Even after more than two months of working from home during the pandemic, it’s still a challenge for many of us. That’s why at our digital event Remoticon last week, we wanted to shine a light on some amazing people and companies—like Shopify, Slack, Zapier, and Noom—who shared insights on how we can best support our teams during this tough time.
You can check out the full discussion on “Staying Afloat Going Remote,” below, and catch up on all of the sessions here.
During the session, we heard lots of great stories and takeaways from Nancy Sidnam (Director of Coach Experience at Noom), Nikki Curtis (Head of Sales Enablement at Slack), and Pam Dodrill (VP of Customer Support & Success at Zapier). They discussed the future of remote work; keeping teams connected and engaged; and empowering humans in remote-first environments to be the best versions of themselves. We had such an active and lively Q&A discussion that we weren’t able to cover all questions in the time allotted. Luckily, our amazing speakers followed up with answers after the session, which we’ve pulled together for you here.
Is aversion to remote working realistic going forward?
- Nancy Sidnam: I’m not sure! Remote work opens the door for so many possibilities, but there are also new challenges to be faced. On an individual level, I think there will always be people who have a natural preference for working from home or working from a more traditional office environment (or something else entirely). Whether companies decide to support physical office spaces moving forward is a bigger conversation, and I think will still depend on so many factors like type of job/industry, location, company culture, etc.
- Pam Dodrill: I think companies with an aversion to remote work will find themselves competing more heavily for top talent. People that are really good at their jobs that want to work from home will start using it as a decision criteria in accepting new roles.
- Nikki Curtis: I don’t think we have the data to show that employees are more or less productive working remotely. I think we still need to wait and see. I do think, however, that it means everyone needs to be open and prepared to have the conversation.
How does Zapier share "Friday Updates?"
- Pam Dodrill: We write them and post them in an internal tool called “Async”. It includes status on our top priorities for the week and what our top priorities are for the following week. I also throw in other cool things I did that week and some “offline” updates to let everyone know a little bit about what’s going on in my life outside of work. Most of us use this format.
Given the current situation and potential implications, how much does location matter? Can we still expect people to live in a city for a job?
- Pam Dodrill: This is really the best part about remote workforces. Your hiring pool is unlimited. I don’t think location matters, for the most part anyway. We just ask everyone to work from a place with reliable bandwidth. That means I can’t work from a remote camping site with my cell phone. But it also means I don’t need to live in Austin if I work for a company in Austin. We also augment by having company-wide retreats twice a year and team retreats once a year. Obviously that’s on hold now, so we are experimenting with “remote retreats” and figuring out what those look like.
- Nikki Curtis: I don’t think location means as much, but I do think if travel is typically required for your work (post-COVID) you still need to think about proximity to an airport. It’s interesting how the conversation seems to have changed to the extreme of either people are in the office or the entire workforce is remote. I don’t think this experience will put us in extremes, I think more companies will now have a healthier balance of in-office and remote.
Some companies think "creative collaboration" is limited with some remote workers. Is it only cultural? What are your best tips for these collaborations?
- Nancy Sidnam: From my experience at Noom, collaboration can definitely be done well virtually, and I do think you’ll be more successful with it when it’s a part of the culture that everyone supports.
- Pam Dodrill: That’s a good one. For creatives, it’s definitely harder. But you can spin up a lengthy Zoom call, and use applications that work like a whiteboard.
Does Guru (knowledge management system) fit into the LMS (learning management system) you mentioned, Nikki?
- Nikki Curtis: Yes of course! Guru is a key platform for us.
How would you build a “Fun” channel (in Slack/Teams) to connect with your team during this period, and not just set it up but keep it going and get everyone engaged?
- Pam Dodrill: We have a large amount of “fun” channels going company wide. We label them all with “fun” in front of them so they are easy to peruse and choose from. I’m in #fun-cats and the pictures that show up there make my day! There’s #fun-climbing, #fun-tinkerers, #fun-dogs...I think there’s well over a hundred of them. To get started with them, I recommend your leadership participate, responding and engaging in the discussions, to help people feel like it’s ok to interact that way.
Do you have standard methods of communication on your distributed teams? A daily or weekly update, or anything like that? What methods have worked best?
- Nancy Sidnam: Noom hosts a weekly Zoom TGIF meeting on Friday afternoons for the entire company, where we hear updates and news from our leadership team. On the coaching team more specifically, we send out a Guru announcement card every Monday with the most important updates coaches need to know. We also utilize an announcements-style Slack channel, where anyone who has an important/urgent message for the team can post, and we limit this channel to these posts only to help keep it clean (conversations are permitted in threaded responses).
