Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer. Today I’m talking with Nadia Alli, senior director of HR Business Partners at Deel. They have a global workforce serving customers around the world, which makes for some interesting workforce management challenges. Technology plays a big role in solving them. So we’re going to talk about the future path of remote work, how distributed workforces communicate and collaborate, and how AI fits in all on this edition of PeopleTech. Hi, Nadia. Welcome. Could you tell me a little bit about Deel?
Yeah, sure. So Deel is an HR platform used to hire people at any company anywhere in the world. So we help all of our clients with everything from payroll and benefits to compliance, to onboarding. We also have a comprehensive HRS product, so you can pay anyone everywhere, hire anyone everywhere. We’re located in over 158 countries around the world. We have several employment types from direct employee to contractor. So we help our clients find talent wherever they want and make sure they can compliantly work for their organizations.
Great. Now, there’s a lot of buzz today about remote and hybrid work. It’s settled down a little bit I think in the last year, but what’s your view of how the world works today?
Yeah, I think the world works today in a more flexible way than it has ever before. I think we’re finding more and coming out of Covid, there seems to be a dichotomy between remote work and returning to work. I think we’re hearing the narrative a lot in the media that companies are forcing people to come back to work. You have to come back three days a week. They’re monitoring, they want to have in work culture, which is fine. There’s some organizations that that works better for, and maybe they have data and statistics and analysis around productivity, about being in the office and collaboration and that works better for their business needs.
But what we believe in at Deel, and I think what we’re seeing more and more is people wanting to work and live where it works best for their personal lives. And if that can also work for the business, then let’s do it. Right? Let’s ensure that when you’re happy in your home and your location, you’re going to be a more productive team member. And we have not seen loss of productivity from having a remote workforce.
Deel has been remote since the day we started. We kind of were born in the pandemic era, so we’ve never had offices, we never had an in-office cultures. And with that said, we understand the need for some team members to want to work in an office setting maybe once or twice a week or whatever works best for their schedule. So we do have a coworking perk that we offer all of our team members if that’s something they’re interested in. It will never be a full-time office situation, but to encourage people to get together at a coworking space or you work better in that environment, but you also want to mix up remote plus in office without being forced to go into an office. That’s something we certainly provide with the caveat that we are and we’ll continue to be a remote first work environment.
How do you see this all evolving? There’s a tug of war now between employers who want their workers to come back to the office and the workers who don’t want to go back to the office. It still feels like showing up at someplace for work is what the default position is. Do you think that’s going to change and can you paint me a picture of what work life might be like in say 10 years?
Yeah, I think work life is going to be more remote than ever in 10 years. I think we’re seeing companies push people to come back into the office and we’re seeing people push back against that and maybe leave those organizations or make a case for them to be remote or go to companies that really value remote first. I think more and more we’re going to be less in an office space and more leveraging remote first culture and how we can make that work, whether it’s through different tools and programs and systems and softwares that make remote work better for us. But I don’t think remote work is going anywhere. I think the push towards forcing people back into an office is going to be rejected somewhat, and I think we’ll see more and more people kind of deferring to, or at least the flexibility I think was where we have to go as a society that’s employing people. We have to be flexible with people’s work-life balance, and we saw that happen during covid and we continue to see it at Deel.
What is also challenging is we at Deel we’re in over 102 countries around the world. We have team members everywhere, and it becomes increasingly difficult to also accommodate being in an office while also working in a remote culture. For example, I support a global workforce and I’m based in California. For me to go into an office, I have meetings early in the morning. I’m in not a great time zone for my organization, works for me, but maybe it wouldn’t work for everyone. But if I have to start doing meetings at 7:30, 8 in the morning, it would be hard for me to get to an office by then, commute, get to that space, start my meetings, maybe stay a little bit later if I have calls with APAC or get home in time to finish those calls with APAC.
So I think flexibility is key as we grow global workforces, being able to not force people to be in a bus or a train or a car commuting back and forth to an office when they could be much more productive in that 30 minutes, that hour, that hour and a half, they would’ve spent transporting themselves from office to home. They could have been more productive working and then also having more time for themselves. So I think we are going to continue to move to a place of flexibility and continue to see remote work being prioritized for more and more companies as employees push back on this forced return to office situation.
From the employer’s point of view, there’s an awful lot that goes on under the hood when you’ve got distributed workforce. How do companies deal with things like workforce management? I mean real specifically performance management where everybody’s remote from one another, managers someplace, team is someplace else. How does an employer even begin to approach that?
Yeah, that’s a good question. I get this a lot from friends or family members that I talk to. It is like, how can someone have career growth? It’s like they don’t see their team member or their manager in the office and they’re not building those relationships.
To me, I don’t think we at Deel value in person relationship building or collaboration is a means to how you’re performing. We’re an extremely high performance culture. We’re looking at performance metrics every month, if not more. We don’t wait for performance cycles to manage team members’ performance, and we keep people to a high standard. We look at everyone’s KRs. We look at what are your roles and responsibilities and how are you delivering against those? How consistent are you in your delivery against those? And we leverage communication and collaboration as a way to make sure people are bought into the company’s mission, they’re bought into the goals, their team goals, their individual goals, and they’re delivering against that.
