What a change we have all experienced in these last few weeks. Everything has been shifting at an incredibly rapid pace and we have all had to adjust both our personal and professional lives. For those of us that can, we are primarily working at home, amongst our dogs, children and family. We have become very familiar with Zoom, Google Hangouts, Microsoft Teams, Bluejeans, etc as we toggle between them. But is it working? Most likely, some things are and something aren’t, as we adjust to this new cadence
Recently, we were able to get a great group together to talk best practices in working and managing remotely. We had Carlos Vega, CEO of Tesorio, Barry Wark, CEO of Ovation and Kara Hamilton, Chief People and Cultural officer of Smartsheet. Together they talked about the challenges of keeping things on track in a remote environment. With big company goals, how do we ensure we are all marching towards them during this disruptive time? How do we help our teams be productive and effective? What tools have been most helpful? We turned this conversation into a pubic podcast which you can listen to below my summary of the recommendations.
The conversation was kicked off with the topic of the cadence of meetings and work – have they changed as we have transitioned from being physically together verses in our remote locations? Overall, the need for schedule and ‘showing up’ was emphasized, but this was combined with the understanding that this is an unusual time. Due to kids being home and schedules being disrupted, the group emphasized the need to have great trust in your team – not to micro-manage. But some specific tips that seem to help the day be more effective were:
- In the morning, act as if you are going to the office. Wear office appropriate attire, shower, get your coffee, etc. Have a concrete start to the day.
- For meetings turn your video on. It is important to see facial expressions and be present when a meeting is happening.
- Have a coffee or lunch virtually with a team member. By not being together in the office there are casual interactions that are missed.
- As a leader, have a standing time where you are on your video conferencing for a few hours and folks can ‘drop’ in.
- At the end of the day, have a transition. It used to be a commute – now maybe it is a walk outside.
- Create time in your calendar for thinking time. Block out time with no video meetings or other digital distractions
We also discussed the importance of tools that have been effective. What came out the most was regardless of the tool, the need for documentation was critically important. It is easier to have misunderstandings when virtual, so writing down everything from process to a decision is imperative. In regards to tools to enable all of that:
- Video Conferencing – Zoom, Microsoft Teams, Google hangouts
- Collaboration – Slack, Smartsheet, Confluence, Notion
- Fun! – Donut (nudges different employees to meet each other)
Culture and Hiring is more challenging when working remotely. While we all work on culture even when we are together, much of it happens just through be present with each other and modeling it. This is much tougher in a digital environment. Some suggestions were
- Again – write it down! The values and goals to help communicate culture
- Remember you are still leading and living them by example even virtually.
- When not in a Covid crisis, bringing the company together multiple times a year is critical.
- If you feel you should get on a plane (not in this crisis period!) don’t hesitate – do it!
- Hiring – the job spec really to be written down and fully agreed to. Then in the virtual interview be more specific about what each person is interviewing for.
- OnBoarding – ensure that the new hires first day and week are full of intro meetings, virtual lunches. Also, sending swag or a care package that first week to the employee goes a long way.
Managing through this period is bringing new challenges to all of us. Clearly, just adjusting to the new economic environment and the health of our people are the first things to address. Hopefully the ideas above can help us handle them in a more constructive and productive way.
So guys, thanks for joining. And you know, clearly we’ve all had dramatic changes in our life changes that we could have never ever predicted. I was just on a call with another CEO. And we were just commenting on the fact that we do a lot of scenario planning, but this is one we could have never drummed up in our imaginations. So here we are. And it’s been major changes to both our personal and our professional lives. And you all have the difficult task of driving companies that are supposedly growing quickly and have big goals and ambitious deadlines. And so how do we keep those on track during this time? Now, I brought together three panelists who have dealt with this before this period, meaning working with remote workforces. And so we thought we could pull us all together I’ll talk about some best practices as to what we found to be effective during this period and building things from the ground up in this way. So we’ve got Barry Wark from Ovation on with us, Carlos Vega from Tesorio, on with us and Kara Hamilton from Smartsheet. And so I’ll just let them kick it off by introducing themselves and talking about how they built their companies. With this distributed workforce in mind from the ground up. Carlos, you want to kick it off?
Certainly, thank you for having us.
