Interview with Jeff Wellstead about the HR Tech Scene Response to COVID19

COVID19 has struck the world and also the global economy. But what does that mean for HR and HR Technology as their journey towards The Future of Work was just getting started?

Looking for answers, it was our luck to interview Jeff Wellstead, founder of Big Bear Partners Ltd.

How does COVID 19 crisis impact the business reality of the HR Tech Startups you know?

Generally, the SME market has been powerfully impacted by the lock-down issues, and downstream supply chain fall-out, which has shrunk revenue streams and disrupted several intended purchases of what now seem to be non-necessities in a survivalistic environment.

Many of the HR tech tools I’m familiar with – aimed at companies with 100-1,000 employees are often price targeted at the £10-£20/employee/month range – so they’re not breaking the bank. But only the most mission critical sorts of tooling is being considered at this point – mostly systems of record – possibly performance or project management tooling.

But I’ve seen a massive deferral of interest until things start to come back to ‘normal,’ and all indications are we’re looking at 2021, likely Q2 earliest for such purchases.

Do you consider the Corona-crisis to be a threat for all HR Tech Startups?

I would say most, unless again you can position your tooling to be mission critical in directly saving costs, supporting data insight with impact on workforce planning or risk mitigation, or otherwise focused on supporting strong remote working capabilities – as we’ll likely be in that scenario for at least 4-6 months – perhaps longer should social distancing continue until a vaccine is widely available.

Many offices are looking to bring back 50% of their employees on a split schedule to allow for ample distancing – so remote working will continue as a ‘thing’ for some time.

Do you expect HR and Business in general to use this situation to redesign work and accelerate their digitization process? If yes, what will be on top of their agenda?

I do think that this global experiment in remote working, and reconsideration of job structures, reduction of unnecessary roles, etc. will have CFOs and CEOs rethinking the entire spectrum of work redesign – mostly born of financial frugality brought on by the lock-down impacts.

The sorts of tooling that will immediately be considered will be cloud-based, highly secure and highly available systems of record, end-to-end workflow management, continuous performance measurement, OKR tooling, project management tracking, and collaboration software such as Slack, G-Suite, Microsoft Teams and more inclusive suites of capability vs. specialty or niche focused tools that stand alone.

Recruitment will come back as a needed thing as I predict several furloughed workers will reconsider their options whilst off work, and those that have already been laid off will no doubt have moved on whence the wheels at their previous employers come back online.

But any tool worth looking at has to solve real problems, reduce measurable costs, remediate powerful risks, and all have to produce useful and simple to derive, actionable data.

This is a real weeding out time – where superfluous bells and whistles, nice to haves but don’t really need and anything that is simply ‘feel-good’ stuff will be ignored.

What should HR Tech Startups do in this situation to safeguard and/or boost their business?

Become relevant, solve real business problems, make sure you’ve derived your solution by talking to real businesses under stress – and track what your solution does, or doesn’t do to fix those things.

Be attractive from a cost perspective. Be easy from an implementation and user engagement perspective. Be flexible in your packaging and price plans. Provide learning and support in the flow of your tool’s workstreams.

Have one face to the customer – not three or four. Reduce complexity, increase delight and satisfaction, and be remembered for having a unique and unforgettable experience (make it personal, like it matters who you’re selling to and why).

When all this is over, will the World of Work;

a) turn back to "normal"

b) switch focus towards a Big Reset (keep the good, loose the bad)

c) Reboot and shift gear towards the future of work?

Normal sucked. New is good, only if it’s created in an enlightened way to make work fit to the person and situation vs. being a dumb block of marble that needs a bunch of people chipping at it.

Rethink everything – but don’t let the accountants simply come back thinking, “We can get fewer people to do the work of many more, and pay them less!”

This should be HR’s role – defining what worked, what didn’t – what would we do differently next time and why? Do this through facilitating structured conversations with actual employees – don’t make it up based on your schooling, most recent LinkedIn article or gut knowledge. If it comes from them, it’s real. Solve it for real.

I think if we got as far as Resetting and investigating what we can do much better, and implement that – we’ll be in good shape and shouldn’t get too delusional about fixing everything. We’ll be exhausted after all that, and good enough for the moment is a huge victory.

Survive and evolve, and you can worry about thriving once we catch up on our sleep, our kids’ homework and having to spend all that time with our spouses, pets and children 24/7.

What is your crucial tip of survival for any HR Tech Startup, with or without this crisis?

Get creative about how you can help your customer base – whether or not it’s within your remit, or specific product focus.

You have magically talented human beings working with you – get them solving real world problems like food bank shortages, medical supply chain procurement, patient management simplification, offering website creation capabilities, teach doctors, patients, nurses, teachers, whomever needs it how to embrace technology in as simple a way as possible to fix complexity, enhance resource attainment, schedule time and priorities, track the location of important stuff – whatever helps them.


Jeff Wellstead

Currently Global HR Director at Summit Therapeutics, originally comes from the US and has been working in Europe for the last 15 years.

He has over 25 years of talent management leadership experience with Fortune 100 global brands including Merrill Lynch, Goldman Sachs, Morgan Stanley, Accenture, EDS and PeopleSoft – and high-tech, hyper-growth start-up companies such as MessageLabs (Symantec),SpinVox (Nuance), Dialog Semiconductor, Skype (Microsoft), Metapack (, and Oxford Nanoimaging.

He specialises in next generation tech, global fast growth scale-up companies needing core process, cultural alignment, global expansion infrastructure, hard to find talent and unique branding and retention strategies. He also consults to, manages selection and implementation for over 30 different HR technologies in ERP, Onboarding, ATS, performance and OKR management, collaboration and agile development cloud-based software solutions. His primary focus is providing digital automation solutions for the SME market.