for another year and two years here on air. Yes, this opportunity is here for me to relocate to Fianna but I just have this desire to work, leave my job, go to another country, settled my career there again and see how it goes. So to work and travel and just meet new people experience new things and see how it goes. So that's what we did and here I am since I have worked in I had to step back. That's the thing like, when you move country, there's an element that people don't really talk about, to be honest. And it's, I'm very ambitious. And that's my problem. As I said, I have this burning desire in me that I just want to be the best at everything I do. And that sounds so barbaric, but I can't help it. And when I came here, I had to take a step back and leave that successful hate or a role I was doing, Your Honor, and go back internal talent acquisition, because, you know, you have to reestablish yourself, you have to gain trust, you have to prove yourself in a whole new country where people you don't know, right, you know, so I had to kind of face our facts and do that. And I was willing to do it, because I knew I was going to do it. So I went back internal air for recruitment and talent acquisition. And to be honest, I did it. And I got bored again, because I was like, This is why I laugh this, I went into HR for a new challenge. And here I am again, and I'm like, I'm feeling bored. Let's go back into the HR world. So the opportunity with trago scale come off. And I said, I'm going to go first. I said yes. To HR manager role. You know, it's going to be my first true heavy hate your role in Canada. But I've gone off and I've done the employment law course, I know the laws of Canada. So that's definitely not robot or anyone can give me Yeah, and I'm going to get this. And since then, I've been absolutely loving it. And I think it's just given me so many opportunities. I've been thrown in the deep end. I've been rebuilding our whole HR has since I've started. But when I look back now, I'm like, wow, I've done a pretty good job. You know, and that's not being cocky, saying,

    Qasim Virjee 26:41
    pride is important. Yeah, that balances that challenge. Question. Yeah, you're obviously happy with how the challenge how you're rising to the challenge? Yeah,

    Nicola Watson 26:51
    I think so. I just, as I said, I'm ultra competitive myself. So I just feel like, if I'm not feeling challenged, I'm not doing something good. You know? So yeah, that's where I am today. So how

    Remote work challenges and HR's evolved role.

    Qasim Virjee 27:03
    long has it been that you've been with tribal scale for two years of

    Nicola Watson 27:06
    May? Okay. So it's absolutely flown by? You know, it's, it's been a challenge because of the COVID. situation. Tell us about? Yeah. So what they've done, I suppose the office was gone. And from I was there just after the office was obviously completely a distant memory. So sorry,

    Qasim Virjee 27:24
    at that time, how many people were what was the employee base? And was it mainly in Toronto, and that

    Nicola Watson 27:29
    Yeah, at that time, the majority people were in Toronto. And but they had started to open up locations where they can recruit from, you know, and that's the thing being fully remote is that you're opening yourself up to changing your recruitment strategy on your appeal to a more diverse talent pool, because you can now hire people who live in Ottawa, as opposed to when you had the office, downtown King Street, people in Ottawa aren't going to commute every morning to that office. So it's really opening up this really wide, wide talent pool for you to get really cool, amazing people. Yes, I do. It's great. I think it's fantastic. And so since I've been there, and I think what really the challenge of tribal scale was for its people was coming from this amazing office where, you know, there's breakfast in the morning, there's snacks throughout the day, you know, you've drank some Friday to we're fully remote, and it's you at your laptop, and you're talking to all these little squares, who are accordingly your colleagues. Right. So I think there was morale issues naturally, like every other organization. Yeah. And I think that's where even the role of HR has changed for a lot of people working in HR, but most people because organizations center into HR and said, Hey, how do we fix this? You know, how do you make everyone

    Qasim Virjee 28:48
    feel normal? Again, so many responsibilities pass down on to HR completely.

    Nicola Watson 28:52
    And I think that's where the role of HR has really evolved, who is kind of having to have the answers to retention issues, engagement, career path, then there's the whole, you know, industry compensation market rates, right. Like, that's the whole thing as well, specifically to tech. I think you probably have witnessed out yourself and in conversations with people

    Qasim Virjee 29:15
    definitely something that we it's a hot topic on the podcast for sure. A number of people, internal recruiters external, so many people are talking about, we've heard we've heard from recruiter that said, American companies, of course, with buying power or poaching people in Canadian positions, also with remote and flex. There's a whole competitive angle there to where, you know, people are looking at, you know, higher comp, maybe even payment bonuses. Apparently, we heard that like Canadians are more likely Canadian Engineers are more likely to take cash upfront as an incentive than a higher salary.

