success of the hybrid remote model is based on flexibility not force w/ Jessica hayes @ whereby
An office space has its place in the future of work by being a place teams can work from if/when/how they want. It becomes a benefit similar to a gym membership or meditation app. It's available if you want it. Anything beyond this is doomed to fail.
Here's the recap...In today's episode, we chatted with Jessica Hayes, VP of People at Whereby about the hybrid remote model & future of offices. We spoke about how Whereby is a remote first hybrid company. Confused? Meaning they offer an office space as a perk. Something to take advantage if you want to. It's not a place you have to work from. This model of hybrid is the only option for success. We discuss the reasons why.
Full Transcript Below...
This is Part Four of our series on the hybrid remote model & the future of offices. You can check out Part One here, Part Two here & Part Three here.
The office is a place to work, like a cafe, the beach, or your apartment
Though Whereby is a remote first company, that currently have 2 official office spaces and a couple of unofficial ones. These offices spaces are not the central place employees have to come to get work done. They are spaces that their employees wanted to have the ability to work from. You may have missed the nuance here. Their offices are not the place where the team has to get their work done. There is no hardware or equipment like a 3D printer needed to do the job at the office. Their offices aren't the only place with an internet connection required to send email or launch a Whereby call.
They hybrid model really is about flexibility
Following the points above, companies that want to do hybrid right have to provide the flexibility to their team to choose. Not requiring 2 days in the office like Facebook is looking to do. Not looking to make exceptions for remote like Google is looking to do. Hybrid is offering a team a location where they or multiple team members can meet and spent time together. Be that to work, catch up over beers, or play some ping pong.
The office 'culture' was only a benefit to some employees
An office with video games, chefs preparing 3 daily meals, hammocks and everything else sounds pretty cool. Sounds like a great reason to come into the office. Yet when you dig into this idea and start talking to teams you find it's not as enticing as it sounds. Young single people in their 20s tended to be the ones who benefited the most from these office perks. Why? Because they tended to live within a short commute of the office, and much of their social interaction tended to be in the office, as well. In essence, people with less responsibility outside of the office. On the other hand as the age group goes up, the less value those office perks. Once people get married and start a family, they tend to move out of the city. Meaning that 15 minute walk becomes a 40 min commute. That 40 minutes may have a lot of dependency on location and time of the day. Queue the scary movie music for "Rush Hour." So employees became less excited about the 5pm Craft beer tap, because it meant their commute would simply take longer. On top of that, they have a family at home they want to spend time with. Whether simply sitting together at home, playing catch outside, or taking the kids to an activity. The ping pong tourneys simply don't match the family quality time.
Don't hire for location
Many teams seem to like hiring in a specific region, like the US West Coast. I'll skip the legal/compliance type reasons for now. But a European based startup will hire on the west coast to specifically support their west coast customers. In theory this can make sense. You don't want to force someone in Europe to work a late night shift. It isn't good for culture. If you're thinking this, you're right. Culturally it's bad, but take a look back at the bold word above - force. In Europe, you may have people that love working nights. They may be a night owl, or their spouse is a nurse working the night shift, or any other reason. You hire for this role because someone wants to work this schedule, not because they need a job and are willing to sacrifice.
Hybrid team engagement is just a bad idea.
Companies used to love to do yoga in the office. It's relaxing and a great exercise. Then CoVid hit, and companies pivoted to zoom yoga. When some employees return to an office, how and where will yoga take place? Doing a zoom yoga session isn't as fun as in person. You're not next to a friend able to whisper complaints about how difficult a stretch is.
Same goes for lunches. In office lunches became zoom lunches. Eating lunch next to a friend is quite different than over zoom. Checking out their snacks, or the healthiness of the lunch simply can't be done over zoom.
So what should companies do? We'd suggest trying 2 things. The first is virtual only. Regardless of where you're working from, the yoga session or lunch is via video call only. In this way, everyone is equal and everyone has the same experience.
The alternative is limiting the work engagement and replacing with personal/community engagement. Rather than the weekly zoom yoga sessions, you can offer everyone a free pass to a local yoga class. For the lunch you can reimburse a lunch at a local restaurant. This provides both the benefit of a free yoga class or lunch, and it also helps build the employee's engagement with their community
Scott: [00:00:00] Hey everybody. Thank you for tuning into another episode of Leading from Afar. I'm Scott Markovits with my co-host and co-pilot Tevi Hirschhorn. Tevi, I'm assuming you saw the news from Google this past week of their decision to start pushing people back into the office later this year? Any thoughts about that to start off with?
Tevi: [00:00:18] I think it's a difficult move. People probably got used to working remotely and this is going to be a culture shock for people that have been spending a year at home. But I think some companies like it, some people like it. it'll be interesting to see how this progresses. I wonder if people might leave to go to a more flexible remote, friendly environment. Curious to see what happens.
