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HR Superstars

Episode 7 · 1 year ago

Celebrating Culture at Your All-Remote Org w/ Lori McLeese

ABOUT THIS EPISODE

Nearly 1,300 employees at an all-remote and always remote org pose a considerable culture challenge. Tune in to learn about remote culture done well.

In this episode, we interview Lori McLeese, Global Head of HR at Automattic, about strategies for celebrating culture at your remote org.

What we talked about:

-Total freedom to live and work in the way that suits your lifestyle

-Data and what to track

-The need for transparency in remote orgs

-Why management isn’t a promotion at Automattic

For the entire interview, subscribe to HR Superstars on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or Stitcher. Or, tune in on our website.

Listening on a desktop & can’t see the links? Just search for HR Superstars in your favorite podcast player.

You're listening to HR superstars, a podcast from fifteen five that highlights stories from the front lines of HR and people outs. Each episode will showcase fascinating conversations with leaders offering their unique experiences and advice for building an extraordinary company and culture. Let's get into the show. We're thrilled to day to have Laurie mcleese Lori is automatics global head of human resources. She and her team focus on making automatic the best place automaticians have ever worked. I love that. That's one of my also goals. When people come into fifteen five, I say, look, our commitment to you is this is the best professional experience you've ever had. One aspect of this is building community in a distributed environment. She joined automatic in two thousand and ten when they were about fifty automaticians worldwide, and is grateful to have learned so much in the ten years and one two hundred hires. Since she lives in the mountains of Asheville, North Carolina, just a couple of miles away from our producer of the podcast, David Misney Lori, I'm personally really excited to have you on because over the years we've had many conversations and you've always been one of the luminaries we've looked to for how do you design a world class remote culture. So we're really thrilled to have you on and I just know you're going to have gems of wisdom for our listeners, as the rest of the world is racing to try to figure out how do we do remote work, as well as the best companies out there that have already been doing this. Welcome to the show. Oh, thank you. It is such a pleasure to be here. I wish we could be in person, but this is the next best thing and always love having conversations with you. Loria, was pleasure to hear that you have been listening to the podcast and it's your cooking dinner podcast. When your chop and vegetables your you got me and David in your ear, and that's too. It's always an honor to hear that. You know, podcasting is a ...

...weird right, because you don't do you have no idea if anybody's listening to it or if a lot of people are listening to it, and so it's always really cool to hear people are actually listening to this. Oh, I love it. Yeah, I love just being able to listen and be challenged with new ideas about how people are addressing problems and just actually be the recipient, just hang back, listen, let it marinate and then share ideas with my team. So it's great. Thank you. You know, you guys willingly went into this as leaders over a decade ago in a small handful of companies who really embraced remote and did that out of choice and see the benefits and also I'm sure you're intimately familiar with some of the town sides and I think now people are realizing it's possible. But I think what would be great to hear from you is is some of like the real true like the people and now know it's possible but want to experience great success or what you know the potential of it like. What are some of the things at automatic of why you guys chose to be remote and some of the great benefits that you experience? Yeah, so one of our main products is Wordpresscom, which is a hosted version of word press, which is the open source project. Matt Mullen Wegg was one of the CO founders of the open source project and when he contributed to it he was working with people all over the world. You know, it wasn't just people and Texas, or wasn't just people in California, with all over the world, and so when he made the decision to create a company around hosting word press, he thought, well, why? This has been working like. Why do we need to bring everyone to the same location? You know, I've been working with people in the UK, I've been working with people in Ireland, I've been working with people in Texas and California, and so that was how it started. was just that why change something if it's working? And so that's how it started. And it's...

...interesting because I don't think people actually took that seriously and they were like, oh well, this will work for a small company. But you know, once you hit fifty people yet you don't have to get office, it's like time to put on the big boy hands and let's get an office. You know you're not going to get funding, investors won't take you seriously. Exactly exactly, and we you know, we're now almost one thousanree hundred people and you know, it's still working. So I think other companies, regardless of size, can also do this successfully and have a great culture for their employees. So Lori. So one of the things I'm really interested in hearing your perspective on is I think that when we give people the choice to live the life that they actually want to live, but we don't force people to live places that they don't really want to live, that that actually is part of why people love the culture of mean both fifteen five and automatic, is because we're saying, Hey, we want to support you and living the life that you're intrinsically motivated to live. So I'm curious of how you've seen that play out, of people having that freedom to move wherever they want to move. And maybe I take a more experimental approach and have a variety of experience of because there's a big planet, there's so many amazing towns, cities, countries to live in, and so what have you seen as you've granted that freedom and choice to people? Yeah, so it opens up choices for people, whether that's the choice to not have a permanent home and be a nomad and maybe live in one place for a few weeks or a few months or a few years and then move somewhere else. I'm although, surprisingly we don't have a lot of people that participate in that option, just a handful out of one thousand three hundred, I think, anyone. But after a couple of weeks on the road of trying to get Fifi and reliable internet, you're like,...

