Alley & Electric are excited to bring you their series “Reimagining the Workplace”. This four-part series touches on different aspects of returning to the office and how to best support your team in this unknown time. While the office may look different from the way we left it pre-quarantine, there is a whole new wealth of tools that businesses can wield to optimize collaboration and communication.
In part three of our series, industry leaders from Electric and partners provide tangible tools and resources that leaders and companies can leverage to:
- Transcend physical location
- Decrease ‘affinity distance’
- Maximize their teams’ strengths, synergy, and output
- How Donut helps facilitate connection, communication, and collaboration while remote - read more here.
- Coffee with Donut: Pulling Back the Curtain on Connections Programs - Donut's upcoming webinar series will focus on specific, meaningful, and measurable ways to foster greater employee connection using Donut.
- Electric’s Advice During Uncertain Times: Invest in Your Culture - Remote IT solution provider Electric has developed an engineering culture that thrives on change, leading to operational agility and innovation.
- The Office of the Future Arrived Early and Needs A Lot of Work - The future of the office arrived early as we shift to working remotely. Discover from Electric the essentials for seamless home office and remote IT setup.
- LifeLabs Learning - They teach ‘tipping point’ skills: the smallest changes that make the biggest impact fast – especially in times of uncertainty and rapid change. These are the skills of modern managers, execs, and teams.
- Donut - Donut encourages trust, collaboration, and good will across your team and organization. Create an automated coffee or lunch roulette program instantly
- Electric - Electric provides a modern IT solution that's simplified. Check out our core solutions that include IT support, security, network and device management.
- Miro - The online collaborative whiteboard platform to bring teams together, anytime, anywhere.
- Lucidchart - Your solution for visual communication and cross-platform collaboration. Create professional flowcharts, process maps, UML models, org charts, and more.
- Asana - Keep remote and distributed teams, and your entire organization, focused on their goals, projects, and tasks
- Favro - Favro helps organizations do what they excel at. Collaborate, plan, track & create. Run any project or process of any size. For every team & any leader.
- Taco - Slack app that allows you to build a strong and happy remote team
- Slack - With all of your communication and tools in one place, remote teams will stay productive no matter where you’re working from.
- Zoom - Zoom is the leader in modern enterprise video communications, with an easy, reliable cloud platform for video and audio conferencing, chat, and webinars
- Hopin - Hopin is an online events platform where you can create engaging virtual events that connect people around the globe.
- Loop Team - A virtual office for distributed teams: fast video communication, team presence, and live meeting highlights. Keep your distributed team in the loop.
Want to add anymore collaboration and communication apps? Email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
Noelle Tassey 0:00
Thank you so much for joining us, both of you, and again, thanks to our audience. For audience reference, you can also submit questions during the q&a throughout the panel, and I'll be picking them as we go. Awesome. So I think we're just gonna kick off and dig right into this, right? You know, nobody could have possibly foreseen the year that 2020 has turned out to be on so many levels. And, you know, with COVID especially, this topic has been increasingly relevant. It seems, you know, we have this moment on our prep call earlier this week, where we're all kind of, like, you know, how's your business doing? And it actually seems like you guys are really thriving in this time. And so, for our audience, you know, with somebody struggling with this transition, I would just love to hear more about how you guys have managed this transition smoothly and what's allowed you to maintain a thriving business and culture in this environment. And that's, you know, to both of you.
Colleen Ruggiero 1:04
Sure, yeah. So, like I said, we're— we have three different offices in which my team works out of, and obviously, everybody moved home. Even in our international offices, they were quick to move home as well. And I think before this had occurred, we were working in these silos, whereas now that everybody is remote, it forced us into virtual communication channels that we hadn't previously been relying heavily on. So while we are a Slack-based solution, a lot was happening in the office. So a lot was happening outside of the Internet and people standing up, walking around, and talking to each other, and so this really forced us to use those channels that we should have been using already, which I thought was fantastic.
Noelle Tassey 1:50
Yeah, the push towards well-documented communication is incredibly helpful, it turns out. Especially in a time when so much is changing. Like we've seen a lot of value, just in terms of like pushing conversations online, because you always have your receipts.
Colleen Ruggiero 2:04
Noelle Tassey 2:05
(inaudible) what's happened, and did we have that conversation? Yeah. How about you, Dan?
Dan Manian 2:11
So I think, first and foremost, there's an element of luck, in that I think both of us are lucky in that we are operating businesses that people really need during this time. So we're not all so lucky on that. But part of thriving is, there's just been a ton for us to do and a lot of customers to help through this time and help folks get better connected. So I think that's been a piece of the equation. And that's forced us to adapt pretty quickly to being fully remote. We had a little bit going for us in that we already had one day a week that was a work from home day. So we had a little bit of that in our workflow already. But then I think there was a lot of adjusting to becoming more deliberate about processes, actually having some policies that were maybe more implicit before and making things explicit just because you don't have that natural rhythm of like, you feel when someone walks into the office and you know they're there and available. That's a little bit more invisible, everybody's working from home. So how do you replicate some of those things? How do you deal with the missing whatever— whether it's a water cooler, or you know pantry or, actually Colleen and I were just talking about we— Donut and Electric used to be in the same WeWork office building with— one of WeWorks perks is like spa water, the fruit water. So we actually now have a Spa Water Cooler channel at Donut where we like replicate some of that chit-chat. So I think a lot of that little just kind of like in-between stuff is where we've had to find some new rituals. We— you know, we did— we ate lunch together a lot. That's gone. How do you make a team lunch on Zoom work? So we've iterated a lot on that. But a lot of the core work was already on Slack. So a lot of the working work actually didn't change that much.
