She got a degree in English and an MS in Human Resource Management, then set about finding work and building HR experience in and around the Silicon Valley. Twenty-four years later her Her LinkedIn page shows 50 skills, with widespread endorsements 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 applying information technology to the freight industry, providing automated invoicing, collections and payments – that is, factoring – to industry players. Its focus is on small-medium newcomers to automated factoring, highlighting eye-popping cost reductions for its customers. It opened its doors to business as an office-free “remote company” in 2019, and firmly pledged to remain that way as Covid wrought havoc with physical employment spaces.
She is Heather Beckstead, her company is Axle Payments, and she has been working with the company’s founders, Bharath Krishnamoorthy and Shawn Vo, to build a “remote by design” company with a “remote culture.” It is a company that doesn’t allow people to work from home, it insists on it. That means, in Beckstead’s words, “making sure that people are really connected and feel they are giving value and they are valued.” How, though, can you do that?
Michael B Arthur: So, you joined Axle in November 2021, when companies the world over were struggling with how to convert from an office-based to a hybrid approach, and to make the best of that situation?
Heather Beckstead: Exactly. We set out to get the best talent across the country. We now have about 80 employees across the US, even into Hawaii, and we’re growing rapidly. From the outset, we encouraged people to seek flexibility in their work life. 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 that they can do their best work, whatever the circumstances under which they are working. Having a remote culture allows us to do that.
Arthur: Can you say more?
Beckstead: There’s in the office. There’s no place where we would go to do our normal business. So we take that overhead saving and apply it toward quarterly offsites. We camp out in a hotel for a week and do a lot of work together. But it’s equally important to build relationships. We move the offsites around the country – our last one was in April in Atlanta, prior to that we were in San Diego.
Also, when we travel to offsites, we carve out time to deliver some kind of service back to the community. In Atlanta, we helped some locals put together packets for refugees coming into the country. We do something for the communities we are visiting, since we don’t have our own physical community. We want to make sure our people feel that their company values service, and reaching out and being part of other communities.
Arthur: Any other initiatives?
Beckstead: The first thing I did after I joined was put in the benefits system. We need to be a real company, we need to have real HR services. One of the next things I did roll out an employee engagement survey because I wanted to understand what was the culture, before diving in and trying to mess with it.
I’ve been doing these kind of surveys for 20 years and in my experience a good score is 80. So when our survey result ended at 94%, I was a little blown away because I thought, what am I supposed to fix? But any score is just a baseline to think about what’s important. For example, I’ve learned that our workers really like experiencing high levels of communication and transparency.
Another thing that struck me was empathy. It’s not something I’ve seen before as a corporate value. But if we’re really a team, and we’re all contributors to the company’s success and all that kind of stuff, empathy is fundamental. Then there’s the importance of maintaining good managers who are well trained, 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 tie in with effective employee training?
Beckstead: Absolutely. We do a lot of training in house, especially in our operations team – the credits, collections, and all that kind of stuff we have to do. They had already put in place $1,000 per person per year for educational use before I arrived, but we’ve added more training opportunities, especially in our onboarding, for the company as well as each department. With a remote culture you can’t just sit next to somebody and shadow them all day for a week, so you have to put more thought into how to bring people on so that they are successful.
Again, though, we promote relationships. All new hires meet with our co-founders, we assign everyone two buddies, one from their own team, one from a totally different part of the company. We do 30- and 90-day check-ins with every employee to make sure they’re getting what they need to be productive and to give feedback. So, there’s a lot of sharing early on, but it feeds into the transparent culture we want to maintain.
Much of the above stems from the nature of our co-founders. They are deeply invested in wanting to help people at scale, across employees, clients and customers. So their business model reflects that investment. The other day we shared an article about remote work, where people were asked to choose between a $30,000 raise to work in an office and no raise if they worked from home. 70% said they would choose to work from home. We realized we had a huge advantage as a remote company in delivering the flexibility that many people sought.
Arthur: You’re telling me a great deal about how the company seeks to recruit, engage with, and support people. But what if someone says this is all fine, but I’m not sure I want my career to go where you’re leading me?
Beckstead: That’s a great point, because we’ve just done our homework to flesh out how we see career ladders in each of our departments. We know things are going to change, but we want our managers to be able to join a career conversation at any time and say what our needs are. In turn, we want our employees to bring their own ideas to the table so we can find a sweet spot between what they want and what our company needs. We want a conversation rather than any company edict, and people are going to be more invested in their career growth if they feel like they’re helping to shape it.
When I started my HR career, the usual advice was if they’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 someone someday finds their best option lies somewhere else, I’m going to celebrate that.
Arthur: Does that fit with the business case for Axle Payments?
Beckstead: The business case is that we want to create wealth for our shareholders, and to make a profit from our customers. That will always be there, but on another level we want to deliver value to the employees of our customers and to our own people. And when you have a business rooted in people it creates a different dynamic. That’s really something that stands out for employees, especially in the light of Covid. A lot of people are looking back and re-evaluating what’s important. We want to match that. We want to meet them where they are. We want to attract the best talent.
Arthur: Those are great objectives, and it’s great to know you’re working on them. Thank you very much for your time.