Webinar report: Creating a common culture across 12 different time zones
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37 mins read
Fri, Oct 9, '20
Miro’s head of people AJ Josephson joined us for an online fireside chat to discuss the intersections between HR and Internal Comms, the challenges that hyper growth presents to culture, and the practical tips that we shared around novel ways to engage people remotely.
AJ had been at Miro for 18 months and is responsible for the implementation of a strong shared culture. The company grew from 230 to 460 people in the span of a year, so this wasn't a small challenge!
Watch the recording or read on below to find tips on developing an intercultural understanding, how to find values that resonate with an entire company, cohesive onboarding and many more.
Jonathan Davies: Hi everyone, good morning, good afternoon, depending on which time zone you're in. AJ you're in San Francisco so it's morning for you, isn't it?
AJ Josephson: Probably the earliest.
Jonathan Davies: Absolutely. To everybody coming in, I will be repeating this throughout the webinar: if you've ever joined one of our fireside chats or webinars, you know, that I rant this all the time, chat is opened during the entire fireside chat. I encourage everybody to talk and react to each other. We always have some lovely knowledge sharing going on, definitely engage with each other and with AJ, and myself. We also have a separate Q&A section, which is where you can ask your questions.
Now, as always, this session is meant to be completely interactive. I ask two opening questions, just to set the mood a little, because it's fireside chat after all. After that, it's all up to you. Any burning questions that you have about HR at one of the world's fastest growing companies right now, well, AJ is going to be your man.
AJ Josephson: Definitely, excited for this chat and looking forward to the questions. Anything I can share about Miro's crazy last 12 months, the good, the bad, and definitely the ugly, more than happy to share here.
Jonathan Davies: Nice. Great opportunity here to talk very openly about the human side of business and culture, and how that meets organizational ends during some crazy times with scale. Miro just got their series B financing of $50 million in April, if I'm correct?
AJ Josephson: Yes exactly.
Jonathan Davies: That's a big injection to grow from. How many people are you now AJ?
AJ Josephson: We are 460 right now. On February 1st, versus when we started a year ago, we were 240. We've pretty much doubled for the year already, and we haven't started Q4 yet. It's been a crazy time to have that kind of growth going through COVID, being around the world. It's been really rewarding, but it's been a tough year to be the head of HR.
Jonathan Davies: Amazing. That's massive growth right there. To everyone, in case you're wondering why I haven't introduced AJ yet, we're letting everybody dribble in slowly, my experience is that the first five minutes people are still joining.
We're just going to give it another two minutes and then we'll kickstart the actual program for this evening. In the meantime, we're just going to engage in some lovely small talk, again, feel free to join in on the chat. We're happy to do something there. I'd love to hear where you all are from, very curious about the countries and the continents that are being represented today. Let us know in the chat, please.
AJ what's it like in San Francisco right now, because in Amsterdam it's turning into sweater weather.
AJ Josephson: San Francisco is always perpetually between early spring and late fall, that’s the range. It's always jacket and jeans, but actually this kind of year is quite nice, except we've had the largest forest fires in California history. We literally couldn't go outside. We had COVID plus intoxicating smoke and you really felt locked in.
Here we go, look at the group: we have London, people from Bernardo, I've been to Bernardo. And Czech Republic - great beer, great city. Harrison, Portugal, also wonderful Cape Town. I love Cape town. Toronto, great city. Nice!
Jonathan Davies: We've got Russia, Veronica, hi, nice to see you again. We've got Nigeria representing. Awesome, Brooklyn's a very specific part of New York. It's good that you mentioned that it's specifically Brooklyn.
AJ Josephson: Tallinn in Estonia. I love Tallinn, what a beautiful old town. There's Moscow in Russia - you've probably heard of Miro before. Vienna - gorgeous! Colorado, Stockholm. Oh, BedStuy! Excellent.
Jonathan Davies: Alright, we've got an incredible international audience here today and it's my prerogative to open this entire session. First off, welcome everyone. It's lovely to see that you're all joining us again. We've had so much overwhelmingly positive response to us organizing this fireside chat with AJ.
I'm extremely excited to get this going. A couple of household notes: this webinar will last an hour. We will send the recording of the webinar to you, the lovely people that have been here. Also, the people that did not manage to attend in time. Of course I would encourage you to continue to attend simply because this webinar is 85% depending on your interaction.
So questions that you have around the theme of this webinar, which is creating a common culture across 12 different time zones, questions that you have about HR and fast growing companies, about HR in general, about Internal Communications and its place in it, any and all of the above, everything that you think is relevant.
Don't be shy. Ask your questions in Zoom's Q&A function. In the meantime, we also have a chat going on. Please use the chat to engage with us and each other. If you want to ask a quick follow up question because I'm rambling on and I've completely lost my direction, which happens sometimes then please go ahead, share articles on any and all of those lovely things above.
I'm going to stop talking for a second because right now we've got an amazing guest who is in an incredibly, incredibly busy period of his career and stage of his company. Ladies and gentlemen, please join me in welcoming AJ Josephson to our fireside chat for the first time. AJ is from Miro, and he's going to introduce himself to you right now.
AJ, the floor is yours.
