How 6 Businesses Are Adapting to Remote Work
December 14, 2021
Have you had a chance yet to listen to our interview-style podcast, Talking Too Loud?
If you haven’t, here’s what it’s all about: Chris Savage, Wistia’s CEO and loudest talker, and Sylvie Lubow, podcast extraordinaire, team up to take you inside the minds of business leaders and entrepreneurs. In each episode, guests share the hilarious, informative, and most challenging aspects of building more human brands, and Chris gets to the bottom of all the things that have them, well, talking too loud!
Over the past year, remote work has been a popular topic in mainstream media — so it was only natural that guests on the podcast wanted to talk about it, too. In fact, many folks opened up to Chris and Sylvie about how their businesses are being challenged by and learning to adapt to remote work. We learned so much from their perspectives that we wanted to share them here!
From building genuine connections with coworkers to losing creative energy, find out how six businesses across different industries adjusted to new remote workflows and overcame challenges in the workplace.
Dig in and learn from the experiences of the CEO of HelpScout, the Executive Producer of America’s Test Kitchen, and more!
HelpScout: Be intentional about balancing the trade-offs of remote work
We’ll start with a seasoned pro. Nick Francis is the Co-Founder and CEO of HelpScout, a customer service tool used by more than 10,000 businesses. Since its inception in 2011, this customer service software company has been fully remote and today, it boasts a team of about 90 people, with folks working from 70 cities globally.
When the pandemic forced Wistia to go fully remote, Chris invited Nick onto the show to ask him questions about the differences between building a truly remote-first workforce and simply allowing people the freedom to work from home.
Nick had plenty of wisdom to share with Chris about what it takes to build a more remote-friendly culture. One major thing he shared was the need to start documenting everything in order to share information transparently and asynchronously. The way your company shares information must shift the moment people start working from home.
“A remote culture operates in an entirely different way and, more specifically, they share information entirely differently. The most important challenge to overcome if you’re building a remote company is making sure everyone has access to the same information. When you’re in an office together, a lot of that happens through osmosis.
If you’re getting into a culture in which you allow people to work from home, be mindful of the fact that the default state of your culture, once you have people working remotely, now has to be remote because you have to share information in a really transparent and asynchronous way.
For example, every all-hands team meeting is recorded, and you make sure it’s shared with people across the company so they can watch it. You make sure everybody’s invited to the right Zoom calls, and so on. The way the company shares information the moment people start working from home has to shift.”
Nick also believes you can build a great culture and team in a remote environment, but he acknowledges this type of work does come with a series of trade-offs. For example, working remotely can allow better focus time for people to get deep work done, but the trade-off is that folks can’t socialize with each other easily.
When Nick first built HelpScout, he was very intentional about cultivating different ways for teammates to get to know each other in person. So, HelpScout has retreats twice a year and occasional off-sites, as well as a program that pairs people in the same city up for coffee.
“You just have to design or install — spontaneous or not — moments where people can get to know each other very intentionally because it won’t happen organically.”
By sharing information in more deliberate ways and designing intentional times and spaces for its team to create casual and genuine connections in the workplace, HelpScout has built a strong remote culture that other businesses in the tech space can learn from.
All Turtles: Hybrid is a better way of life
Phil Libin is the Co-Founder and CEO of All Turtles, a mission-driven product studio that provides entrepreneurs with funding and resources like engineering and working spaces. After his company embraced a hybrid way of working and communicating brought on by the pandemic, Phil established a whole philosophy around what it means to be hybrid — not only at work, but also outside of it.
“Everything has become hybrid. Most things used to be clearly defined between online, in person, live, or prerecorded. But now, all of it is getting smashed together. I think this is the future of just about everything. Teaching is a hybrid experience, going to the doctor is a hybrid experience, selling stuff is a hybrid experience.
We are right at the beginning of this massive, worldwide transformation of almost every single thing on the planet going from being clearly either in person, online, live, or prerecorded to being a combination. It’s going to take a while to figure this out and make it really good.”
As for All Turtles, going hybrid taught the business that this way of working provides the best of both worlds. For example, becoming a hybrid company allowed All Turtles to open up job positions that are global instead of only hiring people based in San Francisco.
“We’ve got a whole philosophy around hybrid, which we call ‘IRL plus.’ Meaning, better than in real life. You’re not going to be hybrid because you have to be, you’re going to be hybrid because it’s better.”
If there’s anything other companies similar to All Turtles can take away from Phil, it’s that not everything has to be black or white — grey might be the better option.
America’s Test Kitchen: Put fun first
Mykim Dang is the Executive Producer of America’s Test Kitchen, a fully-equipped 15,000-square-foot test kitchen in Boston where a team of highly skilled test cooks and editors develop the best recipes and cooking techniques for their audience. Prior to COVID, America’s Test Kitchen was 100% in-studio with its kitchen, office, and sets filled with equipment and crew.
