Welcome to Hired! Our goal is to be a hiring resource for Canadians. We showcase companies that do great things and are looking for great people to join their team! On this episode of Hired! by ModoHR, we spoke with Kerris, VP of People Services at Colliers, a global leader in real estate services and investment management.
On this episode we discuss:
- The challenges of going to a remote workforce.
- The future of work at Colliers.
- How Colliers is helping their employees with work/life balance.
- Diversity and Inclusion at Colliers.
Tell us a little bit about your journey and how you landed at Colliers?
The bulk of my career has been around the talent acquisition space. I've spent about 20 years of my career working in talent acquisition, and I spent a lot of that time on the agency side, I was headhunted to go in house at Catalyst Paper about five years ago. It was a great experience, and I learned a ton. Catalyst ultimately was sold and at that point, I was headhunted by Colliers as they were looking for a new talent acquisition director, and I didn't really understand what commercial real estate was at the time - I don't know how I thought people got into offices, I don't know where I thought that transaction happened, or how that conversation came about - but the more I got to meet the people that that I was going to be working with, or reporting to, or that would be on my team, the more I got excited about the great culture and the individuals that I was getting to know. I was more drawn into that process and ultimately joined them in the summer of 2017, as the North American Director for Talent Acquisition.
What are the goals for Colliers this year?
We have a ton on our plate. Colliers is a really exciting organization in growth mode, and we have been for a number of years. We went public back in 2015 and at that time, we set out on a five-year strategy to double our revenue in those five years, which we achieved, despite COVID, fortunately. We've actually achieved that target ahead of time and although COVID did give a knock to many businesses, we were fortunate enough to come out of it and say that we'd achieved that five-year goal. Now we’re on repeat to double in size again, so, it's a hugely growth-oriented organization. With that, comes a lot of opportunity, certainly on the people side, and, as you know, when you're growing an organization, there's a number of ways to do that, we are fairly acquisitive, so we do buy other companies. What that means is that, at the point of integrating cultures and people, we also look at productivity and how we can help our people be more productive. Do they have the right skills, tools, resources to be as productive as possible? Talent acquisition is critical. The attraction, selection, retention, development of people through that employee lifecycle is absolutely critical for us to be able to continue to grow.
There is a lot of impact that human resources and talent acquisition can play at Colliers right now, it's really exciting!
During working from home, what sort of challenges do you do you run into from a health and safety perspective?
It’s been a huge learning curve. 2020 was when the pandemic started to hit for most HR professionals, and our role was suddenly elevated, there was a spotlight on it. I think the assumption by most of the rest of the business was that HR had all the answers, and we did not, because none of us have been through a pandemic before.
We were making that up, just the same as everybody else but health and safety played a big factor in a lot of the decisions we made at Colliers and it was tough, because there was a real desire to remain productive and connected but there was this real need to make sure that our people were kept safe and healthy. We drew on our values at that point and one of our core five values is do what's right and as we had that as the foundation and the philosophy to how we were making decisions around things like that, it really helped us guide the direction that we went in.
We did close down the offices for a period of time, we sent everybody home, we bought a ton of laptops, we got people set up as best we could and it was a lot easier than I think a lot of people anticipated when you're trying to do it on scale - across North America, we're talking about 7,500 people.
As we started to look at reopening, we had to have a real strategy in place for being able to do that safely. Being mindful of a lot of the State and Federal guidelines, CDC, World Health Organization - how are they advising us to do that - and putting in place blueprints, guidelines, training, webinars, health check apps, sanitization requirements, masks, all of those factors, we spent a lot of time and put some really thoughtful and practical guidelines in place that would enable people to come into the office if they wanted to, but in an environment that was that was still really safe and healthy for them, while still encouraging people to work from home where they wanted to do that.
Having that flexibility for people that felt they'd rather stay at home, and maybe not get on a bus and head downtown and for those that felt that they needed to go in the office to be productive, because kids, dogs, neighbours etc., we're all having to be tolerant of many other factors in our in our workplace.