So, Carlos Vega, co founder and CEO of Tesorio. We’re a Series A stage company, Madrona letter A. And we’re very lucky to work with folks like Hope. And so our company you know, I’m originally from Panama. Probably not in San Francisco, I’m in Panama right now just don’t have a pretty Panama background. And my wife’s also from Panama. So I always knew that we would eventually move back. And so we started our company to be distributed. And so we are today based in have an office in Burlingame in the Bay Area. But we only have about eight or nine of our 31 employees there. Everyone else is distributed across the United States. And then we also have people in Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, and Uruguay and in Panama, so it’s a it’s been an exciting ride. I guess the one thing I’d say is that we have to be, you know, deliberate about how we do things more than they would happen if everyone was face to face. And yeah, and company background. In case you’re wondering, what we do is we help companies manage their cash flow actually. So manage their accounts receivable. Time their accounts payable strategically out so the high party vendors are getting paid that sort of thing. It’s a good time right now to be doing those things so I’m we’re trying to do it ourselves and eat our own dog food. So happy to be here and thanks for having me, Hope.
Yeah, I you know cash right now is King and I know that there was a webinar last week on that very topic. Carlos your product is right in the sweet spot of it so I’m sure it’s getting used widely and deeply by your customers at this moment. Carlos, can you just remind us how many employees Tesorio has currently?
Yes, we have 31 full time employees. We have also five contractors in Brazil and five contractors in Argentina as well.
Thanks. Well, it’s a pleasure to be here. Thank you for inviting me. I’m Barry Wark. I’m the co-founder and CEO of Ovation. We’re a Series A clinical informatics company.
We’ve got 35 people now in 12 states and a dev team in Paraguay as well. And we, we operate in a very specific vertical, clinical diagnostic labs. There are some amazing world experts in this field in the US, but they’re not all in one place. And so we built ovation from the ground up as a distributed company, knowing that we were going to have to recruit that domain expertise, wherever it was. And we built some of that muscle originally. And it’s now I think, serving us pretty well.
Yeah. Are you is your company at all involved in helping out with the virus right now? Barry?
Yeah, we’ve had a busy week. Yeah, we’ve got a number of labs that should be coming on this weekend with testing. We’re hoping to make a significant impact in the US testing capacity probably early next week.
That would be very well received. Thank you for that work. And how many employees are you currently?
We’re currently 35 people
So Kara, you’re in a bit of a different stage with Smartsheet at but clearly very distributed as well as you guys build a product that helps distributed work. And just so the group knows Perez, the chief people officer and head of culture there at Smartsheet, which I think is definitely important aspect to this conversation.
Thank you Hope. Thanks. Thanks. Hello, everybody. Yes, I am the chief people and culture officer for Smartsheet. And we do provide a collaborative work management platform. So we are in the collaboration space, trying to best practice really with our own workforce. We have grown we are publicly traded now. We’ve grown from 30 people to 1600 in less than eight years, and Madrona was our first VC partner. So part of the family here. We have those 1600 employees are across Bellevue, Boston, Edinburgh, London and Sydney. And I would say we’ve grown from a very in office local to now a global company. And it’s the work has been. There’s technology work to do and tooling. And there’s also like a cultural, I think Barry mentioned this intention. And so I think they’re both equally important. growing into that.
So, yeah, that’ll be good to talk about. And let’s kick it off with just talking about what is the cadence of work, meaning, you know, when you come into an office, there’s kind of standard norms, you come in in the morning and you leave in the evening, whatever that looks like. How is that different in a virtual setting? Whoever wants to take it away.
Yeah, I’m happy to start unrelated to work it starts like with yourself Actually, I’m not all combed and shaved just because of this webinar. I actually do follow that routine as if I were going to the office. You know, I think people think remote work is great, I get to work in my PJs, but that there’s something like psychological about just preparing yourself and think you’re to work. So that’s, that’s pretty important the morning routine, and the other one which often gets forgotten, and I’m not good at it. But probably most co founders on this on this line are not going to do either is unplugging at the end of the day. You know, I can share what our teammates do.
I really struggle with that.
Yeah, yeah, I’m not I’m not the best example for that. But you know, our teammates Do you know, go for a walk or go for a run at the end of the day to simulate the commute, if you will, or you know, people just very explicitly changed our slack status or something like that. So yeah, so on that end, right? That’s a little bit on the personal side. And then on the work side, I think it all starts with a culture of trust, which is something we can talk about later. But that’s that’s the bit that creeps in the back of your mind like I was previously an investment banker. And at Lazard it’s all about FaceTime not the app, but you better be at your desk, you know, leaning forward with like, madly typing away in Excel all day and if the MD walks by and doesn’t see you there, you’re not working, it doesn’t matter what you’re doing. And so I’m not saying that’s exactly how I manage but, but that’s one of those things that really going completely on the other end is critical, which is making sure you trust your team otherwise you end up micromanaging so we can talk about that later, I’m sure. But over to someone else.