Scott: [00:00:40] Yeah, for sure. So today is our fourth episode in our series on the hybrid remote model and the future of offices. So today we are very happy and excited to be joined by Jessica Hayes. Jessica is the VP of People at Whereby. We'll call it the easier to use and browser-based alternative to Zoom. Before Whereby, she's led People teams across multiple different startups and companies.
Jessica usually the way that we start off is by introducing yourself a little bit and then telling us a little bit about Whereby.
Jessica: [00:01:07] Yeah, sure. I think you did a pretty good job of describing it. Although I do hate to use the Z word as a comparison. But we are an easy-to-use web-based video conferencing platform, but we also are an API. So if you're out there developing an app or a tool that needs some kind of video conferencing platform, rather than build that yourself you can embed Whereby inside your products and use that as well.
So that's another big part of our offering. I have been with the team for about nine months. Still fairly new, but I guess not actually in the grand scheme of things. Whereby was about 30 people when I joined and we're now about 120. So I'm actually an old hat in the team now. I'm Australian, you can probably tell from my accent, although I actually find Americans lately really get confused about whether or not I'm British.
It's pretty soft. It's quite a lot of London. And I actually live in the Netherlands. I live in Amsterdam with my fiance, who is Dutch. That explains why. But yeah, I've been working in startups for the past seven years in different size companies and have actually been working in remote first-ish companies for the last couple of years as well.
So really enjoying watching, despite the travesty of COVID, the rapid changes in the ways of working that I have believed in for a long time.
Tevi: [00:02:14] Thanks for sharing that. I'm curious. Can you tell us a bit about the product for Whereby and how other than the API, how might be different than the Z word and other video tools out there. And maybe why it might be more conducive to a remote culture.
Jessica: [00:02:30] Yeah. A lot of people will notice or talk about Whereby is just how simple it is to use. That's a big core for us. It's completely in the browser, so you don't need to download anything. And you can just access it. So if you're a recruiter, for example, it's actually a really nice platform if you're interviewing candidates, because there's not this pressure of downloading something, working on how to use it. You literally just click a link and you're in the room.
But the other thing that's really nice. Especially when you're thinking about remote-first workplaces is the way that we set up when you have the product in your company. Is that every person has their own room. Which has like their own little office. So you can knock on each other's doors and have meetings together, but it also integrates with other tools.
So you can knock on someone's door and then get a Miro board up together and talk through a Miro board at the same time, doing different things. So it really is built around this idea about collaborating together in a kind of space rather than in a call. If that makes sense? Those are slightly different psychological concepts.
We really do want to start really building up this idea of your virtual space. So your like virtual office. I don't like saying that word, actually. I don't like saying virtual office. Cause I think it has strange connotations. But the idea about having a place that you can set up that works for you that other people can collaborate with you together is actually a big thing. We're trying to focus on.
Scott: [00:03:41] So the story about Whereby going remote. Was it due to COVID, pre-COVID? If you went before COVID, what was the feeling of the impact to the team and what are you looking for going afterward?
Jessica: [00:03:54] So we've actually, I always been a remote-first company. Pretty much since we spun out as our own company. Cause we were a project inside a bigger telecom. So when we spun out, we became a remote-first company. But for a very long time despite the fact that we were all remote first, we still had the vast majority of our team in Norway. Which is where we were founded.
I would say that we were a remote-first company trying to be more of a remote kind of all remote company until probably around my joining. And then we actually really could get the kind of pieces of work together that make that more possible. I think as you scale, there is a level of kind of attention to the ways you work together that wasn't quite there yet.
In terms of how to work together remotely, but now has started to become a lot more intuitive. So yeah, always been remote fast, but various levels of maturity, I would say.
Scott: [00:04:44] We spoke weeks back and you had mentioned that Whereby it is looking to potentially expand its office footprint. Maybe post COVID once it's safe enough to be back in the office. We'd love to know what is leading the team to make that decision into expanding the office foot versus maybe companies are looking to actually reduce it?
Jessica: [00:05:06] Yeah. I think the kind of clarification on that is at all of our offices, if we do have them, are shared office spaces. We don't actually have an office where people are expected to go to. It's usually a shared space where we have a lease and you're welcome to go to it if you'd like to.
We have two in Norway at the moment, and we've unofficially got one in London. The team has pulled together and got one themselves. That is the place that we're thinking next. We're saying like, "Ok, we'll sanction this a little more and help the team by getting a better rate and a kind of location that helps them."
I guess a little bit more official. And then, of course, various other parts of Europe, there are other members of the team who have started to think about similar things. Like maybe we could pull together and get a little office for a couple of months, and in the US as well. We just want to make sure we’re helping them if they do want to do that. But London's a real place that we want to now officially start looking for a proper share space. That's a bit more sanctioned than the current cobbled-together plan that the team has built themselves.
Tevi: [00:06:02] I'm curious what is the driver around expanding your footprint? Is that because you're seeing that people want to get out and work in a space separate from their home? Or is it the company trying to draw people together in a physical location? What are some of the factors there?
Jessica: [00:06:14] No, it's definitely not the second one. It's largely the first, to be frank. I think lots of people have said this and I don't think I'm saying anything useful, but there's a very big difference between working remotely and working remotely during COVID. And we aren't shy to that fact.
