HR Transform 2022 focused on flexibility, data, and empathetic leadership

A dispatch from the conference floor in Las Vegas’s Cosmopolitan Hotel
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HR Transform

· 5 min read

Wait, what year is this? With Omicron finally on the wane in the US, I flew to Las Vegas in mid-March for an epic bender HR Transform 2022, a three-day conference for HR leaders and entrepreneurs with a focus on the modern workplace. Aside from requiring proof of vaccination, the conference (almost) felt like 2019, with a majority of maskless faces, no social distancing, and attendees chatting over drinks—indoors!

This year’s conference, at the Cosmopolitan hotel, centered on four tracks: workplace transformation, social impact, human first, and digital future. Executives from Microsoft, TripAdvisor, Zoom, Nextdoor, and others held discussions for three days about ways HR professionals can shape the workplace and the employee experience.

two men and a woman all in business attire sitting in large red chairs, engaged in conversation

Catchphrase of the conference. It didn’t matter the conversation or the panel topic, before leaving the stage, nearly every speaker dropped the F bomb: flexibility. According to HR Transform’s panelists (and at least one recent survey), employees want to control their employee journey, and it’s up to HR leaders to provide that flexibility, whether it’s the option to work remotely, a career path with upskilling opportunities, or a better menu of employee perks.

In a session on the changing workplace, Beth Grous, SVP and chief people officer at Tripadvisor, said, “part of our shift for our executives is thinking about being in the office is not an obligation, but a destination. And something that entices people when the work is meaningfully better. There’s a return on that, that you can see, and that we’re also meeting people where they’re at, and allowing us to continue to have this flexibility in their [lives].”

One panelist went so far as to propose leaving behind the very notion of human resources…or at least HR as we know it. Uzair Qadeer, chief people officer at Carbon Health, declared at one session that “we have to move on and abandon the idea of human resources, and particularly start focusing on the end-to-end employee experience.” He went on to discuss what he called the “five E’s of employee experience,” which included such familiar HR ideas as employee engagement and empowerment.

Employee wellness. With employees continuing to work remotely at least part time, some discussions revolved around keeping the human connection and making time for “shoot-the-shit conversations,” as explained by Deborah Hanus, co-founder and CEO of Sparrow, which provides employee-leave software to companies. She said, “I think the more connections we can make on a personal level, particularly when we’re just not with each other, I think the better off we’ll be in a working relationship.”

But if Zoom happy hours and coffee with coworkers aren’t enough to boost employee endorphins, maybe just bring in some puppies? Puppy Love, a company that brings rescue puppies to workplaces and corporate events, made a splash by welcoming attendees into a playpen full of puppies on the expo floor.

two white women with brown hair sitting on astroturf. They're both holding small, light and dark brown puppies, with three puppies in front of them.

HR Transform

After spending the bulk of my morning cuddling puppies, I connected on the expo floor with Scott Domann, chief people officer at Calm, an app traditionally focused on meditation and well-being. In 2021, Calm launched “Mindful Manager,” which teaches leaders how to create a space where employees feel comfortable being vulnerable, when necessary. In Domann’s view, “We’re all actually special snowflakes in every way. And we need to lean into respecting that and create an environment where you can feel like, ‘Maybe I’m not going to tell my manager what I need, but it’s nice to know I can.’”

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Remote work compensation: Does your employee who moved to Tampa from San Francisco expect the same compensation as before? This hotly debated topic was discussed by leaders from Affirm, Allbirds, and Dropbox, which are both now operating with a remote-first workplace model that adjusts salaries based on employees’ geographical locations, among other factors.

Explaining Affirm’s decision to go with a geographically-adjusted payscale, Andrea Morales, its director of global compensation, said, “We did explore paying a national rate. And we thought our engineers in San Francisco would have had something to say, with going down to the national level, to do that. So we chose the other [geo-based] path.”

DEI&B. HR executives from LifeLabs Learning, Aesop, Level, and Globally Bold convened for a panel on diversity, equity, inclusion, and belonging, and discussed how diversity must be looked at when exploring every aspect of a company’s HR processes, from recruitment to retention and growth.

“We need people to feel good about creating a safe space for your employees to be able to speak up to challenge the status quo, and for your employees that are part of underrepresented populations to be able to take up space in a different way than they have in the past,“ said Kareem Gayle-Fagan, head of human resources at Aesop Americas.

Torin Perez, CEO at Globally Bold, a DE&I consultancy, stressed that it’s not enough to meet a diversity goal, and urged organizations to keep pushing for more diversity and inclusion for communities that have faced systemic discrimination. “Your 2025 goal? If you hit it, it’s not done, it’s literally not done,” Perez said. “And that shit is scary. It’s scary to lead in that space, to know that this goal, you can meet it and still fail.”—Kristen Parisi

Do you work in HR or have information about your HR department we should know? Email [email protected] or DM @Kris10Parisi on Twitter. For completely confidential conversations, ask Kristen for her number on Signal.

HR is challenging. HR news doesn’t have to be.

HR Brew keeps you effective in the fast-changing business environment.