Barry What have you found similar? Yeah. Oh,
I was just gonna say I think the culture of trust is so important and also a mutual understanding of priorities so that we’re all working on the right things. We have a lot of people leaders at Smartsheet that have employees on their team across many time zones. So also being intentional about when we’re going to check in so that people in all areas are feeling like they’re connecting during their work day. And I think that takes a lot of flexibility and intention from people leaders, to really set their teams up for that kind of healthy connection.
Yeah, I think that I think that’s a really good jumping off point. We think a lot about trying to design our interactions and our work environment to leverage what’s great about distributed teams, but also substitute for what is lost when you’re not all in an office together. So one of the things that we find is we somewhat select in some cases for people who want to work from home because they have a child or a parent or some other dependent, that they are responsible for at, you know, odd times of the day. And that work from home schedule allows them to contribute, and, and maintain those other responsibilities. And so, you know, we don’t have a, you know, if you’re sitting at your desk 8am to 5pm kind of approach. It’s very much a, like I said, you have to trust people to be doing their work. And then we have intentionally scheduled sync up points, right, like standups or meetings. And, and, and on the flip side, trying not to spend all of our day on zoom in meetings, right? Something that we often rely on in office environments is we can have a coordination meeting, and then you get, you know, diffusion of knowledge from that meeting, just by people sort of walking around and talking to each other. You don’t get that in a distributed environment. And so we have to design for communicating what happens in those meetings without having to have you know, 1000 one-on-ones to train for that knowledge, and I’d say the last part of cadence that we think a little bit about is when are we actually going to meet up together in person. So we are very intentional about currently Ovation does three, all hands meetings a year, we do it in a location. And it’s, although there’s a little bit of business it’s very intentionally, mostly social and getting to know each other. And part of what Carlos was talking about trust is really hard to build over Slack and Zoom. It’s much easier to build in person, and then transfer that to the distributed environment.
Yeah, so you’re saying like three meetings a year or gathering zero of the company, Carlos, I feel like you’ve done a similar type pattern.
Yeah, that’s accurate. Yeah. So what we try to do at least one annual like everyone gets together, but then the different managers have the freedom to basically create all sides for specific purposes, right? So we have a pretty big project we’re working on with folks in different countries and different teams all together. So we all went to Nashville, right? Which was fun, but the point is really all coming together can really there are certain things which to be honest, are just better done in person. And coordinating those big projects and the timelines and hammering out the details. Sometimes is better to just bring together and so some of that budget from the bigger offices can be dedicated for people to selectively use and that’s part of that trust factor right? Like if a manager of a team or product owner initiative owner is saying like, Look, I think we need to do this and they have a strong argument for it and then going for it is something that’s powerful.
Yeah. So, Barry you touched on it briefly, but I thought we could dive more into it that kind of meeting cadences meaning, like meeting with your direct team, like do you have regular times that you try and coordinate every week? Or how do you approach that?
Barry Wark 13:30
So I personally do scheduled one on ones with all of my team. Again, because we don’t have that sort of passing in the hall interactions always. Most of our teams do team stand ups and then you know, scheduled one on ones. But we also have started doing we call them random coffees, and we, you know, spin a wheel each weekend and assign people to find some time just to sit down over zoom or or chat or something and have a coffee. And what we found is that that feels like
Barry Wark 14:11
it may be taking time that you’d want to be doing something else. What we found is that it’s actually reduced the number of meetings we have, by more than the total number of minutes that people are spending and I’m just because we get a little bit of that, that diffusion and synchronization of what’s going on in people’s lives that way.
Got it. Um, so, yeah,
I know you have a section on tools later.
Hope Cochran 14:37
Yeah, we’re just heading into that. So good segue.
Carlos Vega 14:39
Okay, I was just gonna share what Barry just shared is something that one of our engineers suggested too and Barry I’ll admit, I was also like, do we really need to do this like I think we could be doing other work so congrats on the foresight, but one of our engineers implemented a tool called donut which is kind of cool. And here’s a screenshot. It just basically automatically pairs people and you can opt into it. You just put it in slack. And they’ll automatically start pairing different random conversations automatically ask you like a cheeky question to icebreaker. And we’ll create the calendar invite and allow you ought to just connect. So a virtual way of doing what Barry had the foresight to do.
Hope Cochran 15:23
That’s interesting. So it’s kind of creating unlikely pairs and relationships that maybe you would have developed in the office because you ran into them. And yet, it’s, it’s giving you that nudge. Right. Yeah. So let’s talk about tools. Kara, let you pick it up, and what tools have you found effective prior to this time, and during this time
Yeah, I think we have an approach of kind of a host of tools, looking at different teams, utilizing different things. So Zoom, absolutely, we’ve been able to use zoom to have very large and have meetings like this where you can almost do a town hall. And that feels really good. And we get a lot of participation. Sometimes I think we get more participation than a big in person meeting because it’s almost leveled. everyone is on the same plane. We Slack, we use workplace for internal comms and that provides a lot of area to socialize online. And Smartsheet of course, and then Google Chat. I think I’m between like Google Video and zoom, like back and forth throughout the day for different applications.