At the moment one of the things that our team loves about working remotely and a lot of us, have been working remotely much before COVID, was this idea that there is this kind of freedom to work from anywhere. This freedom to work from wherever you thrive and whatever that looks like for you.
That actually is our mission. Our mission is to enable people to work from wherever they thrive in the world. Now at the moment, that's just frankly, not possible. Like for a lot of us where you thrive is not at your kitchen table or with your, five or six-year-old children running around asking you to do things with them during the day.
That's not where people feeling like they're able to deliver their best work. So we've recognized that enabling people to work from where they thrive right now might actually be an office for a bit. And that's okay. That doesn't mean we are abandoning the idea of remote working. Because our team is still distributed.
We still have members of the team from Japan to California. It's just that some of our team has said I really want to get out of my home at the moment cause it's just driving me nuts. And I'm actually one of them. I recently got a little one-room WeWork office down the road in Amsterdam because I was going cuckoo. Just looking at the same window every day. Neighbors had some renovations. And I was like, I can't do this.
Tevi: [00:07:33] I hear that. I had a neighbor in the apartment below us, they were playing drums. So having my kids home and my neighbor playing drums, I'm trying to work. That's really hard.
Jessica: [00:07:42] Yeah. That's a joyful situation to be doing spreadsheets or something in or recording podcasts. I imagine.
Scott: [00:07:52] We've spoken in previous episodes about the purpose of the office changing. Going from the old methodology of it's the place where you have to get work done. Where you write your emails, where you call your clients, and shifting more to a place where you're doing team building and engagement. Where you're doing collaboration.
Do you think it's possible to be able to engage your entire team when some are onsite and some are off-site?
Jessica: [00:08:18] This is it's a tough question for me to put my head into, right? Because even when some of our team are onsite at Whereby some of them might be onsite at three different places and they may be across three different teams. We don't have any teams that are all in one location. So that's not really a concern for us. That everyone in the finance team is all sitting together, working in the same office.
I think the other thing is I worked at a company before where there were probably three, maybe four of the engineers, and say it was a team of about 20 engineers. They worked remotely fully remotely, and they found it really difficult. The team tried really hard to embrace the remote working. They did their standups in Hangouts.
But still just didn't quite work for them. But then we had another team and the entire team was remote and it worked really well. And it was the exact same company. So it wasn't a structural problem. There was no systemic issue that was stopping us from doing this. It just was, I don't think you can do a half-assed version of it in one team. Or think that if you're not really consciously making these divisions in ways that will get work done, it's not going to come back to bite you.
Is it possible to engage part of the office and on-site and part of them offsite? Yeah, I think it definitely is, but there are absolutely some circumstances in which people would say, "Oh, I tried this thing that you said was going to work and it didn't work for me."
And then I asked them. "what did you do?" They say, "I had three people who were working from Tel Aviv and then everyone else in the entire company is altogether in Barcelona." Of course, that's probably wouldn't work. Because it's like a time zone issue. Although it's small, it's still enough to fudge with people. Their calendars and they've got their own thing going on.
They're in two separate places and they're bunched together. I think that's another thing. If you have a whole team that's distributed around the world. They have this kind of push to communicate. But if you have two people that groups of people in two locations working remotely, it doesn't really work. Because they can just meet up for coffees in those locations, or go to the office or go to a WeWork.
Tevi: [00:10:13] You're so right. I think that's the reason why Scott and I are always nervous about people embracing hybrid is that it can often lead to that setup. Where there are two locations. Then you have two cultures and the people in one location, don't talk to the other location and becomes two companies.
And it's a very dangerous thing. You have to be intentional. If you say that hybrid is going to be the way the company moves forward, and then you see people coalescing around very specific centers and you're not intentional in your communication all the time, then you're heading down a dangerous path.
Jessica: [00:10:44] I think there are some things that we do that kind of help push back on this. One of them is we pushed back on people making geographic choices at all. So we really fight very hard against any of our hiring managers making any kind of choices or suggestions about where geographically they'd like to hire people.
Now we have one exception in our company at the moment, and it's an exception which the exec team and I spoke about for probably an hour. Whether or not we want to do allow this exception. And we decided to do it for our very junior members of our sales team.
And we tried everything we possibly can to hire them in and around London. Because that's where the current manager is. He just hasn't got enough capacity to manage a team and do sales. Sales is a notoriously difficult role for juniors anyways. A lot of rejection. Having someone there that can help support you is really valuable.
So we said, okay, temporarily, you can have this focused geographically on people in London until you hire a manager who can be distributed. That can then have their responsibility to try and keep this unified team despite time zones and all that kind of stuff. So we do have that exception. But then across the board, if someone comes to me for customer service, for example, and says, we want someone that can work in California. The question then becomes why do they need to be in California?