Noelle Tassey 4:11
Yeah. And Slack is, you know, it's one of those tools— we— I wish— I almost wish I had a counter for how many times we're gonna mention it in this conversation, because I know it's like, for all of us, it's really the thing that's made this possible. My life would be a complete nightmare without it, just drowning in emails. I'm curious, you said you've iterated a lot on team lunches, eating lunch together as a team. What did you guys settle on?
Dan Manian 4:37
I don't think we're settled yet. I actually just tried a new experiment yesterday at team lunch. So I'm like constantly trying new formats. I think what we realized pretty quickly doesn't work is you know, we're a relatively small team, but a team lunch could be 10 or 12 of us. And when you're in person, you don't have a singular conversation the entire time, right? It's not like a 12-person dialogue with one person speaking you just naturally break off. So we've been doing things like experimenting with Zoom breakout rooms during our team lunch. Because A) agenda list singular conversation actually gets pretty stale, pretty quickly on Zoom It's hard to keep an hour-long team lunch interesting and going. So it's either been adding some more structure and agenda items or doing some breakout type things or doing some interactive things. Sometimes we'll do a group brainstorm during team lunch about something product-specific or not. But just to keep things kind of interactive and interesting.
Colleen Ruggiero 5:42
And similar to that, one of the things that we have— so we have sort of these sub-teams under our service desk, and what we'll do is kind of leave a Zoom link that's just live that anybody can tune into to just chat with each other. Sometimes— a lot of them are gamers, 'cause they're IT guys. And so they'll stream themselves working, and— like, you know, like Twitch. But they'll stream themselves, and they'll just chat through, you know, talk through issues they're experiencing, that somebody will play music similar to how the, you know, just at the beginning of this session and just kind of create that sort of opportunity for people to connect. Because one of the things I found too, is that a lot of the people moving home, they didn't have roommates, they didn't have people to talk to when they were used to working in this busy office space where, you know, they were used to that water cooler talk or just, you know, we were on top of each other in downtown Manhattan, and we didn't have that anymore. It was very isolating. So we created these virtual spaces for people to kind of— we somewhat replicate that.
Noelle Tassey 6:43
Yeah. I love the kind of always there Zoom channel. That's something that's come up in a few of these types of conversations we've had. Are employees just doing that on a second monitor? I'm just curious logistically, yeah.
Colleen Ruggiero 6:57
Yeah. So we sent her everybody home— we gave them Ubers, gave them all their devices, gave them extra monitors, gave them desks, gave them all the furniture that they needed in order to set up an office space. So they have— some of them have even three screens or more.
Noelle Tassey 7:13
That's awesome. Very cool. So— I didn't have a desk when this started, and I was working off of my windowsill which mercifully, it's very deep so the laptop did fit but it was tough.
Dan Manian 7:25
I feel like if anybody is going to be really good at the IT equipment for work from home. It's Electric.
Colleen Ruggiero 7:31
Dan Manian 7:32
They can handle that part of it.
Noelle Tassey 7:34
Yeah. Yeah, I mean Electric's actually helped us with that. So we've talked— we've been talking a lot about like kind of facilitating connection and just filling in that, like, missing culture piece and I definitely want to get into like, tools and challenges, but I'd also love to hear from you guys and especially from you, Dan, like, your product is very much geared towards, like facilitating connection in an in-person environment. So I'm sure that this is something you guys have given a lot of thought to. And you probably have like a pretty developed philosophy on just like, how do you keep teams aligned and keep people talking? I would just be curious to hear more about that.
Dan Manian 8:18
Yeah. So before COVID, I would say a majority of our users would use Donut to, you know, get connected on Slack and then meet in person, whether it's for coffee or for lunch. We were lucky that we already had this actually pretty vocal minority of customers, like, Envision, Zapier, Buffer, a bunch of the large companies that have always been remote, have always been Donut users, and have used it as a way to connect folks. So when everybody— when COVID hit and everybody became remote, all of a sudden, all of our users looked like those companies, right? And people were using it to meet new people and hop on a Zoom. And the value proposition, I would say expanded a little bit. You know, if you have an office, Donut primarily was helping you connect with someone new. Once you're working from home, you actually have desire to connect with new people and people you already know who you just haven't seen in two weeks because you haven't happened to have a meeting with them. So we pretty quickly realized there were a few things we needed the product to do that it didn't already do. We have a Zoom integration now which we didn't before COVID since that's where most of our meetings are happening. Some differences in frequency settings, it was actually— most people had Donut set to introduce folks every two weeks. You can go up to daily now and some teams do that just like a little quick, you know, 5, 10-minute get-together with someone. But we've also seen people really expand the different reasons, kind of like the purpose why they're connecting people. And we've seen that's actually even more important when you're remote. When you're not remote, you can like, have a casual coffee with someone and it's not really awkward. It's like, okay, you go get a coffee, you go place your order, there's like, chit-chat. If you land on a Zoom with someone new with nothing, it's sort of like, okay, you're staring each other in the eye, what do we talk about? So we've also seen an uptick in people running programs around mentorship and learning around DEI and getting folks talking about inclusivity. So letting people opt into different connection programs with different purposes where we then will help facilitate those conversations.
