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I’ve been working for around a year and a half on the Operations team at Effective Ventures, on the Staff Support team. This has been an incredible rollercoaster of experiences, with wonderful colleagues and many lessons learned. I often reflect on how differently the past few years might have gone if I hadn’t taken a chance on a role I wasn’t sure I’d be good at. I’m glad I did! It’s given me a much broader perspective on how different organisations within EA run, allowed me to meet and support so many kind and impactful people, and given me the space to grow and develop skills I didn’t know I had.

We are hiring someone to join our Staff Support team for a similar role. If you’re interested, please apply here or get in touch with careers@ev.org if you have questions.

We are also hiring for two roles on our US legal team: US General Counsel and US Assistant General Counsel.

The Job

As an HR Associate, my role, broadly, has been:

  • To manage the process, administration and bookkeeping of onboarding and offboarding of employees and contractors, ensuring these were smooth and positive for the employees and that they had all the relevant information and support
  • To oversee the payroll processes for US and UK employees, incorporating salary changes, bonuses, leave and expenses
  • Miscellaneous systems administration and requests (e.g. Google Workspace, Notion, Slack), responding to HR questions on Slack, staff data reports, verification letters, pension opt-outs…

The job wasn’t quite what I expected. A few surprises included:

  • The company structure

Until my first day, I thought I would be working at “little CEA”, i.e. the current Centre for Effective Altruism, rather than the legal entity, eventually renamed Effective Ventures. In practice, this meant that instead of taking on an HR role for one organisation, I quickly discovered that I would actually be supporting the HR operations for around 150 employees across 11 different EA organisations. Luckily for me, this made the role more interesting, complex and challenging than I had expected.

  • The ownership and responsibilities

I was pleasantly surprised by how much ownership I was able to take of projects in this role. I was presented with the challenge of creating a workflow to efficiently track and execute the onboarding of around 10 employees per month across the different organisations, each with slightly different system access requirements and onboarding needs. I was managed by the Head of Staff Support, who would give direction, advice and feedback when requested, but otherwise it was empowering to be given the space to create a system from the ground up. The role slowly incorporated more processes, until I was tracking not only the joining experience, but the entire employee (and contractor) life-cycle from first day to last, and the various developments along their journey.

A year and a half later, most of the steps that I started off doing manually (creating contracts and modifications, drafting welcome emails, creating calendar events and reminders to managers, etc.) I have now been able to automate using a web of interacting automations on Zapier (a no-code automation software). If you work in operations, I can’t recommend Zapier enough.

  • That HR is neither evil nor boring

Going into the role, I knew that there would be a large administrative aspect. I was prepared to seek motivation from the ‘multiplier effect’ impact alone, and to possibly reach an excitement plateau pretty quickly. But I was wrong on both accounts. As well as finding purpose and value in saving many people a lot of time on work that they would find tedious or time-consuming, I found the work itself satisfying and engaging. Interacting with lovely, time-pressed people everyday, I was surprised and heart-warmed by how appreciative people are for a question to be simply answered or a task to be taken off their plate. I started to notice patterns and would continuously tweak instructions and our Handbook wording to make information easier to find in the future. My understanding of the intricacies of UK and US payroll systems grew; how pension and payroll interact; how maternity leave, probation and dismissals work. I started to understand how various processes fit together and was able to problem-solve when something went wrong. I learned how much of a difference it makes to an employee’s ability to focus on their work when they know that the technical aspects of their employment have been taken care of, and that they have an easy way to ask questions and seek advice.

My Background

  • I studied Experimental Psychology for my undergrad
  • I taught English as a foreign language in various countries (Spain, Vietnam, Cambodia)
  • I worked as an executive assistant to the (eccentric) director of a boutique sunglasses company
  • For 6 months, I volunteered as a researcher/script/audio editor/narrator for a then-new podcast that explores the biological underpinnings of suffering and its ethical/moral implications - Invincible Wellbeing
  • After officially deciding that a) I wanted to work in EA and b) that my skillset seemed to fit the ‘generalist’ description, I applied for around 30 entry-level operations roles across the spectrum of EA (an excellent crash-course in organisations and cause areas!), and found myself at Effective Ventures (UK).