So we’re hiring for a certain profile of person who’s able to manage their own time, is able to prioritize and also be a strong communicator. I think that’s key in this remote space that we’re in, remote workforce that we’re cultivating is we have never seen a value of in-person communication or meeting or being in an office as an input into performance. I think we’re measuring performance against the deliverables of your goals and the output that we’re giving to our clients. Everything at Deel comes back to servicing our clients and whatever we’re hearing from them, what feedback we’re getting, we want to be able to execute against that and whatever promises we’ve made to them, we want to execute to them and make sure we have the best product and services for our clients. And if someone is not delivering, it will be obvious.
You’re talking about communication and collaboration. Those are very personal things and communication I think a lot of people understand that there are Slacks, there’s email, there’s all these tools available to help people communicate, but collaboration can be tougher, can’t it? How do smart companies approach that?
Yeah, I think it can be tougher. I think we get everyone into one room and you have a whiteboard and you hammer some things out, but we’ve been able to pivot really well with how we’re collaborating. We work very efficiently async. We’re in docs, we’re editing, we’re responding to Slacks, if there’s a project, there’s a channel for it, the owners are on, everyone knows what they’re doing and they’re executing against that.
I think because we have at Deel had no other way of working, we’ve always been remote. Even if you’re someone… And I think there is a learning curve. I’m someone, when I started at Deel, gosh, 18 months ago now, I had not been in an office because it was the middle of covid, but before that, I had been working in an office space. So I think there is a learning curve that happens when you join a very fast-paced environment like Deel when Slacks are happening so fast, there’s so many threads, there’s so many huddles, there’s full conversations that have happened and decisions have been made maybe even by the time I wake up. So I think there’s a learning curve in working at a place like Deel that’s so global. I think it really roots into with people working at any time of day, someone is awake and working. I might be fast asleep, but there’s things that are happening while I’m asleep, depending on what time zone they’re happening in.
So I think we’ve been really successful at building a culture of working async. We try to deprioritize meetings as much as possible, unless you really need to get X, Y, and Z people in the room for 20 minutes and really hammer something out. We have really mastered the art of async work and doing that through Slack, through docs, through all of our collaboration tools that we have, Miro boards, whatever it may be. Each team is different. Each team is using different tools that makes sense for their business lines.
But we’ve started as a company that’s remote and we’ve been able to hone that as that is our reality. We have no other option. We don’t have the option necessarily of meeting all these people in all these different countries in one room for a day to figure things out. So we’ve been able to leverage that Async work and collaboration.
And with that said, we also have things like offsite programs where yes, sometimes there’s going to be value if you have a strong business case to get this group of people together for a few days to solve something business-wise, a challenge, solve a create a project plan, whatever it may be that you have not really been able to do successfully async and remotely. And that’s okay, right? There’s always going to be situations like that and we want to be able to understand those situations and accommodate them as much as we can. So we have an offsite policy that allows for people to get together to solve certain kinds of business challenges and have a little bit of fun and meet socially as well too. But the core of it has to be getting together to solve a business need or resolve an issue that we haven’t been able to resolve async. And how can you do that by getting a few people together in a room for a few days?
I have to imagine compliance is kind of a bear in terms of designing and building and running a platform for how companies run their businesses, run their workforce. How do you deal with that? How do you approach managing all of these different rules, different jurisdictions?
Yeah, it’s a big challenge, and I actually think it’s one of the… When I try to sell the opportunity of working at Deel to any HR business partners that are joining my team, I always say, we’re going to learn more on this job than any other job because have you worked at a company that employs people in a hundred plus countries with several different employment types? Probably never. So every day we’re learning something new about a local law in this country for this employment type. And I think that’s what keeps the work interesting. And we’re not all employment law experts, but by the end of this, I think I might be.
So we have several ways we do this. We have a very comprehensive knowledge base for our clients that we also use internally, which includes compliance from every single country that we operate in. So that’s 150 plus countries. So I can go to Germany’s page and understand if I want to offboard a team member who’s a full-time person in Germany, what does that process look like? What documents do I need to send? What talking points do I need to have? What stakeholders do I need to contact? What is that process? So we try to self-serve as much as possible using the resources that Deel has already created for our clients. So that’s number one.
Number two, we work, like I’ve said a few times before, super collaboratively with multiple teams across the company. So that’s everyone from legal to IT to total rewards to payroll, to make sure that we are taking all the right steps in any situation, whether that’s addressing an employment relations concern, whether that’s addressing a termination, voluntary or involuntary, whether we’re thinking of a mutual separation agreement. Whatever it may be we root in the person’s country and employment type to advise on any sort of recommendation to address that situation.