Hope Cochran 16:35
Okay, you have to tell us like the best use of Smartsheet during this time, as well.
The best use of Smartsheet during this particular time is we have a we have a dashboard for our Covid-19 preparedness and so we’re able to keep that updated for our employee base so they can see what each offices we’re now all on complete work from home but as you we were working through this different offices. We’re in different statuses and then lots of links and information and intake if you had something to tell us about what was going on with you, that actually that whole kit is available to any of our customers and free to anybody who was in trial. So that’s like our one of our uses right now. That is been really, really helpful to us. And then just the general collaboration and sharing that we that we’ve always utilized. Smartsheet for.
Hope Cochran 17:37
That’s great. Barry, what have you guys utilized?
Barry Wark 17:39
So I think actually, our most important tool is just an attitude around written documentation. So we’re going to talk about culture I know. But but in a distributed team against it without that office diffusion, written documentation of what’s been decided and why so that people who are working independently can act independently sort of in the, in the right direction, we found has been really critical. Most of our team failure is centered around lack of documentation. So we use Confluence currently for that. But I think that it is just the attitude that meeting notes, get documented decisions get documented plans get documented. And, again, I think like these random coffee meetings, I feels like a big burden. But it ends up saving us a lot of time in the in the end. We’re also big zoom users and slack as well. So I think I think that’s kind of baseline now even in office companies. Yeah. in office teams.
Hope Cochran 18:44
So yeah, you referenced this rigor around writing everything down. I think that’s really interesting. Did you start that from the beginning?
Barry Wark 18:54
No, we didn’t. (laughing) But we had a couple of great conversations with distributed teams that were a little bit farther down the road from us. And one of the things that they told us was, by the time they hit, actually now the stage that we’re at, they didn’t have a lot of that, that documentation sort of hygiene in place. And it really ended up being a drag on their team’s ability to execute. So we got we got serious about that, I think in time, and it’s now it’s now one of the sort of driving forces of a lot of our rules of engagement and how we, how we document what we’re doing. We’re not perfect at it yet, but we’re working on it.
Hope Cochran 19:36
Yeah. Carlos, I feel like you guys have that rigor as well.
Carlos Vega 19:41
Yeah, just echoing with what Barry shared about writing everything down. So we use an app called notion, which we all joke around that my co-founder and he’s a CTO, that he’s a angel investor, because if he sees anything that is, sounds like a process, he will immediately ping you on slack and say you should put that in notion. And so this has basically everything right? It’s got home with like the Quick Links for everything related to, you know, quick resource things that the team might want. But everything you can see over here, I don’t think I can zoom in. But on the left, we’ve been organizing, keeping through everything, everything from sock to processes. Now we’ve got a founders only folder for ourselves, like the different payroll process, employee onboarding, and off boarding, like everything’s on there. And it’s kind of cool. It gets managed, like a little Asana chart or Kanban style for the different proxies. You can choose different things that you do. And then we also just, it’s pretty straightforward. Just have a Google Sheet with all the key initiatives. And then every week when we meet, you know, everyone has the initiative. We have a weekly meeting of the initiative owners every Monday. They go through and they update the status on things and we go through and update, you know, whether something’s been, you know, backlog completed, etc. And this just helps us track like how things are going and what’s what’s, you know how things are progressing that, that we borrowed from a book called The Great CEO Within, which is, you know, a lot of you probably got a Google Doc for it. It’s a good one that was pretty valuable. So yeah, those are two of the main tools, other things, just like, you know, little rules around the tools also matter, right. So in Slack really enforcing people to use group chats instead of going direct, right, actually threading in in Slack, instead of having a massive conversation in the group channel. Always having your video on during a meeting is also really something is pretty relevant. And then establishing rules about when to use Slack when we use email, when you text, when to call. That’s also pretty valuable. And to Barry’s point earlier, like, we reached out also to folks like, like the CFO, CEO of Automatic is their customer and he’s become a good friend. They’re very distributed. And so he told me, basically write everything down everything that you think you kind of logically understand. make it explicit. And so that, that summarize everything. It’s make everything that’s implicit, explicit, and just keep that in your brain and just do that, but that they’ll have the outputs.