Noelle Tassey 10:46
That's very, very cool. And I mean, I think when you look at companies that are trying to replicate those strong cultures, like you know, you mentioned, Zapier and Envision like, are both just so well-known for having these like really, really healthy, vibrant work from home cultures distributed first. We actually found like, we used to be a partially distributed team where the bulk of employees were in one space. And so in that way connection has actually been improved with our distributed teams since the shift because everybody's like, we're solving for that communication channel first as opposed to 20 people in a room with bad audio in New York drinking beers and like talking all the way through a town hall, and everyone's like, "I can't hear you" and we can't even hear them saying that. Yeah, it's a complete disaster. And Colleen, you guys have such a strong culture at Electric, which I think my understanding is like, even though you had distributed teams, it was very much like, in-person first, you do like talent shows. I like— the last time I visited your office somebody was setting up for that. You do like, a lot of dinners, a lot of parties for the team. So you know, how have you kind of been facilitating that connection? Are there any other tools that you've been using like, just kind of getting into the tech aspect of that?
Colleen Ruggiero 12:04
Yeah. So I definitely noticed that there's been a lot more channels created in Slack. We— at the beginning of the pandemic, surveys were sent out about kind of, in what ways could we better connect with each other in spite of the physical distance. And I think a lot of people just wanted additional channels to speak to each other. So now there's craft club, there's book club, there's— it actually, you know, I think we're going to talk about this later, but one of the great things that came out of this and just the time that we're in is our first ERGs. So those have come out of this five-month period, which has been amazing and I'm so excited to be a part of it. And just, you know, I think, because we are so Slack focus, like everything kind of lived there. But it allowed for people to find these like niche groups that they wanted to be a part of. There's the beer club, there's just the music channel where people are always posting like their favorite playlist of the day. And so it's allowed people to get pretty— I think was more connected in a way because one of the things that kind of struck me before about what Dan was saying, in regards to Donut is previously, you could go to a coffee shop, and it's kind of this neutral place, but now you're on Zoom, and you're in— you know, you're not always in Donut Land, you're in their house, and you're seeing their cats, and you're seeing their children. And so you're getting to understand more about the people, which I find it's been really interesting. You know, because even when we were in the office, you only know that person in the office. Now, you know, you know— you know, what their house looks like, which is pretty wild.
Noelle Tassey 13:50
Yeah, that's definitely been a super interesting dynamic. And it's, you know, it's also true of these panels, like we normally have like a bunch of people in a room. You know, you're like, sitting on your like, really high panelist chair and you've got your microphone and like— and now it's like oh cool, like, I'm really intrigued by the art on your wall. And like my cat sitting at the sink waiting to drink water. Yeah, my dog is like right there snoring really loudly. Like so loudly, I (inaudible) on mute. Yeah, it's definitely interesting seeing that break down of personal and professional and it'll be interesting to see if that persists when we return to work. What's been the biggest, like, challenge that you've had to solve with technology since going remote? Like, you know, whether it's kind of— I don't know pushing to introduce a different tool or use an existing tool in a different way? Like for us, you know, one thing that I was doing right before the pandemic hit— this is like almost embarrassing to admit, is like I was using Post-It notes to track like a ton of stuff. So like the wall in my office is covered. And as we transitioned online, like, not only were we losing all the like, collaboration and kind of open free-flowing communication that you got when you're in office together, but I was like, how do I draw a picture of this? So we switched to— we just adopted favro, which is a project management tool that we really like. And so I had to kind of quickly put it all in there, but, I don't know, you guys probably have some more creative solutions you've had to employ. Our tech stack's pretty simple.
Colleen Ruggiero 15:31
Yeah, from an internal perspective, I think one thing that we've been using utilizing a lot more is Asana. We now— we've implemented morning syncs where we kind of look at the day ahead and look at all of the work that we need to get done and mapping out when things are due using the different Gantt charts, and the schedules and everything which has been really, really good for us to stay organized and kind of you know, use that morning sync to just get on top of it and then break and then start our days. What was interesting with our customers that— when all this started to first happen, we had our first few accounts come in, that were trickling in saying like, you know, "everybody's starting remote tomorrow, what do we need to do to be more successful? What do we need help on?" And what we found is that we had to solve a problem that we hadn't had before, which was everybody was moving home. And so we were so used to being able to resolve issues on the office networks that we set up and the systems that we have set up in place, but we moved everybody— you know, it was exponential. And every day we had this channel going of like, okay, these people are working from home, let's get on top of it, moving everybody to be able to go into their VPN. And one of the things that we had to do was be over-communicative in tracking all of this that was happening. So there was a ton of exploration into just like tracking impact of, you know, what is the COVID impact on our customers? Who's out of office? Who has to stay in the office? What are we doing to stay on top of it? There's so much organization for that and, you know, do we have enough resources to be able to support all this VPN? You know, these connecting to the VPN? So it was a mad dash to solve both internally and externally which I thought was pretty wild.