So compliance is number one for us. And like you said, because we’re so global, it has to be. Right, we don’t want to be in a situation where we’re treating a team member unfairly or doing a disservice to our business. So how can we make sure we’re approaching every situation really thoughtfully because we have all the facts and we know what we need to do, and it’s going to be different every single time depending on the country and employment type. So being really thoughtful to those factors and knowing that we try to treat all of our team members as equally as possible, but in certain situations when we talk about compliance and legalities, there’s specifics and nuances we have to think about for each person. So that’s really top of mind as we address our global workforce, and we really try to leverage all of our resources, both from self-serve and all of our internal stakeholders as much as we can.
The thought of gathering the content that you need for compliance is scary. What’s the process there to make sure you’re getting not just the right material to cover things, but that it’s correct?
Yeah. Yeah, it’s a good question. There’s a few ways to think about it. Number one is we’ve probably done it before. So we try to leverage as much historical and internal data as we can, whether that’s a manager who’s been through this or HR business partner who’s had to deal with a similar situation, what information do they have so we can self-serve a resolution. We work really closely with our legal partners. We have employment lawyers for every country that we are in. So they are very strong partners to the HR team and advise us on anything we need. So we’ve been very lucky to have a really great group of people advising us on employment law, and that’s something we don’t take for granted, and we want to check all of our boxes before executing anything.
I think for me in this role, it’s so important that we do everything as compliantly and cleanly as we can. So there isn’t a risk to the business or there isn’t a risk to the team member, and all sides are being treated fairly and compliantly. So it’s a lot. We have a lot of resources. We read a lot. We Google a lot, we talk to a lot of people. We share our project plans, we get input. We check all of our boxes before executing anything because it is a very fine line between making a mistake that could be very costly or detrimental to the business or the team member. So we make sure that we’re following. We have a lot of process and workflows that we’re following. Everything is very well-thought-out before any sort of execution happens.
I think it’s adding that extra layer of thoughtfulness and do your research. And I think the people I’m looking for my team, and I think across Deel is someone who’s really resourceful and can figure some things out and come up with a few recommendations and gut check it with the stakeholders that they should be. Get as many eyes on your recommendations as you can so people can poke holes on it and then move forward. So it’s a lot of making sure we have all of our ducks in a row and we’re checking everything twice and then we’re executing it thoughtfully.
Speaking of compliance, I’m practically required to ask you a question about AI. So here’s my AI question. Does AI have a role in all of this? Besides automation, I mean, are there ways that you can see the technology being worked into your platform?
I mean, certainly. Yeah. I think we’re trying to lean into AI as much as we can. We don’t think it’s going anywhere. I think it’s going to change a lot of the ways we’re living and how we’re working. We don’t think it’s going to replace humans. We see it as a tool to enhance all of the work we’re doing and get our work done as efficiently as possible. And as an HR function, especially at Deel, our work has become increasingly more complex. We have business needs changing. Our workforce is more global, so we have a lot of ways we’re thinking about how AI can contribute to that and help us scale efficiently and as successfully as possible. And how can we manage our global workforce as efficiently as possible using AI?
We can use AI for things like helping us understand local legislation. What are the HR practices in that region? What’s the compliance in new markets? We’ve recently, we launched a product called DeelIQ, and that product uses chat, GBT and integrates with our knowledge base, which is what I was talking about a little bit earlier, and the knowledge base has been created by humans. We have 200 plus team members internally at Deel, who have built this really robust knowledge base that is formatted for 150 countries. So how can we use DeelIQ plus Chat GPT to pull the information from the knowledge base that you’re looking for, right? It’s leveraging that content to answer a question that you have, rather than you just having to search in the bar and find the right thing. How can you ask a question? And AI serves up the answer right to you using the data that we’ve already created.
And I think as we move towards building out, I think one of the most important things is in HR as we continue to be a global workforce, is kind of building out your tech stack and trying to automate as much things as you can. And admittedly, we have a lot of manual processes at Deel, and we’re working towards creating better workflows and automations, and that’s always top of mind for us. How can we automate as much administrative work as we can? So if we can use AI potentially to automate any of our processes and analysis of information and giving us data across all of our employee data, seeing if we can find trends based on that, we’re able to dig deeper and tell a bigger, better story using AI features.
So we’re leaning into it, I think, as much as we can. I think we’re not seeing it as a replacement for human beings, but I think we’re seeing it as how can we make us better workers and better executors and have more access more readily to the data information and workflows and processes that we need to make us better at our roles.
Nadia, thank you very much. It’s been great talking to you, and I’m glad to meet you.
Yeah, likewise. I hope we can chat soon.
My guest today has been Nadia Alli, senior director of HR Business Partners at Deel, and this has been PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. We’re a publication of Recruiting Daily. We’re also a part of Evergreen Podcasts. To see all of their programs, visit www.evergreenpodcast.com. And to keep up with HR technology, visit the HCM technology report every day. We’re the most trusted source of news in the HR tech industry. Find us at www.hcmtechnologyreport.com. I’m Mark Feffer.