Meet the 30X30: Shawn Hewat’s Wavy is Bringing Humanity Back to Work Culture
Our sixth annual Bay Street Bull 30X30 guide showcases a group of incredible individuals who are redefining the way we do business, championing their communities, and cultivating entirely new industries. From tech and environmental pioneers to cryptocurrency entrepreneurs and media trailblazers, each of this year’s inductees is challenging Canadians to think (and work) differently for a brighter future.
In our series of one-on-one interviews, get to know each honouree a little better: their values, mission, lessons learned, and best advice.
CEO and co-founder, Wavy
What is your elevator pitch to the world?
Shawn Hewat: I’m the CEO and co-founder of Wavy, a platform that empowers teams to create meaningful company culture, wherever people are located. With a background in marketing and employee engagement at Nudge, I’ve become quite passionate about the future of work, people and culture, and work-play-life balance. Outside of Wavy, you can find me adventuring outdoors in British Columbia or cooking up a new recipe.
What excites you most about the work that you are doing?
Shawn Hewat: My work is at the intersection of humanity and tech. It’s such an exciting time in the world of work, with a shift to focus on more flexibility, inclusivity, and generally healthier work habits. Creating workplaces that are ‘digital by design’ is something I believe in, but also know that human connection can get lost along the way. I’m energized about being a part of this conversation and working to define the next stage of team building and culture as we grow.
Where do you think you have made the most impact in your community?
Shawn Hewat: Since 2020, the Wavy team has helped thousands of employees gather through shared experiences, no matter where they’re located. And we know it’s working! Our customer feedback shows that over 90 percent of people feel more connected to their colleagues after taking part in Wavy experiences. The majority of our growth has been driven by the folks we work with, too. People and culture leaders using Wavy have been proud to share it with their community, as they see the impact our solution has on creating connection and belonging at work. I’m excited to continue making waves in how we help teams positively impact the employee experience!
What kind of problems are you trying to solve? What’s wrong with the current status quo that you’ve taken on as your mission to change?
Shawn Hewat: The majority of companies are opting for remote-friendly or hybrid workplace policies going forward. But, the more distributed a team is, the harder it becomes to create a sense of community and belonging at work. This is a big problem, especially at a time when talent acquisition and retention are more competitive than ever before.
Wavy exists to help teams build culture with their people, not for them. We empower people leaders to plan, manage, measure, and improve culture initiatives, wherever their teams are based. We enable them to create a workplace culture worth being a part of, one that leads to higher connection, engagement, satisfaction, and retention across the business.
The pandemic has fundamentally impacted how we work. From your perspective, what do you see as the key tenets of cultivating meaningful work culture today?
Shawn Hewat: Company culture starts with mission, vision, and values. It always has and is something I think a lot of people leaders were getting wrong, even pre-pandemic. So many companies placed more value on ping pong tables and happy hours versus learning, wellness, accessibility, and inclusion. Since the pandemic and the shift to a more flexible world of work, the conversation has evolved in such an exciting way. There’s never been more emphasis on the employee experience.
To create a meaningful company culture, you have to start with your people. That means taking the time to uncover their ideal learning and engagement styles, as well as their shared interests. It means finding out what they’d like to do in terms of communication, collaboration, community, and celebration. Then, using these insights to plan team-building initiatives that reflect these values! For example, in planning a social event, offer synchronous and asynchronous options for team members to pick from.
How do you think we have emerged from the last two years better suited to solve work culture challenges than before?
Shawn Hewat: Over the past couple of years, companies in this space (including Wavy, of course) have learned an enormous amount through trial and error. We know what it takes to organize flexible team-building experiences that are actually fun and foster a real sense of connection. In that sense, I think we’re a lot more prepared to sustain a meaningful company culture as the world of work continues to evolve. In addition, there are a lot of new tools and resources around these challenges to make them more manageable for people leaders than probably ever before.
I think we’re better suited to solve these problems today as we’ve seen a renewed focus placed on company culture across industries. Decision-makers are paying attention to the way employee expectations have changed. With the momentum and demand that’s been created in this space, we can collectively work towards building a future of work that’s true people-first. Any company that doesn’t show an interest in doing that will struggle to retain talent in today’s world of work, so the urgency and necessity is really present.
How has the word “impact” manifested in your work?
Shawn Hewat: In two ways. First, in our team’s focus on the impact Wavy is having on things like employee happiness, connection, culture health, and more. We’re data geeks! A big part of our product vision is to help teams to use data and insights to improve culture initiatives and get intentional about programming over time. Second, in our focus on social impact. We’re just getting started, but have made initial pledges to embed sustainability and climate action into our business, with partnerships like The Upside Foundation, Swim Drink Fish, and Carbon Neutral Club.
What is one lesson that you hope people will learn or walk away with from your work?
Shawn Hewat: Our emphasis on building “with, not for,” is something I hope people will remember about Wavy. It’s a notion that’s embedded into our entire product vision. As the world of work continues to change, we’re working closely with our customers to not only understand their pain points and try to solve them but to help them put the voice of the employee first. Start with your team!
Why does your work matter?
Shawn Hewat: Because when people get together, magic happens. Human connection is so important and it’s at the center of everything we do. In a remote or hybrid work environment, that can get lost. The work we’re doing is all about creating more space for the moments that strengthen relationships because ultimately, those relationships will help us thrive at work and beyond.
What have you learned about yourself as you’ve built your company and raised your voice?
Shawn Hewat: I’ve learned to prioritize! One of the best (and worst) parts about building a startup is that it can feel like a blank slate. There’s lots of room for creativity, experiments, and tests. And on the flip side, there’s also lots of room for distractions. As we’ve grown, I’ve learned that focus and prioritization are some of the most important skills to possess and improve on. There will always be an endless to-do list, so figuring out the top things to cross off each day is essential. As I’ve raised my voice, and subsequently, grown my community, this only becomes more difficult!
What is a major career goal that you have set your sights on and hope to accomplish in 2022?
Shawn Hewat: To grow the Wavy team to 30 people! The people I work with, from our global team of Wavers, to customers, and partners, is the highlight of my work. Hiring, onboarding, and working with a team of 30+ people will be a new challenge for myself and the leadership team at Wavy to take on. I’m excited to put people-first strategies in place and make use of our own platform as we do this.
What is your ultimate north star?
Shawn Hewat: To help companies create culture worth being a part of, specifically a culture that fosters a sense of community and belonging. And ultimately, that leads to improved employee happiness and retention. Our goal is to work with our customers to not only help them plan and manage culture initiatives, but also measure their impact.