Hope Cochran 22:38
For Notion Carlos is that a, like an enterprise license that you pay, or
Carlos Vega 22:45
I don’t remember, it’s not that expensive. It’s, uh, yeah, it was, I think, I don’t remember honestly. We set it up. It wasn’t like a big decision at all.
Hope Cochran 22:54
Yeah. And then the other thing you mentioned, which I know is just a little point, but I’m just always do video when you’re doing these chats. I have found in the past week, I’m so much more present when my videos on. I wish I had the discipline to be as present when it’s off, but somehow I’m finding that when it’s on, it’s a lot more effective. And so as long as I’m not fighting for bandwidth with my teenagers um, let’s switch over to culture. And you know, there’s there’s the logistical aspect of this. And then there’s the cultural aspect. Yeah, Barry…
Barry Wark 23:30
Kind of one more thing just on tools that I think we didn’t mention. Not super applicable at the moment. But I think one of the important tools for distributed teams are airplanes. We have the now written rule that if you think you maybe should just get on an airplane and go sit and talk with someone, you should already be on the airplane. And what we found is that that breaks down a lot of the barriers that were you know, people are confused over Slack. For a long time, when they could have just sat down and talked about it, we don’t get that in this moment. And it’s definitely something that we’re starting to solve for now, but it’s a tool to have in your tool belt once once it comes back.
Hope Cochran 24:13
Very good. On the cultural and hiring like the HR side, we’ve got the logistics, of recruiting, hiring Clearly, we don’t want to be slowing down that process as talent is so key to us. And then also just how do you instill your culture throughout the company? So to kind of two legs to this topic, and let’s just take the tactical first care I’d love your thoughts on you know, how do you do recruiting? How do you do onboarding? I’m here during this time when we’re outside of our normal habits.
Kara Hamilton 24:48
Yes, during this time, we have for the past, I think three weeks, we moved all of our interview loops to video and we made a very intentional decision to move everything to video because we didn’t want to introduce bias of people who were this were these were the days where we’re still accepting visitors of the office with you know, health screening questions and we didn’t want people to feel like they didn’t have that they were putting themselves at a disadvantage. So we moved everything to video, it’s gone surprisingly well, we have we arm our candidates with some tips and tricks for video we asked them to practice we have recruiting coordinators that are able to like what I mean is practice the technology to so they can feel comfortable that they’re going to get it right the first time because it’s so nerve wracking, right or you’re already coming in and trying to present your best self and then if you get flustered over technology that can feel really bad onboarding where we have been very much, you know, that’s our touch point with people I can’t say enough about the airplanes and the in person meetings that provides such a great foundation to then build your district distributed relationships on. So onboarding has always been a time where we welcome people to the office, we have new employee orientations. In each office, we’ve gone completely virtual, we’re shipping laptops. And we are doing video calls to do HR onboarding, as well as it onboarding. And then we have sets of videos, I think we’ll do our first set of live new employee orientations. with senior team like every month, I do a half hour talk with all new employees who’ve on boarded in the last month. And so we’re going to start doing that more virtually than we ever have before. So it’s really just can we, I think we, we learned that we can do it. And I’ve gotten feedback from people who’ve been hired in the last few weeks and they’ve I think they see the intent wholly, you know, so that’s appreciated that they were still able to start on time and that we’re definitely doing our best and we’re learning as well. We go, but it’s been positive.
That’s great. And Barry and Carlos, you guys actively hiring and is it been awkward during this time or since you have set up this way already? Just continue as normal? And what does normal look like for you?
Barry Wark. 27:16
So we are we are still actively hiring. We did have at least some of our interview loops through Zoom already. Because our leadership team is distributed. And our team leaders are distributed. Everyone was always talking to at least a couple of folks on zoom. It has been there’s no question that having someone in person is a way to connect with them on a sort of non you know, not on the resume but just with them as a person. And we’re definitely still challenged to do that purely over zoom.
Hope Cochran 28:33
Carlos, you have a very rigorous like process before you start hiring.
Carlos Vega 28:41
Hope Cochran 28:42
I think that’s interesting.