    Nicola Watson 29:53
    Yeah, I've seen that I get asked that on us. And there's

    Employee benefits and perks in the modern workplace.

    Qasim Virjee 29:57
    a whole big question around why that is. I don't No, but you know, maybe and this is this is an unfortunate thing. You know, it depends on like tenure or expected tenure that people are willing to kind of commit to for their job. And this is another issue that people have been reporting is churn, expected churn moving in the last few years from, you know, a career outlook for a position to, you know, be candidates considering a position as maybe five years. That was up until three years ago, and now apparently, it's six months. And a lot of external recruiters are managing just within the window of earning their fee to turn over, you know, these these employees, and part of it is people looking for constant challenge, but also part of it is that yeah, it's a very active market for talent. And with a market opening up globally, there's so many things that employees are looking for, for their lifestyle that now jobs can afford them. Yeah. You're gonna move to Manila. Cool. I could hire you. Yeah, learn how to speak Spanish. go to Spain for a year enjoy this other company. It's really interesting. It's,

    Nicola Watson 31:08
    it's so interesting, but it's even like how we've had to pivot. But not that we had to, we wanted to win even our benefit packages and perks. Right. So that's something else that's kind of topical and, you know, on trend at the moment, or what does that look like for you? So like, only in September, we completely brought in a new benefit partner. And we want to, first of all we wanted for the medical in the insurance dot dot package, we wanted to make sure that they're having a good digital experience our employees while using their benefits, alright, big

    Qasim Virjee 31:42
    problem, because yeah, most of these companies are legacy in terms of their Yeah, their software stack, you're going to file some fill out a PDF that you download, and fax it to some, and

    Nicola Watson 31:53
    then go by an envelope and a stamp and post it off. Like most people don't know how to do that these days, you know,

    Qasim Virjee 31:58
    go by an envelope, because nobody has.

    Nicola Watson 32:05
    Find your local post it offers people are like wolves. So we've done that, and it's been great. We've implemented like this flexible spending account as well. And for full time employees, so they get a budget each year. You know, they can spend it on their home office, if they want to, they can spend it on, you know, daycare, they can spend it on cosmetic stuff. It really is flexible to their needs. So that's a nice little perk, but my favorite one, to be honest, and I think it really speaks to the world that we are living in right now. Is we partner with that, sir. Are you familiar with Fetzer? That stressor? Yeah, no, it's quite an interesting name. So it is a platform that offers virtual appointments to employees, or to anyone who wants to use it. Now, I really don't understand what you're talking about. So have you ever gone to a virtual doctor?

    Qasim Virjee 32:56
    Like taking a video consults with your doctor? I haven't. In fact, I got mad with my doctor when he made me do a telephone consults are independent.

    Nicola Watson 33:04
    Oh, that you're definitely not going to be the consumer.

    Qasim Virjee 33:08
    But yeah, I know. My wife is a doctor. She's a GP. Okay, so she's definitely seen all flavors of the video conferencing world, you know, being sold into the healthcare and yeah, I'm familiar with what you

