Creating A Work Culture That Drives Employee Engagement: Featuring Meg Riat, Human Resources Director, Leaseweb USA

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Meg Riat, Human Resources Director, Leaseweb USA chats about Leaseweb USA’s repeat-recognition as Virginia’s Best Places to Work while sharing a few tips on what it takes to drive employee cultures in today’s business environment:

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Tell us a little about yourself Meg love to hear a little bit about you, and Leaseweb?

My name is Meg Riat, and I am the Human Resources Director at Leaseweb USA. I’ve been with Leaseweb USA for a little over four years now. It’s been awesome to be a part of Leaseweb USA’s outstanding growth over the last several years. One thing I’ve dedicated a ton of energy toward in my time so far has been our company’s culture; I love looking at how much our culture has been refined and shaped by our amazing team of executives and staff. We’re all really dedicated to growing a company that fights the good fight by keeping the internet safe and creating a community that empowers others. I’m very proud of that aspect of my work.

I also hold leadership positions with two local SHRM chapters. I serve on the board of directors of the Prince William SHRM chapter and am the Best Practices Director of our HR Virginia SHRM State Council. I’ve always believed that it’s important to support other like-minded professionals through these types of organizations, so I’m really grateful I’m able to do that here.

Like many folks, I’m a parent too, outside of work. So, you know, that comes with its own set of challenges and successes during a pandemic! I think my kitchen table has been converted into full-blown homeschool mode. It’s a lot to balance, but there are several of us at Leaseweb USA going through the same thing with our families, so there’s camaraderie there, too. Looking on the bright side, it’s taught us how to think more creatively and just be more supportive of each other through anything and everything.

Leaseweb USA was recently recognized (again!) as one of Virginia’s Best Places to Work – take us through some of your top employee and work culture programs and initiatives!

 Yes! We are thrilled to receive that recognition again this year! We definitely prioritize a good work-life balance for our employees first and foremost. I think every company wants its employees to enjoy work, but it’s another thing to really pinpoint tactical ways to make that happen. At our core, we really want to make sure our employees feel they are able to collaborate but also work autonomously in a positive work environment. We want to provide employees with lots of options to improve skills, grow and learn new things, have access to personal and professional growth opportunities and have a voice in things throughout the organization. Our dedication as a company to our employees’ growth and well-being is really where all of this points back to.

Of course, we also love having fun at Leaseweb USA. You should look forward to going to work every day! We have a Fun and Pride team that puts on several events and outings throughout the year. Before the pandemic, those were in person, but of course, we’ve had to adjust that a lot. It’s been really challenging for businesses to figure out the best way to keep culture alive during COVID just due to the sheer fact that we’re not all together like we used to be. But we’re grateful we’ve still been able to host a lot of remote events that keep our team motivated and connected. We’ve done virtual book clubs and virtual workouts during the pandemic, so that’s been a lot of fun for us.

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What were some of the top HR and employee support initiatives taken especially during the start of the pandemic and through 2021, how will Leaseweb USA further innovate to meet business and other challenges due to the ongoing pandemic?

 Our culture is very important to us, but the pandemic has forced us to get creative in order to effectively support Leaseweb USA’s 70+ employees through all of the things 2020 brought. I mentioned earlier that we like to host virtual book clubs and workouts for our teams, but we’ve also done monthly happy hours over video chat, we’ve played online games as a team, we did a few “coffee and conversation” sessions over Zoom. We started a weekly newsletter and organized several town hall-style meetings to give employees the opportunity to ask questions and get updates on the company. We even mailed treat boxes to employees’ homes for Employee Appreciation Week. So, despite everything going on, we have been able to make memories together as a team that have only made our culture stronger and more resilient for the years ahead.

Tell us a little about some of the leading tech companies around the world that you feel have some of the best workplace and employee cultures? Some that you feel we can all learn a few things from?

 I can’t say there is one company that necessarily stands out to me. I do know that smaller companies will follow in the footsteps of these leading tech companies when it comes to our new way of working remotely. They’ll watch how these companies shape their workplace and employee culture in the face of adversity and will likely seek to follow their example.

Diversity and Inclusion in tech has been an ongoing priority topic: a few thoughts on how business leaders can initiate better D&I initiatives today? 