- Pam Dodrill: Everyone in our company posts a Friday update that includes a section for the priorities they are working on. We have weekly team meetings and Manager/Individual Contributor weeky 1:1s. I meet with my Management team once a month to update our OKRs and I hold a global CS Team meeting once a month (but we do two meetings so everyone around the globe can come to a live meeting). Some of my teams have daily standups in Slack, where they post what they are working on, how the day went and if they need anything. Doesn’t require yet another Zoom call to do this and helps keep the team connected.
- Nikki Curtis: All updates go in my #team-enablement channel. We don’t have a regular cadence as we are all typically posting daily in there on work related topics. Anything that is fun or social to share we put in #enablement-fun.
For teammates who've struggled with working remotely, have there been any common patterns? Any helpful tips for how to best support them?
- Nancy Sidnam: Isolation can be a struggle—sometimes the more “extroverted” people who like being around others can have a hard time working from home by themselves all day long. We have a number of team Zoom meetings throughout the week where they can connect (and it’s a nice thing to look forward to at the start of each day), and conversations happen all day long in Slack. Prior to COVID, we encouraged coaches who lived close to each other geographically to meet up and work together in coffee shops, grab lunch, and connect in person. While that can’t happen right now, coaches are still encouraged to connect with each other at any point in their day via Zoom or Slack to check in and chat, eat lunch or go for walks together virtually, etc.
- Pam Dodrill: Finding ways to help them stay connected—maybe pairing on tickets via Zoom, pinging them in one of the “fun” channels in Slack. I think our People Ops team does a good job of finding out what the team needs and then developing curriculums around that. We have really good management training on things like difficult conversations, accountability, and mental health. It’s worth investing in a relevant curriculum for managers that cover hot topics and help them take care of their teams. Once those are rolled out our PeopleOps team adjusts the content for individual contributors to consume.
- Nikki Curtis: For those that are struggling, I’ve found I need to give them more structure and set clearer expectations. I often find in their 1:1 time, letting them talk openly and humanly about their struggles is also a way for us to feel more connected, that this is a hard time, and we can work together to experiment with different ways to make it feel better. I don’t think there is a silver bullet answer here.
Many people don't like pics of themselves. Is it worth "forcing" people to use video in meetings and add their photo on profiles?
- Nancy Sidnam: Seeing each other’s faces can really help strengthen relationships and connection. We set the expectation with new employees that “cameras on” is part of the culture, but also have no problem with someone turning it off if they need to for a short period of time. Being able to change your Zoom background is also a great way to help people feel more comfortable, because they don’t have to be SO vulnerable by letting everyone see their home and surroundings, which may add an extra level of pressure or discomfort.
- Pam Dodrill: Video is really important for connectivity. Yet, we have people who are not comfortable on camera, so we don’t force them to put theirs on. We’ve worked through that with a couple of people and now I find their cameras on. What I found to be useful is to be patient with folks, make sure they feel psychologically safe. Then they are more open to the camera.
I’m seeing companies like Twitter and others allowing remote work permanently moving forward. How do you think this will affect business moving forward?
- Pam Dodrill: Probably more ways than we can even fathom right now.
- Nikki Curtis: I think it’s too early to tell.
What's your favorite Zoom background so far?
- Nancy Sidnam: At Noom there are daily competitions for best Zoom background, and I’ve seen everything imaginable at this point. My favorites are anything with beautiful destinations, like a tropical beach. I feel like it actually makes me calmer and gives me a little mood boost pretending like we’re all working together in a cool spot!
- Pam Dodrill: We have an Engineer that comes up with THE best backgrounds. The ones that are top of mind for me right now are behind our VP of Engineering who is scrolling through different Star Wars locations.
- Nikki Curtis: Someone on my team created a Zoom background as if they were on a rollercoaster. It was hilarious!
What are some ways to replicate spaces to connect around shared lifestyles, experiences, etc., such as affinity groups in a virtual environment? What are the pros and cons?
- Pam Dodrill: The “fun” parent channel gave us a lot of insight into what our teams needed when it came to their kids being home from school. I think these are an essential component to successful remote teams.
- Nikki Curtis: I think these are wonderful. Everyone craves a space where they feel seen, heard, and understood. At Slack, we have channels for ERG groups, parent groups, live music groups, etc. It helps us all feel more connected even if we have to be remote.
Many thanks to Nancy, Pam, and Nikki for taking the time to share so many amazing insights and learnings about how our teams can thrive while working remotely!
We have lots of other great sessions coming up in our Remotathon series, featuring speakers from companies like Square, Yext, Hims, Looker, SalesLoft, and many more. Check them out and sign up to be part of the discussions here.