Take a Seat at The (Virtual) Roundtable!

Highlights from a Series of Candid Discussions with Talent Leaders Across the HealthTech Industry
By: Nina Mermelstein

Zoom fatigue and virtual happy hours – these were all new concepts to my team at Aequitas Partners at the start of 2020. As a close-knit group of colleagues, we were used to spending 8+ hours a day together in our shared office space in NYC, so the transition to a remote workplace was, well… a little rocky. As we were going through our own 2020 growing pains, I knew that many of our clients were likely experiencing similar obstacles ranging from maintaining strong employee engagement in a remote environment to creating effective diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI) strategies.

I was particularly interested in understanding how the people responsible for talent management and internal hiring across our client base – and the greater healthcare technology industry – were addressing 2020’s barrage of new challenges. This led me to develop the concept for a series of Health Talent Leader Roundtables, or as I candidly refer to it – “group therapy” for Talent Leaders (VP of Talent, Head of People, etc.) across our industry. The roundtables enable small groups of 8-10 peers to come together (virtually of course) to speak openly, share ideas, and build a sense of community during this trying time.

Since June, I’ve hosted three roundtables featuring meaningful discussions on a variety of meaty topics that are top of mind for the participants. While I won’t mention specific names of attendees or their businesses in order to maintain confidentially, I’ve outlined some insights from the discussions that I hope will remind others that we are not alone in tackling these new challenges. The three topics highlighted below cover Mental & Physical Wellness Programs, Employee Engagement, and DEI Strategies.

Creative Ways to Expand Employee Mental & Physical Health Programs

Since all the roundtable participants work at healthcare-oriented businesses, I wasn’t surprised to learn that they were all focused on improving employee access to both physical and mental health services. These leaders expressed concerns about how their teams were coping with the anxieties surrounding COVID-19, changes in workplace environments that might lead to loneliness or new challenges with childcare, as well as the fears and frustrations with current race relations. One Talent Leader described the difficulty in keeping his finger on the pulse of how his fellow employees were managing in a remote setting, emphasizing that the biggest thing keeping him up at night was “making sure that nobody is quietly suffering.” What we did hear though, was some of the creative ways that these leaders have been addressing the wellness needs of their employee-base:

  • Leverage existing clinical personnel: A Head of Talent who works for a business with a behavioral health platform immediately recognized the severity and need for building more robust mental health offerings internally, since their own customer base of employers was expressing increased demand for their solution. Aside from adding supplemental mental health services from an outside vendor, this leader immediately expanded office hours with HR as well as with their internal behavioral health coaches, not to provide actual therapy sessions to their colleagues, but rather to help their teammates develop new tools and skills that would improve their mental wellbeing.
  • Foster employee-led wellness sessions: Some leaders shared examples of employee-led health initiatives such as weekly Zoom yoga and morning meditations. A common theme across all of these businesses was that employee-led “grassroots” efforts, whether they are focused on virtual group workouts or anti-mental health stigma work groups, create more accountability and buy-in from the larger team.
  • Offer workplace/wellness stipends: Another VP of Talent discussed the importance of enabling their employees to make their work environment more livable by offering a stipend to employees (reimbursement managed by an outside vendor) for workspace, fitness and health-related purchases.

How to Avoid Zoom Fatigue While Maintaining Employee Engagement

At this point, I think we can all relate to the feelings of exhaustion and burnout that result from hours of back-to-back video conference calls. During these roundtable discussions, Talent Leaders have expressed the efforts they are taking to strike the right balance of video calls, which can be incredibly beneficial in creating connectivity between remote colleagues, especially as more people go through completely virtual hiring and onboarding processes:

  • Create an in-office experience virtually: One Talent Leader came up with a creative way to leverage technology to create an in-office experience. Utilizing Slack, they created a “Water Cooler” channel to mimic the in-office casual conversations that staff were used to having around the office. People had the ability to pop in and out of the videoconference on the slack channel at any point in the day to chat with others before getting back to work.
  • Switch up happy hours: Even in a small team, it’s been hard to truly catch up with my colleagues during virtual happy hours and I can only imagine how difficult that can be in larger companies, especially with all those inevitable awkward moments when people begin speaking at the same time. Some Talent Leaders shared thoughts on how to change up virtual happy hours to make sure that they don’t just feel like another obligatory Zoom call after a long day of hard work. One idea was to host a company-wide game each week (e.g. Pictionary, Bingo) led by a different employee. They would circulate the teams and rules of the game ahead of time and everyone joins the video call, but during each team’s turn, the other people turn their cameras off so that it feels like a more intimate group.
  • Encourage voice calls: Another concept that was brought up in the roundtable discussions was encouraging employees to look at their schedule of meetings at the beginning of each week and decide which meetings actually need to be on Zoom versus what can just be accomplished over a phone call. If businesses are supporting employees’ decisions to take meetings on the phone versus video, those one or two breaks from video meetings can help prevent burnout.
  • Set “online” hours: One very geographically distributed company with employees across a variety of time zones came up with a strategy to offer their team more flexibility, especially since many of their staff members are parents. The business established “online” hours for the company between 9:30am to 2pm PST, when everyone is expected to be available for cross-functional video meetings. If someone wants to have a video meeting outside of those hours, you have to check with all the attendees first and staff can comfortably say no to meetings that don’t fall into that timeframe. Another company instituted “no meeting Thursday afternoons” based on feedback from staff that they were feeling burnt out from being on Zoom calls all day long and needed a set time to actually get work done.

