Group Industry Director, Facebook Australia & New Zealand

Naomi Shepherd is Group Industry Director at Facebook, where she leads the customer facing teams for Facebook Australia and New Zealand. Naomi has worked in Facebook since 2012 and has been in her current role for 4 years.

What sort of flexible work practices have you undertaken in your career?

I was never the poster child for flexibility in my early career. I came back to work after 11 weeks maternity leave with my first two children and went straight into full time work. I was so miserable, but working in New York where the maternity leave is brutally short, I didn’t really have an option. When I had my third child in Australia, I took full advantage of a country and culture that made it perfectly normal to take a reasonable amount of time off work — to heal, to let the hormones balance out, and to spend precious time with my baby — before returning to work. That to me is the ultimate flexibility — when it’s the status quo for all parents.

My other tip comes from Sheryl Sandberg — if you’re leaving work early for personal commitments, leave loudly. Don’t sneak out, it gives permission to others to do the same thing.

What do you love most about your role and your industry?

In my role at Facebook I lead the exceptional customer facing teams for AUNZ. I believe deeply in the power of technology and digital transformation, and the opportunity it creates for Australian businesses both large and small. We’ve seen a lot of this in 2020, from supporting small business through drought and bushfire and COVID, to helping large businesses see their way through digital transformation at breakneck speed. I’ve seen the work we do and the role our platforms play, instil a huge sense of pride in my team. That we are here to support communities and commerce expand their horizons, capture opportunity, and cross borders to take the best of Australia to the rest of the world.

What are the biggest barriers or challenges you have overcome in advancing your career so far?

Honestly, I think I’m guilty of being my own biggest barrier. Like a lot of people, I spent way too much time feeling like an imposter and living up to other peoples’ expectations. It’s exhausting! Being able to let go of that and have the confidence to give something a red hot go without having all the answers, has been very freeing for me.

How do you think your industry and business has changed this year as a result of COVID?

We have seen a once-in-a-generation shift in the behaviour of people, and things won’t be the same again. 54% of Australians surveyed by Kantar said they’ve tried a new shopping behaviour since COVID started. Over half of them have said they’ll keep these behaviours. In business, we’ve seen this notion of “3 years of Digital transformation in 3 weeks” play out over and over again, so more businesses are operating online than ever before. We were a lifeline for businesses who had no other way to sell than online. We rapidly put our foot down on product innovation to meet the needs of Australian businesses in this new normal, quickly creating the tools to enable them to have an online presence (which is vital for small businesses when they’re forced to close with a few days’ notice).

And people have been turning to our platforms in ways we’d never seen before, for example video calls jumped by 1000% in the early stages of lockdown, and every celebrity was hosting an IG Live ;)

Facebook has always been highly innovative in programs to support their employees across all areas of work / life balance. What are some of the initiatives or programs that have been most impactful for your people?

We invest a lot in this notion of “fuel”. Fuel is enabling our teams to be intentional about the life they want to lead — to build a plan for the future that uses their energy to progress the areas across multiple dimensions of their life, that are the most important.

Every year, we encourage our teams to participate in writing a vision statement, which is a letter to yourself a year from now highlighting all the things you’ve managed to do. It’s not an easy process for me, I really have to push myself to dream big and make my goals aspirational. When I started this practice a few years ago, I wrote in my vision statement that I wanted to apply for a Masters program at a Business School and complete an MBA in under two years. I knew if I wrote it down I’d be more likely to achieve it, and two years later I’d graduated.

With such a focus on remote work, what are your tips for building culture and community when people aren’t necessarily together in physical spaces each day?

We’ve done a lot of team building, listening, check ins… but one thing that really stands out to me is our team all hands every Monday morning. It’s one example of a regular event that has transitioned incredibly well from an in person to a virtual environment. It’s become our moment of culture, the way everyone in the office sets up their week, and I genuinely believe the team look forward to it. We made a tweak to it a few months ago and started broadcasting the meeting live to our Facebook Group, and having the commenting function was a game changer! The team are now able to chatter with each other and respond live to content throughout the session. It’s really transformed from one way to multi-functional team communication.

And let’s give it up for our people, who are driving the culture all day, every day. What’s motivating me is seeing business problems that have been kicking around for some time are suddenly getting a lot of attention and being solved in very short periods of time. I’m seeing teams coming together who ordinarily wouldn’t be connected day to day. People raising their hand and saying “I can help you with that”.

Could you share your top 2 or 3 predictions for what the new future may hold and how workplaces will shape up heading into 2021 and beyond.

We really need to reassess the future of work. Working flexibly used to be the domain of working mothers and I think now a wider range of people are starting to engage with what the realities of that really are.

We’re already adapting quickly to technology, but we’re being forced to embrace it in ways that we thought were previously not up for grabs. There are a lot of things that we assumed needed face to face contact but now we question that.

My predictions are that we’ll be embracing remote presence in a much more meaningful way, and that one day weeks, five day weeks or no day weeks in the office will become our lived reality. I also predict that the best workplaces that have a mix of remote and in-office employees will be working through what that means for inclusive working environments.

Naomi shared her insights with Puffling’s Niamh Fitzpatrick.

If you’re interested in more on Puffling or being featured in a future interview profile, connect with Niamh here.

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