Noelle Tassey 17:16
Yeah, for sure. And, you know, Dan—
Dan Manian 17:21
Yeah, I can give two examples of tools and problems they're solving. I'll make the first one short because it's Donuts, so I don't want to do all that too much. But we already used Donut ourselves, but we were like 10, 12 people in the office, we really need Donut to introduce us to each other, it was more just to dogfood our own product. But then what's been interesting is going remote. We actually do need our product. So that threshold and need to get connected really changed when we came remote, and we actually created more Donut runs out of a Slack channel, more Slack channels devoted to Donut for different types of connection programs. So that was a really interesting shift to try to like, take the space of some of that really ad hoc human interaction that happens in an office. The other thing— switching gears is I'm a pretty avid white border. And I have no whiteboard here. I usually whiteboard with other people, not just with myself. So even if I did have a whiteboard here, a little less useful than like a big four by eight whiteboard in a conference room or in the office. I haven't found a perfect whiteboard replacement. And I'll say I actually spent five years working for a company that made interactive whiteboards. So it's a subject near and dear to my heart and an unsolved problem. But what we have started using is a product called Miro, which is a kind of collaborative workspace. And what it is pretty good at is— kind of like, if you've ever done kind of Post-It notes on the wall, and sorting, and affinity mapping, and brainstorming with Post-Its, it's actually really good at that. So we've, in some of our team lunches that I've talked about, all gotten in a Miro board while we're in a Zoom together and done a group brainstorm with Post-Its and then I can sort them later. And actually for that use case, in some ways it's better than reality because we would fill up a wall with Post-Its and then like, the 3M adhesive starts going a little bit, and they fall and so there's like lots of practical challenges with doing things like that and an office that sometimes digital's little easier. But the actual like, act of drawing a big like, freeform whiteboard thing, haven't figured that one out completely.
Noelle Tassey 19:38
Yeah, I've struggled with that as well. I mean, obviously, I'm a big physical artifact person based on the Post-It note anecdote but like also really big like, let's go, let's write it all out, let's brainstorm. So I'm— I actually wrote that down to check it out. We've just been doing a lot of Lucidchart, which is like, fine if all you're trying to do— like, it's a great flowchart tool. But you want to do a lot more on a whiteboard than just make flowcharts quickly. Very cool. I— Coleen did you have something you wanted to just—
Colleen Ruggiero 20:15
We actually use the program Miro for retrospectives. So similarly for like, the replacing the Post-It notes, it's been helpful.
Noelle Tassey 20:24
Very cool. That's awesome. So we've talked a little bit— you know, one of the interesting things that started striking me about this is like, we didn't— none of us really had to add that many tools to our existing tech stack it sounds like. And most of like, the tools that have been super helpful are like Slack and Zoom and you can kind of like, run 80% of your business like, with those two and like, G Suite, which is just always interesting. But back to Zoom and like ways of using it, because I think like, you know, we're all kind of living on Zoom. Whether it's like doing breakout rooms, facilitate team connection, or what have you, all great. But in terms of kind of the— it's just the communication that happens around the edges when you're all in the same room that makes collaboration easier, that makes information sharing more effortless. You know, this has been something that we've struggled with actually, and I don't have a very good answer to it, of just like— like I was on a call the other day with somebody and I realized that in like, the two days since we'd spoken something had really changed in a lot of ways and they just hadn't heard it spoken about in that way. And it caught them off guard and then I had to, like totally backtrack and rewind the clock two days with them. Whereas if we were still in the office, they would have overheard it like taken the headphones off, okay, you're over there, you're talking this thing that impacts my role. I'm curious, like, if any— if either of you had any sort of success solving for that, or is that just kind of like a shortcoming of remote work?
Dan Manian 22:05
I don't know if we've solved it. I think there have been times where— I think two things come to mind. Number one, I use the Zoom-Slack integration all the time where you slash Zoom and like, fire up a meeting right in-channel, or right in a DM. So that's like— I try to have a pretty quick trigger on like, if something is getting complicated in Slack, and we were in the office, and I would just like, turn my head and start talking, like fire up a Zoom, right? Like Zooms don't have to be scheduled, like try to mimic the like, okay, let's talk about that for like five minutes right now and get to the bottom of it. Occasionally, that's happened in-channel where I like— it wasn't me and somebody else was doing that, and I just like pop in, and it's like the listening thing, right? The fact that the two other people were in a Zoom in-meeting talking about something. But it was in a channel— started in a channel, so it was kind of public. Is maybe the closest analogy to that like, overhearing something. But I can't say we've like, really adopted that or nailed it. It's a tricky one. I think what becomes more important is posting— that we've been trying to get better at is like posting summaries or recaps after a meeting. So if like, it's a meeting with the two or three people that need to be there, but eight people need to know what happened, getting diligent about in the appropriate Slack channel, hey, here are the action items. So here's what we decided. Here's like three little bullet points, making sure folks get eyes on that.
Colleen Ruggiero 23:42
Yeah, yeah, I mean, that— same here, I mean, clear action items, notes before meetings, agendas, notes, after meetings, follow-ups, due dates. It's all like basic stuff that we probably should have been doing better before, but I think it's kind of forced us into that space now.
