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How To Build an Employee Experience Tech Stack

Learn how Jennifer Paxton from Smile has set up their HR tech stack

Orane Ennis
Technology Researcher
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According to Gallup's State of the American Workplace report, engaged employees saw a 17% increase in productivity. As the pandemic has slowed its roll, many companies have still retained either a fully remote workforce or a hybrid one. As such, HR has had to adapt the way it handles employee experience.

Having a well-built tech stack is one of the ways HR professionals have improved their workflows, employee experience, and helped companies achieve their goals. Our CEO, Phil Strazulla, recently interviewed Jennifer Paxton, VP of People at Smile.

In this article, we’ll take a look at what is an HR technology stack, how having one can aid you as a Human Resources professional, and share what Jen uses at Smile.

In This Article

What Is An HR Tech Stack?

A human resources tech stack is defined by the Academy to Innovate HR as a set of integrated platforms, apps, and software that are used to expand and improve HR functions. They allow HR departments to better handle their workloads from recruitment, performance management, employee engagement, benefits administration, and more.

How To Choose A Tool For Your HR Tech Stack

Creating a reliable tech stack takes time and research as the right tool can make a world of difference for you, your team, your employees, and your company. When you’re looking to invest in a particular tool, there are a lot of things to consider such as pricing, features, adoption, and your needs.

Jen shared with Phil: instead of thinking of a specific tool, I think of what my needs are first.Sometimes it’s easy to get caught up in the features and capabilities of a tool, however, if those features do not meet your needs then that tool is of no value to you.

Another thing to consider is the adoption of the new technology for your team. While you may like a tool, it depends on how your team members will adopt and use it.

Jen shared that during her time at a previous company, Privy, she ran a small beta test group to choose between two software tools, 15five and Lattice. She created this group by pulling one person from each department. She then met with them twice to test the software and discuss which would be better for the company.

"Consider what are the pros and cons. What are the capabilities and are those capabilities, must-have needs or just things that are nice to have that no one needs." - Jennifer Paxton, VP People at Smile

While she would have personally gone with Lattice, most of the people chose 15Five for varying reasons such as prior experience. She went with that option as it meant easier adoption of the tool for the team.

At the end of the day, adoption is critical because “if it has all the bells and whistles but nobody uses it, there’s no value”.

Recruitment - The First Step

For many employees, the recruitment process is their first interaction with your company. As you know, first impressions matter and recruitment is where you can make a lasting one. There are numerous recruitment platforms available, with both styles of recruiting incorporating multiple in the process.

Creating a seamless recruiting, hiring, and onboarding process makes things easier for future employees and ensures that their addition to the team goes smoothly. Jen spoke briefly about the recruitment process at Smile.

She uses Lever, an applicant tracking system, along with Jamyr, a video recruiting platform that she co-founded. In addition to these, she utilizes the HRIS platform, Collage.

Payroll

Ensuring that your employees are paid without any hiccups is a must for a positive employee experience. There are numerous ways that companies handle payroll. However, it differs for fully remote companies such as Smile and us here at SSR, with remote workers across the globe and in-person companies.

Jen shared that Smile employs 63 people in 19 countries. This presents its own set of challenges with payroll. One such issue is that different countries have different payroll compliance which means different regulations with how employees are paid.

Smile has been able to meet those challenges with two distinct payment platforms. Ceridian is the platform Smile uses to pay its employees and contractors who reside in Canada. For those outside Canada, they use Deel. Since this latter tool can help with payroll and compliance for over 150 countries, it made sense for a fully remote company such as Smile.

If you’re looking to adopt a new payroll platform, I recommend checking out our list of the Best Payroll Vendors to help with your search.

Incentives and Rewards

Besides general compensation, finding other ways to reward employees can be great for morale. In Jen’s case, Smile offers eCommerce credit valued at $100 USD per month to its employees. There are also double points that can help employees feel more appreciated.

However, this is done manually, and Smile doesn’t currently employ a platform for incentive distribution. While they do give eCommerce credit, monetary incentives are not the only way to boost employee morale. Non-monetary incentives such as recreational activities, development programs, and experiential rewards have been shown to deliver better results.

Employee Engagement

When it comes to employee engagement, that’s where a lot of HR professionals have the bulk of their work to do. Employee experience heavily focuses on employee engagement as engaged employees produce better results.

Employee engagement can be defined as an employee's emotional connection to the company and the work they do. The company culture plays a key role in employee engagement. Making employees feel valued and showing the value of their work aids in developing their engagement and benefitting the company.

According to Gallup's State of Global Workplace report, 85% of employees are not engaged in the workplace. This means only a minority of the workforce surveyed has a positive emotional connection with their jobs and companies.