Carlos Vega 28:44
Yeah. It’s, uh, yeah, it’s, it’s, uh, I guess it came from Mike Maples at Floodgate and it’s pretty basic on paper, but it’s like takes about an hour and it really helps out and yeah, it feeds into like one of the points I was gonna make hope Yes. Thanks for bringing that up is like, what we found is to just be really rigorous about the role. And then how you validate that the person fits that description, just by having a lot written down and making sure that everyone’s aligned who is going to interview right. And so my mic, called it a hiring kickoff. And basically, you go through. First off, you define who the hiring committee is for that role. And then you schedule an hour-long call with that hiring committee. And you all work through two sets of questions. The first set is, you know, what are we expect this person to do and what could they be prepared for not doing? And that second part of that question, just kind of, I don’t know, it leads to a lot of passionate conversation, which is really interesting. And it’s mind blowing like, 100% of the time, like, I think we’re super clear on the type of marketing person that the company needs at our stage, given what we’re trying to accomplish and trying to create a category and do all that. And everyone shows up with a different, completely different perspective, that if we hadn’t done that, we would have been trying to hire the wrong like each person, we try and hire someone. Right? And then the second part is, how do you validate that the person meets these criteria? And what types of questions are you going to ask like to confirm that? Right? And that’s where we think about the questions and the exercises and things like that.
Hope Cochran 30:33
And I think as you’re hiring in a distributed environment, having this definition becomes so much more important. I do want to we got a question on q&a that I think fits in well here on this topic, which I think is interesting just about you know, maybe if during this specific time care, maybe you can jump in what are we allowing employees to expense and how are we handling their kind of at home stuff.
Kara Hamilton 31:00
So we have so what we’re allowing right now as we sent people home is the allowance for monitors because I feel that I mean, I know my first few days fully at home, being on my laptop was just exhausting between being on video and trying to work and collaborate. So monitors I think are like an instant productivity hit and my neck felt much better as well. So having my key like so little items like that, but as we are in a standard like in in our normal practice, if we have someone that is fully remote at home, which we have about 150 employees that are working, what we call in the field, we provide up to $700 allowance for them to set up whatever they need for their office that might be a chair, it might be a standing desk if that’s what they prefer. So it’s really up to them on what they need beyond the current technology that we provide. And we’re exploring a few other things. But right now we’re just on monitors and our IT team is pretty stocked with external keyboards and mice and everything else, you might need extra power cords. I think it’s all the little things that once you get set up, you can feel a little bit more productive. So we’re still exploring it.
Hope Cochran 32:28
Yeah, that’s great. Barry, you’d mentioned you know, get on a plane anytime you can. Clearly right now, we’re not getting on planes. But what are some of the ongoing expenses that you say, this is fine.
Barry Wark 32:38
That’s a great question. So we have actually, in in sort of normal mode. We do have folks working in offices and we do have folks working truly from home. The folks that are, you know, in the field working from home, one of the things that we pay attention to is like internet bandwidth and You know, when we, when we sent folks home this past week, anyone that didn’t have enough Internet bandwidth to make zoom work effectively. We just, we just paid for it.
Barry Wark 33:21
And, you know, I think the question of, you know, what do people expense at home versus at an office? we’ve we’ve been lucky so far. And admittedly, we’re not a huge company yet, in head count. We’ve been lucky that the people on our team have been pretty, pretty, pretty conscientious of what would I be spending in an office that the office would be providing versus what do I have at home? And and we assume that we’re spending about the same amount on people, whether they’re in an office or in their own home. So if we’re, you know, eating snacks or food or something for an office would do the same thing for folks at home.
Hope Cochran 33:57
Do they expense it or do you give them some sort of allowance?
Barry Wark 34:00
We’re still letting them expense it again because we’re small enough that you know we can see what’s going on before it gets out of hand. Yeah and we’ve got reliable people maybe this speaks I think back to Chris’s idea of you know trust in a distributed team is pretty crucial give people the guidelines and assume that they’re gonna operate within those guidelines.
Barry Wark 34:21
I see psi Kara smiling, it’s probably we’re probably going down a different road eventually here.
Kara Hamilton 34:28
It is a show of trust and we are not doing that.
Kara Hamilton 34:33
So I’m torn in my own head of like, okay, should we be doing that we do send care packages to our field employees every once in a while. So because they do miss out on little like swag that we might pass out in the office. We always make sure to mail anything like that to our field employees, but I have not we’re I don’t think the CFO and really allow us to have a snack budget for them.
Hope Cochran 35:00
I know Jenny and I would agree.
Kara Hamilton 35:02
It was a no go. But I’m gonna do more care packages because that’s in my control. So,
Hope Cochran 35:09
Carlos, are you doing anything for your employees?
