If I cast my mind back to December 2019, I remember sitting on the runway in Sydney, ready to take off on a flight to Stockholm for our monthly HR Leadership team meeting. This was back when life was normal. A time when our company rhythm and business was beating steadily. A time when spending a day together with your team and walking the halls of your office building saying hi to friends and colleagues was simply ‘normal’. Little did I realise that this week long trip to Stockholm would be the last time I would see my internationally-based HR colleagues and friends for the unforeseeable future.
I reached Stockholm on a beautifully snowy morning, and soon enough we were all gathered in a large conference room, with freshly made mugs of coffee in one hand and whiteboard markers in the other, poised and ready to dive into an intriguing brainstorming session. The discussion topic was a simple and profound question: what do we believe the future of work will look like? We had no guard rails, and the sky was the limit. There was no such thing as a dumb idea, and we threw everything on the whiteboard. And I can still clearly remember the term ‘distributed workforce’ written on the whiteboard, blending in amongst other ideas, such as how we take AI (Artificial Intelligence) technology to the next level, or the potential impact augmented reality can have in the space of HR, etc.
We did not discuss the concept of what it would look like to be a fully distributed workforce in great length during this brainstorming session, but if we knew what we know now, we would have spent the entire week together unpacking this topic.
The Distributed Workforce Affect on Company Culture
Just three months later, Spotify (like so many other companies) was operating as a 100% distributed workforce overnight due to COVID-19. And after the initial phase of adapting to a home office set up, and recognizing that this is something that won’t go away quickly, we took the opportunity to learn and observe. We wanted to see how this would impact a wide range of variables, such as productivity, collaboration, communication, and health and wellbeing for our people. We took the routine approach of making sure we sent out surveys on a regular basis to check in with our people. We held roundtable discussions, and we helped and encouraged managers to check in with their team members during 1:1s.
The findings and takeaways we received from our people were not shocking, but helped validate the areas we need to focus on to best support our people during this pandemic. In the beginning stages of working from home, stress and anxiety levels were ramping up quickly as well as an increasing imbalanced boundary between work and home life. Our Spotify parents were struggling to juggle kids at home with work. Our single household Spotifiers were struggling with isolation and in some cases depression. We found that communication between teams became challenging, as we switched overnight from in the office face-to-face watercooler style, to a virtual meeting set up. Lastly, we found that as this pandemic continued, the Spotifiers’ sense of belonging started to take a hit. None of these issues are Spotify specific, and we assume that most companies that adopted a distributed workforce setup have also experienced similar pains and struggles.
Regardless of the challenges, as we fast forward a year later, Spotifiers have adapted to the world of remote working. As we continued to learn and test new ways of working, we realized that whilst many of our people had a strong urge to go back to the office, many had a strong preference to continue to work from home if they could. Hence the creation and recent launch of our global Work From Anywhere program.
The Importance of Driving Culture
As we reflect on the past year, we’ve all been through a rollercoaster of events and emotions, as well as a driving force for change. Our working culture has shifted from the physical space to remote work and distributed teams. This has created new challenges in the way we work and how we continue to grow our culture in the right direction; with individuals and leaders in need of finding new ways of collaborating and working together. And as we prepare to be one of the pioneering companies in the world to fully embrace what being a truly distributed workforce will look like with the launch of our WFA program, it’s more important than ever that we stay united, connected, and remind ourselves of the amazing culture we have built together from the foundation of our core values.
During our WFH learning period, we created a multitude of programs and strategies to help combat the effects that the pandemic has had on our people. Whilst all of the programs we implemented had a tangible impact on our people, we recognized that there was a more important, but more intangible challenge we have yet to address. With the tremendous amount of change that we’ve experienced over the past year, we wanted to ensure that our company culture was continuing to evolve and grow in alignment with our values and band manifesto. From this, we set out to design a program to give our managers and leaders the platform to tangibly address this very important topic in a scalable, inclusive, and data driven way. Welcome to our Band Reunion!
