Vanessa Tierney's passion comes from her own lived experiences. As someone who was forced to work remotely, she saw the exciting opportunities remote/hybrid working had to offer.
And it wasn't long before she translated her own learnings to develop a platform that would successfully match individuals with remote roles, while enabling greater diversity and mobility.
As we witness the rapid acceleration of changes to working practices, HR teams will continue to be presented with new challenges and opportunities.
We caught up with Vanessa to find out more about her backstory, the development of Abodoo, and get her take on all things talent acquisition in a post-pandemic world.
Let’s start with a bit about you and your background.
I’m CEO and Co-founder of Abodoo. I’m based in Wexford, Ireland, and for the last 20 years, my background has been in talent management, development and acquisition, predominantly for Fortune 1000 companies in tech.
Around 10 years ago, I fell ill and had no choice but to start working remotely. At first, I didn’t think it would be for me, as I’m a real people person. As a remote worker, I found that it was difficult to identify opportunities, and saw a gap in the market for a remote recruitment company for tech firms, globally.
I was able to connect with really skilled recruiters all around the world, who, for whatever reason, wanted more remote working options. Then a few years later, the idea of Abodoo was born.
Can you tell me about Abodoo?
The idea came from sourcing for traditional hybrid roles. The platforms around at the time were very clunky and difficult to use. They weren’t diversity friendly, and you couldn’t tap into the under-employed or people returning to work. It was also around the time that governments were starting to see the power and potential of remote working and were looking at how they could attract inward investment.
The name Abodoo comes from ‘abode’, being your home and ‘do’, being work. It’s a matching platform which is diversity friendly. Everyone’s profile is completely anonymous - we simply match on skills.
We also work in partnership with a business called Yonderdesk, a virtual real estate platform which allows dispersed teams to work together as if they were all in the same place.
How is Abodoo different to other job platforms?
There are two unique points about Abodoo. Firstly, job seekers will only see matches above 50%, so they won’t be bombarded with roles which aren’t of interest. Secondly, individuals are completely anonymous, so everyone is matched solely on skills. In Abodoo you can’t see things like age, sex, and ethnicity.
Matching on skills is more relevant now than ever before. If you take industries in decline such as retail and tourism, we need to make sure the people from those industries can transfer into other industries in roles which require the same skills. The skills matching algorithm in Abodoo makes that transition possible.
We’ve also moved to make Abodoo free to use for job seekers and businesses during the pandemic.
Can you tell me about the work you’re doing with governments?
It wasn’t long before we realised that we had access to a lot of anonymised skills data, which we could use to produce talent maps. We had data at our disposal which could really help governments - the skills people have in local areas, where there are gaps, and where people want to live and work.
We’re offering governments their own ecosystem for matching and mapping. They’re starting to see the power of having this level of insight. We’re working with them to help attract talent to their area. It's huge for skills mobility.
How has the pandemic impacted skills mapping?
Covid-19 has had a real impact. Before the pandemic we were producing skills maps for governments on a quarterly basis, but we quickly realised that they needed real-time data. Last spring, we built the first dynamic skills mapping platform for government and education.
It’s made up of three components. Big data – global trends around skills and future skills, visualising existing data, and proprietary data – encouraging people to register their skills profile and businesses to register what skills they’re looking for. We then pull everything together in one place, with instant reporting.
Can you give me an overview of some of the main challenges and opportunities remote working presents?
I think the biggest challenge from personal experience is being isolated and that feeling of being disconnected from your peers. It can sometimes be difficult to get into a routine and to remain self-motivated.
For businesses, I think there’s also a challenge around recognition. If you’re in a physical workspace, people will get a pat on the back for their good work, or someone will pop in and say well done – that's no longer possible with remote working. This challenge can be exacerbated if you’re working with people who don’t have a high level of emotional intelligence and find it difficult to read people and situations.
The opportunities are amazing and go far beyond what I had initially anticipated! The issue of being disconnected is easy to overcome if you use tools like Yonderdesk. Virtual tools which allow people to drop in and have an organic conversation, offer a window into people's lives - whether it’s a husband walking past, or a child in the background. That really comes to fruition when remote teams meet up in person. There may be a few minutes of getting to know each other, but then people will hit it off because they already have that insight into each other's lives and that deep connection.
There are huge financial benefits to remote working. When businesses recover, I think CFOs will start to get very excited when they look at P&Ls and the reduced overheads.
Remote working also presents real opportunities to increase the diversity of talent in business, by removing barriers to people. Businesses will be able to draw on people who might have mobility issues, or childcare commitments.
What are the positives for HR teams?
I think remote working is really exciting for HR. In my experience, I sometimes think HR professionals can be seen as the underdog - particularly at C-level - but remote working can help change this. As time moves on, we’ll see the emergence of new roles, such as Director of Workplace Transformation. HR leaders are going to be best equipped to move into these new jobs. If they get the training and have the right tools, then HR will be driving board level conversations around employee engagement and attrition. It's a powerful position to be in.