Is it not, we want someone that's comfortable working in this time zone? Because if it's a time zone thing that doesn't need to be geographic. I can go back and visit my family in Australia, and I actually really like doing my work in the evening. So I quite like working UK time zones in Australia, but I know a lot of my peers probably don't have the same feeling.
So it doesn't make sense for us to cut out Australia from our options.
Tevi: [00:12:17] Yeah, totally. That's really funny. I'm very similar. In Israel, I'm often 10 hours ahead of people in California or in the US. But I've always enjoyed working evenings my time because then in the mornings I can go on hikes and I could do some adventures and photography stuff.
Then with COVID, I could do homeschool. So with my kids. So it really worked out as I've always enjoyed evenings, but some people often look at geography and we're only speaking with people in this time zone. So I liked that you're not focusing.
Scott: [00:12:45] It seems it's very much from the cultural aspect. Why is it nice for somebody to be working at eight o'clock in the evening until three o'clock in the morning? But as the case said, that some people that's what they'd like to do. Whether it's to make it easier for them to go hiking in the morning. Whether it's for the kids that have doing homeschooling, or it's just because you're a night owl and that's the time you like. Definitely needs to be able to take a step back and saying, okay, "for some people that's going to be a cultural issue."
That obviously should be criteria question number one. Is this a cultural issue for you? Do you like working in the middle of the night? If you don't, then this is not the role for you. Because we want you to be happy and we don't want to hire you just because you need a job. We want you to be comfortable and happy working in these hours.
So definitely seems to me, that's like a big culture issue that comes up with that.
Jessica: [00:13:30] Yeah, I think there's also another thing, which I think it's a force of habit thing, right? Because we have a completely flexible approach to working hours. Which means you can work whatever hours you want to work. And that is uniform across our company. Pretty much everyone takes whatever liberties they'd like to with it.
We don't track it or anything, but I know that my team, for example, ebbs and flows on however they feel like working. What we say to our team is that level of trust requires a certain level of responsibility, on the other side. If you, for example, want to wake up at 11:00 AM in the morning every morning and start work at midday and finish work at 8:00 PM, but someone in your team doesn't want to do that, you need to work together to try and find some mutual ways to work together. Maybe you need to do a standup at 10:00 AM on Thursdays and wake up a bit earlier, and then you can go back to your preferred routine every other day.
You're an adult, you're a grownup. You can work out what works for you and others in your team. And it actually works really well. Sometimes, I have a meeting put in at 8:00 PM or 9:00 PM and I just come in a bit later or, take a few hours off over lunch in there for a walk or do what I want to do.
But then when we ask our hiring managers who say things like, "I want to hire someone out of this time zone in California." What is the reason for that? And they're like, "we need them to be up early in the morning and we need them to cross over at this time zone."
I say, "Ok, what hours do you work when you're in New York?" And they're like, "I usually don't wake up until about four in the afternoon and work late." I'm like, "So you aren't working your time zone. So what makes you think that Californians want to work at that time? So they may want to wake up really early in the morning."
It doesn't work that way. Once you're allowing flexibility, the whole time zone thing goes out the window to some degree because things just happen.
Tevi: [00:14:58] Totally. What else do you do at Whereby to help strengthen communication and maybe relationships in and out of the office?
Jessica: [00:15:05] So I've got a kind of slightly controversial opinion on this. In that when I was younger and earlier years of my experience, I really loved going into the office. Because I really loved the social elements, right? This is also a personality thing for me. I just really loved the lunches together.
And, if something was happening at work, you all got together and talked about it. You went for beers in the afternoon whatever. So I loved that whole heavily social element of work. As I have come further through my career and have more things going on outside of work, I actually don't really get a lot of energy out of those things anymore. I actually socializing with my colleagues. Don't get me wrong. I'm going to sound very cold, but I don't seek those kinds of experiences out anymore. And actually, I think a lot of our team are similar.
They prefer the time to be spent with their family and their loved ones and having lunch with their partner. Then going out for dinner with their mother-in-law after work or going for a nice walk at lunchtime. Rather than sitting around a lunch table, talking gossip about work. And for that reason, we've identified that actually, we don't need to do that much socially for our team. Because they just don't really want it as much. Because it's just a different demographic of people. We do a social committee thing on Friday, but that's not a People Ops driven initiative. It's very much a kind of social team initiative.
But everything we do to keep the team together is very work focused, to be honest. It's things like team away days and retrospectives. Working together on a big project piece of work where everyone's contributing asynchronously and sending each other Loom videos to discuss something.
I think for our demographic of people we've never needed to have virtual drinks. It's just not been something that's we're interested in. We don't really do that kind of stuff. And I think, people, ask me all the time, "Oh, what fun things are you doing with the team?"
I think about all the HR leaders get a bit disappointed when I say not really anything. Like not really anything,
Scott: [00:16:58] Interesting. We'll have to dig into that a little bit. I think the point that you just made for me is the point on this topic. For one, people never wanted to go to the office. People wanted socialization. So you'd be just as happy working with friends and colleagues at a coworking space at a coffee shop. Having the interaction, especially in the last year of being locked down for so many months.