Building, Planning, & Implementing Effective DEI strategies

Since all Talent Leaders have been heavily focused on spearheading Diversity, Equity & Inclusion initiatives in their respective organizations, we’ve dedicated the last few roundtables entirely to conversations around DEI. We’ve covered everything from adding more diverse candidates at the top of the funnel to creating inclusive interview processes and measuring the success of your DEI efforts. While all the Talent Leaders were in varying stages of strategizing, planning and implementing their DEI initiatives, participants shared valuable insights on what has worked well and what hasn’t worked as they set out on their DEI missions.

  • Acknowledge your starting point: Talent Leaders agreed that the first step in creating a holistic DEI strategy is recognizing where your company currently stands with DEI. This involves collecting current diversity metrics, creating DEI dashboards to track progress, and transparently acknowledging that current systems lead to bias, racial/gender pay gaps and under-representation of minorities. Several roundtable participants have encouraged their leadership and staff to take the Harvard Implicit Bias Test to uncover their unconscious/hidden biases that might distort the objective evaluation and treatment of others based on race, gender, etc. Another Head of Talent hosted internal conversations about “racial microaggressions”- brief, everyday exchanges that send denigrating messages to people of color because they belong to a racial minority group. These candid discussions involved getting staff members comfortable talking about the microaggressions they’ve committed themselves (often unintentionally) and how they can prevent them. Once the diversity data is clearly outlined, there is recognition of existing systemic biases, and people are comfortable transparently talking about these diversity issues, the companies can establish a starting point from which their DEI strategies can be built. From there, businesses can set their objectives including short term and long term goals, as well as their approaches to getting buy-in and rolling out the plan.
  • Make the case to leadership: While there is so much momentum and attention on racial relations right now, many Talent Leaders are seizing this opportunity to get senior leadership’s buy-in on diversity initiatives that might require additional funding, or acceptance that a more inclusive hiring process will take longer than usual. One roundtable participant said, “at the end of the day, leadership will have to see that nobody is going to walk into an office where they are the only person out of a hundred people who looks like them, so there has to be sustained true commitment to building a diverse workforce.” Another Talent Leader described their success in getting the C-suite’s buy-in by sharing data from a recent employee engagement survey. The survey results clearly showed that the company’s Millennial and Gen Z team members are very passionate about DEI and scored the business very low in the “diversity in leadership” category. Once the c-suite saw that score, they recognized the need to make this is a priority and allocated the budget so that the VP of People could take action.
  • Start by Sourcing Diverse Candidates: A key theme that came out of the roundtable DEI discussions was the importance of setting goals that require diversity efforts to happen as the first step in the hiring process. For example, posting a job to one or two diversity job boards and reviewing those applications first before looking at referrals or other standard candidate pools that are more homogeneous. One VP of Talent described his short-term DEI hiring objectives such as sourcing a certain number of diverse candidates (in this case 50 candidates), reviewing under-represented groups first, and only extending an offer when at least one diverse candidate makes it to an on-site finalist interview. Other strategies to help eliminate bias at the front-end of the hiring process include using blind or nameless resumes that go out to hiring teams, just asking applicants to say their level of education rather than their specific universities, and doing the initial interview by phone instead of video.
  • Create an inclusive interview process: Talent Leaders underscored the importance of creating an inclusive interview process by making sure every candidate is being evaluated the same way by providing the interview team with clearly defined areas that should be covered during the interview as well as the specific evaluation criteria. It is also imperative that candidates see diverse interview panels. For example, if a woman is interviewing, you need to make sure that the interview panel is not made up of 4 males so that the candidate can feel more comfortable. In cases where senior leadership teams aren’t diverse, Talent Leaders recommended bringing any diverse company Advisors or Board Members into the interview process that can offer their unique perspectives. In order to continue measuring the progress against inclusive interview and onboarding goals, one Head of People started including a question in the company’s survey to new hires asking, “did you feel a sense of inclusivity in the interview and onboarding process?”

What Now?

As we move into 2021, a year that will likely bring us a host of new obstacles, I’ve felt encouraged by watching this incredible community of bold Talent & People Leaders who having been taking the reigns to set and implement new strategies that are empowering their workforce and driving their respective businesses forward. Every small win made by these Talent and People champions should be recognized as a huge step forward, whether it’s a new employee engagement plan or the rollout of a formal DEI strategy. While it’s important to reflect on progress made during 2020, there is always more work to be done and we’re all likely asking the difficult question of “what now?” Aequitas Partners is here to support Talent and People Leaders across our industry as they answer that key question and determine what’s next on the agenda. Specifically, with the great momentum around diversity, equity, & inclusion efforts, Aequitas Partners is offering two (completely free) resources for these leaders who are spearheading DEI initiatives:

    • Join a Future Health Talent Leader Roundtable Any Health Talent or People Leader is welcome to sign up for the next roundtable discussion which will also center on DEI topics
    • Access the DEI Resource Center a curated collection of DEI-related resources such as tools, templates, job boards/networks, and studies that can be useful in your DEI efforts