    Nicola Watson 33:19
    know what, um, you know, what road and go and dogs and animals and yeah, so I wasn't convinced at the start when I had kind of the intro call for Gemma was like, Well, my dog, I've just beautiful cream. Ciao, cheer them absolutely obsessed with and anyone who knows me in Toronto will see me with her. All right. Let's like, Listen, I love her. And I give her a lot of confidence. But she can't talk. So how is this working from a virtual video aspect? And they said no less than 90% of the issues you have with your dog we can solve. You will not have to go to an in person appointment after I said, Okay, let me try it out. They're like, Okay, we're gonna give you a free fat appointment when you need it. Use us and then test it out yourself and see what you think. So okay, no problem long behold, she obviously sprained her leg. I was like, they're not gonna be able to solve this. There's no way I'm going to need an X ray. Problem solved. This is the medication you need. This is like a gel you need. You do not need to go get an x ray. It's just a sprain. If it gets worse, come back to us. And we can reassess through the video. Like I had my laptop and I had the dog literally walking by with the camera so the back could see it through the camera. And it's incredible. So really the one thing about that we implemented for employees so they all get four vet visits every year through us. And number one, it saves them having to take time away from work. Go to the vet, and I don't know if you have pets, but it No it's extremely difficult to get a vet appointment. downtimes don't have pets. Yeah, you'll save yourself a fortune. Your money on you owe it so expensive. So it's, you know, saving fees for employees, but also that element that some people don't have kids and can't have kids and their families is a furry friend. And that's their fur baby. Alright, so it allows us to be more inclusive or employees as well, and just offering this kind of innovative benefit package that caters to everybody. So

    Employee benefits and support. 

    Qasim Virjee 35:22
    let's, let's talk about that on a meta, your take on benefit sounds like it's getting into that territory of, and I've heard this from a few people in the HR world is, benefits are an opportunity to offer value to employees that they wouldn't otherwise choose for themselves, leave aside the cost. So even if they could pay for it, they might not necessarily look at like value adds to their lifestyle. Yeah. And that's an opportunity for HR to kind of like, give value to the outside of work experience. The or the pervasive, you know, lifestyle experience with them. Yeah,

    Nicola Watson 35:57
    absolutely. And I think as well, it's showing that you're supporting your employees outside of work, you know, and, yes, of course, is everyone gonna go and sign up for a membership for virtual fashio? No, because that's typically some something that people will buy, as an as need basis, you go to the vet, when there's a problem with the dog. Yeah, like an evidence problem with the dog, you know, and that's why that's where we kind of are at where it is, it's just like, we want to support them and their needs and what they need in their life outside the tribal Scout, you know, and just kind of creating that caring aspect again, and bringing that back to that to say, hey, yes, it's work, but we care about you, you know, we want to try and do as much as we can. We also brought in in the Upwork, it's actually a new Toronto based startup, it's called kicks care. So it's a registered nurse practitioner, and again, in a virtual environment, through virtual video conferencing, that our parents or tribal scale have access to 24/7. Okay, so, you know, I know, I don't have children myself, but I hear that the children hospitals at the moment and getting appointments is hectic, and it's a total mess. So, you know, if you're having issues your child, you have a new child, a new newborn baby, and they're having a rash, or you don't know what to do, and maybe, you know, they're, they're like myself, their families are back in Ireland, or they're back in, you know, England, Scotland, Wales, wherever it may be, and they don't have their mom or parents to guide them for these little issues. That might not be a big issue. They can log on here and live 24/7 support from again, medical,

    Qasim Virjee 37:31
    global, this is like for any employee, all of these things. Yeah, right now

    Nicola Watson 37:35
    it's Canadian, because this kicks care parent perk is just basic calm that at the moment, but the vestre is North American, yeah. And across for the US as well. So it's just given that extra level of support and seeing okay, what is the demographics of our employees? And what do they need? And how can we pivot, our benefit package to meet those needs? You know,

    Qasim Virjee 37:57
    and how, I mean, let's talk about this. Also, this idea of your workforce being in multiple countries, and seeing or last two years, the kind of various different contexts of your employees wherever they are, emerged at different ways from, you know, the pandemic from now these controls that the pandemic had on populations. What have you seen in terms of how your team has communicated lifestyle, evolution over the last couple of years, being in different territories, like I'm sure that people in Toronto with locked down just as recent as the beginning of last year, right? We are, we're having a very different experience of life and how they could work and things than the people who were in? Let's call it Bogota. Yeah.

    Remote work culture and communication tools.