Diversity and inclusion initiatives are always the most successful when they’re supported at the top – no question about it. When you look at companies large or small that have strong D&I, it’s always because their leadership makes it a priority and knows how important D&I is to the bottom line. More businesses are catching onto that, I think. At Leaseweb USA, all of our team members go through cultural awareness training–from C-suite to entry-level. We take pride in our diverse workforce and believe that it’s our different life experiences that foster a supportive environment for everyone. A company with strong D&I will embolden unique ideas, foster independence, encourage entrepreneurship and inspire creativity. I don’t know about you, but I think that sounds like something everyone wants to be a part of!

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With remote and hybrid work reshaping how the global workplace is set to evolve, what are some of the HR tools and technologies you feel companies should be investing in more?

 Ok, so I know this phrase is overused, but I’ll say it anyway: Communication is key. It really is. Companies should certainly consider investing in HR tools that will improve communication within their companies. Employees should have options when it comes to collaboration tools, whether it be through chat, video calling, even sending rewards to one another digitally. There are also a lot of new HR tools out there that are helping with new hire onboarding, which is often an overlooked phase of the employee engagement process.

One positive thing that’s coming out of the pandemic, from an HR perspective, is really this push to think creatively about how we communicate and create engagement. Even at a personal level, I know a lot of families, friend groups, social clubs and so on were getting really creative at the start of the pandemic by doing virtual parties, playing games online together, hosting family video pizza nights. I remember seeing that all over the place when all of this started. And that theme of keeping communication and community alive despite all of these major shifts in our daily lives has translated really nicely into the corporate world. At Leaseweb USA, we recently invested in an online user-friendly bingo platform that has proven to be a lot of fun among our team members. I never thought I’d know so much about virtual bingo, but here we are!

A few parting thoughts to share on evolving workplace trends and how employees and leaders can maintain strong growth and cultures as trends shift.

Like it or not, remote work is going to be the norm here going forward. Understanding employees’ fondness of this reality isn’t really an exact science, though. Some personalities do better working in an office, some thrive at home. This has been a predicament for HR for quite some time, but has obviously been underscored in the last year. Again, make sure you’re communicating with employees and keeping that pulse on their personal preferences. I’m talking things like, “Do we need to have video up for this meeting or can it be over the phone?” or “Does this employee need more one-on-one check-ins than another?” Everyone is at a different comfort level, and it’s our job to make sure we stay flexible in order to keep a healthy, strong culture for everyone.

Although many employees always wished to have the ability to work remotely, we were surprised to find that a lot of our staff are more than ready to return to a state or normalcy and be able to see their colleagues in-person. Of course, we need to balance our employees’ desires to be back in the office with their health and safety, so we monitor COVID in our area on a daily basis and make those decisions as a team. At the moment, about 75% of our staff are working remotely and the remaining 25% are considered essential and reporting to our data centers daily. Our essential staff is operating in shifts so that they can work in smaller groups and stay socially distant. That’s what is working for us at the moment, but we are following the situation closely.

And I know that everyone’s opinions on the COVID-19 vaccine are different. It’s still a bit murky whether or not the vaccine should be mandated for everyone in order to return back to office life, but that’s certainly something that needs to stay top of mind for leadership and HR professionals in the coming months. I think all of us want to get back to “normal,” whatever that may be, but it’s got to be a delicate affair. We can’t just make blanket statements for an entire company – it’s a very personal decision for a lot of people. In my world, there is no such thing as over-communicating, and I think that’s really going to be important as we inch closer to going back into the office.

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Leaseweb is a leading Infrastructure as a Service (IaaS) provider serving a worldwide portfolio of 18,000 customers ranging from SMBs to Enterprises. Services include Public Cloud, Private Cloud, Dedicated Servers, Colocation, Content Delivery Network, and Cyber Security Services supported by exceptional customer service and technical support. With more than 80,000 servers under management, Leaseweb has provided infrastructure for mission-critical websites, Internet applications, email servers, security, and storage services since 1997. The company operates 20 data centres in locations across Europe, Asia, Australia, and North America, all of which are backed by a superior worldwide network with a total capacity of more than 10 Tbps.

Meg Riat, SHRM-SCP and SPHR, is the Human Resources Director for Leaseweb USA. She is responsible for all employee relations, training and development, benefits, performance management, recruiting and onboarding in the US.

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