Noelle Tassey 23:58
(inaudible) — all getting more corporate? Because you can't just walk into a room anymore like, you know what's happening? Yeah.
Colleen Ruggiero 24:06
Yeah, exactly. So it's challenged us to get a little bit more buttoned-up in that way.
Noelle Tassey 24:13
Yeah, we've had that exact same experience. Like, I don't know when we had the genius realization that documenting every single follow-up and action item after the meeting like, really helps. I don't really know how we've been doing— you know, not consistently doing that up 'till this point, but, yeah, it's massively helpful. We actually hadn't been posting them in public Slack channels, which, Dan, I really like. I think that's a great idea. It's just surface the information to people. It's been over email. Speaking of which, so I'm curious like how you guys are managing— you both have client-facing functions. Are you using any different tools for communicating with your clients as opposed to internally?
Colleen Ruggiero 24:56
Yeah, so Electric has— we've rolled out a number of different ways to communicate with our end-users and our points of contact. So obviously, we are a Slack-based program. So we're constantly communicating with them via Slack. So that can get really noisy. So when it comes to important information about, you know, a process change, or, you know, I know Zoom actually updated their security standards when all of this came about, and we needed to somehow communicate that out to the group. So we've actually moved over to email for some important communications to our— at least our POCs, and then we also generated a newsletter. So anything that's just going on in this space, we created this newsletter. Another thing is we created a public IT pros Slack channel so anybody can join it, not just our customers, where people can just collaborate and talk about the industry, which I thought was really awesome. And then lastly, we think we just announced it today, they made a podcast. So just talking about IT and what's happening in the space, I feel like now more than ever, IT is supercritical and having the most up to date information and best practices is going to be really important. So our podcast, I'm really excited to listen to it after this. So I'm pumped about it. But yeah, I think what was interesting is— you know, I said earlier, Slack got so noisy for people, you'd lose the important information. And so reverting back to email was what we had to do for the most part.
Noelle Tassey 26:22
That's really, really interesting.
Dan Manian 26:27
I would say not much has actually changed on our end from a customer communication standpoint. It's— with large customers, it's Zoom, email, sometimes a shared Slack channel. We have over 10,000 organizations that use Donut, so most of those organizations, it's through our, you know, our website chat or support. So all those tools have stayed the same.
Noelle Tassey 26:57
Very cool. I also realized I'd be remiss if I didn't mention another solution we started using since we went remote, which is, we start using another food-themed Slack plugin called Taco to celebrate, you know, little wins. Because you just don't get the same like— you don't see everyone's progresses clearly when you're not all in one room. So that's been really, really helpful for our team as well in just keeping morale up. I don't know what to do for whoever is the leader on the Tacos, so you know, if anyone has any bright ideas, like— I get the report, I'm like, cool. maybe buy everyone some tacos, I don't know. Awesome. So I'm curious, you know, one thing I want to make sure we touch on, because we're now in like, the fourth month of this and people are having to make new hires is, have you onboarded any new hires during quarantine? How have you handled that? You know, and what have been some surprising challenges or potential benefits? This is another area where I could just see Donut just being so helpful. You're not just getting like, parachuted in. And never like you're acting with half the team, but yeah.
Dan Manian 28:08
Yeah. So we have added some new folks to the team. So we now have people on the team that I've never met in person. And we have some more starting. So this is something that— we also have a product that we have a component of our tool that helps specifically with connecting new hires. I think like Colleen said, being remote sort of forces you to formalize some of the things that probably would have been good to do anyway, but now you like really have to do them. I think one of the things in a regular onboarding process that's really taken for granted is your new hire is going to meet a lot of people on Day One. They're gonna meet their manager, hopefully, you're running some sort of a buddy or mentor program, they're gonna meet them, but those two people are probably going to introduce them to a bunch of people they know, or walk them around the office or have some ritual for introducing them in person, or go to lunch with five people. All of that just like evaporates, right? So you— if you don't think about it, your risk with the new hire talks to their manager and their buddy, maybe that's it, maybe one other person on their team if they have a meeting with them, but now you're actually relying on structured meetings for people to get introduced to people versus much more social, informal things. So we've done a variety of things. You know, we have a weekly team lunch, like I said, and we iterate on that format, but they get thrown into that, which puts a face to the name for everybody. They get involved with our regular Donut channels, meeting everybody, but we also have a way of constructing kind of an onboarding journey where a new hire is deliberately connected with a buddy on a certain day, connected with somebody else maybe in Week Two to help them with something, maybe connected with somebody to shadow or help them get up to speed on something. So we've been getting really deliberate about how we lay that out; when they should be introduced to different both learning topics, but people and ideally overlay them with each other and make those things kind of happen in harmony.