It looks like work from home is here to stay for some companies. How do you personally view this shift? And how does Colliers view the shift as a company?
It’s an interesting one, part of it is we're super fortunate, we are a diversified commercial real estate firm, which means that we have access in our employee base to people that really know about this stuff. They consult with a lot of our major clients on their workspaces and looking at workplace strategy. We’re lucky that we have those individuals within our organization.
The interesting dynamic is that a lot of our clients are looking at what we're doing as an example of how they should respond or react in the future as well. So, it's important for us when a lot of our business is based around leasing office space, or helping our tenants find office space, that we're thoughtful in terms of our approach.
We've done a lot of work surveying our people, doing focus groups, getting feedback, a lot of research. I think, ultimately, the word is flexible, we have to be flexible going forward, and there isn't a one size fits all. I truly believe that the office is not dead. There are some companies that are coming out and saying, we're done with the office, or we're going for work from home, but I think we're at a year into this now and there are so many people I speak to on a day-to-day basis that really crave that connectivity again, but most of them don't want to do it five days a week and that's where the flexibility comes in. We need to have spaces where people can come together. It's the heart of the organization. It's where the culture is developed and where great collaboration happens. For some people, it's where they can focus outside of their personal lives and be most productive, so we do need to provide spaces for everybody to be able to operate in that kind of environment.
There will need to be better collaboration spaces, better spaces for people to do focus work and not get not be distracted so we’ll have to be able to flex for lots of different people as there will be those that want to come in every day, those that want to come in two days a week so how do we set up our space now to accommodate that? Thinking about what the real estate needs to look like? What is the technology needs to look like in order for us to be able to operate in that new way? And what are the people policies that enable our employees to have the kind of flexibility that sets them up for success?
There's so much that’s missed from not being in an office. There are water cooler chats, the informal learning environment that you have, if you're new in your career, and you're coming into an organization and you're trying to learn your job it's hard to do that when you're isolated and the only form of contact you have is through zoom calls. At the same time, people don't want to spend half their life commuting anymore so it has to be flexible.
Let's talk a bit about mental health. It sounds like Colliers is really leading the way. What are some of the other things that you've noticed, as a trend?
It’s super interesting, because for some people working from home has been a real success and for others it's been terrible. I know that we've read a number of reports, and we have conducted surveys ourselves internally, and with our clients, around those different behaviours. Many people, primarily at the manager level and above are working longer hours, even though they're not commuting anymore, those commute times have been sucked in plus more, so their days have become longer. There's an expectation of always on and in the physical, on video sense, and so people are exhausted by spending 8, 9, 10, possibly more, hours a day, face to face, whereas if they were working in an office, they'd shut the door to their office and get on a phone call, whereas it just seems to be all video conversations right now so, there's the always on environment, which is exhausting. That ability to shut down at the end of the day and actually say, my workday is finished, now I'm into my personal life has really been a struggle. My dog is super happy because I make that my excuse. At the end of the day, at 5:30. I'm out to walk the dog and then shut off from work for a bit, otherwise you could just keep going because it’s not like I’m missing a buzzing social life or anything right now as well and that’s a real challenge for people.
Mental health has crept in because there is a lot more stress around how people are being managed from a productivity perspective, because if they're not visible, they're not present in the office, how do people know they're doing the work? As a culture, we've valued presenteeism in the office physically, as a way of monitoring whether people are being successful or not and we have to shift that mindset to what are the deliverables? What are the outcomes? What is the actual project work that you're doing? And how is that getting completed? And does it really matter that it's between the hours of nine and five, there's a lot of pressure on people. Mental health has been a real challenge, so we've done a lot internally to provide webinars, access to external counsel and support. We have created opportunities for parents to have timeout by giving their kids a couple of hours of online learning sessions to give them a break -we've tried to do as much as possible to give people some headspace.
