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In the space of a few months, people operations have been thrust into the spotlight as companies turn to them for leadership on redefining the workplace, supporting a massive experiment into remote work, and navigating employee engagement during an incredibly challenging time. There’s no argument: the people function can make or break operations in times of crisis.

But layoffs and hiring freezes have disproportionately affected people ops, adding pressure to an already resource-limited department. We’ve witnessed consolidation of roles, teams and responsibilities. 

At the same time, these are the golden months for those #still-hiring. The unprecedented reshuffle of the job market this year has created an opportunity for savvy leaders to plan, prepare and invest in their talent acquisition and people management stack. From reconfiguring outdated processes to be more robust, to reimagining policies around remote work, there has never been a better time to evaluate the future of the HR and people operations function.

The rise of the people ops function 

COVID-19 elevated the people ops function to become the strategic advisors of the C-suite. The Chief People Officer and Chief Executive Officer have had to work closely together to lead the workforce through the external and internal impact of the pandemic and the economic challenge that has come with it. Across industries, companies are realizing that how they run their people function makes or breaks their operations in times of crisis. 

Prior to COVID, the cost of tech hiring was increasingly unsustainable. Inflation in job titles and salaries, aggressive recruitment practices, and low employee loyalty created overheated talent markets in key hubs seen in the Bay Area, New York and London. Over the past two years we’ve seen many more tech hubs join this list, making it increasingly difficult for people operations to be successful. 

But COVID has challenged this reality by forcing teams around the world to consider what is the future of the workplace. We’ve tracked how the pandemic has changed the tech market in California, where only 47% of developers searching for jobs are applying in-state, compared to 71% pre-COVID. People operations are at the intersection of impacting and reacting to the changing hiring landscape, as they too are opening up to more remote workers as the physical office becomes less and less relevant.

The new remote-first infrastructure 

As all these processes move to the cloud, the question on my mind has been – how will this impact the traditional HR tech stack? Obviously digitization is here to stay, but we’ve seen this be accelerated as suddenly people teams have translated much of their company’s daily operations online. 

From onsite interviews to onboarding, internal communications to employee engagement, the current times have exposed the need for robust remote-first infrastructure. Whichever companies had it fully or partially in place pre-lockdown have had a much easier transition than those who had been resistant or hadn’t invested in HR tech early on. 

Platforms and playbooks need to be adjusted, and workflows shifted to support remote work, and all this requires investment into building a remote-first HR tech stack that will last not just for 6 months, but for the next 18. 

Our category needs to step up

From where I stand, it’s obvious that HR tech, and particularly the platforms and systems which support engineering teams, needs to evolve a lot faster to keep up and support evolution for the future of work. Compared to other categories like marketing or sales tech, HR tech is lagging. 

Much of our category was built to deal with talent in a very generic way, optimizing the processes of the status quo of a resume-first hiring market. All this must change, fast. Talent means people and people are consumers, and we’re used to being handled in a frictionless and transparent way. The services, systems and brands we love deliver exceptional experiences that make us feel special. 

I’ve spent the past 10 years in transformative HR tech, and I look forward to leading Codility through the next phase of category development. 

Natalia Panowicz is CEO at Codility, where she has held key roles since joining as one of the company’s earliest employees. She has expanded Codility from Europe into the US, securing $22M in venture capital along the way. Codility has 150 employees over 3 offices, enables over 1,500+ companies to build stronger engineering teams, and is doubling its enterprise customer base year-over-year.

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