Colleen Ruggiero 30:18
Yeah, we've had to apply a similar structure except what I— one of our missteps, and it has its good and bad sides to it, but we actually moved a lot of our what was in-person trainings to Lessonly. So we've made everything kind of self-led. You take yourself and you choose your adventure through your onboarding process, and we realize like Oh, crap, they're not going to meet anybody. Now that they're fully remote, they're getting mailed their laptop, we're provisioning it remotely because we have Electric for Electric, and it's very possible that they wouldn't meet a single soul for, you know, aside from our HR team for— and our manager, for a few days. And so we had to pair our newest hire with a buddy, but that person kind of guided them through those shadowing sessions, the meeting with the different department heads, meeting with you know, different subject matter experts in different topics to guide them. Because once we started talking about her coming on board, I was like, this is gonna be terrible. She's gonna be sitting in her house alone, not knowing anyone or anything, and losing that human interaction. What was interesting too, is we were talking before— I actually started at Electric four days before we went fully remote. So part of my onboarding was remote. And it was isolated. And it was kind of dark at times just sitting there kind of reading through documentation. And so we had to kind of bring it back to that personal element really quickly.
Noelle Tassey 31:48
Dan Manian 31:49
Noelle Tassey 31:49
Wow, four days?
Colleen Ruggiero 31:52
Noelle Tassey 31:52
Dan Manian 31:54
I think what you said about it being isolating is what's interesting is that's something we would hear from new hires even in person, right? That like, there's those moments where it's like, it's Day Three, and it's like, what should I be doing right now? Like I'm sitting here, like kind of waiting for the next thing. So now just like ratchet that up. When you're at home, you're like, sitting at your home desk or couch if you don't have a desk, and it's like, what am I supposed to be doing? So I think being even more deliberate about making sure people know what they're supposed to be doing and having clear agendas. And then I think another thing just like really simple things. In my career, there have definitely been times when you get a really eager new hire, and it's six o'clock on the first day, and I walk over to them and like, "Hey, it's your first day. You can go home now. Like you can take—" How do you do that when they're remote? Like, what does it mean to go home, and how do you make sure folks are like. pacing and shutting themselves, you know, giving themselves some space because you can't see those things like you used to be able to see them,
Noelle Tassey 32:56
Right, like, you don't have to keep moving your finger to stay green on Slack, it's fine.
Dan Manian 33:01
Noelle Tassey 33:04
That's actually been interesting, you know, just as a behavioral thing, I don't know if you guys have seen like— I have some friends who work at like, companies where Microsoft Teams or Skype are like the main chat solutions, and there's this like real pressure to always have the green dot. And I feel like some of the people I know who work at organizations that use Slack don't seem to have that pressure. Just— that's just kind of been an interesting part of this because you can obviously see who's at their desks at all times. Cool. I'm also curious— have you guys like— what are you using for project management right now? Just speaking of tech. I'm sure you both have a project management solution that you're using. And has that held up well to the transition to remote?
Dan Manian 33:54
Yeah, for us that hasn't changed much. So, we use JIRA for our product design teams. That keeps doing what it's supposed to do. We also have, you know, loads of spreadsheets and tools and things like that. And that's all basically unchanged.
Noelle Tassey 34:12
Google Sheets, the proliferation of Google Sheets within any organization is— it's always incredible. Yeah.
Colleen Ruggiero 34:19
Yeah, engineering is using JIRA. And then we actually, as we started to formalize things due to COVID and just coming on board, we moved all of the desk on to Asana.
Noelle Tassey 34:33
Okay, very cool. So I want to shift gears a little bit as we're kind of entering the final quarter of our conversation and just talk a little bit about some of the challenges that we've all faced since going remote. And you know, how we're navigating that, either like within our teams or with the tech solutions that we've implemented. I think that this whole situation has been so challenging and unprecedented for all of us. And— 'cause I mean, Colleen, like I was— I was named CEO of Alley the day before we shut down. So it's not quite being hired four days before going remote, but it was certainly like jarring and not exactly how you expect to spend like your first full day on the job. But then since then we've kind of been bouncing from like response to response. And something that we talked about a little bit in our prep call was social justice, diversity, inclusion, how to facilitate that in a remote distributed workspace. Whether that's within your team or whether that's initiatives that you're working on for your clients. I know you're both— this is something you're both looking at. You're both working on in different ways. So I'd just love to hear about that. Dan, I know you're actually launching a tool around this, correct?
Dan Manian 35:52
Yeah. We have a number of different ways that folks are actually leveraging our tools today to kind of launch different programs focused on diversity, equity, and inclusion. I will give you one thing that we're doing, and then something that customers are using Donut to do. We were— actually before George Floyd kind of kicked off the current movement, we were already running a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion Program, where every week we, as a team, all participate in what we call a mini-action, which is— could be watching a YouTube talk, could be listening to a podcast, it could be all— you know, implementing one when new practice for hiring, could be tapping our networks for a diverse set of candidates. What we've added to that, and has been a great addition, is using Donut to then, when we've all done our mini-action, to match us up into trios to have a 30-minute conversation about what we learned or what our takeaway was, or what we're gonna put into practice. So there have been some really good conversations around how people with more privilege like myself can lend my privilege, and building some common vocabulary, and helping each other, putting those things into practice. So that's something we're doing. We have a customer that is a large public company, who is running an inclusivity training workshop for their entire organization. They're actually using an organization called Life Labs Learning, which some of you may be familiar with. They run all sorts of great leadership and inclusivity training programs. So they're putting literally thousands of people through this program, a few hundred every week, but then following up on those trainings, Donut is sending 12 weeks of follow-up with nudges, reminders, introductions for discussion groups, to reinforce those behaviors of inclusivity that were delivered in one training session. So I think this idea that it's not just about that singular learning moment, there needs to be reinforcement. And really importantly, there needs to be dialogue. Because there— you have to be listening to each other and hearing different people's perspectives because we're all experiencing this from a different angle and have different things to work on.