People just want that face-to-face interaction and the actual physical location isn't as relevant as the opportunity. But I was speaking with my wife about this before. The idea of the ping pong tables and the craft beer and the coffee thing, then all that nice, wonderful stuff is being part of the culture.
It's probably really great when you're maybe in your early twenties. You live in the city. Like that's your life. You spend a good portion of your life in and around the office. And that's the experience that you want. You want to be there a little bit late and drink a beer and play ping pong.
But as you said, as you get older and you have responsibilities outside of the office, you have a family of other things. You turn the opposite and you want to get out of the office as early as possible. Because you probably don't live in the city. So you probably have a commute. You want to get home.
You want to spend time with your family. You want to spend time with your kids or your cat, your dog. Or all the things that you want to do outside of the office. Those cultural pieces of the ping pong table and the craft beer that were what people believe, still believe, is the big attraction to office culture is no longer relevant. Because you're outside of that mode of things that interest you. So I love that point specifically.
Jessica: [00:18:23] Yeah, I think it's true, right? What I remember distinctly, I used to work for Box. And I was in the California office on a trip one time. I think it might've been my first trip there. The Box offices are awesome. They're really nice in Redwood City in California. I remember coming down after work at probably 7:00 PM.
I was working late and the food hall was open. I was people like, having drinks or playing pool or whatever they were doing. Like hanging out. I remember thinking to myself like, "Wow, there just aren't really that many people here, you think they were way more because this is so awesome." Now, I can't even imagine hanging around Redwood City Box office past 7:00 PM. I want to go out and do other stuff.
But at the time I was like, "Man, this is such an amazing place to be. I don't know why everyone isn't just hanging out here." Which seems silly, I definitely think there's a big social element of it, for sure. I think also for ex-pats if you're an ex-pat or someone that's traveling for work, having an office is really nice.
It takes the edge off the loneliness. I love traveling for work, but I myself can recognize when I've been traveling for a long time and just stick of having dinner by myself. It is nice to have some people around you.
Tevi: [00:19:24] When I was traveling a lot pre COVID it was nice to walk into a WeWork. In that sense, because it felt familiar no matter what city I'm in. That is an element of having this ubiquitous brand or familiar feel anywhere in the world.
Jessica: [00:19:40] Yeah. Yeah. Everyone speaks English. Which is helpful if you're a native English speaker. Your wifi automatically connects. You know how to get a coffee. There's something nice about that in an otherwise extremely foreign circumstance. That's probably already quite anxiety-inducing.
Tevi: [00:19:54] So maybe switch gears a little bit. How does the Whereby product help strengthen communication and relationships? I like that the company has focused more on the workplace and that separation of personal life and work life. But ultimately we want to improve communication and improve trust and collaboration.
Those are things that are important for all companies, remote or not. You mentioned some interesting things about Whereby with the private rooms that everybody gets. Could you tell us more about how the product helps strengthen communication and relationships?
Jessica: [00:20:24] Yeah. I think our attitude to the product probably is the thing that I think is the most strengthening. We don't expect everyone to have face-to-face Whereby calls every single time. They want to communicate about something. Which I think is a nice refreshing change from some of the other kind of remote-first companies I've worked at before.
We've got an app that has an audio-only feature. So it's just WhatsApp call or a phone call of any other type. Where you can just go for a walk and talk at the same time. And then of course you have your Whereby room where you can just jump in. Send someone a link, be like, "Hey, if you got five minutes, jump into my room."
If you've got a minute, they knock, I get a little notification on my Apple watch if someone knocks on my room. So it feels a little bit like an office room, right? I put my calendar and my Slack notifications on deep focus. And then if I've got an hour break, I'll put it on to my open hours come and knock on my door if you've got anything to chat about.
I'll get a little notification on my watch, "Hey someone's knocking on your door." I can let them in and we can have a quick chat and then they can leave. And it does feel a little bit like you've got like an open door in your office and someone can just duck in and ask you a quick question. This is a nice change then this feeling of you have to constantly be booking slots in to discuss things. Which is one of the things about remote working that I think is a blessing and a curse. It can help you be very efficient in meeting organization. If you're doing a good job of it, you can be very efficient with it.
But also it means you lose a little bit of that spontaneity of just being able to pop in and see what someone's doing. Because you have to spin up a Zoom room or create a booking in someone's calendar in three hours or three days time. So Whereby does give you back a little bit of that spontaneity, which is nice.
And then all the integrations I think are really helpful too. Being able to have it integrated with Miro so you can see each other in real-time as you're moving around a Miro board together. All of those things just make the part about remote working that used to be a little bit cumbersome. Now feel much more natural and
very easy for us to do.
Tevi: [00:22:07] So you organize your web app with your watch app and maybe a mobile app. So I get everything syncing together to have this more holistic communication. Nice. That's pretty cool.