Day in the life

Certain days in a given month will follow a routine, e.g. if it’s the day to run any of the four different payrolls, it will involve a fair amount of collecting information on new joiners and pending leavers, checking data, downloading expense reports, etc. 

Other days will usually be a patchwork of small to medium-sized tasks, and some work on a more long-term project (e.g. exploring different service providers or writing up instructions to make our internal processes more ‘bus-proof’).

My first hour of the day, I usually spend scanning my email and Slack for requests and updates; executing any small-and-urgent tasks (e.g. re-setting a Gmail password if someone is locked out, replying to a question if it’s bottlenecking someone), and writing a plan for the day of tasks I want to prioritise. 

I track my tasks on Trello, in lists called things like ‘This week’, ‘Optimistically This Week’ ‘Today’, and ‘Actually Today’ - in ops work, I’ve found that the to-do lists never really get shorter; they just get more complex. As do my methods of trying to complete them all.

I have the most energy and creativity in the mornings, so I try to use the next few hours to do deep work on a project I’m currently working on. This could be, for example, brainstorming and creating a new Zapier automation based on a problem I want to solve (e.g. streamlining job update requests, notifying relevant parties and propagating these changes across different databases); updating onboarding instruction templates; or writing up communications and recommendations for a nuanced HR situation.

After lunch and for the rest of the day, I will complete as many of my prioritised tasks as I can, some related to onboarding or offboarding; answering questions on Slack, sometimes communicating with the rest of the Staff Support team or other Ops team members to problem-solve; responding to data requests, etc.

Here is a random selection of small tasks that I completed last week:

  • Create and send an employment verification letter for an employee applying for a Schengen visa
  • Calculate the remaining leave to be paid out for an employee who is leaving next month
  • Email our payroll provider with a question about taxation on different types of expenses
  • Create a work email address for a new joiner and add them to relevant email groups
  • Remind a line manager that their direct report will come to the end of their contract soon, and ask whether they want this contract to be extended (send the draft email that was created automatically)
  • Answer a question on Slack to explain the process and timeline for option out of a pension
  • Ask our legal team a question regarding data privacy and how this applies to sharing certain types of information within our organisation.
  • Upload a signed salary modification letter and make a note about the change on our HRS
  • Update someone’s leave allowance and salary according to a change in working hours

Sprinkle in a handful of meetings across the week - with my manager, the Staff Support team, new joiners, pending leavers, employment lawyers, organisation’s ops liaisons, payroll providers, and collaborating team members - and you can get a picture of the life of a Staff Support Associate at EV.

Some downsides of the job

Small Task overload

As I said, no two days are the same, and any given day will depend on what is most pressing.

This has its advantages and disadvantages. On the plus side, I find that days often speed by - a bit like working in a busy restaurant where you’re rushed off your feet: the variety and number of tasks completed in a day keep things interesting, and I usually feel accomplished at the progress I’ve made at the end of a given day. One downside to the nature of this work is that my time doesn’t always feel like my own - my day is sculpted by the requests of others, and can sometimes feel reactive rather than proactive. I have to intentionally block time for longer, less urgent projects, lest they fall to the bottom of a to-do list. And when doing a meatier task, there is always the risk of getting distracted by the tempting pile of small, easy and satisfying tasks that give a burst of serotonin upon completion.

Mistakes are more visible than successes

It’s a common complaint about ops work, but still worth noting - that often, the status quo (where things are all working smoothly), or even big improvements in a system, aren't given much attention, but a small mistake quickly becomes glaringly apparent.