    Nicola Watson 38:44
    Yeah, that's really interesting, actually. I think really, when asked when I reflect back on it, we, I think we do the remote work thing pretty well, right? Because we have a very open culture, right. And we, we promote open communication, and we promote people to open up their lives, their personal lives, true, like to our tribe members, okay, like, that's what we call each other. So the very close knit group of people, the 75, but we're super close there, right. And one thing that I kind of forget is that our engineers in South America, sometimes when I'm chatting to them, I forgot they're in South America, and they're not just next door, because that's the type of relationship building that we've done, which is incredible, right. But in terms of like, yeah, we're showcasing the different lifestyles that they would have had during COVID I think, because we agree with really smart people that when someone say in Brazil was posting that they were on the beach, and we were all tucked off igloos here in Toronto. Nobody really kind of that was okay. That

    Qasim Virjee 39:52
    was that was an anecdote. Yeah. Able to be talked. It was

    Nicola Watson 39:54
    nearly like we were laughing and because that's the type of people that work for us is that, you know, we all We'll just gel together. They're incredible. They're super just, you know, very deep and people want to connect, want that personal element. So I think there is no weirdness that I thought there wasn't like it. I'm sure someone was like punching the screen when they saw the sun and the beach. But, you know, ultimately, we're kind of just, we're happy for you. That's amazing. But we're still in igloos.

    Qasim Virjee 40:21
    So from an HR perspective, how do you enable and promote this? Not only transparency and openness amongst the people, but the kind of means of communication? Yeah. Is it a tools thing? Is it software tools that you guys use? Yeah,

    Nicola Watson 40:35
    we use it if we love a go to Mark. And then I, Heather, our chief of staff and myself, we work extremely close together. And anytime you see a new intro for a demo for a new tool, we have our antennas go up and we're getting bulldozed. But everyone's like, guys, to fatigue is a thing. So let's just chill out for a second. But we do use some really great deals to try this gal for that. And obviously suck like we all know, Slack. It started

    Qasim Virjee 40:59
    I remember first seeing someone else other than myself using slack. And it was Sheetal on his office. Yeah, going back, I don't know the beginning of slack, like years and years ago. And he was over the moon one week for this one feature. He was like, check this out. If I type this command, it was like Ford slash, give me a hard drive. Someone would come from the storage room and bring him a hard drive. And he was like, What do you want anything? Whatever you want to hear, you're gonna hear. It was really funny. So yeah, automation and tools and slack have been at the beginning of the company's culture. Oh, yeah. But Slack. So what else?

    Using tools to improve workplace connections.

    Nicola Watson 41:40
    But even within slack, like we have a ton of like super cringy, Slack channels that we all love and obsess over, you know, like, every week, there's new in this tribe travel, there's, you know, tribal dogs, social costs, you name it. And but we also use, and we've actually recently adopted, we're trialing this new tool called who are, I always try and make sure I say it right. So like, you know who? Yeah, these are you better than me? Dramatic. That's actually, really so a guy who founded that company, Alex Dockage, he used to work in wedding product, our tribal scales, so we're trying it out and testing it. So what it is, it is a meeting, sentiment capturing tool. Alright. So like every remote organization, it's like a common team. Everyone assume fatigue, everyone has, you know, a Tesla meeting is in their calendar that they don't need to be out on they don't need to be talking out. And it's totally inefficient. It doesn't make sense. But this tool is integrated into Slack. And after you attend a meeting, simple question. Did you attend a meeting? Yes. Was this worth its time? Yes. Did it meet its objectives? Yes or no. And then that data is all captured from all the attendees. And it's feeding into a dashboard to measure the sentiment of, you know, on average of the meetings you're hosting, and the meetings you're attending. So that's really empowering employees to say, Hey, listen, look at your dashboards, right? What are you writing these meetings? On average? Are you enjoying them? Do you need to be there? And are they a good use of your time? You know, so that's another tool that we use, and it's been going really, really well. And the cool thing about that is you can actually incorporate your company goals for the year into the back end of it. So if I was creating meeting for me and you, I could say, okay, the funk. The purpose of this meeting is to discuss X. And that's feeding into our goal of growing and retaining our tribe. So, you know, at the end of the quarter, I can see, okay, I've spent X amount areas working towards that goal. Have I achieved anything? Or am I just going into a meeting and talking absolute Barney? Ah, sometimes that can happen. That's okay. So it's really, really interesting and empowers people to say, Hey, listen, I don't need to be at that meeting. Yeah. And then the other side of it to the organization that costs money having eight people. Yeah, so there's that the other tools that we use are and Jonas, that's an integration through slack as well. And every Thursday from four to 415, you get randomly bundled into a group chat for 15 minutes on Zoom. I'm using this donor integration where we encourage everyone to talk about everything and anything other than where it's Sean tell ya Chantel and Tina, what's incredible, has naturally taken off since last year, and after those 15 minutes to chat with people. Everyone posts a selfie. It's so cute if I could show you them like, it's honestly so nice. Everyone's mess around with Zoom backgrounds putting like, fancy dress on it's actually hilarious to be honest. And they post in the channel. And what has happened naturally is people would say, Oh hey, Nicola and Julia met today. Or Nicola Giulia, Mark and Sam Matt today. We talked about our holiday last year I found out that Sam really loves Chinese food. And on Saturday he's going on there when his girlfriend for her birthday. So people started sharing what they learned about each other. And I think they're the type of things where employee can action that naturally drive relationships between each other. And as I said, the people in South America, the people dotted across the US, we are all super close. We all know stuff about each other from simple things like that. And using tools to build those connections. Yeah, it was a