Does remote working present challenges for onboarding?
It can, but it doesn’t have to. There’s a huge challenge around how we can make new employees feel engaged and connected with business culture in a remote world. If you think about the traditional onboarding process and what that looks like remotely, if you continue to send out links and calendar invites, there’s a danger that businesses will just assume people are learning, taking on information, and feeling connected.
I think the whole process needs to be a lot more streamlined. I think we need to measure the quality of experience throughout the process, from recruitment process through to onboarding. Stakeholders in the recruitment process need to be aligned.
We need to find ways to connect people organically through virtual real estate, whether that’s in breakout rooms or over remote lunches.
Interestingly, I also think we’ll see a move back to 360 reviews because of the depth of insight they provide.
Do you think leaders need to adapt to manage a remote/hybrid workforce?
Yes. I think we need to accept that people in leadership positions might not have the right skills or emotional intelligence required to lead remotely. It’s just so important and leaders lacking in emotional intelligence will struggle.
There’s a risk that at the end of the day, leaders will close their laptops or will leave calls with no idea of their impact on employees, because they’re just not equipped to read the situation. It’s more difficult when you work remotely, because you can’t sense the energy. I suspect we’ll see a situation where a few months down the line, energy is down, numbers are down, and some leaders will be left scratching their heads.
I’ve always been a big believer in personality, behavioural, and cognitive tooling. The insights they offer go way beyond experience and what you find out in an initial interview. Now more than ever, that level of insight is essential.
Post-pandemic, what do you think the remote/office split will look like?
I think 70% of people will want a hybrid model, and 30% of people will want to go back to an office.
I think it will be the younger generation who want to go back to the office, those who want to socialise and miss that in-person connection.
Of the 70% wanting a hybrid model, I think we’ll see them opt for 1-2 days in the office and 3-4 days at home.
Do you foresee issues in employee engagement and ensuring a level playing field for everyone? Especially given that there will likely be a real mix of people wanting to go into an office and some who want to work from home forever?
This is a huge challenge. I recently spoke to a large bank and during the pandemic, they had front line workers in the branch and the rest of their employees were working from home. Their HR team said it’s felt like running two parallel businesses, there’s no integration. I think this is where virtual real estate comes into play, because whether you’re working from home, a co-working space or the office, everyone is connected.
At Yonderdesk, we have one company we’re working with who are really leading the way. When we created their virtual office, we created an exact replica of their building. They’ve taken it a step further and have installed a Logitech camera, a camera that spins around. So, for people not working in the office, it feels like they’re actually there. It’s very cool.
Do you think businesses will have to rethink company culture and employee engagement strategies to suit new working styles?
100%. Historically, culture played a part in what made a business attractive to candidates, but then so did things like a having a rock-climbing wall or having free food in the fridge. Now culture is everything, as is integrity, humanity, and honesty, and that feeling of being connected with brand and mission. This is particularly important for people in their 20s, it's what’s driving them. So, if you’ve created a culture in a more traditional sense, and it hasn’t evolved to suit a new way of work and the shift in peoples’ values, it has to change.
Have you been conscious of the disparity between the number of females vs males in tech and do you think it’s impacted your career?
I’m probably not conscious of it anymore. I’ve been a female in tech for a long time now – nearly 20 years. It’s important to make the point that we are seeing a shift. You can see that more women are moving up and up and that’s great, but proportionately there’s still a huge disparity.
I’ve never been treated differently for being a woman, but I'm very aware of the statistics around women in fundraising, women in tech and particularly those in techie positions, things like engineering. Something I have found difficult is identifying female mentors in tech. It’s definitely a challenge but I think we’re going in the right direction.
What can we do to redress the balance and get more females in tech?
I think the responsibility sits with governments because individual companies only have so much power. Sure, they can make job specs more gender neutral, but I think governments need to do more. To redress the balance, we need to proactively attract diverse talent, to bring people in, map their skills and connect them with the opportunities. If governments can build up female talent pools they can go into companies and give them a bank of female talent to help solve the problem.
What’s your biggest achievement in business to date?
We're on the brink of it! We’re working hard to adapt our technology to support countries to help reverse migration. There are so many countries who have faced huge brain drain in the last 10-20 years, because they simply didn’t have the economy to support young talented people. In a remote working world, we have the perfect opportunity to see if we can bring these people home and reboot local economies and get them thriving again. I’m all about technology with heart, and it’s a cause we’re so passionate about.
Finally, what’s next for Abodoo?
We’re expanding in the UK, so we’re now talking to a large number of local governments and universities to help drive job creation and reskilling.
We've also just launched in APAC, so it’s a really exciting time.
Click here to learn more about Abodoo and the great work they do.
If you're interested in being interviewed as part of the BPS Perspectives series, we'd love to hear from you. Get in touch with us at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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