The Spotify Band Reunion
The Band Reunion is a three-month program designed to deepen each Spotifier’s understanding and connection to the Spotify culture. It focuses on engaging and empowering Spotifiers globally to revisit our core values, and Band Manifesto, and take responsibility for evolving the culture. It’s a learning experience shared globally that’s optimized for scale, distributed teams, and profound discussion. We believe that a program such as this could not come at a better time.
The journey begins on our Rehearsal Platform, where our employees can check in on whether they’re still in tune and sync! Here, our employees are greeted with a wide range of content focused on our culture, values, and Band Manifesto. This is an interactive platform where our people can explore videos from our CEO and CHRO, podcasts from Spotify leaders from around the world discussing and deep diving into different chapters of our Band Manifesto, and much more! This is a space dedicated to reflect on our journey as a company, our values, and how our culture will continue to grow and evolve. A place to reflect and remind ourselves why we decided to join Spotify and why we continue to work here. A reflection many of us forget to ask ourselves, as we are often way too busy or consumed with our day to day tasks.
Next up is the Jam Session, which is led by managers and focuses on open, honest, and authentic conversations about our values, our culture, and our Band Manifesto. The Jam Session has been designed to make the experience as inclusive and engaging as possible, with the help of some pretty cool tech we’ve incorporated in the session to help us gather and share data and insights from everyone. The Jam sessions are not meant to be fluffy conversations that end after 90 minutes. These are deeply personal, authentic and vulnerable moments, and the insights and data from these sessions are captured so we can share them with the rest of the company but also take action on areas we need to focus more on or improve.
The final stop in the Band Reunion Journey will be the unveiling of the ‘Explore the Tour’ platform. When all of our Jam Sessions have been completed, Spotifiers will be able to revisit and explore important cultural moments and feedback from these sessions. Learning about the passions that drive their colleagues around the world will bring all the band closer together, and allow each person to feel more connected, be repurposed and be reminded of the “power of we”.
It has been a tough year for everyone, and at times can feel like the world is coming apart at the seams. And whilst there is not much we can do to control what is happening outside of our sphere of influence, we as HR leaders can influence and change what is happening within the companies we work for. Our role in driving and evolving the culture of our companies in the right direction is more important than ever. This is what will keep employees engaged, safe and passionate during these very challenging times. CHRO’s should be focused on leading with vulnerability and empathy as the new foundation of their companies leadership criteria. Your people deserve this, and the role of HR within a company has never been more critical to the success of your employees and your business.
At Spotify, we believe in an inclusive culture where our people have a strong sense of belonging and community. A culture where innovative, passionate, and playful Spotifiers can do their best work. A culture that grows and evolves with every new band member but stands on solid ground – our core values.
My HR list
In an ever changing and fast moving world, it is important to be informed and inspired about what’s presently happening around us, and what learning we can take from what’s happened around us in the past. This leads to revealing what’s on my HR playlist right now!
HRD Magazine: Spotify’s Work From Anywhere Policy
HR The Real Deal VOD: Culture During The Pandemic
HBR: How has the past year changed you and your organization?
Michael is a highly accomplished global Human Resources leader with over 15 years of experience in strategizing and implementing global talent initiatives that drive business results and improves both employee and company performance. He is a trusted business partner to C-level and executive management teams with an extensive record of executing high impact global talent solutions.
Michael currently serves as Head of HR APAC at Spotify, where he is responsible for driving the overall people strategy for the region. His innovative design of Spotify’s revamped parental leave program has received global recognition for taking the #leadonleave for companies supporting families, establishing work life balance, and driving inclusivity within the workplace.
Michael has worked across a broad spectrum of industries including Technology, Investment Banking & Markets, Media, and Advertising. Prior to joining Spotify, Michael was a Vice President of Human Capital Management at Goldman Sachs, where he was responsible for leading strategic people initiatives across the Technology division globally.