Then the pandemic forced the team to go fully remote for 14 months. During that time, Mykim’s team faced creative challenges both at work and in their personal lives — and they obviously couldn’t experiment with recipes the way they had before. So the team put their heads together to figure out how to create content in people’s homes by assessing everyone’s individual circumstances and home kitchens.
A major takeaway from remote production was how important it is for the talent to have fun while they take on more filming responsibilities.
“Let’s be real: It’s been a really hard year and continues to be. There are so many things that we all are going through and processing that we can’t see. From a video perspective, our team is always trying to make sure that this can be an enjoyable part of the person’s work and day. And the second that it’s not, we have that flexibility because we work in the digital sphere to change and to adapt, so it’s gotta be about that person in front of the camera.”
One thing that helped make the remote productions a success? Building personal relationships and allowing people to take as many breaks as they needed in order to remain creatively energized. Essentially, remembering that people are the center of everything was critical.
“The second that it stops being fun, that’s going to affect the content, and then that’s going to affect their performance.”
So, what’s next for America’s Test Kitchen? The team is taking their learnings from remote production to kids across the country for their newest YouTube series, Test Kitchen Kids Takeover, which involves kids cooking recipes and showing techniques right from their own kitchens.
EverTrue: We’re entering a golden age
Brent Grinna is the Founder and CEO of EverTrue, a SaaS company that supports fundraising efforts at educational institutions and nonprofits. While on Talking Too Loud, Chris and Brent discussed what workplaces will be like in the post-pandemic future and whether companies will go completely remote, hybrid, or be all in-person.
They also pondered what current and future employees will want. For example, will some people want to be completely remote and only fly in once or twice a quarter? Will there be some who are eager to get back into the workplace because they want to be around people and re-establish their company culture?
“I hope that we are entering a golden age of employee happiness and of alignment with mission and culture and role, without the constraint of geography, but I know getting there is going to be a challenge for sure.”
As we saw with Phil Libin of All Turtles, Brent noted that the talent pool expanded due to remote work. Being able to hire people who live out of state has been a major plus for EverTrue.
Customer.io: Remote work means freedom to choose
Colin Nederkoorn is the Founder and CEO of Customer.io, an automated messaging platform for tech-savvy marketers. Like HelpScout, Customer.io has been a remote workplace from the very beginning. Chris dug into what Colin’s learned about running a remote workplace over the years and got his advice for companies struggling with remote work.
Before the pandemic, Customer.io had a company-wide retreat everyone would attend. Without that retreat, everyone experienced a loss of company culture.
“We always had these in-person retreats, which are a really critical part of any remote team because if you don’t know the people you’re working with, then it makes it hard to weather the challenging times. You get these disagreements, and you kind of misunderstand your coworkers.”
Despite feeling the loss of company culture, Colin still championed the benefits of a remote workplace.
“The way that we’ve always looked at it is the freedom to work in whatever location makes you most productive.”
For companies who were forced to be remote, Colin’s advice was to get a pulse on your company to identify the areas that are struggling and understand why.
“I think for companies in this position, if they’re still struggling, I would start looking at how to get a pulse on your company and the areas that are not doing well and try to understand why.”
As the CEO, one thing Colin did to help employee morale was make an effort to be more visible, especially at the beginning of the pandemic. He recorded a video every week for the team to offer encouragement and support and let them know he had their backs.
Tuple: Talent density is a huge benefit
Ben Orenstein is the Co-Founder and CEO of Tuple, an app designed to help developers program together remotely. Tuple’s team was forced into remote work during the pandemic, but the company also saw its number of paid seats quadruple across its customer base in just a few days.
Though growth is obviously a good thing, when numbers surged, Tuple’s infrastructure couldn’t handle the sheer volume of people signing up. However, the team troubleshot things and now, the growth rate is at least twice what it was before because there are so many more potential customers at home.
Due to the growth of the business, Tuple also re-considered its values for hiring. For example, Ben realized he valued talent density over finding candidates who only live close to Boston.
“We kept finding people that were amazing that didn’t live in Boston. And the thing I realized I valued even more than local candidates was working with really amazing people. I want that talent density more than anything. I want to have a team of people where I feel everyone is just incredible. And I love working with these people. They’re super competent. They’re really warm. They’re nice. There were a few people that we came across who just didn’t live here. And I was like, you know what? It would be a crime not to hire this person.”
Like a couple of other guests on Talking Too Loud, the pandemic shifted Ben’s approach to hiring and finding talent. And luckily for Tuple, the large numbers of people working from home grew the company’s customers tremendously.
New ideas are born out of constraints
From America’s Test Kitchen to an app designed to help remote developers program together, businesses across different industries faced varying challenges brought on by the pandemic. At the same time, they discovered benefits they didn’t know were available to them.
Even when the pandemic passes, things won’t just switch back to “normal.” Instead, each business will take the lessons from remote work and evolve into an even stronger company with new, more optimal ideas and workflows. We’d all be smart to follow suit!
Want to hear everything these amazing founders had to say? Be sure to check out the full-length episodes of Talking Too Loud to learn more.