Carlos Vega 35:13
Yeah, so we give them two options when they start. And we can either so first off, we give everyone laptops when they start, right, that’s something we, you know, at our stage, you know, we weren’t doing till we were about 15 people, but then we decided that that it was important. So that’s not part of this but we also give people $1,000 budget to build a home office. If they’re going to build from work from home they can expense whatever they want, you know, keep horse monitors desk chairs, whatever. And the funny part is, you know, by adding the thousand bucks you know, there’s a cap but man people buy some pretty expensive chairs is what I’ve noticed. It’s kind of it’s kind of wild. But um, but yeah, then then we if you’re not going to work from home, we also give you We pay up to $400 a month of co-working space that the company will cover for you. And most almost all of them are below that. And then that that co working space budget also comes with a $400 kind of budget to buy some equipment. If you’re working from home or benchmark on bigger companies, what automatic does is they give you a, I think they upped it to either $2,500 or $5,000 for your home office, and they also automatically update your laptop every six years. Right? That’s something else they do. And the chair and the desk are not part of that $2,500 budget. Those are must haves. And so that’s on top of that, and you can spend whatever you want on the chair and the desk, which again, I didn’t know it was such a thing but engineers and you know, mechanical keyboards really cool chairs and really good desks. It is a it’s a thing.
Hope Cochran 37:03
Okay. Let’s talk about culture. How do we establish and maintain our culture when we’ve got people working in all different locations? Do you want me to share it? Go for it?
Kara Hamilton 37:12
Okay, um, I think I mentioned workplace before, which is a Facebook product and platform and I think workplaces enabled us to stay well connected across our locations across different kind of interest groups. So we have all company announcements, but we also have different we have a diversity inclusion group, we have Smartsheet for dogs, we have, you know, Smartsheet kids, we have all sorts of different interest areas and that’s enabled I think relationships to bloom, where you might not expect them like we really want to have a lot of cross team connection as well as insight you know, in team connection. So that helps That kind of those flows. And I think we also are very purpose driven organization. So our purpose is, we empower everyone to improve how they work. And then we have a set of values that go with that and evaluate that action playbook. And, and I think that foundation that we built helps us we talk a lot about how, how am I showing up for Smartsheet? How am I showing up for my teams? How am I showing up for our customers? That’s all built into our kind of into our vernacular, and it’s built into our hiring process as well. Where Yes, like, where we are looking for expertise and experience and, you know, what is someone going to bring to the team from that side? How are they going to what are they going to bring in terms of leadership, but also what are they going to bring in terms of cultural add and are they are we aligned in our values and how we’re going to show up which is not an easy thing to write, um, like, believe me, we, we are on the journey of how you really evaluate that. But we’ve really looked at those three pillars and we’re dedicated to, to figuring out and doing our best because we think that’s, I think that the values and our purpose have helped immensely. And they communicate constant communication over workplace. I mean, I’ve put out three or four videos in the last month, where we’re doing a lot of lots and lots of updates. I think that kind of thing. Like, if you pull my arm, I’m going to talk about our values, our purpose, how we’re showing up what’s going on with Covid. And we can’t we almost can’t say it enough, because people need to feel that they need to feel that we’re there.
Hope Cochran 40:05
Yeah. Follow on conversation. And I want the other to comment on the cultural aspect too, but is worth continually hearing that people’s mental health is it’s hard right? Now, you know, people are feeling lonely. They’re feeling scared. Yeah. And so during this particular crisis time, what are your communication patterns? Or how are you trying to help employees? And so Kara maybe you want to kick us off at to kind of address that, too.
Kara Hamilton 40:21
As I talked about the cultural, I think the first thing is to be real about it. So I sent out a pretty long email to our entire workforce, about what it means to show up and our values through like where we are now, and how we have to be creative and flexible and support each other. We have a lot of people whose children I mean, we have a lot of parents who have school aged children, and they are trying to work, take care of their kids do the homeschool, and all of that. So I think it’s a lot about trust in space, and saying, like, we are going to, we’re in it together. We’re going to do the most important things, and we’re here for you and then the mental health things is extremely important. I’m really glad you mentioned that. I feel very fortunate that we had already rolled out better help, which is a virtual mental health tool where you can have a virtual session with the counselor. And we also provide membership to one medical which has virtual appointments. So that’s more of the standard health care. But better help I is great. We’ve also done some mindfulness training we’re very like one of our community awareness programs is is mental health for all and trying to stop the stigma. So it was already in our culture of people being brave enough to share about that. And so we’re and we’re being very intentional. I mean, I’m on our dashboard is are all the links to better health and our EAP and reminding people that we, we know they’re under stress, I think part is just like we’re not going to not talk about it. We’re not going to pretend that People aren’t struggling and aren’t scared. They don’t have the answers either where they’re where their employer and we’re going to do our best to show up how we can.
Hope Cochran 42:14
Yeah. Barry, are you seeing these issues more? You know, acute right now versus in your normal day to day or how are you addressing them?