AJ Josephson: Thanks for having me Jonathan, and this is the first panel I've done since I joined Miro. I've literally been heads down. I also haven't had a haircut in six months, and I think you and I have the only acceptable haircuts, either nothing or very shaggy.
It's great to be here and to share and kind of pull up for air a little bit. I'm hoping I can share with the group some real answers about what it's really like. I don't want to give you just spin. Although I know there's a lot of Comms people here who can advise me on how to communicate better, so I’m open to feedback, but I want to give you some real answers, let you know what we've tried to do, what the big lessons learned are, what I wish I knew a year ago. Maybe some of the things that the Miro team has done well, that maybe people want to emulate.
Before going to these details, let me give a quick introduction to myself and Miro. Before what – why Miro? Everyone feels the pain of being distributed and working from home, and the challenges of keeping informed decision making, getting on the same page, creating together.
That's really the challenge that Miro grew out of. We're a key part of the remote tool stack. Generally my day is filled with meetings with Zoom plus Miro plus Slack. That's our real toolkit. Miro fills that online collaborative, white boarding sign. It's like a launched shared document or infinite canvas on which you can put any ideas, frameworks, other documents for ideation, decision-making planning, product development, agile workflows, that whole thing.
We're lucky to have the important challenge of being a big part of what's happening in the world right now, which is helping people stay connected, giving literally millions of people a little sense of normality in how they're working, and even the job security that comes with that.
Being able to create across systems. My background super quickly: I spent about 15 years in a bunch of sectors, finance consulting, nonprofit, learning and development, learning design, organizational design roles. I've spent about eight years in Silicon Valley. I was the head of HR for a startup that was acquired by Salesforce.
Then I moved to Miro 18 months ago, we were 160 people and now we're 460 people. It's been a lot of growth, in a year from now we're going to be more than a thousand. We're growing rapidly. The need we're serving is escalating tremendously. It was already tripling and doubling and this year will be a lot more than that.
It's real hyper-growth and all the challenges that come with that. It's luckily helping a lot of people around the world in this time of need and challenge. It's a really complex time to be the head of HR, with COVID, with hyper growth and remote work coming together, it's been a really interesting period.
Jonathan Davies: Amazing. First off, thank you for also wanting to be very open about talking about all of the things you've learned, and the things that you want to do differently. I'm definitely looking forward to touching upon that. I know we talked a little bit about it, so that's going to be a fun topic to discover, but I think first, we need to set the stage a little bit, because we already said this webinar is about creating a common goal culture across 12 different time zones.
I'm going to ask you the first question, which for me is where do you even begin creating a common culture when you have so many different time zones, locations, people from all walks of life going on.
AJ Josephson: Definitely one of the big challenges, and I think my view is really informed by when I spent a lot of my twenties in a youth development organization called AIESEC.
That was all about developing intercultural understanding amongst young leaders and basically what that was doing with exchange programs and live conferences was having people from around the world sharing their worldviews, and educating each other. It kind of taught me that culture is real and people see the world really differently.
I think that's important when you think about creating a common culture across 12 time zones, which is across multiple continents, it's really important to remember that people see the world differently and come from different perspectives. So, firstly, do you want to actually create a culture that respects and includes people from different cultures?
Or, do you want to create a culture in one place and implement that around the world? I don't think one's bad or good, but it's a different strategy. A lot of tech companies are really California companies. I live in the Bay area, again I've worked for them beforehand, Salesforce, Dropbox, great examples.
They have a strong culture that is really rooted in California, and then they articulate that and export it around the world and they train people on that kind of paradigm and values. For us, we're a third in the US, we've got a hundred people in Amsterdam. We're a half in Russia right now.
We have people with lots of different ways of relating social identities, political beliefs, values. What we chose to do is to be global in the sense of recognizing that diversity and including all those perspectives. And then create a culture to help make people be able to collaborate effectively across those differences.
We have very specific values and very specific collaborative norms, that help people know how to interact even if you're talking to people who've never been to each other's countries, even if you're talking to people, who've never met someone from Russia or the US before, they can still connect and collaborate effectively in Miro.
It's kind of twofold, one: acknowledging and including diversity, and then being really clear on what we do here. The second part of it is creating a culture, and I really would even change that to co-creating a culture. I don't think you can be effective by just boiling up a culture and then exporting it around the world.
I think some examples of that were Salesforce culture. Super strong, right? Really thematic, strong identity and values, very Californian, but when, and they exported it to Tokyo or France, it really did not make sense to the employees there. They weren't really involved in co-creating it. At least when I was there, they may have adapted now.
And I really think all employees need to feel like they're not on a cultural ride that's taken them places, but they are co-creating the culture. What we do is we've invested a lot of time in that co-creation activity, bringing people together from around the world, even virtually, to talk about the values, to talk about how we can be more aligned on them, to talk about where we want to be going, what the vision looks like.
To really have discussions on what collaboration means to them and helping them feel like they're agents of the culture and not just on that kind of ride.
Jonathan Davies: There must have been a lot of challenges there. I know I had another question for you prepared, but this was the first thing that came to my mind.
When you talk about starting with diversity and collaboratively, essentially creating a culture and then exporting it, that means that your immediate leadership, founders of the company, which is still very much an extremely strong presence in the stage of company that you're in right now, they must be really open to being extremely flexible culturally, right? How do you help them facilitate and see that that's really important?
