CHRO Cindy Fiedelman shares how she navigates the safety of both essential andÂ remote workers during the global pandemic while overseeing an acquisition.
By Debbie Bolla
The COVID-19 pandemic posed many challenges forÂ nearly all business leaders, but add on a EuropeanÂ acquisition conducted mainly virtually and youâll startÂ to feel the weight on Cindy Fiedelmanâs shoulders. TheÂ CHRO of Digital Realty, a leading global provider ofÂ data center solutions, rose to the occasion, ensuring theÂ safety of her essential and remote workers; ushering inÂ a new workforce that doubled the size of the business;Â and aiding in corporate strategy. In fact, she says, âThisÂ couldnât have been a better year to be an HR leader.â
Here, she shares how Digital Realty is caring for itsÂ employees during the pandemic, how the company isÂ moving the acquisition forward, and whatâs ahead forÂ 2021.
HRO Today: Can you tell me about your workforce and theÂ policies you had to implement due to the pandemic?
Cindy Fiedelman: Digital Realty is a leading data centerÂ business offering colocation and interconnection solutions.Â With this yearâs acquisition of Interxion (a leading providerÂ of carrier and cloud-neutral colocation data center servicesÂ in Europe), we have approximately 2,500 employeesÂ around the world running over 280 data centers. In thisÂ time, with many businesses going virtual, data has beenÂ critical and weâve played a role in aiding our customersâÂ decision-making.
For us, half of our workforce is on the frontline in dataÂ centers ensuring that customer needs are being met. TheÂ other half of the workforce is in corporate offices in aÂ number of big cities in the U.S., Europe, and APAC.Â Two things immediately worked in our favor when weÂ closed our corporate offices in March.
We have regional headquarters in Singapore, London, andÂ Amsterdam so we could take cues from their approachesÂ from a few months prior. As a result, our global operationsÂ leadership team in the U.S. was able to put things intoÂ place really quickly, working in partnership with ourÂ regional data centerÂ operations teams.
With a prettyÂ distributedÂ team, we hadÂ already beenÂ using virtualÂ connection toolsÂ that we rolledÂ out last year. WeÂ shifted to ourÂ virtual platformsÂ (BlueJeans andÂ Microsoft Teams)Â full-time. SinceÂ we were already onÂ virtual platforms, weÂ werenât playing catch upÂ and that was a big benefit.
In our data centers, we changedÂ to a staggered shift schedule andÂ adjusted staff numbers based on locationÂ and general needs. For each location, we set up protocolsÂ including temperature checks, entry questionnaires,Â appropriate signage, hand sanitizer, and social distancingÂ directions.
We also set up a COVID emergency response team, aÂ 10-person team that connected on weekly calls. ThroughÂ its work, the team set up a process to track cases for ourÂ employees, contractors, and customers who were goingÂ in and out of the building. We were constantly assessingÂ what we were doing, how quickly we were shifting, andÂ what was happening based on geography.
We also place set up communication vehicles so thatÂ if there were cases, we could report them quickly andÂ do contact tracing. Our internal communications did aÂ nice job explaining the 12 different ways you can be inÂ touch. We were doing leadership team calls on a regularÂ basis with direct team members and we had frequent allÂ company meetings. People felt very in touch with whatÂ was going onâthe feedback from our engagement surveyÂ in June was strong. We also took the approach of beingÂ open and transparent with the community in our externalÂ communications, establishing a COVID-19 response pageÂ and FAQ on our website.
As the duration of the pandemic lengthens, employeeÂ mental health continuesÂ to be one of our majorÂ concerns. Last year,Â we rolled out a newÂ wellness platformÂ with Virgin PulseÂ and we were ableÂ to leverage thatÂ tool to supportÂ mental health.Â What we foundÂ is that insteadÂ of working fromÂ home, employeesÂ are living at work. WeÂ had to encourage ourÂ workforce to find theÂ balance. Employees wereÂ given a few unplanned daysÂ off and our exempt workforceÂ shifted to flexible, paid time off. WeÂ also provided a stipend for basic officeÂ equipment for employees who hadnât workedÂ from home before.
In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, we wanted toÂ support our employees during a time of civil unrest. WeÂ invested in our charitable giving efforts through ourÂ company matching programs, increasing the match fromÂ one-to-one to two-to-one. We saw some opportunities toÂ do a little extra for employees.
HRO Today: How did you manage the acquisition ofÂ London- and Amsterdam-based Interxion during a globalÂ pandemic?
Fiedelman: Our acquisition of Interxion closed in theÂ second week of March. As the world was in quarantine, weÂ went straight into virtual integration. We doubled the sizeÂ of our company, but the nearly 900-person, EMEA-basedÂ company we acquired was complimentary to our modelÂ with many similarities in how we do business.
For the most part, the people working together had notÂ met each other. But when you canât travel, you begin toÂ realize how time consuming it is. A virtual world actuallyÂ made it a lot easier to connect. We set up a lot of getting-to-know-you sessions virtually on video. The frequencyÂ and quality of our communications played a critical role inÂ our success.
Since we were experiencing the impact of a pandemicÂ while going through an acquisition, ensuring that thereÂ was no disruption to business was key. We created a prettyÂ robust project team and I think the strength around thatÂ governing model helped make for a smoother processÂ and minimized the impact to the business. We led withÂ principles around putting the customer first, taking theÂ best people and processes from both companies, and theÂ philosophy of âintegrate now and innovate later.â
By the end of this year, we will have the majority of theÂ organizational elements complete. If we do this, itâs aÂ huge win. Why? This will allow us to focus on transformingÂ the broader business strategy in 2021. We will determineÂ a greater sense of our product strategy and how we areÂ going to go to market.
HRO Today: What strategies are you leveraging to recruitÂ and hire during the pandemic?
Fiedelman: We have been hiring business as usual. For us,Â that means between 500 and 600 people a year. In someÂ respects itâs been easier and others harder. With peopleÂ at home on their computers and not in an office, thereâsÂ more flexibility and itâs easier to set up conversations withÂ recruiters. That said, itâs been a bit more challenging toÂ convince top performers to make a change during a timeÂ of uncertainty.
For onboarding, we have to get creative and do reallyÂ strong outreach. For example, to welcome new employees,Â we have a mentorship program where existing employeesÂ help new employees get assimilated.
HRO Today: Whatâs coming around the bend in 2021?
Fiedelman: We have already been looking at our strategyÂ to determine what makes sense. We are living in a worldÂ where there are so many different outlets to leverage toÂ get business done.
We havenât officially reopened our corporate offices. FromÂ a safety standpoint, we are in a number of cities, includingÂ San Francisco, New York, and London, where people areÂ taking public transportation. We sent out a survey andÂ employees reported that they didnât feel comfortableÂ coming into the office until a vaccine is available.
This year, weâve also been in the process of migrating someÂ business functions. This point in time has made us considerÂ if we need as much of an office footprint. We have takenÂ a closer look at jobs that can be done 80% virtually. WeÂ are looking to design the office in a flexible set up soÂ employees can rotate.
This couldnât have been a better year to be an HR leader.Â In terms of challenges and learning, as an HR leaderÂ you had to be flexible, make quick decisions, and thinkÂ creatively.