    Qasim Virjee 45:23
    tool is like a social prompt. It's not necessarily something more architected, absolutely

    Nicola Watson 45:27
    involving. Yeah, yeah. It's keeping the human element to it, you know? Yeah. And

    Team culture, leadership, and offsites. 

    Qasim Virjee 45:32
    then outside of software, I mean, do you guys have you said you were in Atlanta? Yes. So through the year does travelskills do any programming? Or specifically, what programming does it do to bring people together? IRL? Yes.

    Nicola Watson 45:46
    So I suppose in terms of that, we've had like some social in person events downtown. And you know, we'd make sure there's like a leadership meeting. There's team meetings happening over a number a couple of days to make it useful for everybody. And then we'd have like social evening gatherings. The last one we did, we went to, you know, it's a spin their ping pong place. Amazing time. So we had people from the US there were people from Vancouver.

    Qasim Virjee 46:11
    It's cool people flew in.

    Nicola Watson 46:15
    Yeah, I've literally, to have a challenge with each other, and he was gonna win you. That is awesome. It was incredible.

    Qasim Virjee 46:21
    That's what we're hearing for the potential of offsites. I mean, we hear on Star Well, that's right. Well, where it's not just about the all day session, I'll do session, but like breakaways. And so a lot of teams will be the workspace for like, three, four days, or a whole week, they have their agenda. And they maybe have a facilitator leading this, to guide them, make sure that they're doing, you know, covering what they need to. But then they'll take a morning off or take an afternoon off, or they'll leave for dinner early. So they can do all these cool activities around the city. And then that's a memorable weekend. Yeah, absolutely.

    Nicola Watson 46:54
    I can this summer, our Director of Engineering led a manager event and people flew in for that as well, the managers brought us to the Blue Jays game. And we also he gave us a walking tour of Toronto with his own phone, fax, it was actually hilarious. You know, so just making sure that, you know, you're doing normal in person things, and people call them and it's funny, because the people that, you know, you meet online, or you build this relationship through and remote setting online, when you meet them in person, I feel I know them years, right? You know, and they probably don't get a second to get a word in with me. But that's the reality and Sheetal as well has been amazing. So with our South American engineers, he has supported the immigration process for a number of them. So we've had one of our engineers in, he's from Sao Paulo. And he literally, we supported him with his visa application where him and his wife and a dog to move to Toronto, so he only arrived last week. So when I met him, like literally the day after I was like, Ramon, I know you literally years feels like, it's amazing. I'm here, I cannot believe it. But he's super pumped to be with everyone who lives in the GTA and actually already came

    Qasim Virjee 48:07
    with friends, or work friends.

    Nicola Watson 48:09
    So it sounds like you're so lucky, I came over here with just my boyfriend, I had to go knock it around people's doors to come out with me. So it's great. You know, that's the culture, it's very supportive. And people are just friends. You know.