AJ Josephson: I think one of the reasons that I joined Miro, and I would join any company is you've got a founding team who are very focused on people and culture, right?
It's hard to be the head of HR for a company that doesn't really care about people and culture. If you already have the CEO on board, and the founding team on board, then you can do amazing things together. My job is really to help scale their ambition. Now from building a great culture in a small team to how do we scale that around the world?
Let parts of it change and adapt, and localize, but still be powerful around what's most important. It's really about helping them see what's most important. What kind of collaborative norms and values are critical, that we need to have a common sense of. Then what can we let localize and change and be different around the world?
Do we have to have one model of social events everywhere? Do we have to have one model of hub culture everywhere? Our answer is no, we want to allow it differentiation and customization. But, we want to be very clear on what is common, and that's where the value and collaborative norms come in. It's kind of like a two speed gear here.
That's how we've done it so far. We've been very lucky with the leadership's investment in this. Our CEO is not American, he’s coming from quite a different perspective. He’s a bit more open to a world where there's a lot more diversity.
Whereas if you are coming out of just California, it kind of seems like the internet is American. You know what I mean? That's obviously not the case. There's a huge amount of diversity. I think he started with a bit more of an appreciation of multiculturalism.
Jonathan Davies: That's really awesome. I want to touch a little bit more on cultural diversity. I've got the feeling that there are going to be a lot of people that will do the same, especially later on.
We've already got two questions coming in. Just a friendly reminder to everybody else, we have the Q&A section right there. Please use that to ask your questions and anything that you want to know from AJ and myself or a combination of both, whichever you prefer.
AJ, there's one more question that I want to ask you, and after that it's the audience. It's all yours. I promise you. One of the cool things about doing a fireside chat at this time of a year, is that a lot of people are collecting data from, for example, surveys that they've done. Now, Miro is known to be a very data driven company, quite progressive in the way that you survey people. You mentioned that you've just had the results of your engagement survey. I really want to know, especially now that we're in the last quarter of the year, what has been working for you well over the course of this year? What will you be taking into 2021 and what will you not be taking into 21? What could have maybe gone a little bit better?
AJ Josephson: We did just close out, we do an engagement survey every six months and we have a number of factors that we assess on, and we track over time. We try to keep them pretty narrow. We're not looking for 50 factors. We're looking for like 12 factors.
We can really see if there's a shift in them. I think when we look over this data, we see some highlights - nearly everyone in the company feels proud that they're part of Miro, which is wonderful. They feel a strong identity, our scores around job satisfaction, around sense of inclusion, around expectations, around their manager, are all very strong and they're kind of key measures that I'd be tracking. If we dipped on those things, I'd be very concerned, and would jump in. The way we use this data is, we get it, we report back to the team, and we say “hey, here's a bunch of themes that people are asking to change”. And they're saying, “Hey, we're interpreting this as if we change X, I'd be even more engaged.”
Then we invite employees to discuss those areas, so that every team gets together and discusses their own team engagement scores. Then we have cross-company teams coming together to discuss these different themes. If people identify career progress as a pain point, then we'll have a team discussing that. Also having our employee resource groups, for different minorities and underrepresented groups come together to discuss their perspective on this data set.
That's how we kind of deal with it. On the development side, I'd say that if I ever saw these scores around stress, people's sense of their stress level being manageable, or even there "when I get up in the morning, I look forward to going to work". I would be pulling five alarms, but, given this year, we're truly in hypergrowth. I don't think there is a hyper growth company where people don't feel stressed. The idea of being in hyper-growth, things are continually breaking, and you bring in more people, and people sense we're still super under-resourced. It's true because you're really maxing out different parts of the organization.
When you add more resources, at one point, it shifts the breaking point to another point. Stress levels are way higher than what I would like. What have we done about that? We've provided monthly stipends. We give everybody roughly around $250 a month to make their lives easier and they can spend that on, getting meals delivered, cleaning services or childminding services, basically whatever they need to kind of ease the pressure of this time, given we're asking so much. We also provide online therapy services differentiated around the world for people who are really in acute stress. We provide a bunch of different social events, in hubs, virtually across hubs to people to connect to make sure people feel like they're part of a community, and we try to provide great managers. I thought the scores say we're employing these kinds of managers. So I'm excited to get groups together of people who want us to do more on that and say: what else can we add to our wellness agenda here?
But they are definitely troubling areas and I'm hoping we won't bring them into the new year. Hopefully we can keep bringing hyper-growth into the new year, but hopefully we can get through this messy middle of growth, where we're really building out truly scalable structures. I think when we're around a thousand people, we're going to have strong resources in every area, and even though there'll be demands, they won't be as many demands for generalists, really being a bit of a washing machine.
Jonathan Davies: It's kind of like that idea that if something is temporary, then that makes it a bit more bearable, because there’s that light at the end of the tunnel. But it sounds in the meantime that you're doing a good job at helping people bear with being in the tunnel at the moment, right? Those online therapy sessions, a great example for people that are very stressed.
Carla asks a question related to what you were just talking about for the survey. She wants to know if you can give examples of the engagement factors that you track.
