CHRO COVID-19 Action Recording with Waste Management's Tamla Oates-Forney - 9/25/20


In response to the ongoing coronavirus outbreak and its unprecedented impact to business and employers, i4cp holds a weekly series of standing calls to help HR leaders navigate this unpredictable time.

On i4cp’s September 25, 2020 CHRO/HR Strategy COVID-19 Response series call, HR leaders from a wide range of organizations were joined by special guest Tamla Oates-Forney, SVP and Chief People Officer at Waste Management. She was interviewed by i4cp Chief Research Officer Kevin Martin. Here are some of the highlights from the conversation:

Maintaining a people-first culture in the face of real business challenges. A focus for Oates-Forney at Waste Management has been to maintain their people-first culture, regardless of whether the company is facing good economic times or bad. She noted a key is to realize it is not either/or, but rather both/and. That is, you can achieve strong business outcomes because of your strong focus on people. For example, like many organizations during this COVID-19 period, Waste Management has pivoted learning and development away from in-person ILT delivery of learning to virtual and on-the-job learning. They changed the how, but not the what or why of learning, and so didn't diminish the value it provides to employees. They have also started an internal gig-centric approach to work to broaden skills, with Oates-Forney first piloting the approach in her own HR area. They have also considered the need for agility in how they leverage FTEs vs. contract workers to support surge needs. And they guaranteed 40-hours of work/pay for employees early during the COVID-19 pandemic (i.e., no layoffs), even though volumes in some sectors of the business dropped off significantly for a while (e.g., commercial, schools, etc.). This policy in particular immediately generated a lot of positive engagement for their workforce.

Focusing on the future of work. At Waste Management, Oates-Forney and her team are very focused on the future of work, notably the acceleration of trends toward both remote work and flexing the workforce as needed with gig / contract workers. When polled, 83% of participants on the call said that workforce flexibility (i.e., remote/hybrid approach to where people work) was the biggest change their company is making as a result of COVID-19 (only 3% said org structure, 3% technology infusion, and 10% Other). Oates-Forney suggested that as organizations plan for the future around gig and contract workers in particular, they need to stay abreast of regulation changes, and consider getting more involved in shaping relevant government policies. More broadly than gig workers, Martin noted that i4cp research has found organizations are increasingly taking a talent ecosystem approach to planning the future of their workforces.

The future of remote and hybrid work. Besides cost reduction, one clear advantage of allowing for remote work is the ability to greatly broaden your available talent pool. At Waste Management, about 35,000 of its approximately 45,000 employees are frontline. But as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic, the other approximately 10,000 employees were shifted to working from home in early spring of 2020. This will allow them to attract and retain the very best talent at a level not available before. Looking ahead, they have created a Workforce Evolution Taskforce which has reviewed those jobs and placed each into three categories: office, hybrid, and remote. The analysis and categories were piloted first in Oates-Forney's own HR teams. She noted that of the 10,000 or so employees, about 5500 will remain fully remote going forward. The others will be split between hybrid and office-based. Factors in making these decisions included customer interaction level, decision making authority, tools needed to do their work, external research on other companies, etc. This methodological approach focused first on the role, thereby helping to eliminate subjectivity. But the taskforce then went a step further, to personalize the result for each individual's needs, e.g., some people who are in roles that could be done remotely are not themselves well setup for at home work (lack of space, children homeschooling, etc.).

Talent brand is critical. Talent brand is important at any organization, but particularly for one in Waste Management's industry. When many people think of Waste Management they most often just think of trash. To help alter this perception, Oates-Forney has been very active on LinkedIn, especially to help tell the story of the company with an emphasis on the people of the company, and share the many awards and recognitions the firm has attained over the years.

In addition to this recording, please see the the i4cp Coronavirus Employer Resource Center for new research and next practices to help address the COVID-19 pandemic.


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