Jessica: [00:22:20] Yeah, exactly. We try very hard to do record by default as much as possible as well. Like recording meetings when people are there. My people team is based from Toronto to the Czech Republic and we're not always online and doing things at the same time. We also all work flexible hours. So sometimes the team will be doing a spontaneous meeting and I won't be there because I'll be off going for a walk or bike ride. I'll come back from that and they'll be like, "Hey, we just had a meeting, which she missed out on it's 10 minutes. You can watch this recording that we made in Whereby." I can just watch the meeting while I'm doing some other work and see what's happening.
Tevi: [00:22:50] Cool. You mentioned the voice-only note or something?
Jessica: [00:22:55] No, it was just a phone call. So it just means you don't have to have a video call with someone else. Which is nice. So someone knocks on my room, if I'm out, I can just answer it on my phone and have a call with them. They can just be at their desk and I can be out at the shopping center or whatever I'm doing.
Tevi: [00:23:10] Very cool. I would love to see an async voice note because sometimes it's one more step removed. Where you don't have to be in the same spot all the time. If you have people in different time zones, that could just be an async voice note. And you can have a conversation back and forth.
Jessica: [00:23:25] I'm actually working at the moment on a test for interviewing and using Whereby. Maybe, I'm sure it's fine, but we're looking at the test right now. Which is one party books half an hour on your calendar and they record the first half of the interview. And then you see in your calendar, something pop up saying your web interview. You click on the link. You can watch their half. You can record your half and then it sends it back to them.
So it puts times in your calendar, but then not at the same time. And you can still work together over 24 hours. Yeah. So we're working on that for interviewing right now. We're doing a test using Whereby a series of Typeforms and stuff like that. So it books in, and I think it looks really interesting. It definitely solves some of the challenges of synchronous interviewing.
Scott: [00:24:03] Interesting. I want to bring back one of your points that you've mentioned before about Whereby not doing those virtual happy hours. That was the example in my head. We're always discussing this idea of hybrid. Being a remote worker in your apartment, all alone. Seeing the screen where there are 50 people inside of a kitchen, hanging out, drinking, schmoozing, have a good time, laughing, and you're just sitting there all alone in your apartment.
And that, we'll call it the hybrid model leading to greater exclusion versus inclusion. Creating this in-office versus this remote people culture. Two conflicting camps.
For a team that's going to look to do hybrid, what can they do to ensure that everyone is included? Maybe in these examples of a company that wants to do a certain type of engagement. Event program. You may have some people that are engaged in a certain way in the office versus remotely. It's two totally different things.
Is there the possibility to do them together or again, what teams can get creative in trying to solve this issue?
Jessica: [00:25:03] I think what you just said already, you need to be creative is the first thing. I saw this thing happen at the beginning of COVID where lots of HR people or facilities people, whoever was in charge of the social element. Started just replacing whatever they did in person with an online version. Without really paying attention to the fact that I don't actually need online yoga and online drinks and online meetings and online one-to-ones. I would actually really just to have some self-reflection time and just to be away from my computer or go for a walk.
I think that's people coming around to this idea of, "Oh, actually it's fine for us to get people a yoga pass to do yoga in the park, rather than us all having to do yoga together as a team on a Whereby or on zoom or on Google Hangouts."
I think that same kind of creativity about what does the actual problem we're trying to solve here? Is the kind of best frame of mind you can come at this from when it comes to inclusion. We don't really do, we don't do virtual happy hours. We also just don't really do any happy hours.
If they catch up in an office somewhere saying "Hey, let's get a drink or a coffee." But when we're getting back to traveling, I imagine that will happen a lot more frequently, right? Like I'll be going to London and bumping into the team there.
We've got other members of the team that live in the Netherlands that may come and see each other. So that kind of spontaneous catching up, I'm a very big fan of. We don't do any sanctioned all company or all location, happy hours. It just doesn't really happen. I think that's something that you should probably avoid doing. Unless it's going to be everyone in the company can do it together.
If you're going to do an all-company away day then great. Of course. Definitely do whatever you want to organize, but otherwise, try and organize things in a way that everyone could attend if they wanted to. That's how I think sanctioned things should happen. So for example, we just did a series of work called a "year of growth." This is still ongoing, but we did a bunch of learning programs that were run throughout the week. We tried to run them at times where anybody could make it if they could. So three in the afternoon is probably really the best that we could do for a lot of our team.
So three in the afternoon we had these learning sessions and we had some in the morning, as well. So different people could attend them, but there was no in-person session. We recorded everything. We shared it with everyone. The discussion that happened afterward, everyone could still participate in and trying to be creative. I think is really the best way you can do it.
Scott: [00:27:15] The point that you started with of potentially the real opportunity here to prevent that inclusion versus exclusion, it's any of those engagement opportunities are always remote. So even for people that are in an office and you want to do a yoga day or a yoga lunch, that yoga is never physically inside the office. You never bring someone inside the office to do yoga.
Even those people go outside to the park, stayed home, come in late, do whatever, but don't do it in the office. So that still gives that opportunity where it's still, everyone, in theory, doing a yoga session or lunch or something like that remotely and outside of the office. That's very interesting.