AJ Josephson: We use a tool called Lattice. Lattice is a tool for engagement surveys and does a bunch of other stuff. It plugs into Slack well, which is why we use it because we're a Slack based company, Slack and Miro together. The questions we pull out of there are basically job satisfaction, pride in telling other people in the company that their unique skills and talents are valued, that their opinion seems to count, that the mission and purpose is important to them.
They can be themselves at work. They know what's expected of them. They would recommend their managers to others. They have the tools and resources for their job. Their stress level is manageable, but they can see themselves growing and developing, their career at the company. They look forward to going to work in the morning, which I think is a big bar, I think especially for the Russian team who work really late.
I think the idea of getting up in the morning and looking forward to going to work, is not super exciting for them right now. Maybe on the West coast, it's better. Or maybe not. If you have meetings starting at 7:00 AM, getting collaboration that you need to be productive from your team and, believing that the Miro core values describe how we really do things around here.
And that last one is really important. I think something that we can keep focusing on is better embedded values alignment. It's important that people feel like the stated values are in practice. Now they're always going to be aspirational. I kind of positioned them as the values are our selves at our best. There's always gonna be a little tension, but we want to be aware of that tension, so we can keep making improvements to align better and better around those values.
Jonathan Davies: I think that's also very much key from the HR perspective, don't be afraid of a little friction. It does make those values very much evolve. Are there things that you've already seen because you must've had 18 months ago and you just started, you must have had a set of values. Maybe the interpretation changed a little bit. Maybe the entire thing changed a little bit. Do you have any examples of that type of evolution?
AJ Josephson: Actually,we've been meeting every year as a company for a week, together and bringing together the whole team because we distributed around the world, bringing together the whole team, in a founding city, in Russia so far.
And who knows what will be as we get bigger. I think we've committed to the team to meet by the sea next time, because it's been such a year of hyper-growth and people are going to be so looking forward just to seeing each other and hugging, connecting, and meeting people they have never met before in person.
We've committed to meeting by the seaside somewhere, but we've been meeting for a week together and doing a lot of bonding and planning. This year that was impossible. We decided to meet online. And we did a week long conference and given that we have a 12 hours time difference between our most remote offices, we narrowed that down to three hours, synchronous time, and then a bunch of asynchronous work and social events in hubs. One of the key things we did in that synchronous time was we explored the values and we looked at which values are memorable, which values are useful, which values do we have alignment with and what do they even mean because some of our value segments would have really different interpretations, and we had a bunch of discussions about those things and started to prioritize what concepts did the values represent, and are most important to people. And then we took that data and we started to rework the values and we're coming up with the second integration for one of those value statements and making sure that they're highly relevant for our future, that they're memorable. We can all remember what they are, because if you can't remember them, how can you use them?
Then they're getting useful to inform decision making, hiring, addressing problems and trade-offs, which is what values need to do. We definitely use that kind of co-created impulse and a lot of virtual connections. We had a lot of Miro boards. We had a lot of breakout groups discussing, to come up with these, next iterations of the value statements.
Jonathan Davies: That sounds pretty awesome. Actually, I'm going to share that amazing blog post that you wrote about the virtual offsite that you organized because that actually relates to a couple of questions that we've now been getting from Veronica, around how to kind of keep people entertained during these crazy remote times.
Read that blog post because there was a find the murderer within your company section, some of the things that you've done during the virtual offsite, a couple of other online puzzles that you've all done together and some really fun and novel ways for people to interact with each other that I've actually, I've not seen before. I've been in touch with quite a few Internal Communicators about all the things that they've been running now. One of the coolest tips I've heard was, there's this website, and I forget the name, but you can enlist a celebrity to do a shoutout to everybody. That's a great way to get those things going, but definitely for some more tips, and much more successful because Miro knows what works, check out that blog post for the virtual offsite. Layley yes, you're right. That site that I was referring to is called Cameo. Now speaking on the topic of keeping people entertained or engaged, in times where we can't be physically close to each other, Veronica says, please, could you share any tips on how can we support employees during this long pandemic mode and remote work times, et cetera, we have already done online coffee and cocktails, and running challenges together or running challenges together with Nike, online yoga. We're searching for new ideas and inspiration. AJ do you have some tips to share outside of the ones that are in the blog post and what I just rambled on about?
AJ Josephson: We have a really creative team who are iterating on this model. My favorite thing we've done is like office speed dating. Getting everyone together and doing five or seven minute chats in little groups, and we give them a bunch of cards to play with, with questions on them.
People really value that because there's so many new people, they don't know each other. there's none of that water cooler chat. Just tease people up to have those conversations and the question cards help make it deeper. There's a company called Cozy Juicy Real, which has made a board game on Miro, which is all about asking different questions. There are cozy questions, which are easier, juicy questions which are a bit more emotive. Then there's real talk questions, which is getting people to unpack something real about themselves. Those three levels allow people to control how much blending they want to do at that time.
It goes around in turns and that's been really nice, I've loved playing that game. It's really helped me learn a lot about employees. Even more importantly, have employees feel like I'm listening to them and understanding, and interested in their full experience. One thing I definitely noticed is in this hyper efficient world of Zoom meetings - we're talking about work all the time. We don't go for walks. We don't ask people where they're from, we don't ask them if they're cat people and dog people, and what that means about them, which is my favorite question that I ask in those little groups. Cozy Juicy Real questions and speed dating is my favorite.
