Meet Nellie Hayat, Silicon Valley engineer turned workplace leader
If you haven’t met Nellie Hayat yet, you’re missing out. Nellie is passionate about the world of work—so much so that she left her career in engineering six years ago to design workplaces at the global tech company Stripe. Since then, she’s become well-known in the workplace industry for her leadership, energy, and creative vision for the future of work.
We recently sat down with Nellie to learn from her workplace expertise and hear how things are going at her current company, VergeSense. Catch the best bits of our conversation below.
We heard you started your career as an engineer. How’d you get into the workplace industry?
That’s right! I’m like other people in the workplace industry in that many of us have non-workplace backgrounds.
When I moved out here to Silicon Valley, I had worked in more than 10 other countries as an engineer. People had a different mentality here than anywhere else I’ve worked. They loved working and believed their work was changing the world. I wanted to figure out how we could bring that mentality to regions outside of the Bay Area.
Then, one day I was talking to someone who told me, “You know, if you’re so impassioned about the world of work, maybe you should join a workplace team.” Not long after that, I joined Stripe where I did workplace and real estate strategy. I was one of three people on the team at the time. I was eager to learn a lot—and fast.
Can you tell us about your job at VergeSense?
Sure! I’m Head of Workplace Transformation at VergeSense. I am the host of the Destination Workplace podcast and I regularly contribute to my organization’s workplace blog. At VergeSense, I get to guide and educate both internal and external teams on topics such as the future of work, new workplace design trends, technology, employee journeys, and change management.
How has it been working in the workplace industry during the pandemic?
When the pandemic hit, I became more recognized as a leader in the workplace industry. I was very optimistic about the change in the industry that would result from the pandemic. I helped keep people aware of emerging trends and employee expectations.
It’s a really exciting time to be in this industry. Many of the conversations around the future of work were already happening before the pandemic. But the pandemic has accelerated these conversations.
How do you keep up to date on the latest workplace trends?
I’m very lucky to be among a group of workplace leaders who meet monthly. Together, we’re able to teach each other different facets of work, like how to create an environment that’s not one-size-fits-all. Our conversations help keep us aligned with employees’ needs and how work itself is changing. I’ve also been very lucky to be invited to different conferences and webinars.
We love your podcast, Destination Workplace! What’s been the most interesting conversation you’ve had on the podcast so far?
That’s very tough to answer! I’ve loved every single conversation. I think one that comes to mind is the chat I had with Paul McKinlay, Vice President of Corporate Communications at Vistaprint. It was the first time I had interviewed someone whose company was more “traditional” and outside of Silicon Valley.
One of my goals for this podcast has been to help bring the future of work to places outside of Silicon Valley. It’s important to me that industries outside of tech don’t revert back to the pre-pandemic work world, and that we use this time to change work for the better. My conversation with Paul confirmed that change is happening at companies outside the Bay Area.
Paul learned from other hybrid work leaders that work can—and should—be very flexible. Different employees need different things, and workplaces need to embrace that richness. I was fascinated to hear about that change happening at Paul’s company.
What workplace technology are you loving right now?
I think I’m most excited about the tech that gives employees power in the workplace. Employees should be able to truly take hold of their workplace and leverage it as a tool to do their best work.
For example, employees should be able to see when their co-workers are going to work so they can coordinate their schedules. It sounds simple enough, and yet people miss each other all of the time! I remember working in an office in Paris and missing opportunities to meet up with employees. I thought, “What if there was a technology that could tell us who’s going in today or other days of the week?” It would go a long way to get people excited about going in and meeting their teammates! So that’s what I’m most excited about—tech that empowers people to make work decisions.
Who’s your go-to person in the workplace space that inspires you? Why?
It’s really hard to choose! It’s like choosing among your best friends. If I had to name one person, it would have to be Tracy Hawkins, the Vice President of Real Estate & Workplace at Twitter. She’s fierce, funny, and forward-thinking. I call her the “Queen of the Workplace” and she’s definitely someone I look up to.
Last question! What’s one tip you have for workplace teams adjusting to hybrid work right now?
I’ve been exposed to many organizations transitioning to hybrid work. What I’ve learned is that, in a hybrid environment, leadership and culture are the foundation of the workplace.
When I entered the workplace industry six years ago, I thought that people loved their jobs because they love their offices. But what I’ve learned is that the opposite is true. Their offices were amazing because employees brought spirit and a positive mentality to work. Our workplaces are our vessels for culture. Leaders need to invest in the workplace experience if they want their employees to be happy, engaged, and excited about coming into work.
The workplace is more important than ever, and so are the people who run them. That’s why we love getting to learn from leaders, like Nellie, who are paving the way forward in the workplace industry.