Jessica: [00:27:55] Yeah, I think this feeling that everything you have to do has to work sanctioned. As well as something that I'm seeing die off a bit. Yoga is a good example, right? We had in my old company Wonderbly on Thursday, they had yoga nights. There was a yoga teacher who came into the office and everyone did yoga together.
I know a couple of companies that after COVID started, doing online yoga. Everyone in the company on Wednesday afternoon at 6:00 PM, we do yoga on this zoom channel, this Whereby room. Actually now I'm finding a lot of people saying, "Why are we doing it?" Why don't just give everyone a five-pound a month ClassPass voucher and just let them pick what they want to do?
We're still getting what they want out of it. And if they want to do it with a peer, they totally can, but we don't need to say you have to do it with a peer. I think that kind of also helps this. The thing that I spoke about before, which is not everyone wants to have all of their social energy come from work.
Sometimes you just want to have a small amount of your social energy come from work.
Tevi: [00:28:44] So it's funny. It sounds a lot like Scott said before the call. We were talking about the Whereby company, how it’s pro hybrid. It sounds a lot like you're not pro hybrid. It sounds like you're very much a remote-first distributed company. And the office space is to give people that flexibility.
I don't know that I could call you a hybrid company, even though you have offices.
Jessica: [00:29:06] I don't think, I would say we're hybrid. We do have offices, but the vast majority of our team don't work in a Whereby sanctioned office. And those that do work, pretty flexibly from them. Well just for lunch, which is actually pretty. One of the offices has lunch in there and they will come in for the free food.
And then they bail, which is fine. But they come into chat or whatever and do what they need to do. I think the benefits you get if you're not in the office, are actually better. We offer a homeworking stipend or a co-working stipend for everybody. If you're in a city with an office and you choose to go to the office, we actually offer less, obviously. Because you don't need it. But for those reasons, a lot of people actually said "I'd rather just go into the office on rare occasions and keep the homeworking stipend and do what I need to do."
Scott: [00:29:53] Yeah, this is perfectly in line with what Tevi and I both said in the past. That the potential value of an office in the future was a place that was exactly as you said it. It's here if you want it, it's flexible. There's no requirement. There are no certain days or hours. If you want to come in and have the resurrection of the ping pong tables and have fun with them. Or you want to come in just to have lunch and socialize with your team for an hour and then go home to actually do work. The real opportunity for office space going forward. So it's awesome to hear that you already had been running with that methodology for a while.
Jessica: [00:30:29] Yeah although what are the things that I don't know if it could have worked? I don't think it could have worked for every company as well as it will now. I think this is a kind of presumption, right? That the companies, or like the people in charge of the companies were the ones being like it's impossible.
We couldn't have this hybrid kind of flexible workspace. I think for the majority of the time, that's probably true that they were the ones pushing back. But actually, in my history, the teams themselves have pushed back pretty heavily on that, as well.
An example I give is I worked in a previous office where we moved office locations. We did a lot of research into what kind of office locations we wanted to move into. And a lot of us said, "there's quite a lot of working from home already. So why don't we just have a more flexible space where there are no set desks, people can sit where they want to and it could be a smaller office footprint and more meeting rooms, more social spaces."
The team was furious that we had suggested that they wouldn't have their own desks. "What do you mean we don't get our desk? I want my two screens? No, I don't want someone else sitting at that. I don't wanna have to take my stuff off the desk in the evening." I know a lot of people that have had similar experiences before. So I think there was a lot of pushback from both sides on whether or not this is going to work. And now people started realizing like, actually, I don't give a shit if I have a desk. Sorry. I don't know if I'm allowed to swear, but I don't care.
I just want to have a more flexible life. And I think companies now are starting to obviously come around as well. But, I have noticed this trend of companies have forbidden it, but really, I think it's been people as well saying like they didn't want it.
Tevi: [00:31:50] I'm curious about the types of people at Whereby. Would you say the team is more introverts or extroverts? Is it a mix? Who likes to go to the offices more extroverts? What's the makeup like?
Jessica: [00:32:03] That's a good question. I would say we're actually probably more introverts, to be fair. I think probably more introverted. Those that go to the office, it's honestly, just whoever is nearby the office. I don't think there's any real pattern, to be honest.
At the moment, it's hard to know. Because I think the people that are in the office are people with children, to be honest. They're the ones that kind of need to have a bit more space. Those that don't have a lot of room in their homes right now, for various reasons.
They've got multiple people working from home within a shared house, for example. So yeah, I don't think there's a trend necessarily between introverts and extroverts for us.
Tevi: [00:32:35] Do you think that that there are rules or styles that you have to accommodate one or the other more?
Jessica: [00:32:41] I think if I said they do what they do and everyone's happy that probably would be boiling the problem down a little bit. You always need to be considering how different people feel and get their energy in various communications. The same is true whether you're having a fully remote conversation in a room together online. And three people are talking and reacting a lot, and one person sitting there just trying to soak the information in. Or whether you're all in a meeting room together, and three people are up drawing on the whiteboard and one person is sitting down and trying to understand what's going on and come to grips with the social dynamics.