However, I generally think that the key here is thinking of it as a program that you're gonna iterate with data. And what's the data you have? My teams are continually talking to employees about what kinds of things they like, we're looking at attendance levels for events. We're getting feedback on those events and we're kind of using that to steer us.
I'm always challenged to keep it fresh. Don't just keep doing stuff because you did it. Stop stuff that's not working. Just because it works for a while, doesn't mean it's going to always work. You have to be closely monitoring those elements so you can keep it fresh. I also think it's important to change up the scale.
It's great to have full company things, but if you only press the full company button, people get tired. You want to differentiate in office hubs or small groups. We've done things for 12 people who want to do a virtual cooking course for Italian food together. Great. Is it for everybody? No, but those people are going to love it and they're going to have a special connection. We've offered different things from Airbnb tours, to online trainings, which can help small groups, people connect. Some people love that kind of platform. Giving a range of sizes, and then a range of themes, from things that are totally not about work, to things that are a bit more personal, to things that are a bit more about reflecting on your experience and sharing at Miro.
There are lots of kinds of employees, lots of kinds of needs, and serving, trying to be creative in how you serve those different needs with data is kind of my key advice.
Jonathan Davies: I'm going to follow up on that, or add to that and say for any Internal Communicators, specifically listening now, one of the most important things that you can do when we're talking about an age of asynchronous communication, meaning largely digital, doesn't happen at the same time, it's categorize, compartmentalize the things that you're doing. AJ is absolutely right. You don't need to do everything for everyone, it's okay to create small groups based on common interests or based on common location or any and all of the above. Segmentation is pretty important and AJ just shared Cozy Juicy Real. The tool that he was talking about in the chat - definitely have a look at it. Already had a question about that from Shaista. I hope I'm pronouncing your name correctly. Definitely have a look there. Now actually related to that game, I've received a really interesting question from Diana. Diana says, “How does that game work with people from many different cultures? Are there any challenges when it comes to, for instance, in how direct the questions are?” I think this is delving into some of the diversity and inclusion topics that we're seeing pop up now.
AJ Josephson: There are definitely differences in how people feel comfortable sharing. I think any solution needs to provide the, the learning nerd word for this is scaffolding, different levels.
You can pick from people who want something a bit easier to answer for them, well actually, what I consider easy to answer is not easy to answer for everybody. Let people know, let people choose how deep they go. We'd have a principle of taking one step into your "out of your comfort zone" when you're sharing. Just one step, we don't want people to be pushed two or three steps out, but just challenge you. We don't want people to, just to be doing things that are super uncomfortable. The things that some of our Russian engineers are used to sharing, are very different from things that our US sales people are used to sharing at work in LA, right.
They're quite different cultures, but we want them both to take a step out of the comfort zone. Really giving that choice is important and providing multiple levels and letting people have the autonomy to pick how deep they go. But in general, people have really enjoyed them.
I think it is quite different for an onboarding. We want to get people onboard into our culture and one of our values is around creating trust and we have a lot of collaborative norms around creating trust and empathy across our teammates, key for us to work across distance and to move rapidly, our common goal, so onboarding people, it's important in that phase to get them used to some of these modes of interaction that are quite different when you join.
Some of these Russian engineers joining other companies would never have these kinds of discussions at work. It’s new. We've looked at how we can set expectations. Onboarding, but even pre-onboarding, even before you sign to kind of know the collaborative norms that we have at Miro.
It's important to build these relationships. It's important to be adaptable and communicate. It's important to respect different perspectives and ideas because we're a broad global organization. What that does is twofold. One, it helps set expectations really early, and people, when they join Miro, they're signing up to those expectations and for a small group of people who really don't want that, it's great for them to know early so they can not join the company. They're going to be happier and we're definitely happier to know that early on.
Jonathan Davies: Definitely. I think that setting expectations is probably the most important part when it comes to preventing cultural gaps and communicating about cultural gaps. If people know what they're in for, it becomes a lot easier. You'd be surprised to see how much, some people are willing to share. When I did Internal Comms, at a telecommunications and tech company, we had a large part of our company consisting of developers and some people stigmatize developers, and think that stereotypically they're very introverted, and all of that, actually, let me tell you nobody parties like a developer. That was amazing. We had so much fun with them. And that's also partially because we created a safe space for them. We set expectations in advance, so people knew what was going to happen and what it means to attend that event.
That type of clarity really helps people. Now I want to touch a little bit more on the diversity and inclusion aspects because somebody asks, and I'm going to try to find your question, and especially your name again, here we go. It was from Odette. Odette asks, how do you host virtual events and make them inclusive?
For example, Halloween and Christmas, that must definitely be a challenge that you're facing being in so many different locations.
AJ Josephson: The holiday period is different in Russia than it is in the US, so when Russian Orthodox Christmas is, and New Years, it's off the US by a couple of weeks.
I think we've just changed to a universal language and seasonal language. Then around Halloween and this kind of thing, we have it customized for hubs, so different hubs have different events, we're not trying to get one set of events for everywhere.