Colleen Ruggiero 38:38
Yeah, and I mentioned it earlier, but one of the things that I was really proud about having come out of this period of time is we had our first ERG be developed at Electric, which is called the Black Bolts. And my team, in particular, the service desk, is an incredibly diverse team. And they actually are the spearheads of that ERG. And as all this happened, like, we're located In New York, I think it was really important from my perspective to learn from them and to partner with them as much as possible and give them the tools to do the things that they wanted to in the organization. And so we worked really closely with our, our outsource partner to staff up so that people could attend, attend protests could go to the March on Washington can go and do things that they felt contributed to their community and not feel like work was a hindrance to that because, you know, either they were going to call out, or they were going to feel like their company was supporting them. And so we said, "go do the things you need to like, please, that's—" you know, and, you know, being alongside them and supporting them was really fantastic. And then, you know, Electric hosted a lot of really great conversations, similar to what Dan was talking about, and we're still having those conversations. And I think that's really important that it doesn't just fade in this last month of what's been going on. But now that this ERG exists, there's standing meetings that are hosted by members of the task, and we have a lot of executive sponsorships that's kind of funding the initiatives that they have going on. So I feel like, you know, a lot has come out that's brought about voice to the people who didn't really feel like they had one at Electric, previously.
Noelle Tassey 40:18
That's really, really cool. We've also launched our first ERG during this time, or are launching it, in the process. We've had a lot going on at Alley in trying to get that right. But it's definitely been interesting trying to coordinate something like that remotely when, you know, ideally, you want to be able to facilitate those conversations, those events face-to-face. But that's very, very cool. I want to make sure we have some time to address some audience questions. So we got a question from Mera, I hope I'm saying that right, about AR/VR. So kind of like totally jumping topics, but wondering if anyone's using those types of tools to help bridge, you know, the gap on a more in-person experience. And this has come up with us a lot actually, like, we have somebody on the other week who was saying that they were using haptic suits, which I mean, we're obviously not, I would— if you guys are, I'd be shocked and like very, very intrigued as to why. But they were kind of meeting in an alt space in their haptic suits, and they were basically saying you could tell exactly which colleague was which just based on their body language before you could see any avatar or any detail. And I just thought that was so interesting, 'cause, of course, you can, you don't even realize you're picking up on that. But just wonder if you guys have explored that at all. It's something we're actively exploring and if so, what solutions are you looking at?
Dan Manian 41:45
I'm, unfortunately, a no on that one.
Colleen Ruggiero 41:48
Yeah, no, that sounds awesome, though.
Dan Manian 41:51
Yeah, yeah. We'll check it out.
Noelle Tassey 41:53
Yeah, it's a real like, Ready Player One situation. We're going to be trying to host some panels in an alt space over the coming months. So we'll definitely keep everyone in the loop on how that's going. Hopefully, it goes well, and everyone who's on this call can be there. Terrific. So I think lastly— well, actually not lastly, but what's the number one thing that you wish you'd had in place just before the shift to remote?
Colleen Ruggiero 42:29
I wish I had more team stand-ups. So we didn't have that many standing meetings with the team just to check in and see how everyone was doing. And so at first, when we rolled them out, it was somewhat jarring to people of you know, I— trying to coordinate, get everybody on the same page and get them into a meeting room was kind of foreign to them. And so I wish that that had been established previously. But now that we have them in place, it's so beneficial to just level set and make sure that people feel supported. But that's it— at the beginning, it was scary thinking that maybe this wasn't going to work.
Noelle Tassey 43:05
Yeah, for sure. And if anyone's got a solution to how to get like, 20 people on a Zoom call at like— within two minutes of the Zoom call start time. I would also— I would love to know because we tried doing like the stand-ups and all-hands and ended up with too many of the meetings, and then the first 5, 10 minutes is burned by like, "Has anyone heard from such and such?" It's like really herding cats digitally. Dan?
Dan Manian 43:33
So, I will both reinforce the stand up one. We— our product design engineering team was already doing daily stand-ups, I would say they became even more important. Our customer-facing teams now do a daily stand up religiously as well, and I think that's really important for them. We frequently make a little time in both of them for a little social banter. I think they used to be a little bit more all business. But now that there is no more kind of free-flowing office time. We, you know, let them go a little five minutes longer to get that in there. Now, to— but to go the other direction, I think the one thing I wish we had in place when we went remote that we didn't, that we do now, is I think there are these competing forces of isolation, which we've talked a lot about, but also just like Zoom fatigue, and like, I'm constantly in Zooms. So it's like, one is the solution or problem— So we've actually now denoted Thursdays as no internal meeting days. And that has like, been a huge relief for a lot of people on the team, where it's like, now I know I at least have Thursday to just like, do some like, really deep work. And customer-facing roles, of course, they can do— that's at their discretion. But we've just sort of like cleared the deck from internal meetings for one day a week. And that's actually made quite a difference for people.
Noelle Tassey 45:09
That's awesome. And that's actually worked?
