Voices.com on How to Successfully Build an Inclusive Work Environment

Apr 30, 2015

Originally started on a napkin at the kitchen table, Voices.com, a London, Ontario-based technology company, is the world’s premier marketplace that connects businesses with professional voice-over talent. Within just 10 short years, the company is broadly recognized as a leader by customers, partners, service providers, vendors, media, and local community organizations. Voices.com employs 85 Londoners in full-time, salaried positions. In addition, their workforce supports the 125,000 international voice-over talent who find work through their service.

Kaitlyn Annaert sits at Voices.com kitchenette table holding coffee mug with capital K on it.
Kaitlyn Annaert, Human Resources Manager at Voices.com.

Human Resources is involved in Voices.com’s strategic direction by supporting the activities that contribute to their overall growth, especially in the area of hiring and retention. Human Resources helps Voices.com locate and attract the right employees, and turns them into team members. There is also the act of retention, which includes training, benefits, career development, and the creation of a meaningful corporate culture that fosters both innovation and fun. Human Resources Manager Kaitlyn Annaert says “Voices.com knows that our team is what drives and reinforces the enterprise’s strategic direction, so we do everything we can to make sure that they have all of the tools, resources, and support possible.”

Voices.com hires for ability first because, “We recognize that everyone is different and that each of us have unique skills and abilities to be offered.” 

To successfully build the inclusive work environment at Voices.com, the company hires based on ability; integrates accommodations; recognizes nonvisible disabilities; and embraces continuous intake.

Hire Based on Ability

Kaitlyn Annaert recommends employers take note of the essential skills needed to perform the job at hand, and hire solely based on those abilities.

At Voices.com, the main factors considered when looking to fill a position are: ability to communicate via phone and email; ability to demonstrate an understanding of technology in a rapidly changing environment; ability to get along with others; and ability to follow direction and procedures. If a candidate has these abilities, their resume is considered.

At Voices.com, personality and a good cultural fit with the company take precedence over experience as much of their training is done on the job.

Integrate Your Accommodations 

Accommodations are very much second nature at Voices.com, as they apply to all team members. As Kaitlyn says “We’ve never really thought about it because it’s naturally what we already do.” At Voices.com the concept of accommodation is not a separate one, it is integrated and applies to all employees.

“Making the environment right for the person,” is at the core of the Voices.com HR philosophy. Kaitlyn expands, “It’s about recognizing what resources you need to pull from, to make things happen quickly so that everyone feels they matter; their differences aren’t so much different, they just require different tools.”

Making accommodations for all employees on a regular basis helps to improve workflow at Voices.com. “Whatever somebody wants and needs to do the job and what makes them comfortable,” Kaitlyn goes on to give the example, “We have amazing ergonomic chairs, but some people just don’t like them and they prefer a different one. So we’ll make sure they have one they’re comfortable in because they use that chair all day.” If an employee uses a wheelchair, Voices.com offers adjustable desks and “ergonomic everything.” While another employee may use hearing aids and ask to be moved to a quieter location in the office. As Kaitlyn says, “No problem. These things are just so easy to do, why would you not bother doing them?”

A story Kaitlyn uses to guide her own HR perspective is that of an employer who recognized one of their new hires was finding reading challenging. As a result, the employee went for testing and discovered they were dyslexic. The employer used a text to script program that read out what was on the screen, and all of a sudden the employee was excelling in their role. Kaitlyn says she will, “Keep that in mind because a lot of what we do is on computers and we’re a paperless office, and sometimes people need to adjust to seeing the computer holding all the information. If anyone ever had trouble with that, I think the text to script option would be ideal.”

One of the main things Kaitlyn talks about with new hires on their first day is that she’ll never say, “I don’t know or I can’t.” Instead employees will hear, “I don’t know right now, or I’m unable to make that adjustment right now but we’ll figure it out.” As Kaitlyn says it’s as simple as, “Ask the person, what can we do to make your job easier?” and then putting any request into action.

At Voices.com accommodations are integrated with the company’s overall approach to attracting and retaining talent, and are one of the main factors in creating such a dynamic and cohesive team.

Recognize Nonvisible Disabilities

Voices.com understands that nonvisible disabilities can play a role in the workplace as well. Kaitlyn experienced a situation that gave her greater insight into those experiencing nonvisible disabilities, such as mental health issues, and says, “Mental health can be just as affected as physical health, and we recognize that not everyone deals with this the same way. HR has an open door policy that encourages employees to come by when they feel overwhelmed, stressed, or burnt out, and express their concerns. Sometimes just talking about these issues can help the employee to resolve them. Other times, a much more personal approach must be taken, and that’s where our Employee Assistance Program comes in. It is at no cost to the employee and it is strictly confidential.”

Elaborating on the success of this approach, “Employees who have used the services have had great support and have recommended them to others to take advantage of during difficult times. We recognize this benefit is just as important as having dental benefits, so of course we offer this resource as well.”

Embrace Continuous Intake

Continuous intake, an activity Voices.com has implemented for their hiring, is the process of always accepting resumes from candidates looking to join their growing company. The company also reviews the resumes submitted by candidates and interviews on a continuous basis.

The team at Voices.com, “Wants to make people feel like the door’s always open, that you can always come in, apply and check us out. We want to let people know we’re here, we’re in London and to keep the talent in London.”

Voices.com has already doubled its workforce over the past year, and has committed to a hiring initiative of bringing on at least 5 new employees every month as they continue to grow in the heart of downtown London. The company currently employs 85 Londoners, and hopes to be at 100 by early summer 2015.

“There’s so much change that happens around here so quickly,” and Kaitlyn credits the continuous intake of resumes with substantially speeding up the hiring process. Ultimately she says it is, “About developing an ongoing relationship. If you do little things along the way, the big picture becomes a lot easier to paint.” 

Voices.com is committed to the principles of equal employment opportunity and dedicated to making employment decisions based on merit. As Kaitlyn says, “This is where Voices.com’s strength lies, as we are open to considering and accommodating any and all candidates. Everyone is valued, and we are committed to hiring for cultural fit and ability over anything else. The diversity of our workforce and the appreciation that they all have for one another makes for a place where we all feel accepted and comfortable, and one that we consistently nurture in our hiring practices.”

Top 5 Tips for Creating an Inclusive Work Environment

  • Author: Kaitlyn Annaert, Human Resources Manager, Voices.com
  • Write down the essential skills needed to perform the job, and only hire based on those abilities. If a candidate can perform them, their resume is considered. Ability first, candidacy second.

  • Make making accommodations your second nature. If an employee requires an adjustment in order to perform their job more effectively, do it. The only time you should be saying “no” is if the request is impossible or unreasonable.

  • Assume every employee is capable, unless told otherwise. You never want to assume an employee is unable to perform a job function. If they’re unable to do so under the current circumstances, they’ll let you know. Sticking to this rule of thumb avoids limiting an employee’s ability or potential.

  • Recognize that not all disabilities are visible. Sometimes invisible disabilities are the most difficult to function with. For example, while an employee may appear to be doing just fine, what you see from the outside could be masking a deeper hurt. Keeping your office door open and maintaining a confidential environment makes it easier for an employee to approach you and ask for help or guidance. This practice allows for you and the employee to achieve the best outcome and/or work output. Also, talking about it may relieve a lot of stress from an individual, and they may see improvements just from that itself!

  • Have an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). For a reasonably low cost, you can provide confidential counselling for employees. This is free to the employee, and will ultimately assist them to achieve relief at work.