We want to be conscious of what's global, everywhere, and where the local customization is. I think on seasonal regional holidays, like Halloween, that's something that might feel clunky or kind of top down if we bring it everywhere.
We're mindful of diversity. We're asking ourselves the question: is this going to work in each of our hubs and cultures? Does it have to work for everybody? No. You need to kind of balance it out because there's a bit of a "we're a team, let's all flex a little bit out of comfort zone and try new things."
It's not the lowest common denominator, but we don't want things to be clunky. We want to do the right kind of, um, especially with seasonal seasonality and holidays. They're really important for people. We don't want to import one set of ideas from another. Particularly, we're a third in the US, so it's not that challenging on that specific topic.
Jonathan Davies: But that has to be pretty interesting though, because I have had people join Christmas before that have never had Christmas on the 25th and the 26th of December. For them it happens at a different time of the year. My wife for example, comes from Israel, so she doesn't even know what Christmas is, or she didn't know what Christmas was before she migrated to this country.
So are there things that you've noticed, when people join into those things that happen outside of their comfort zone, is there a certain type of magic that you've seen happen there?
Just to make that a little bit more concrete, by that I mean, do you see that this actually increases engagement, when people step out just that one step out of their comfort zone, do you feel like they're a little bit more engaged with both their companies and or with both their company and the rest of their colleagues?
AJ Josephson: There's an activation energy that you got to get over. You go to get over a hill, and then you arrive at a deeper level of engagement, but you first have to get much higher to come down to that. That can be challenging. I think onboarding is the right time to do that.
But when I look at people, who've been at Miro for a number of years, they love the fact it's different from the other employees and other employees that work for them. They're very proud that they've built a different kind of culture that is team first and intimate. That is in a very clear direction, and that isn't political.
It's not about people's egos, there's a no-bullshit culture. I think they find that's quite different from other environments, but you've got to bring people, some people are attracted by that immediately and for other people it's new and foreign. You've got to help them on that journey with expectations, onboarding some gentle experiences, to get them to that place where they start valuing what's different and not everyone's going to value it. If you don't value the cultural values, then maybe that's not the right company for you.
Jonathan Davies: I know that the type of company that Miro is, is in a stage of growth that you're in as well. That's not something that you can afford to be afraid of.
Do you think that other companies that maybe aren't in the tech space or not in hyper-growth right now, would you advise them just don't be afraid to make a miss-hire and try to help it happen? Because I've seen miss-hires turn into really great people. I've seen mis-hires more often than not, not completely fail. Do you think that every company should completely avoid those, be extremely black and white about this is who we are, this is what we stand for, this is what you can expect, join us if you see that this works with you and your personality, so that you can bring your whole self to this place.
AJ Josephson: I think it's a kind of two level answer again. On one level, you have to be careful. I really don't like seeing questions in interviews, would I want to have a beer with this person, would I want to be stuck in an airport with this person. If I was going to the South pole would I eat that person first or second. None of those things are relevant. They're not relevant because it's not about people you can just like, that brings a lot of bias with you. The people you like are the people who are most similar to you, have similar interests, similar ways of communicating.
There's a lot of extra characteristics that you shouldn't be filtering for in that question. What you want to ask is about values. Collaborative norms and of course technical, and soft skills, but being specific about the values and collaborative norms, right? Helps you not care about a bunch of other stuff.
We're very specific on values, and we don't care about thinking style, about other kinds of communication style, about demography factors. We don't care about ethnic background, religion, political affiliation, any of that, those things shouldn't have anything to do with our assessment.
It's about collaborative norms and values, and I think people often get confused and take the whole thing and say, we want a culture fit and that means all this. That's where you have diversity issues. Because you're selecting people out. It could be great. It could really match those values and bring in useful diversity in how they think and in their backgrounds that you're screening out.
I think it's kind of: yes, select the culture, but be very narrow what you're selecting for, be very explicit with what that looks like. If you don't have them, if you don't have those culture norms clearly articulated and describing what it looks like in an objective way that you can analyze, you're going to be bringing a lot of bias into that.
You're going to be losing a lot of talent and losing diverse perspectives that you need. I'd say definitely select, I'm all about selection and recruiting, and thinking about the culture, how people collaborate is a key part, but be careful cause that's where bias comes in.
Jonathan Davies: Awesome. Speaking of recruiting, there was an amazing question, which actually relates very much to the HR side of things. In times of remote work, people feel it's much more difficult to advance their careers. That sense of career progression is a lot more intangible than when you're in the office together. What have you been doing at Miro around it? What kind of advice would you give to other companies that are struggling to deal with this?
AJ Josephson: I've seen reports, which say promotions are on hold and I can't tell if it's because there's been a change with remote work or people don't know how to assess performance this year. Facebook came out and said, everyone's getting their performance bonus, regardless of what your metrics are.
Because we don't know how to measure it, at the same time we're holding promotions. Because we, again, don't know how to measure them. I think it's more that the landscape is changing, people don't know how to assess things. People can't tell if that person is not performing because of external factors.
I'm so empathetic for people who have little kids at home. If you've got two kids under five, how have you survived the last six months? We hope things like therapy and extra cash have helped people, but it doesn't really help people. It's a tremendous challenge.