On the presenteeism piece that you just mentioned, what are your views on that?
It is an interesting one. The challenge of presenteeism is that so many of our people, managers, and I'm not just talking colleagues, I'm talking in general, have been brought up to manage people by visibly seeing them do work at their desk. I think that there's a real need for HR people and learning and development to support managers and being able to manage remote workforces in a way that's very different to what they've been used to. It's really important to set the managers up for success and helping them get the skills and the behaviours around how to performance manage people virtually, because it is a very different skill set. There are different behaviours that they'll have to adopt in order to be successful. There has to be a real conversation that happens with individuals and what their personal situations are, and their needs are, and what the business needs and what the role requirements are. If I decided I was better at working at 2am, that wouldn't work for my stakeholders, because they're hopefully sleeping at 2am, so I do need to be mindful of when my stakeholders are needing me to be functional in my role, and I need to accommodate to that. There is a level of flexibility from working from home or working in a flexible environment, but it still needs to make sense and the business, and the employee need to have open and transparent conversations around what those expectations are, and how they can be met.
What do you see as the future of the workplace at Colliers?
It really has to be flexible, and you almost have to take it down to the individual level. From one aspect you can look at it in four different buckets in terms of saying, Okay this role could be done 100% remote, there is no need for this role to interact with anybody else on a on a face to face basis, you could then have somebody that should be in the office, the majority of the time, because the majority of their role will involve them interacting face to face with people, then there's the bucket of this role could come in one or two days a week, to be able to collaborate with different teams or different individuals. To the other extreme, this role has to be in the office all of the time, it's important, their role is such that it has to be there all the time. Then you need to look at the people within those different types of roles and have open conversations with them and talk about their expectations. What are the requirements of the role? And how do they marry up? A level of flexibility, but I think ultimately at Colliers, what we're finding is most people want to come back at least the majority of the time because they miss that office environment.
What we're hearing is that people coming in three or four times a week is probably where the majority would like to end up. It’s about being creating the workspaces that we'll be able to accommodate that with the technology that will facilitate it. When people are working remotely or when they are working in the office, how do they meet? How often do they meet, what technology do they use? So often now we're seeing, my team, for example, has found it fairly easy to shift because we've always been a team that's worked out of numerous locations. I've got people on my team in Vancouver, Toronto, Chicago, New York, LA, Charlotte, all over North America. We were already having our team meetings via video; we're already having communications through our Microsoft Teams platform so we could collaborate.
It was mostly making sure other teams and other departments are set up and enabling them to operate in a similar way. It has to be thoughtful, but there is an opportunity for some flexibility.
You said now that people aren't working in the office anymore, it's not a value to them to offer up a corner office or hardware. How does that incentive shift? And what are the plans?
Rewards and recognition are big things to think through when we think about the future of work, because, as you say, we might offer car parking spaces but those that are more remote, that's not going to be a high value piece of their total reward. We might offer a fancy office with a great view but if you’re not going to be in the office the majority of the time, then should you be occupying that space, maybe you need to share it or have a pod or communal space in which you can book so that’s how we set up the space as well.
Rewarding and recognizing people in a virtual environment is going to take some thought, and some of the rewards that could be offered, there's no longer physical aspects that you would typically get from an office perspective, what your view is, or what your parking space looks like becomes a little redundant when you have that more remote workforce.
The recognition piece is interesting, because it's hard, especially right now, when most of us are remote, but, even in a flexible environment, it's harder just to swing by someone's desk, and say, great work on that project last week or amazing presentation. It’s so hard to do that in a virtual environment, how do you offer up that recognition to people, you know, both personal and public, so people know that they're doing a good job, that they might not hear from others in that virtual environment?
I'm going to switch gears just a little bit. This is something that I know is very near and dear to your heart, as well as mine. You had mentioned that all Colliers leaders must be trained on your D&I policy. Could you share a little bit more about what Colliers is doing there?
