There's little dispute that digital technologies are fundamentally altering the way we do business; but what about the people behind the tech? Nonlinear's HR Director, Magdalena Ciechanowska, shares her insights on team building, culture and the nature of work in the digital age.


Over the past 5 years, Magdalena (Magda) Ciechanowska has led recruitment and talent development at Nonlinear.  The team that she has helped build has differentiated themselves as innovators in some of the hottest areas in the digital sphere: CXM, context marketing and digital workplace. In an industry where the war for talent is fierce and loyalty is hard-won, Nonlinear has generally beaten the odds and retained exceptional people.

For those just beginning the journey on the path to digital transformation, Magda offers key advice for building a flourishing team.
Molly: Tell me about your role at Nonlinear.

Magda: My job as HR Director entails all aspects of HR and Recruiting in the fast paced world of professional web services.
I enjoy the challenge that running an International HR department presents. I work with an amazing team of dedicated professionals where collaboration helps us reach our collective goals. I bring a strong focus on keeping our company culture vibrant, and together with the entire team we are always working on making Nonlinear a great place to work for all of us. 

When hiring, it is always foremost on my mind to bring new people on board who fit our vibrant culture and can contribute to it. Each person brings something with them to the team and we appreciate the differences and thrive on the similarities of values we all share.

Our values are around team collaboration, passion for technology, passion for client satisfaction, self-efficacy, professional opportunities to grow and learn, work life balance, and freedom to freely communicate. This is why we hire smart, motivated professionals who are passionate about all of the above. It's a joy knowing that people come to work excited.
What I found exciting is that even when we have a tough project, the morale among the teams is still very high! This is all thanks to the team members we surround ourselves with, we thrive on challenges and being surrounded by supportive team members we get through hard times with a positive attitude.
I can say all of this with confidence as we measure happiness (morale) every 2 weeks. We do this via an anonymous online survey that each team member fills out. The results are bench marked against over 500 other IT companies, 99% of the time we score way above average on the “happiness” scale. 

Another thing we like to measure regularly, are the things that people value most at Nonlinear.  Over the past 5 years that I have been doing these types of surveys and these 3 main themes are consistently being mentioned: 

1. people love the people who work here
2. work life balance is great
3. technically challenging projects keep the people engaged (and not bored)

This is why our staff retention rates are above industry average. As a team, we are constantly working on ways to make life at work fulfilling.  And it's not just the job of the management team or HR, we are all involved in creating an environment where our individual success and happiness are important.

Molly: You were recently called out by many of our employees as "the Most Valuable Player" of Culture. What do you think it takes to build a positive culture in a globally distributed digital company?

Magda: Ah yes! I really appreciated those comments from the team. To answer your question - it's all about CONNECTION. I love getting to know people and what is important to them in their professional and personal life. I use the interview process as the first step in getting to know someone and what they value in their professional and personal life.

I think when you ask people whom I interviewed, they will tell you that we spent a lot of time discussing their values and priorities. This surprises candidates. A large part of the initial interview is about them and what they want, rather than what Nonlinear wants from them.

I believe that we first need to establish what each person's goals and values are to see if we can offer them what they want and need, and if we can, it all works wonderfully from then on. 

The key is to continue that conversation after they are hired as priorities can change at different life stages for example. Such as when someone wants to travel the world while working for Nonlinear (we have made this happen many times!), when they have a baby, or want to change “seats” and try a different job at Nonlinear.

Staying connected with a remote team is challenging. But today’s technology enables us to be connected with people all the time via social media including Yammer & Facebook, Twitter & LinkedIn, WhatsApp , Skype for Business, among many other tools. We are all used to using technology to connect these days, it’s the norm.

I must say though, that I loved going to Brazil last year to finally meet the entire team in person after I was involved with hiring 99% of the staff in Brazil over the past 5 years, all remotely, all with the help of technology and stayed connected with the help of technology. And to actually spend time with the team in person, to share food and our stories, to meet their families was extremely valuable in terms of furthering our relationships and connecting in the most meaningful way. Having a conversation over a coffee or lunch with someone is a wonderful thing, meeting their partners and babies - just amazing! 

Yet we have an amazing team in Brazil and we only see them in person every few months. This is an incredible success I believe and mostly due to the types of amazing people we hired and the technology that we use to stay connected –O365 and Yammer are playing a huge role in this. Our Brazilian team members are thriving as they get involved in shaping our culture in our operations in South America. 

We’ve come to realize over the years that taking time to recognize people and their contributions to our company’s success was important. This can be a challenge with distributed teams and very busy schedules.  We spend a lot of energy celebrating people’s good deeds and successes via monthly companywide town halls and through various tools and surveys we conduct quarterly.
We are a company big on using instant messaging (Skype for business, WhatsApp, mobile texting) to keep in touch. But really it's about letting people know you are available to talk business, or simply catching up on a professional or personal level. 