I think Facebook has done the right thing and said, Hey, we don't know exactly what's been going on. Let's not have that make a negative effect on people's careers. I think the promotions and stuff are going to swing back because this becomes a new normal with kickoff next year. And people say, these are the expectations, you've had a year to adapt things, now this is what it looks like.
I think that's going to come back to normal. I don't see why remote working is going to stop career progression. I do see one element there, is that if you have a mixed mode of remote and in office, people in office get promoted more. Because there's social validation and people have visibility and people can see potential.
If you think about a nine box with what you're delivering and your potential for the future, that potential angle is so subjective. It's so much based on feeling, and those feelings have generated in the office more than remotely. That could also be an element, but for Miro, we've had lots of promotions happen.
We just finished a big promotion cycle and we had a bunch of promotions and this is the off cycle year. However, we're also in the case of growing a lot, so it's easier for us, there's no pressure for us to not make that call. We can see people who are really knocking it out already.
Jonathan Davies: Yeah it's a bit of a different stage then if you're in a company that's been around for say 10 years, for example, where the norm is to be in the office together and obviously Miro is not exactly just one year old or something like that.
You've also been around for longer than you've been at Miro, but, but still, I mean, the phase of hyper-growth that you've been in for the last 18 months, that drastically changes the fabric of a company in a way that you're now much more, even though you probably from the start were extremely remote ready, now you're completely remote, that must be an absolute part of the DNA of Miro. Right?
AJ Josephson: It’s been interesting even for us. We've been around for almost 10 years. Like all of these overnight successes are actually decade long efforts by people slugging it out, and they had their own hypergrowth.
If you can imagine for the first 10 and then to 50, and then to a hundred employees and getting to your first million in revenue. They had their own kind of hypergrowth and people who are interested in thinking about what AJ is talking about, how does that growth matter?
What does that mean for me at the earliest stages? The blitzscaling book by Reid Hoffman is what I think is the best thing, articulating as you move from a tribe, village, city, as you go through these scales and what does growth look like. I really liked that articulation in terms of remote work.
We started actually, we had an incredibly powerful office and still do in Russia of people coming together, being very physically present, building a lot of trust. Then we had people all around the world who are in offices but working remotely with teams across these offices.
So we had half the organization, for which the shift was really easy. Half the organization for which that was really challenging. We're lucky that Miro was really strong already and that made it less challenging, but definitely for our part development relation, we learned a whole new muscle this year, like everyone else did.
Jonathan Davies: Awesome. I'm getting some very relevant questions around one of HR's most favorite and beloved things in the world: things such as HR policies. Has the whole working from home reality that we're all living in now, have made permanent changes to the policies that you have already, and do you see them making changes in other companies as well?
AJ Josephson: It's interesting, there's always things like how do we equip people to work from home? You've given a stipend monthly and also just lump sums for purchasing equipment. But that's pretty easy. I think it's more practice than policie, I think the challenge is going to be mixed, mixed mode.
If everyone is remote, the things you roll for people that are remote, if 70% of people are in offices and 30 are remote, people get forgotten. An amazing thing that I saw from one of the senior sales leaders when I was at Salesforce is if he was on a call and there were people in the office with him and people dialing in, and someone was speaking in the room and people on the call, couldn't hear them.
He'd make them leave the room and dial in elsewhere to build that real empathy psychologically. Maybe after this experience being remote, people won't do that anymore, but that was definitely a massive pain point.
I think people will forget quickly for those who go back into offices. So those kinds of practices make sense in terms of policies besides "where can people be" it's not trivial to hire people in any country and location. There's a bunch of complex questions that come into play there from benefits to even payroll, immigration, all those things have to be sorted out.
But I think policy-wise, the toolkit is going to be developed really soon if it hasn't already because this isn't going away. Even if everyone gets a vaccine tomorrow, so many companies are going to be remote only, and many, many companies are going to be some form of mixed roles and never going back to the office. I think that toolkit's gonna kind of crystallize really soon.
Jonathan Davies: I completely agree with you on what that future is going to look like. I don't believe that there's the idea of going fully to the office and going fully remote. I think that the grand majority will do some kind of a hybrid, even if that means that people can only work one or two days remotely. That's just the company policy. For some companies that's already very, very different compared to others.
AJ Josephson: I think the debate has been that a company is going to be X. I think if it hasn't already, it's going to shift to, will teams be X, because what a customer support team does, what a product development team does, is different work. I think the real question if product development and creative team outcomes matter, then the mode of their operation matters a lot. If it turns out that the best way to make new plans and decisions, to really iterate with new data is to be in the same location physically, then that's what's going to happen with the best companies.
But that's a pretty narrow subset of teams in a company. I think a lot of companies are going to start prioritizing. I think that's what Google is saying. When I read between the lines, basically they came out and said, hey, productivity has been decent, but that's all off plans we already made when it comes to making new plans for our products and our business, it's much slower to make those plans in this given environment. That's when we're going to see a delayed effect of productivity lag for some teams. I think the wisdom is going to quickly coalesce for these teams and functions, it can be remote, for these teams and functions you have to be physical, in some companies. But even physical is going to be three days a week. No one's going back to five days a week. I think employees won't accept it.