This is generally not good news as engaged employees are shown to stay longer and be more profitable. Research has shown that companies with high employee engagement are 21% more profitable. This adds up as engaged employees provide better customer service, and as mentioned before are 17% more productive.

In addition to this, companies with low employee engagement usually see a higher turnover as employees leave their jobs. This can cost these companies a lot of money seeking to hire new talent. In fact, research from Zenefits has shown that US employers spend roughly $2.9M per day looking for replacement employees. That's an astonishing $1.1B per year.

Jen shared that a lot of her decision-making comes back to retention rate. She shared that even though employees may be happy, she asks herself if they’d be happier if they got X, Y, and Z and uses that to influence her decisions.

Phil also mentioned that many companies with high retention rates also have high employee satisfaction. As companies continue to vie for top talent, many HR teams are not only focusing on hiring the best but also keeping the best.

How Smile Handles Employee Engagement

It goes to show that employee engagement is critical to a company's success and Jen at Smile knows it. It's why she has employed numerous tools in her HR tech stack that seek to boost employee engagement as well as employees to build a strong emotional connection with each other.

During the interview, Phil mentioned that a key challenge for many HR professionals especially those in fully remote companies such as Smile is fostering that emotional connection without a physical workspace.

Jen shared that she’s employed various technologies to do this. Smile uses Zoom and Google Meets for meetings. They also use Slack for messaging and have a Smile Values channel that acts as a digital workplace for the Smile employees.

However, these aren’t the only tools that Smile utilizes to foster employee engagement. Another tool is Luna Park where 3-4 people are grouped together and can either answer trivia or play games together.

Jen shared that she found that the camaraderie and bonding built via this platform help with team bonding. It may be a digital experience but the bonds built are very real.

"Luna Park also does an additional pairing, every single month. You get paired at random with another person in your company and you play this mini-game with them and your scores get put up on a leaderboard."

In addition to Luna Park, Jen also employs Donut, a Slack integration tool, for employee engagement. It syncs up 2-3 people to have virtual coffee chats which helps to foster employee relationships. Most of the Smile leadership also joins these meetings. It “humanizes the leadership which is so important, especially in a remote environment."

This goes doubly for new hires. As Jen shared, getting new employees exposed to the leadership team makes them seem more approachable from the get-go. This adds to employee trust and engagement. To get a read on that, Jen uses Officevibe. Through anonymous and non-anonymous feedback, the tool helps to get an idea of who is happy, unhappy, or indifferent about working at Smile.

Jen shared that she reads and responds to all of these every Friday, and while it can be tedious, it’s important that employees feel heard and not “like they’re providing feedback in a black hole.” This is important and ensures that employee grievances are met which leads to happier employees in the long run.

Another thing that Jen shared was that one of the things she enjoyed was receiving positive feedback and sharing that (with permission) with someone’s manager as it can help to boost morale.

To keep the positivity flowing, Officevibe also has a Good Vibes feature which has templates that employees can use to share positive feedback as well. Jen shared that Smile has had an response rate of 64% on the low end and 84% on the high end for their poll surveys. This is higher compared to average rates of 25% - 60%, at least cited by recent studies like this one.

Performance Management

Tracking employee performance is a vital part of HR, especially for remote employees. Knowing who does what, the metrics to measure, and how they can improve, makes things easier for everyone. Investing in a solid performance management tool can make your life as an HR professional easier, and help employees meet their own goals.

While a performance management system is great, not every company uses one. Jen, for example, uses Google Docs to handle performance management bi-annually. She shared that it’s a tedious process and she’ll look into adopting a new tool for automation in 2023.

Performance management tools are best when they are people-centered. At the end of the day, your employees are people. Therefore, helping them meet their own personal goals, and providing channels for feedback and goal management will benefit them and in the long run, benefit you.

Employee Experience Tech Stack Wrap Up

Technology provides us with the means to make things easier for ourselves and those we work with. Investing in a reliable HR tech stack is one of the ways you can create an enviable employee experience and enhance employee engagement.

From recruiting to payroll, to employee engagement and performance management, the right tech stack can ensure all of these are handled as best as possible. In this interview, Jen has demonstrated just how effective the right tech stack can be and how it can help to foster emotional connections between employees; even if they’re miles apart.

If you want to view the interview in full, watch it here.

Orane Ennis
Technology Researcher
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Orane Ennis has been a content writer with close to 5 years under his belt. He's written about many areas of business but HCM and HR tech is where he's found his home. He's currently finishing a bachelor's degree in Psychology at the University of the West Indies. In his downtime, he enjoys a good book, movie, or anime series. He also enjoys using Photoshop to bring his ideas to life.

Featured in: MUO Bitcatcha Tech Untold

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