It has been a real journey. We’ve had a diversity and inclusion program within Colliers for the last six or seven years but certainly in the last couple of years, we've had the ability to be able to invest more into that program. One of the things that we were building out last summer that's come into fruition is our compulsory, inclusive leadership development program. What this means is that all people leaders in Colliers North America, by the end of this year, will have gone through the inclusive leadership program. It’s been devised with our learning and development team, as well as some external resources to be an interactive workshop as well as some self-directed learning. There’s lots of opportunity for our leaders to be able to be educated around what it means to really care, to encourage that inclusive workplace and sense of belonging for their teams. Its small group facilitated workshops with some self-directed learning and all of our people managers will be going through it.
We started with our senior executive team, so right from our CEOs, both in Canada and the US, and their direct reports, then cascading that so that everybody will have gone through that program to ensure that we’re doing everything we can to educate our people and give them the awareness that they need and the safe space to have difficult conversations around this topic and ask dumb questions that they may be might not feel comfortable articulating otherwise. It's a great program but is rolling out across the business throughout this year, and really gives us another level of opportunity to really help our people. We know they wanted that, and that they're committed, and they're dedicated but sometimes it's hard to know where to go to get the right information.
You mentioned a shift internally about potentially making your teams more agile as an organization. How's that transition been going?
We started talking about it last year, which was a crazy harebrained idea I had when I was learning a little bit more about how IT teams have embraced the agile mindset. There is a whole philosophy behind it, a methodology mindset around agile working. I got to thinking wouldn't it be cool if we could apply some of that in HR. I did a bit of research and it turns out that there are some companies that have started doing this, quite a few in Europe more so, but it is starting to become part of the conversation in North America as well. It really is a way for us, as HR practitioners, especially in the space where we're developing projects and programs, to be able to build those in a way that is adopting that agile methodology. It’s interactive in its approach - you start small, what's the minimum viable product? How do you build on that? You do that with a continuous feedback loop with the business, and you're able then to pivot really quickly, to address the needs of your customers, most directly. What has typically happened in the past is that HR teams get a request from the business to say for a program around career development, so the HR team takes a bunch of notes, and they scurry off, and they spend three or four months working on this thing, and then they come back, and they're doing it amongst all of their day-to-day stuff as well. They come back to the business and they go, okay, we've launched it, here you go, here it is. And then that team goes, Oh, it's not quite what I wanted. Or, actually, we've changed a priority now so it's a bit different. It’s a frustrating process to then take it, go back, make the changes, but you've already built out the staff. So, if we can do it in a way that is much more collaborative with the business, gets that constant feedback, and is interactive, starting with a minimal viable product and building off of that, then I think we’ll have a lot more success, and we'll be able to deliver higher quality programs much more quickly.
Reviewing your website, I know that Colliers is always on the hunt for talent. What advice do you have to candidates that are applying for a job with Colliers? And where's the best place for them to look or get started?
I would first and foremost, direct everybody to our careers page on our website. There is information on our business, our culture, the different functions and departments and business lines that we have. There are links to all of our jobs, so you can go through and peruse the jobs to see which one's best fit. In addition, we've got a lot of activity on some of our social media sites like Instagram, Facebook, Twitter, which are a little bit less formal and more casual, you can kind of see a little bit more about who we are and what we stand for, as well as LinkedIn. Our LinkedIn pages are constantly refreshed and updated with the latest information, as well as all of our job postings. There are a ton of places to go to find out more about us. And the talent acquisition team, I know I'm biased, but they're awesome so if anybody wants to have a chat, they're pretty easy to find on LinkedIn. Just look up talent acquisition and Colliers and you should find somebody; they'll always be open for a conversation and a chat about what the career opportunities might be. They’re a friendly bunch.
If you enjoyed this episode of Hired!, check out our last episode with Thinkific.