    Qasim Virjee 48:21
    So let's, as a kind of a fun end note, I think that's an interesting thing, your take on on on kind of this idea of team culture, and some salient aspects of team culture that you would call out things that you think contribute to a healthier positive culture of teams? Yeah.

    Nicola Watson 48:41
    I think one thing I feel very strongly about, and I, I don't know if it's just me, yeah, identifying it with myself and my team. And the team I lead I try that scale is what kind of leader you are, is where it starts, right? Because your team are going to look up to you. And that's where culture is cultivated, as well. And so I would brand myself as radically transparent and the good way that's got me into a lot of trouble. But for most of the case, the good way, but also being empathetic and understanding that, you know, your team or your people, and they're here to learn, they want to, they want to learn, they want to do cool, good work. And they also want to have fun. So having that element of personable, being empathetic, you know, when something goes on their personal life, understand that they're not going to reply to your Slack message every second, right? Give them time to breed, right? Maybe tell them to take the evening off, you know, having that empathy and being really transparent on the other side of it and what you expect, because that's what grows the trust. Right? And I think that's where it's kind of got me today is being really honest and frank with people in a nice way, you know, and not being harsh, but I always try to encourage the managers to give honest feedback, be transparent with your direct reports, but have that fourth element and I think that's really what tribal scout is about, and showing that you care, show that we're here to do club work. We're a group of passionate, smart people, we're hungry. Everyone here is hungry. I know by them, they're all developing their own outs out of fun, you know, that's passionate people and what they do, but bringing that to what they do and their work for tribal scale, too, and just having fun while doing really good stuff. You know, I think that's how I'd sum it up. Hopefully that makes sense.

    Qasim Virjee 50:27
    That's brilliant. I think it's something that people forget about. And it's something that is also very difficult to encourage when everyone is separate and living their lives and you know, their workstation in their in their house. Yeah. So it's boring

    Nicola Watson 50:40
    be by yourself at home. Someone just call me in Slack and give me a hilarious story. Because I want to know all the details. Yeah, yeah. So it's great. And just like, celebrate me publicly celebrate kudos and give public recognition. It's part of the DNA of what we do. But on the flip side, and our stand up to be shared, fail fast, and we're encouraged you that I'm sure she was spoken to you on the fail fast mentality, the tribal scale has that it's okay to fail, you know, fail, share with everyone that someone else will learn from it to the

    Qasim Virjee 51:11
    point that he's going to onstage at an event called fuckup. Nights, literally,

    Nicola Watson 51:14
    that's the foundation of it, you know, so it's really nice culture, it's a very, creates a very safe place for people to admit, Okay, last week, you know, I sent the wrong spreadsheet to a client, it was an absolute mess. But that's just how I sorted out you though.

    Qasim Virjee 51:31
    Now we have two clients. We brought in five normally editors, but now they're working together. Yeah. So

    Nicola Watson 51:37
    that really sums it up. It's just a great place to work. And I know, I'm paid to say that, but I genuinely, really, really do love working there. And I love the people I'm working with. Brilliant.

    Qasim Virjee 51:46
    Well, it's been fantastic. hearing your story, how you came into this whole world of HR. Yeah. It's so nice to hear. Even like every time I hear this, almost every person who tells me their story of how they got into HR, it was there a people person, context led them to this profession. And it's been a journey of discovery the whole way, but fulfilling because they get to help other people. And I think ending with this note of promoting fun as part of work is really cool, because, you know, it's something that people I think, in administrative work, and especially in engineering, you know, forget about because there are deadlines in this. Everything's tasks based on functional, that creating a space for people to have fun, especially on a remote team is an interesting challenge. Yeah. But you've risen to that. And that was really I enjoyed listening to that. Oh, thank

    Nicola Watson 52:40
    you very much for the conversation. Thanks for coming into the students here. Thank you. All right.

    Meeting room rentals at StartWell in Toronto

    Book any of our meeting rooms or venues on-demand for small or large company gatherings. We include presentation technology with complimentary barista service and a great vibe that your team will love.

    1 of 12