So I think that introvert and extrovert kind of personas will always be displayed in different ways, in different types of communications. I think there's this other tendency that introverts prefer written communication, but that's also not necessarily true.
I'm an outgoing person, but I'm quite introverted. In that, I don't get my energy from people. If I have a whole day of having to constantly be interacting with people, I do get very exhausted. I actually find Slack and written communications can take my energy way quicker than two or three phone calls and walk around.
So I think it's more about being communicative with each other about how we best work and trusting each other and giving that reciprocal flexibility I spoke about before just because you prefer meetings all the time that are face-to-face, doesn't mean everyone else does. So you need to be flexible in how you approach things.
I think that flexibility is actually the most important thing above and beyond geographic closeness or anything else. It's being able to treat other people like adults and respect their choices. And kind of demand what you need back in a kind of respectful way.
Scott: [00:34:13] So I think the last question that I have. It's we've learned in this episode so far that Whereby is not the stereotypical hybrid company. But for companies and leaders who are thinking about having an office in whatever capacity that's going to be, do you have three pieces of advice that you'd like to share? Things that they should be thinking about or considering.
Jessica: [00:34:32] I think this is kind of true for everything, but don't do something just because you want it is the advice I try to give founders very often when I mentor them and talk to them. If you do decide to do something, just because you want it, then be prepared to deal with whatever outcomes that present.
It may be that it severely disrupts some of the strategic aims that you had planned ahead of time, but if you decide that you want to put them to one side, to focus on building an office, then by all means do it. Just remember what you've put on the chopping block.
That also doesn't mean that you have an entirely democratic vote on this either. I know a couple of HR leaders who have said, "I did three surveys with the team at asked them what they wanted, and now we've got all these different answers coming back and we don't know how to interpret the results.
Some people will have this and others like this. So we've just decided to go for hybrid because it pleases everyone. It doesn't please everyone, does it? It just is the middle ground. So don't do everything just because you want it. But also, do not be afraid of making a decision and then going with it. Even if the decision feels slightly polarizing. I don't think hybrid is the middle ground between fully remote and fully in an office.
I think it's in some regards, actually a dangerous kind of knife to stand upon. Just because it feels kind of centrist, doesn't mean that you're going to have a nice, easy time rolling that out. So I guess that's the second piece of advice. If that even is one.
Make a decision, make some rules, stick with the rules. Don't bend and flex. There's a saying that we use it Whereby. Sometimes if nobody hates you, then you're not doing, you're not saying anything. So some people will not like what you're saying. And that's okay. Just like any part of your culture. If you're just saying everything to make everyone happy, then you're just an amorphous blob that doesn't make any statements.
It doesn't do anything as a believer in anything. It's okay to make some people say this isn't the place for me. That's fine. Let's just work out whether that has any impact on us.
And I think the final thing with it is please stop copying what are other companies doing? That's probably the one thing is I notice a lot. People coming to me and saying and it can be for culture.
It can be for compensation. It can be for hiring. Oh, we just did exactly what GitHub does and it doesn't work. I was like you're not Github, are you? You've got a whole bunch of other stuff you want to do. You've got different people you're trying to hire. You have different goals, different products.
What made you think for a million years that just taking Github's compensation strategy was going to make your comp work? It's all well and good to take inspiration and look at what other people want to do, but exercise your own creativity. Come up with new solutions that work for you and your team. Don't just rip other things off and then say remote didn't work for us because I did what GitHub did.
Scott: [00:36:55] Fantastic. Tevi any last questions?.
Tevi: [00:36:58] No. Thank you for joining us, Jessica. I was hoping to get into a debate, but it sounds like, once again, Scott has invited only people who agree with him until the show.
Jessica: [00:37:07] Oh, I'm sorry. We can debate about something else one time.
Tevi: [00:37:10] It was great to hear your thoughts and ideas on remote working.
Jessica: [00:37:14] Yeah. Thanks. What I'm interested to hear though. We've got like another two minutes, what is the thing that you thought you believed that you had, that you were ready to fight for?
Tevi: [00:37:22] So you basically said it already with remote and hybrid. Some people say that they want to have company headquarters, but only require people to come in twice a week. And to me, as you were saying, it's a tough knife to stand on.
It can create so many problems. It's not even a compromise. When Scott said you're wanting to get more office that we'd get some good arguments going. But, I agree a hundred percent. It's good to have space for people to go where they feel comfortable working. For many reasons, people don't necessarily work well at home. I think that's the spirit of remote.
Jessica: [00:37:50] Totally. I think trust, as well, it's one of the biggest. I think trusting your employees and trusting your team and trusting your colleagues for some reason, still feels so radical. But why? If you're trusting someone with a hundred thousand dollar marketing budget, why can't you trust them to do their work at home?
Scott: [00:38:07] Again, thank you so much for coming on and sharing your fantastic wisdom and insights. Everybody until the next episode, have a great day.