Crafting the Future of Work: Nathan Manuel, PagerDuty

Nathan Manuel is a Workplace and Employee Experience leader at PagerDuty. In this interview, he looks back on the different strategies and initiatives he's taken within the last 2 years to improve workplace experience at PagerDuty - in a pandemic and post-pandemic context where Hybrid work model was adopted. 

What is your title and how can you describe this in two sentences?

I'm the director of workplace experience at PagerDuty. My role is really focused on redefining what we call the workplace and thinking about how we can provide employees a really excellent experience across all of our working domains. My team and I are dedicated to providing low-friction engagements and events for Dutonians (PagerDuty's employees).

What do you think about when I'm telling you, Workplace Engagement? What does it trigger when you're hearing it?

Workplace engagement for us is our ever shifting world. I think it used to be like “I would give people lunch” and that was enough to really make people excited about coming into the office. Now it's all of these multi-layered factors, it's really dynamic and it's been interesting because when we even think about what the employee experience is, it includes aspects of a lot of different departments: it includes work from IT, HR but also all the way throughout the organization. Especially when working on a product-driven organization like PagerDuty.
W e think about experiences we would like our customers to have, except that our customers are clearly Deutonians: we are really focused on providing moments for them, across a bunch of different verticals that drive engagement - no matter what kind of working mode or what kind of phaser career they're in.

We've also been through acquisitions (2015, 2020, 2022), which is a lot of work to make sure new people feel at home, trusted, and feel psychological security when joining our organization. These are other opportunities for us to think about what engagement is with those communities.

You mentioned working with other departments. I'm curious to hear how do you work internally with other departments to drive more engagement.

At PagerDuty, we have a team called Culture and Strategy. They are running data and analysis and understanding of what our engagement looks like with our employees. We partner extremely closely with them. For example, we had last week in Toronto a cross-functional offsite with this team to better understand several other teams. It gave us an opportunity to hear the data, understand what's working for people and what actually creates engagement for our community... Once you have an understanding of how people work and what actually brings them value, it's our job to design solutions that really work towards getting those people the best of all those worlds.

What do you think are the most important metrics or indicator to measure when it comes to workplace experience and work policies?

Previously, surveys were the main tool. But the workplace world has evolved, incorporating occupancy sensors, data around hotelling… This data helps us grasp how people use space and engage with workplace design, but it's a small part of the experience.

With hybridity, we must redefine the workplace, considering how to engage employees at home and in the office. The challenge is to find those bridge moments where some are remote and others in the office, using technology.

There are many opportunities to unite people in a way that they feel part of the same team and fully engaged. Leveraging technology and relationships, we aim to build cross-organizational ties, creating a framework for easy connection between different teams.

Would you say that today you're trying to build that culture into and beyond office walls? Because we know that culture is a big topic when it comes social interaction - but it's very hard to scale that across the world.

We've been privileged to experiment or work on resources and ideas to bridge hybridity. We consider different modes like working from home, in person, and in the office.
Thinking about these modes, we're looking to bring people together who aren't always together, through collaboration and whiteboarding exercises. We've been given a chance to think differently about approaching remote employees.

One significant initiative has been the PagerDuty popups, where a lean team goes to locations with dense employees without an office. This has allowed us to gather remote employees for in-person engagement. The program lets Deutonians who have never met in real life meet in person. We also see engagement with people in the same community, for example discovering a coworker lives nearby.

We focus on creating moments that build relationships and grow our team's trust. We know in-person engagements boost results, and we try to take advantage of that when possible.

When it comes to promoting connection outside the office, what has worked so far? What are you planning to test in the future?

Some of the things that we know are working are in-person engagement. It's surprising to people when you have really distributed or technologically savvy teams to say those really in person moments bring a lot of value.

But the reality is, we can see that when employees have opportunities to do deep work or do a sprint together, they have a lot of growth, speed, innovation… They have additional learnings that happen in real time, thanks to in-person engagement. It proves that those things are working.

The complexities around that is how we, as a community of knowledge workers, are going to create opportunities to have in-person moments when we know it can maximize value? That's one of the biggest challenges. 

What would you say are the top three challenges organization will face in the near future when it comes to in person connection? Because it implies a lot of adaptive ways of working.

Different challenges are coming up, with a microeconomic but also with a macroeconomic impact - which creates opportunities to think differently.
For example, certain teams like sales may find value in being together more often, as it provides leverage towards their goals. However, this is small compared to the larger challenge of distribution and getting together.

Through experimentation and technology, we can find solutions. We're still in the infancy of integrating the employee experience in ways like aligning IT/HR business partners and workplace experience, which serve as the front line for employees. As we redefine the workplace, we need to solve for hiring talent globally, integrating teams to work asynchronously, and reducing friction in coordinating meetings across time zones.

We're looking to maximize the access to information and tools. We're not there yet, but by using a design mindset to address friction and opportunities, we can enhance the employee experience to possibly the highest engagement levels. We're in the process of figuring out how to bring everything together for this purpose.

What would be your tips for any other workplace team to approach theses new challenges?

I'll say when your workplace team is looking to tackle what's going on with your employees, the key thing is to understand how they work. So often, we don't do the listening exercise and only use a lot of assumptions. We don't really understand the source data. 

It would be my strong recommendation If you're a workplace team or an executive, trying to figure out what would be the best environment for your employees to work in. You really have to understand how they work, what they need and what will provide them the opportunity to have the most outcome but also have the best experience.

Do you have any resources you'd recommend reading, or workplace leaders you would recommend following?

I look at numerous resources every day, and there are key people that I'm working with and integrating their practices into my own:

  • Andreas Hoffbauer who's an organizational psychologist that we've worked with at PagerDuty, he understands our organization and how we work and that's been really key.
  • Omar Ramirez at The Collective who's somebody we all know in the workplace world. He's now working on an initiative to help people understand best practices and knowledge around these areas.
  • Jade Choy from Epoch, she's really trying to get entry-level people or fundamental kind of employees in the workplace world. She has a good understanding and knowledge on how that world works.
  • Nick Bloom who's thinking deeply about work from home and provides a lot of datas and analysis on his website Work from Home Resources. He's intensely working on what hybridity and our work we'll look in the future - which is key for us to provide an excellent experience.

Adam Grant who's disseminating information about organizational psychology at the highest level and so executives across the world are listening to him. It's really key for people like us to know what kind of information and data is getting fed up to the highest levels.

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Timothée Bourcier

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