Jonathan Davies: I fully agree, really interesting insight on the idea that that will differ per team. I see that that can create some gaps in how organizations deal with it. But then on the other hand it makes complete sense because it's not very agile to just say it's either A or B for my entire organism. So really good points. I'm going to shift the conversation back to the main subject of this entire fireside chat, which was culture.
Carmen's asking a really cool question where she says that she's struggling to define the company's culture. They've got three different offices and every office has their own culture. Even in a specific office, they don't know how to define what that culture would be. For her as an Internal Comms specialist, it would really help if she could really define that culture so they know the direction in which they can take the organization. Her question basically is how do you define your company's culture?
AJ Josephson: There's a cool thing from Atlassian on values, and I'm going to see if I can find it while we chat. It's a great way of how they've got a rubric for what good values are. They described the process. I think that can be useful for doing this exercise. My high level approach here is: have people come together and talk about the concepts that are most important in the culture, not the language. If people start having a language discussion, it becomes: is innovation more important than creativity, is getting shit done more important than productivity?
Those are such close words, let's not worry about the language. Language is later. Phase one, get people together and talk about the concepts, the most important. Is it something about teamwork? Is it about generating new ideas? Is it about quality standards? Is it about listening to the customer?
What are the concepts that are important? You want to have a combination of bottoms up, so getting groups and employees to talk about this, and top down, having business leaders talk around for us to be successful, what do we need to be prioritizing? That will develop a set of concepts that underlie the culture and then get a working group, a mix group of comms people, HR, people, employees, to talk around what language options describe the statements. Statements need to be memorable. They need to be clear so everyone has common understanding and they need to have utility.
As in I could use this in hiring them, I could use this in the decision making. Then you get those options and then probably have another layer of employee feedback on which of these options does those three things, is there one that's more memorable in the office? Figure out the concepts bottom up and top down, then do a stage of wordsmithing on those criteria of memorability, clarity and utility. That's my key advice.
Jonathan Davies: I think that's great advice. I've had the pleasure of being a part of two rebrands throughout my career, and I know that setting up common values is a part of that employer brand at least, and I think that now that you're telling me this, I've definitely made the mistake of getting trapped in the language part. But you're right. It's getting shit done more important than the word innovation, let's first figure out what we're actually talking about. What is this sense of commonality that defines us? Then we can be extremely, extremely copywriter or wordsmithy about it all we want, and don't do it the other way around. It's a very good tip.
AJ Josephson: I've been in so many conversations about creativity, innovation, and you get stuck in that trap. Be aware. I'm going to add this video in the zoom chat right now. This is this story about how they created the values and they come up with a rubric of here's what we advise you when you're thinking about your values. Hopefully that’s useful.
Jonathan Davies: Amazing I'm going to ask you quickly one last question AJ. The question comes from Paige. Paige says we've experienced a lot of growth during quarantine and working from home. We began as one office and through an acquisition gained three more offices in different States across the US, this must start to sound familiar, growing during remote times, how do we make the remote new hires and those we've acquired feel like a part of the company as a whole, in these strange times?
AJ Josephson: Again, I can give you some strategies, but what you want to be doing is measuring stuff and iterating on those strategies.
What do you measure, firstly? You want to be in your engagement surveys or pulse surveys, which can be like lighter surveys, that come out every month. Do you feel part of a broader team? Do you understand the culture? Those kinds of questions, you can get reads on. What's one change we could make that would help you feel more part of a team?
They're going to help you surface things you don't know about like their pain points of when you guys have your all hands, it's always at a time that makes us stay till 7:00 PM or, these meetings happen live, or there's this language that was never explained. There's stuff you won't know that'll surface with these surveys.
And then: what can I ask? What strategies are generally useful? Do you have remote all hands every week or every two weeks, getting people on the same, building a quality remote all hands, which is key updates, key insights, Q&A from everyone, is really bonding. Especially in this remote time.
It makes people feel like they're in a common room, with a common agenda. The plans are there. You're going through the values each time. That practice is going to be very blending. I would also say all the things we talked about for social bonding across offices is important. The last thing is onboarding.
When you onboard, do you onboard people together? We do group based onboarding and are they in groups across those hubs? Do you encourage them or even ask them to schedule time across hubs? They're building those networks from the very beginning. If I was bringing a bunch of new people in at once, I would consciously onboard them into the culture. Give them training that's together with some people from the existing culture, have them do one on ones, coffee, chat, speed dating, whatever you want to call it to start building those connections as well.
Jonathan Davies: That's some really excellent advice. I see that Paige is happy with that answer. So thank you for that. We're actually at the end of our allotted time for the fireside chat. AJ thank you so much for taking the time to be here. I know it's an incredibly busy time for Miro and also especially on the HR side of things right now. Because that's what hyper growth does to a culture. I really look forward to having you back sometime in the future.
Definitely we'll be sharing some of the articles that you and the rest of the people at Miro have been writing, because there are some really fantastic insights there, and dear audience thank you also very much for your participation and engagement, it was really cool to see everybody ask all these questions. We'll be back in another six weeks with another fireside chat. Please do make sure to join in and you will be receiving the recording of these fireside chats somewhere soon.
AJ Josephson: Thank you. Have a great day, everyone. Thanks for the questions.