Being the middle-man messenger

The nature of the role involves a lot of being the go-between in various conversations to save other employees time. This can include, for example, fielding questions to another department of the Ops team and relaying the response, calling our health insurance provider on behalf of an employee, or relaying payslip questions to our payroll provider. This can be frustrating at times, particularly if the response of one person is bottlenecking the action of the other, or if one/both sides have clarifying questions that eventually tip the balance from 'useful information broker' to ‘you should probably just discuss this with each other directly.’

Skills developed

Systems thinking: This role has certainly developed my ability to look at various processes from above, see how they interact, and build structures to enable these processes to fit together more efficiently. To me, systems thinking is about deeply understanding a process, its bottlenecks, possible pathways and outcomes, and coming up with creative ways to interlock these in a way that the end result requires minimal manual input, friction and space for error.

When a new problem or challenge arises, the system may need to adapt to incorporate new elements, and the consequences on the entire process need to be considered.

An example of the need to build a new system that would fit in to our current flow was with our hiring process - it was decided that new hire requests should go through a pre-approval process to ensure different stakeholders could ensure that certain requirements had been fulfilled (budgets and immigration compliance in this case). This posed the challenge of creating a system that would ask stakeholders for approval in a way that required minimal manual input from both me and the stakeholders to save capacity, and wouldn't keep hiring managers waiting. I eventually achieved this after lots of trial and error, continuous tweaks and updates, and a combination of 6 multi-layer Zapier automations that connect a google form and two spreadsheets with email and slack.

Efficiency mindset: I learned early on that, although I’m not as averse to admin as most people, I don’t like to spend time unnecesarily on repetitive tasks. Simple efficiency tools like the text expanders (I use Textblaze), Slack and Gmail shortcuts, Trello automations and window organisers (e.g. Moom) have saved me more hours than I’d like to imagine, and this role has me primed to incorporate these wherever I can.

Similarly, when faced with a pile of tasks, prioritising efficiently is key - assessing the value and/or urgency according to current projects and bigger-picture goals, breaking tasks down to help reduce bottlenecks for myself and others, and playing to my own energy patterns have all helped me to keep on top of my tasks and goals.

Problem-solving: The role has definitely involved more ‘fire-fighting’ than I expected. When working with lots of moving parts and lots of humans who can make mistakes (including myself), a large part of the role has been quickly assessing a problem, finding it’s cause, solving the issue, and, in some cases, identifying any flaw in our systems that allowed such an error to arise.

Learning to loudly own up to my own mistakes and actively track them in order to continuously design better systems has been a personal growth milestone.

Mistakes happen, and in Staff Support one error can have lots of knock-on effects. This has really pushed us as a team to keep improving systems to avoid similar errors and ‘red team’ ideas - thinking about scenarios where New Idea X or New System Y goes wrong. Even so, many things are out of our control, and problems will always pop up; so keeping calm in the face of ‘fire’ is essential in a role like this.

Communication: A large part of this role is communication - within the team to ensure that everyone is on the same page and that nothing has fallen through the cracks. With ops contacts from different organisations to communicate policy changes or arrange updates to salaries. With individual joiners to ensure they feel welcomed, supported and informed from before their first day and throughout their employment. Part of the challenge of this role has been in finding the balance between friendly and efficient, informative and concise, thorough and quick.


Overall, working as an associate on the staff support team has been a great experience, with many curve balls and opportunities for learning and professional growth. I’ve met passionate and kind people across various EA organisations, and had the joy of making their days run a little bit smoother.

If you’re interested in joining the EV Ops team, check out our open positions here.

Thanks to Jana and Jonathan for your comments and suggestions!





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Thanks for doing all you do! You're always very responsive, very helpful and track lots of things so that staff like me (CEA) don't have to.

^ This should make you think that whatever Phoebe says here is probably decent advice for ops roles!

Thanks for writing this, Phoebe -- as Ollie said, this contains a bunch of really good ops advice I find myself telling people who want to get into ops. I'll def be sending them this post! 

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