We meet once a month as a team via Skype for Business video conferencing to share company news, kudos and even updates on our company’s financials.  We have “lunch and learns” that we record on video via Skype for Business and share on Office365 so we can watch when it suits us. We use Yammer for sharing interesting stories and articles which are all about continuous learning. It is so exciting to have all these smart people use these tools as we all benefit. 

All of the above help us to stay connected and create relationships with our peers even at great distances. Although it is easier to connect with people when they are in your physical location when you play ping pong with them, have a coffee together, or compete in a chili cook-off, but I believe the tools we use as an international company has enabled us to build  strong connections without the need for physical presence. 

Molly: Great points! Particularly around changing life stages... I am personally very grateful for the flexibility that Nonlinear has afforded over the years. 

Speaking of how things change with the passing of time, what do you think is in store for the future of work?

Magda: This area is fascinating! Generally speaking, I think the future of work will evolve into at least 2 main camps: some companies (likely large companies) will attract and retain people who are rewarded for their dedication and hard work (working long hours, being available 24/7) with high pay and other financial perks in their work life. Whereas other people will be attracted to companies who espouse work-life-balance and autonomy on the behalf of the employee but may not provide the same level of financial rewards aka golden handcuffs that the above mentioned companies would provide. These are different work environments which we call work culture reflecting different values. People are attracted to different types of work cultures and people are getting good at knowing that there are other possibilities out there beyond a 9-5 hum drum office environment
Socrates said, "know thyself". And this is what I suggest for anyone looking for the right working environment for them.  As once you know what YOU WANT, what YOUR VALUES are, and what you NEED to THRIVE, only then, can you do proper research and ask the right questions about the culture of an organization.  You need to assess your fit into that culture and what it will give you in return for your efforts, beyond a paycheck.
You can easily start the process of getting to know an organization through online services like Glassdoor, check out company leadership team and potential peers on LinkedIn, check out company thought leadership articles on their blog, or while interviewing.
The key is to thoroughly check if the organization’s culture suits your idea of an ideal workplace for you, it’s very personal. I strongly encourage everyone I interview to get to know our company culture before they come on board. If there is a good cultural fit, beautiful things happen for all involved. 

In a nutshell, my advice for everyone considering a working relationship with an organization: know thyself first and get to know the company culture before you join an organization. 

On the flipside, this is also my advice for employers: get to know your candidates beyond their skills and what they can offer the company, know what they care about and how to make them successful in work and how work affects their personal aspirations as it all ties in to success on the job which feeds the bottom line.  

It's about communication and really getting to know people's motivations, and being aware of when these change. There is great benefit to getting to know people and companies, which are run by people. It all goes back to people, the talent we attract and retain.

Q: How is digital technology altering human resources?

At Nonlinear we have been on the forefront of everything digital for years. We are often the first to use technology as we like to experiment with technology to improve our work life.  For example, we were the first in Canada to use TINYpulse an online team survey tool, and of course we have used other tools like LinkedIn, Twitter, Blogging, Google Hangouts and other social media for years as a recruitment source for uncovering talent or as a vehicle to connect with the public by sharing our thought leadership on all things digital. All things digital are our forte after all!

Beyond embracing tools like social media and other digital tools, my advice for companies in this digital age is to ensure that they have integrity first and foremost, this goes without saying really. Companies like ours who have integrity and are open communicators with their team (we share all our team survey results with everyone whether they are good, bad or ugly!) we want to hear any complaints that employees have first, this way people don’t have to go outside of the company to vent their frustrations and we can make improvements based on these comments. This way everyone wins.

We all have some complaints at one point or another, this is a normal part of working life.  At Nonlinear, we listen and do what we can to improve employee’s situation and are continually making Nonlinear a great place to work. We are committed to constant improvement. Not a day goes by where our management doesn’t think about how to make our organization great.  This is our culture. 
This internal sharing naturally extends from our collaborative culture, we are all about sharing ideas. We do this anyway within our client work and this naturally extends itself to overall culture and HR. For example, we provide a safe digital space to share ideas for improvement in the workplace by using anonymous survey tools on a weekly basis.

I would encourage other companies to become more transparent with their employees too as we all share common frustrations and then can together come up with solutions. But for this one must have integrity and provide a safe place for employees to share their thoughts and ideas freely. Technology such as anonymous team online survey tools like TINYpulse are great for that. 

Another way companies need to embrace going forward is by using the power of their employees to connect and help recruit talent on a global scale.  I have found that even though a large part of my job is recruiting, the best recruiting agents are my own peers.  Our team members are our “secret sauce” when it comes to recruiting success! 

Companies will feel a lot of pain if their culture is not fitting with what the top talent desires. Not only in the fact that they will experience higher internal turnover, they will also lack the employee ambassadors who will attract the top talent. This is not a position anyone wants to be in, so I suggest work on your culture every day. Easier said than done, culture starts with people so you need the right people in place first. Lucky for Nonlinear, we’ve got that covered in spades!

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