With a degree in English and an MS in Human Resource Management, she then set out to find work and HR experience in and around Silicon Valley. Twenty-four years later, her LinkedIn page showcases 50 skills, with widespread endorsement for her skills in talent management, talent acquisition, leadership, HR information systems, performance management, workforce planning, employee engagement, succession planning, and other HR activities.
Her company is a FinTech startup that applies information technology to the freight industry, providing automated invoicing, collections and payments – i.e. factoring – to industry players. His focus is on small and mid-sized newcomers to automated factoring and highlights the noticeable cost reductions for his clients. It opened its doors of business as an office-free ‘remote company’ in 2019 and has made a firm commitment to remain so as Covid ravages physical workplaces.
She is Heather Beckstead, her company is Axle Payments and she has worked with the company’s founders, Bharath Krishnamoorthy and Shawn Vo, to build a “remote by design” company with a “remote culture”. It’s a company that doesn’t allow people to work from home insists thereon. That means, in Beckstead’s words, “making sure people really connect and feel like they have value and are valued.” But how can you do that?
Michael B Arthur: So you joined Axle in November 2021 when companies around the world were struggling to transition from an office-based to a hybrid approach and make the most of this situation?
Heather Beckstead: Exactly. We’re committed to attracting the best talent across the country. We now have about 80 employees in the US, even in Hawaii, and we’re growing fast. From the beginning, we’ve encouraged people to seek flexibility in their working lives. It’s not about being hybrid or being in the office, it’s about being flexible. It’s about meeting people where they are so they can do their best work regardless of the circumstances in which they work. A remote culture enables us to do this.
Arthur: can you tell more
Beckstead: There is no office. There is no place where we would go about our normal business. So let’s take that overhead savings and apply it to quarterly offsites. We camp in a hotel for a week and work together a lot. But it’s just as important to build relationships. We’re moving field offices across the country – our last one was in Atlanta in April, before that we were in San Diego.
Additionally, when we travel to offsites, we take the time to provide some type of service to the community. In Atlanta, we helped some locals put together packages for refugees coming into the country. We do something for the communities we visit as we don’t have a physical community of our own. We want to make sure our employees feel that their company values service and cares about and is part of other communities.
Arthur: Any other initiatives?
Beckstead: The first thing I did after joining was enrolled in the benefits system. We need to be a real company, we need real HR services. One of the next things I did was an employee engagement survey because I wanted to understand what was the culture before diving in and trying to play around with it.
I’ve been doing this type of survey for 20 years and in my experience a good score is 80. When our survey score ended up at 94% I was a little overwhelmed because I thought what should I fix? But each score is just a basis for thinking about what is important. For example, I learned that our employees really like experiencing a high level of communication and transparency.
Another thing that impressed me was empathy. That’s something I haven’t seen as a company value before. But if we’re really a team and we’re all contributing to the success of the company and all those things, then empathy is fundamental. Then it’s important to retain good managers who are well educated, have development plans, know where we are going in a competitive market and can add another building block to our remote culture.
Arthur: Does good management go hand in hand with effective employee training?
Beckstead: Absolutely. We do a lot of training internally, especially in our operations team – the credits, collections and all those things that we have to do. They had already allocated $1,000 per person per year for educational purposes prior to my arrival, but we have added more training opportunities, particularly in our onboarding, both for the company and for each department. In a distant culture, you can’t just sit next to someone and be with them all day for a week, so you have to think more about how to make people succeed.
But here, too, we foster relationships. All new hires meet with our co-founders, we each assign two buddies, one from their own team, one from a completely different part of the company. We conduct 30 and 90 day check-ins with every employee to ensure they are getting what they need to be productive and provide feedback. So there’s a lot of sharing early on, but it adds to the transparent culture that we want to maintain.
Much of this comes from the nature of our co-founders. You have a keen interest in helping people at scale, across employees, clients and customers. So your business model reflects that investment. The other day we shared an article about remote work that asked people to choose between a $30,000 raise for working in an office and no raise for working from home. 70% said they would choose to work from home. We realized that as a remote company we had a great advantage by offering the flexibility that many people were looking for.
Arthur: They tell me a lot about how the company tries to recruit, connect with and support people. But what if someone says that’s fine, but I’m not sure I want to take my career to where you’re taking me?
Beckstead: That’s a great point, because we’ve just done our homework on fleshing out how we view career ladders in each of our departments. We know things will change, but we want our managers to be able to participate in a career conversation at any time and say what our needs are. In return, we want our employees to contribute their own ideas so that we can find a good compromise between their wishes and the requirements of our company. We want a conversation rather than some company decree, and people will invest more in their career development if they feel they can help shape it.
When I started my career in human resources, the usual advice was if you’ve been in a job for less than five years, don’t hire them. Now that’s really turned on its head, so I want people who are curious to grow and achieve things. And if one day someone finds their best option lies elsewhere, I will celebrate.
Arthur: Does this fit the business case for Axle Payments?
Beckstead: The business case is that we want to create wealth for our shareholders and benefit from our customers. That will always be there, but on another level we want to offer added value to our customers’ employees and our own people. And when you have a company that’s rooted in people, a different dynamic emerges. This is really something that stands out for staff, especially in light of Covid. Many people look back and reevaluate what is important. We want to conform to that. We want to pick them up where they are. We want to attract the best talent.
Arthur: These are great goals and it’s great to know you’re working towards them. Thanks for your time.