Podcast: TriNet’s CEO on How SMBs Use Tech to Navigate Pandemic

SMB Software


Mark Feffer: Welcome to PeopleTech, the podcast of the HCM Technology Report. I’m Mark Feffer.

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Today, my guest is Burton Goldfield, CEO of TriNet, a PEO serving small and medium-sized businesses in a variety of industries. We’re talking about Covid-19 and its impact on their approach to managing their workers.

Podcast: @TriNet CEO Burton Goldfield talks about how SMBs leverage #HRTech to navigate remote work and the pandemic. #HR Share on X

Burton, thanks so much for being here.

Let me start by asking you, what have SMBs, head of small businesses. What have they learned about their approach to HR overall during the pandemic? They’ve obviously had to scramble and deal with an unprecedented situation. What are the lessons? And do you think those lessons are going to have long-term impact on how SMBs operate?

Burton Goldfield: Mark, absolutely. So first and foremost, I am personally gratified by the optimism, by the focus and by the resolve that these SMBs have in an incredibly difficult time that none of us could believe could happen. So the SMBs in my mind, and we could talk about some of the statistics are sticking with it and are optimistic and are pushing through this to the best of their ability. From an HR standpoint, I believe that the SMBs are very focused on building plans, making a concerted effort around staff morale, enhancing communication at a level they weren’t in the past, upgrading their safety programs, their contingency programs, and really looking across their companies to figure out how they can grow and survive in very difficult times because I don’t think any of us now believe that this is the last time, something like this happens.

Mark: Has the pandemic changed the way that small businesses are using technology for HR?

Burton: The pandemic has allowed the small businesses, if they avail themselves of technology, to utilize it in a much greater fashion. And because their people are all working remotely here at TriNet I have 3000 people in 3000 different locations. In my customer base, they are working remotely as well to the degree possible and half the leverage technology in order to get their work done. So the answer is a resounding yes. And they’re understanding that having the right infrastructure and technology, whether it’s from an HR standpoint, a communication standpoint, or from a process standpoint has to be fairly bulletproof because they have to conduct the business every day.

Mark: Can you give me an example of that. How have you seen small businesses pivot to technology, either in recruiting or workforce management or any other aspect of their HR?

TriNet CEO Burton Goldfield
TriNet’s Burton Goldfield

Burton: So let’s take a couple of specifics. The first to me would be in the overall level of communications. They’re leveraging technology, whichever system they believe, make sense to have asynchronous conversations with other colleagues on a regular basis. That’s one that’s really important. Whereas you could reach over the cube in the past and ask a question about. Now you have to use technology to get an answer from another colleague. Technology is being used in a far greater way to do more general communications across the organization. I see from an HR standpoint in recruiting, we are seeing very senior people hired without ever meeting them in person. So they’re using technology like Zoom to do interviews. They’re using it to discuss offers and acceptance to those offers. We did not see this being done in the past, but it’s a necessity because many of our customers are actually growing in the pandemic, particularly in areas like our biotech vertical, which is one we’re very passionate about.

Mark: Now, how about TriNet? How have you have to adjust your approach? What are you doing differently? Let me ask that question from both sides of the equation internally, you’ve said you’ve got 3000 people working from home. That’s a change, but also how are you approaching your customers differently?

Burton: Fortunately, we had the technology infrastructure to make the radical change quickly and not miss a beat. We are at the heart of it, a large transaction processing company with millions of transactions a month. As you can imagine, whether it’s running a payroll, answering a question by phone or by email, whether it’s changing addresses, changing medical plans, filing information on behalf of our clients.

So the transaction part of our business had to be seamlessly and instantaneously converted to an ad home model. I give credit to my team and our infrastructure team who was able to make this happen because you can’t skip a beat when it comes to these mission critical issues. I think, secondly, just like I talked about our customers, we had to avail ourselves of technology so that we could get answers to questions from other colleagues. Whereas before we had large centers of excellence where people could reach over the cube and get the answers.

