Sameer Chowdhri of Workplace from Facebook

In 2015, Sameer Chowdhri had lunch with a friend and former colleague to catch up. By the end of the meal, Chowdhri had a job offer, an opportunity to join Facebook — an opportunity he couldn’t refuse.

"I was invited to jump on board the ‘rocket ship,’ so to speak, and I was really inspired by its mission to create a global community with a foundation of extreme transparency and connectedness," Chowdhri said. "There’s absolutely a ‘growth mindset’ at Facebook, along with the challenges of learning to adapt to hyper scale growth and how the company values — build social value; be bold; be open; move fast; focus on impact — align with my personal values."

Chowdhri is global head of HR solutions, Workplace from Facebook. Workplace is a sponsor of the Digital Workplace Experience, a free event being held online Oct. 13 and Oct. 14. Chowdri will be co-presenting a session with his colleague Janis Avila, director of employee experience at Facebook, on Oct. 13 titled "Leaning Forward on the Employee Journey at Facebook." Chowdhri spoke with Simpler Media Group about the ideal vs. the real digital workplace experience, the need to build and maintain a learning culture, and Facebook’s Workplace solution.

A Big Picture View of the Employee Experience

SMG: What’s your definition of an 'ideal' digital workplace? What are the challenges organizations face in reaching that ideal?

Chowdhri: I think there are three elements: One — an ideal digital workplace means that everything that’s done, every piece of communication, is viewed through the lens of the employee experience. Everything from how you communicate and connect with employees so they can get work done all the way to open and honest communication with leadership; everything is considered with the employee experience in mind.

Two, in a digital workplace, you need to have a space that mirrors a physical community, so employees can have a sense of connection and belonging. And three, there has to be a place employees can go to find the information they need to get their job done and connect and collaborate with people. And that has to be a mobile-first experience. 

The challenge, I think, is organizations try and silo this within departments and also by technology stacks. How do we recruit? We use this specific set of processes and these tools. How do we onboard? Oh, we use these other tools, and these other, different processes. While it should be a holistic, full-lifecycle journey that looks at the multiple touchpoint for the employees. I think many companies miss this, because they aren’t seeing a holistic view. They are too invested in legacy technologies and the sense that ‘We’ve always done it this way,’ and therefore are not looking at the big picture.

If you’re individually looking at the tools and technologies for functions of the different departments, and trying to build incremental value versus transformational value, you’re going to miss opportunities. Instead of looking at the whole employee lifecycle, and generating the value of the employee experience from that, you’re only getting the incremental value.

Sameer Chowdhri,  Workplace  from  Facebook: "If you're trying to build incremental value vs. transformational value, you're  going to miss opportunities."

Overcoming Digital Workplace Challenges

SMG: What are the best ways for organizations to overcome those challenges?

Chowdhri: You want to build tools that help to build the right kind of culture, first, and create a welcoming environment. Helping people find their communities and get that sense of belonging and acceptance for who they are. Because a lot of organizational culture mirrors your digital workplace culture.

And, of course that also means taking into account how to move to and scale up remote work: everything from how you recruit, hire, onboard and work in a remote-first world. You have to scale up the infrastructure to support that, and adopt industry-leading products and emerging technologies to create a great employee experience for remote workers; one that provides them the opportunities they need to learn and grow in their careers.

SMG: Facebook has a good handle on a personal digital experience, but what differences are there when you're transitioning the platform for the digital workplace? How is it the same?

Chowdhri: It sounds obvious, but with consumer Facebook, it’s about creating community with friends and family, and Workplace is about building a network with colleagues and coworkers to get work done.

There’s similarities in the user experience, for sure. You really don’t need any training to know how to navigate Workplace if you already use Facebook. It’s muscle memory for a lot of people! And it’s a mobile-first experience.

Workplace is designed for in-work contexts; it’s the foundation of how we communicate within Facebook with features for posting content, chat, video conferencing and broadcasting live video. It can be even more critical for small and mid-sized businesses that don’t have the extensive resources and investments in terms of IT infrastructure.

For a digital workplace platform you want to be able to have the same kind of connections and transparency, but also make it easy for them to take it on the go, especially now when everyone is working from home and juggling their responsibilities.

Enabling a Learning Culture

SMG: How does organizational culture relate to a digital workplace?

Chowdhri: I think it’s all about learning and development. If you are committed to building a learning culture, then it will extend and encompass your organization regardless of whether the experience is digital or not. So, you have to focus on how to get your employees to identify and achieve goals.

It’s helpful to build a learning culture if you can present areas for learning in modules and learning units that are small modules of training. You want it to be easily accessible, remote-first so they can have that be ongoing; they can pull up a session and learn while they’re cooking, doing housework, commuting. You want to make it part of the culture and give them the flexibility and freedom to learn in the space and time they have.

SMG: What are your hobbies? And are there lessons you apply from those that you bring to your work at Facebook?

Chowdhri: I play golf, which helps me get centered and helps me focus. I have a community around golf that I rely on and which gives me the resilience to deal with change, and it brings balance to my life. But I’ve also been doing family walks every night with my wife and two children, and I think the pandemic has given me the opportunity to spend more time with my kids. That inspires me to come back to work and apply lessons I’ve learned from watching how they interact with technology, and now, with remote learning. I can bring back ideas that can help them and other people thrive in a technology enabled, remote-first world.