Dan Manian 45:11
Yeah, yeah. We still do the stand-ups. So like, those like 10, 15-minute touch points in the morning, we still do those just to keep a little human interaction. And people can hop on a Zoom for five minutes, right? If they're like, talk— discussing something in Slack, it's not like, don't talk to people. It's just, you can't fill people's calendars—
Noelle Tassey 45:32
— Yeah— recurring meeting. We went through a phase where we had a no meetings policy. I think it was Monday and we switched it to Friday. Somehow the meetings seem to come back and I think the isolation thing, it is— it does merit I think further conversation because it's like you said, you're kind of— it's a rock and a hard place. You're either feeling lonely and cut off from your peers or your like if I get on another Zoom, I don't even know, I don't have it in me. So that's definitely been really tough. And it's also hard because so many conversations it's just really hard to have without the video— without the video element. So do you have any other solves for that? For like the Zoom fatigue or burnout? I've not found a solution to this, personally, that like, I find to be satisfactory, and I'm on these all day, back to back to back, and aside from going outside and just sitting in the sun for five minutes, I've got nothing.
Dan Manian 46:33
Yeah, I mean, for us, it's just that day off. We also are running an experiment in July where we're taking every other Friday off. So every other week is a four-day workweek. That was like— that's partly addressing the burnout. Like it's just like— people were working more hours like, it's partly you're at home, so when do I turn off? It's also partly I'm stuck at home, so what else am I going to do? So I don't think we're running a perfect work from home experiment right now because the rest of life is so constrained. So when we go back to a new normal, I think we'll all figure out what's going to be different than life right now. But for right now, yeah, just like the burnout and overexertion, we just decided to every other week, take—
Noelle Tassey 47:26
We've been, I think, kind of informally doing that as well.
Colleen Ruggiero 47:30
Yeah, I think one of the things that we're trying to do is, you know, we're not in the perfect place yet either, is trying to figure out— trying to not have a meeting for meeting's sake. So, myself personally, I have an eight-month-old daughter and there's some times I'm like, I am not attending this if I don't need to because she's crawling and she's climbing and I have to wrangle her and I'm like, is this worth me having to put her someplace else or pass her to my husband? And if the answer's no, then we shouldn't have this. So it's really about setting those sort of boundaries as well, which I think has been challenging because I'm used to being the person who always is just on top of those things, but sometimes just saying, "this isn't going to happen. Is this really worth it? Can you email me about it?" Because people just need to understand it. So I think creating an environment where people not only from leadership but from the individual contributor level feel that they can say that of "Listen, this is my only block to have lunch. Can I just skip out on this meeting?" Or, "Hey, my child needs to be fed." Just being transparent about that has been really helpful.
Noelle Tassey 48:37
Yeah, definitely. And it sort of speaks to that breakdown of, once again, the personal/professional divide that used to exist.
Colleen Ruggiero 48:44
Noelle Tassey 48:46
It's definitely an interesting time. So, when you guys return to work, do you see your full team going back to the office?
Colleen Ruggiero 48:57
No, no, I don't see that happening anytime— I mean, you know, we're talking about—
Noelle Tassey 49:03
Nine to five, you know, five days a week?
Colleen Ruggiero 49:06
Yeah, no, I don't see it. A lot of the people are happier at home in spite of, you know, the physical distance. People have really long commutes, people like being alone, so I don't see that being the case.
Noelle Tassey 49:25
Dan Manian 49:26
You know, we're not gonna open an office anytime soon. But even when we do, we've already hired multiple people outside of New York, which is where we were based. Now we're just based on Slack or anywhere, or however you want to say it. So I think we will continue to support remote work. I think hybrid arrangements where there is an office but people are also remote are frankly harder than all remote. You have such an uneven playing field. However, I think lots and lots of organizations are going to end up there because I think supporting some form of work from home flexibility and remote work is just going to be inevitable from a talent acquisition/retention standpoint. But I also think if you're a large organization, there's still gonna be a lot of people that want an office. So that may also be inevitable. So, we'll— once we get to that reality, we can do a panel on how in the world to make hybrid work environments work.
Noelle Tassey 50:29
Yes, I would personally love to do that because I think that's exactly what we're moving towards is, you know, we were— well, we were hybrid before, we were distributed. So you'd have like two people in DC, two people in Boston, two people in Palo Alto, two people in Florida, whatever, and then you'd have like 25 people in New York. And that didn't work very well in terms of like, building a culture where everybody actually was aligned and had their voice heard. So we're never going to go back to that kind of like, overwhelming imbalance. But at some point, you know, some of our New York employees will want to go back into the office, we'll still have, you know, two people in those other cities and how are they going to kind of— how are those connections going to work? How often you really need to be in the office together in like subgroups and just figuring that out. But it's not on the immediate horizon for us. So thank God for Slack and Zoom. Really save the day. Awesome. Well, I want to be respectful of time. I know that we are nearing the end of the hour. But thank you so much, Dan and Colleen, for joining us and spending an hour to talk, sharing your insights. It's been a pleasure, I've learned a ton. Thank you so much to all of our attendees today. If you'd like to share this with your community, it's been recorded, and we'll be sending out a follow-up email with more information and any resources from the chat shortly thereafter. So, thank you all so much again. It's been wonderful chatting with you.
Colleen Ruggiero 52:10
Dan Manian 52:11
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