Doug Gaff is Vice President of Engineering at Zapier, one of the world’s leading 100%-fully-remote companies. We asked him to share his insights around remote management in tech organizations.
Managing Your Employee Mental Well-being
How do you manage the mental well-being of your employees from afar?
Thanks for the question. I will begin by describing our people-operation program. We have coaching, managing stress, free meditation apps, and exercise challenges. We use surveys such as pulse surveys and employee surveys. We have a generous L&D budget (Learning and Development). For the time being we reallocated some of that for therapy. So, people can use that if they stressed about COVID-19.
The real nugget of managing mental wellbeing comes from the culture of a company. The most important of those are transparency, empathy, and trust. Combine these in Slack channels. People can talk about legitimate needs and their struggles and stories. People can say, “I struggle with that too.”
Obviously, now, in COVID-19, we are very focused on this.
Fostering organizational culture remotely
How can a company foster its organizational culture remotely?
At Zapier you will find our 5 cultural values on our website. While it is true that having the values written down is a big thing, it must be something that the company lives by. So, really understanding the values is important. Learning to live by those values, that is learning to live the company’s organizational culture.
If your company is new to remote work, and you want to figure out what are your values, now is not the time. It will not be well received by an employee. It would be a challenge to navigate that, now, at this time of change.
You could pay attention to the unspoken cultural norms that are suddenly emerging. Telling people to show up to work at a fixed time, does not work in a remote culture. If you, as a leader are doing that to your employees, you’re doing it wrong. You need to be trust-oriented. You need to say, “I understand that this is stressful for you now. I trust you to get the job done.”
You have an opportunity to pay attention to any negative patterns now so that when you are back in the office, you will have changed them.
Remote Work and Strategic Decisions
For many companies remote work at this time is an experiment. As a measure of efficiency or cost-saving, what can traditional companies extract from this experiment? How can this experiment help an organization make strategic decisions about working from home, as part of a normal routine?
Apart from the obvious benefits such as reducing pollution by avoiding commuting for 2 hours, we can take a look at productivity data. In short, work has output. You do work and you get a measure of output and a measure of outcomes.
You have to actually measure both of those things. You should be measuring both of these things whether you are fully co-located or fully remote.
Output for engineers will be things such as, PR requests, the frequency of code-pushers, the frequency of discussions for teams, products on the geoboard, or product releases that are happening.
Measuring outcomes means measuring key results or KPI’s. These are results that we are trying to measure or the business direction that we are trying to drive. If you are looking at productivity alone, focus on output. Use Zap or select channels. Make a quantitative assessment.
Regularly survey folks. As part of a productivity survey, ask people about their current home situation, how it has changed, and how they feel that working remotely is impacting them. When you get to a positive spot, people might say that they want to continue remotely to avoid that commute. Then you can survey them again. Look at how much time they feel they are saving by being remote, how they are saving on the stress of being in a commuting environment, and whether they feel more productive or not.
You should treat the situation now as a data-gathering experiment.
Working in a Traditional Office
Would you ever want to go back to working in a traditional office?
As an extrovert, I would prefer to be around people.
I had an epiphany when I was at our retreat in Florida in January. I was looking around me, at all my awesome colleagues, thinking, “It would be so nice to meet these people every day!” But I realized it would not be possible. These awesome colleagues are people who were hired from all around the world. You can’t really have it both ways. If you want this level of incredible talent from everywhere, you really have to hire from everywhere! And I try and fill my extrovert needs in other ways.