Barry Wark 42:23
Um, so we definitely have recognized that it’s easy to suffer in silence when you’re not in an office. Yeah, and the, the sort of passive status update when you see someone you know, shoulders slumped, or, you know, head on the desk on a project, you actually gain a lot of status updates that way in an office environment. So we knew already that it’s easy to lose that in a distributed team. You know what Carlos showed the visible status dashboards kind of thing is a really important tool. And that’s something that You know, we sort of doubled down on in this environment. The flip side of that is over communicating. Like Kara said, We are in a distributed team, you it’s important to over communicate what you think are sort of obvious decisions that have been made. And it’s because you don’t get that diffusion of those announcements through it through a group, you really have to actively think about how are we going to communicate every decision that’s made, so that people stay up to speed and feel like they’re part of the conversation. So those two things are maybe accentuated by the current environment. For us, I don’t want to call it lucky. But we’ve got a you know, 24/7 kind of purpose that’s driving us at the moment to get testing capacity and to help our labs that are at the sort of the tip of the spear for this effort. So we’re, I think, again, very motivated at the moment, we haven’t had folks feeling like they’re lonely and adrift, but It’s certainly something that can happen anytime in a distributed team. And so I think there’s an approach to being very proactive and open about, hey, we know that this is potentially challenging, is valuable, especially for folks when they join our company, if they haven’t been in a distributed team before we spend a lot of time getting them one on one, just, again, sort of random coffee sessions with folks that have done it a lot before. And we found that there’s really nothing more helpful than saying, I remember the first week working from home and it’s really easy to feel like you’re alone and adrift. And you know, here, here are a couple tips. And, you know, here’s how you can reach me if you’re if you need if you need an adult to talk to that kind of stuff.
Hope Cochran 44:42
Carlos Vega 44:43
Yes. So I say Yeah, I agree with, with what’s being shared, and I’ll share some things that have specifically changed that we kind of went through. Just like last week, right? There were some, I guess what I’ve what I’ve found is, I guess as a company, like We’re I’m extremely transparent about everything. And then as a company, they’ve come to expect that right? So we had our board meeting last week. So at our all hands this week, I walked through the board deck and presented it to the whole company in our own hands. And then that Ned led naturally the conversation around kind of, you know, what are we doing with everything around Covid-19. And I guess what’s been interesting for us is seeing, I guess, you know, very to what you’re mentioning, like if you’re in a room, there’s kind of you can sense everyone in the room the same way where right now I don’t know if everyone can see this in the Brady Bunch view. In in zoom right with the gallery. You can’t quite see everyone just exactly the same, right. And so, as I was overly I guess what I’ve found that as a remote or distributed kind of team is you have to not just explain the decision, but also explain your logic and how you’re thinking about it. Like what’s your framework, and so everyone’s come to joke here goes Carlos with another framework but it just like, at least now they know like why I’m thinking a certain way, right? And so even after going out of my way to explain Hey, look, no failing to prepare is preparing to fail. There’s, you know, the old Churchill way of like, you know, talk about hard talk, not just happy talk. David Sacks wrote a really good post about last week. You know, there’s explained all that share the articles talk about it, but then you still have the folks who’ve never lived through a downturn, which a lot of us have on our team, just start to get really nervous, even though you’re talking about stuff, super overly caveated. Like, hey, these are just things we’ve talked about things we talked about, it’s better to talk about it now. I’ll think about it together. Being together like the kindest, most empathetic things you can say, still character what you’re sharing, right? People are still very nervous, and that’s just like in one ear out the other end. And so going out of the way to reach out, right and so Some things I’ve done, you know, every Monday now I’m just like hanging out by myself until someone joins in zoom meeting, and anyone can join at the company and chat about whatever right like and it’s been pretty interesting. who joins or what people want to talk about. And then the other one…
Hope Cochran 47:19
That’s interesting, Carlos, so you just open up zoom and you’re just there and anyone can click in to talk to you?
Carlos Vega 47:24
It’s on my calendar. Yeah. And so people can go to my calendar and see it I send it out on the general channel in slack like Hey, remember I’m here I’ll be doing some work someone joins an office hours. Yeah, and then people would just show up and then like, managers are really important weapon right now to more asset not weapon in keeping in touch with those younger folks, or more anxious folks, or whatever it is, they know that the pulse of their, their team better than, than I do as a CEO and then giving you a heads up like So and so I was particularly nervous about that. And then I can vouch for that one on one, right and say, hey, let’s talk about this. Um, so I feel like we have a little bit of extra work right now because of the covert part of, like, extra degree of empathy. So, yeah, that’s, that’s a little bit of our experience, know some things that we could have done better. Some things that we’ve changed.
Alright, you all thanks for joining me today. I really learned a lot and I’m learning a lot through this whole process. So I appreciate it. These conversations are helpful.
Transcribed by https://otter.ai