That’s a big change for TriNet as a company. And finally we are hiring and I am personally hiring and I am using video technology to do that hiring and selection process. And I can tell you categorically, I’ve never done that in the past.

Mark: Now let me ask this question regarding remote work especially when you’ve had to adapt new tools and such to make communications work between employees, but also to make the HR function work for your customers. Can you give me an example of one of the methods that you’ve changed or what other tools you have brought in?

Burton: Yeah. So what I would say is that we’ve had to build much more robust databases with answers and we quickly created and launched our COVID trying at business resiliency and preparedness center. And this is the type of resource that we have, which serves in an efficient distribution center for all TriNet COVID-19 communications and content. It didn’t exist before this happened. And it becomes an epicenter where all this information resides and answers can be gotten quickly. So that was a fairly significant task. And by the way, it’s being updated on a regular basis, I would say the other example I would give is the amount of webinars that we’re giving and the attendance in the thousands. People looking for answers of how to obtain the loans and then how to qualify for loan forgiveness that the rules are changing on a regular basis. So all of this information had to be updated or has to be updated in real time. We then avail ourselves at the same level before this pandemic occurred. I think that’s a good example.

Mark: Okay. My last question is about reopening. It seems to me that Rio reopening is going to be stickier than a lot of people imagined. We’ve got cases cropping up around the country. It seems that the whole process or the whole idea of reopening is putting employers under more pressure than they even were before. How do you think small businesses are going to proceed as they try to reopen? And what role is HR technology going to play?

Burton: The good news from my standpoint is in our survey 86% of SMB leaders say that their business has handled the changes of being remote and the optimism is high and rising. And I believe that it won’t go back to the way it was, but there’s also phenomenal stories out there of companies that are navigating the reopening. And I don’t know if you want to hear about a couple of them, but there’s companies that we are pleased to work with, like re:3D down in Texas, which is a startup building, life size, 3D printing capabilities. And they call Gigabot but what they’re doing is they’re working different shifts. They are supporting their employees by all of the technology necessary to keep them safe. And they are actually building Gigabot printers that are printing PPE devices on site for people in the US and people around the world.

Burton: So they have continued to grow and prosper in this world. I think to answer your question specifically, it’s going to depend on what type of company you have. If you have to go in and manufacture a product, you have to make it safe for your workers. A company like TriNet, I don’t believe we’ll ever go back to the way we worked before. There will be remote worker capabilities, when it warrants itself for the groups that have found this to be productive and provides a level of service that was better than before.

In the end, whether it’s TriNet or our customers, I believe that people are going to focus on the results for their business. And TriNet will do the same thing. It’s going to be a slow get back to work as you pointed out. We just had another delay, particularly based on some of the increased outbreaks in the cities that we’re involved in, but I’m not overly worried about it because the team has adapted and is delivering a high level of service today.

So your point is the right one, which is we will go back to work on location when it makes sense and how it makes sense in the future, but it will never go back to the way it was before. My own opinion on remote workers has changed. You could be an old dog like myself, and you can deliver a new way of doing business.

Mark: I’m curious. I have to ask what was your opinion of remote work? And how’s it changed?

Burton: I am old school where I believe that face to face contact is the best way to be able to communicate and quickly and efficiently get things done. So in a normal situation, having a large office where I could interact in an informal way with every single colleague on a regular basis was the right way to do business. I’ve never worked from home. I don’t particularly enjoy working from home. I love being with colleagues. What this has taught me, Mark, is that there are different ways you can approach a problem and be successful. There’s not just one way.

I personally will go back to work the day I’m allowed to do so because it gets me excited, and I love the human contact. Others in specific jobs where it’s not as important. And it is proven that we can deliver the result, as the CEO I am perfectly comfortable with that outcome.

Mark: Okay. Burton, thank you very much.

Burton: You are so welcome.

Mark: I’ve been speaking with Burton Goldfield, the CEO of TriNet.

And this has been PeopleTech. This edition was brought to you by advos, marketing software that works for you. Learn more at www.advos.io.

And to keep up with the most important developments in 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-dot-hcm-technology-report-dot-com. I’m Mark Feffer.

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