Learning From Unicorns: How TikTok Supports Super-Fast Growth
Welcome to the latest in our blog series focusing on firms and individuals who have trail-blazed their fields to create super-fast growth in dynamic and diverse workplaces. This week we focus on TikTok London and talk to Jemma Cowan, Senior HR Business Partner Europe. Against the backdrop of the extraordinary times we’re all living through, it’s also been a pretty extraordinary year for TikTok. Europe has embraced the app and today more than 100m people across the region are active on TikTok every month. It’s a home for positive, creative expression and joyful entertainment that’s authentic, relatable, and truly diverse.
Talking with Tiktok
Hi Jemma. Tell us a little more about the team at TikTok London?
Jemma: TikTok is unique and a disruptor in the tech space – I often say we are builders and architects. Within a startup environment, it’s a fast-paced, ambitious, dynamic and people are genuinely at the heart of everything we do.
It’s difficult to describe TikTok London, without describing the other great locations where we operate – we are a truly global company and we are proud of the environment that we have created. It’s incredible to be part of a much broader landscape, perhaps geographically spread but without a doubt all with the same goals and moving in the direction as one team.
TikTok has grown massively in London, with many people joining while working from home due to the pandemic. How do you foster a sense of community and team for these new arrivals?
Jemma: We aim to build community with our people from day one – we truly are a family. It’s true that we have continued to welcome talent to our teams and it’s clear that Covid has presented challenges. We are incredibly humble and equally proud that, within this ever-changing and unpredictable environment, we have remained agile, acted swiftly and most importantly created space to listen to our people. As HR professionals we are strategic commercial partners to the business; our role is to help connect the dots, provide solutions and help to support change. In the transition from working in the office to working from home, we asked questions, listened to the feedback we heard and created initiatives that spoke to the needs of our people.
Has this feedback process made a difference to TikTok’s way of working?
Jemma: There’s no doubt that this new way of working has bought a shift in mindset and approach to how we work – at our core we are a start-up and we hire ‘intrepreneurs’ (staff who are supported to take risks and build opportunities as entrepreneurs do, but within a corporate setting) and that brings an energy where we are all open to creating innovative solutions and doing things differently.
We are driven and passionate about thinking outside of the box and creating innovative solutions, often at pace. Within the space of hours we re-positioned our onboarding process to be fully remote and with as little impact for our new joiners as possible. We want to ensure that the great talent that we bring into the business remain excited about joining the team and that they feel part of the family early on. We take huge pride in the onboarding experience and the employee experience drives our focus – it’s important to create an environment where people can truly show up as their authentic selves and really enjoy what they do.
What has been the biggest challenge and the greatest win over the last six months to creating and maintaining a team culture?
Jemma: TikTok has a genuinely inclusive culture – in my view the greatest win are the teams that we have built. The challenge or at least, the opportunity is in ensuring that we continue to support the sense of community whilst working remotely.
We have invested in a number of initiatives in this area – we’ve seen a positive impact in creating content with PUSH to ensure our teams have tools and support during this period. I’m passionate about developing the tools and resources to help others to create long lasting, impactful strategies to support their mental health. I am super grateful for the opportunity to partner with PUSH on wellbeing initiatives, as I believe it’s truly important to create a space where we can be at our happiest, healthiest and most productive. Mental health is just as important as physical health – sometimes a conversation, a smile and taking time to be there to listen can make the world of difference.
From your experience, what advice would you give to other organisations so that they can aspire to achieve the same?
Jemma: We are fortunate to have created a platform which brings creativity and joy to so many and which allows our users to be creative and express themselves in an authentic way. Our internal culture is truly a reflection of the platform, in that we nurture an environment where we encourage our people to be themselves.
While we are living in a time of global uncertainty, one thing that is certain is that what we do and the way in which we do it has already transformed
The advice I would share is that while we are living in a time of global uncertainty, one thing that is certain is that what we do and the way in which we do it has already transformed. As HR professionals and leaders, we’ll need to continue to create innovative ways of working while staying connected. The future will be nothing like we’ve seen in the past and many organisations are supporting the growing needs of multiple generations. So listen to the varying needs of your teams and focus on how best to create an environment where they will continually thrive.
How do you keep the human aspect in an organisation while growing at such a fast rate?
Jemma: What was clear for me at the outset is how key our values are within the organisation, all of which focus on the ‘how’. As a high performing team we deliver results. How we go about this is key for us and plays an integral role in how we operate. At TikTok we focus on the softer skills which at the core are fundamental to our success as a global and highly matrixed team, so team-work and relationships are key.
What is your favourite initiative that has been implemented in at Tiktok since January?
Jemma: Our events team organised an amazing virtual festival which our teams thoroughly enjoyed. As we are working from home it gave the opportunity for us all to connect socially and enjoy music, food and entertainment together from home.
Over summer, we also gave our employees a Wellbeing day off to spend time to recharge, reflect and focus on themselves. We value our employees and as a commitment to wellbeing we have an ongoing programme to support while we work from home and beyond.