Oh God, I please just give me a stable connection. Exactly. And we've had people that chose to move to places that were more in line with their lifestyle, so moving from cities to either rural areas or farms. We have a couple of very successful farmers that automatic and I love following along with. Like we have people that have been able to move closer to families, whether that's to have help taking care of their children with other extended family members or like in my case, you know, I moved back to North Carolina to take care of my parents and that's not something I would have been able to do if I was working in a job that was tied to an a location. Yeah, you know, I mean we just made the move from the bay area to Western Colorado and be closer to family. You know, we just had a kid and it's like, Oh hey, wow, what would it be like to actually have my kid grow up with a real relationship with her grandma and with our uncles and cousins. And it's funny because even though we were really we were a remote first company, I still felt a lot of obligation to be the anchor in the bay area office. This would be the time to do it and it doesn't have to be a permanent move, but it does allow me to make a choice that is, I think, infinitely better for my kid and all of a sudden work doesn't become this thing that's like compromising my ability to create the best possible experience for my child, and it's really cool. That's like wow, that's amazing right, if we can, I think part of my vision is that work stops becoming the place where we have to do a deep internal compromise and we can begin to live with more integrity and wholeness so that we're actually being more authentic to what we really want out of this short and precious life. Absolutely. And you know another thing that we we track at automatic because we like to track...

...a lot of things, and employees profile and the employ directory. We ask how many miles to use to commute at your previous shop. No kidding. Yeah, it's interesting because you know, some people were commuting hours and miles like ninety hundred miles and I'm like that's so much precious time. I'm like, oh my gosh, yeah, although I will say I miss my Bart ride in the morning. I do, I really do. I know it's like, I don't know that many people that loved their Bart Commute, but I loved it because it was for me, it was this amazing opportunity to do my morning practices because I wrote and I was at the end of the line, so I always got to see and I just put on my headphones and I get on my hot spot and I would just write and it was this like creative me time that was guilt free. Of like it wasn't. I didn't have to do work and I was just my own self development time and and I do you miss that? And I didn't realize. I was like because, you know, I went on fraternity leave before it happened and I kind of grieve. I was like, wow, I didn't realize that that last Bart ride was probably one of the last times that I will likely ride Bart Yeah, I used to live near Shane, but I was not at the end of the line, so I did not get a seat and I did not like my bark. So I was doing cross community because for a fhile I was commuting from San Francisco to the East Bay in the morning, so got a seat. I was not as productive though, like I usually napped. So when I was twenty three I was commuting from New Jersey into downtown Manhattan, twenty three years old, for a business that I started there. And it was sixteen miles if you drove from where I lived to the Lincoln Tunnel, and it would take me an hour and twenty five minutes each way the work. So three hours of my life was a commuting and I I mean some people can be productive during that time, but but I think that's a lot of life. Makes you wonder if part of the disengagement...

...problem is just a commute problem. I commute problem right. I mean for some people, to to your point chain, some people actually like that or make that productive or like that time. And you know, I think it really does come down to employee choice and having the optionality to work where we want, with who we want, how we want. And for me I don't. Yeah, I think the the commuting feels like something that isn't a great fit for my life from lifestyle and ability to take care of myself and my family, but some people enjoy that. How do you guys handle or address people who do want to co work or do you want to be in an office? Because I think we've talked about that in the past and curious. You know, obviously covid decide. How are you thinking about that? Yeah, so pre pandemic we offered everyone at the company US two hundred and fifty dollar stipend every month for a coworking space and we told people we were like then. Ten of this is that we realize that working from home can be isolating. We realize that some people get energy from being around other people. So this is to support you and getting out and getting what you need, and we were very up front that. Like, we realize in some markets like this won't cover the whole cost of a coworking space, but we hope that will contribute enough that it allows you to get that interaction that you need. And we also told people if working in a coworking space isn't for you, use it to go to a coffee shop and buy coffee and pastries and use their Wi fi. So yeah, that's great. And did you have like groups of people like coming together periodically. It was at a Friday thing. I think I remember something along those lines. Well, we had we had groups of people in the same location that would actually they would pool their stiphens and so like in Seattle they were in a boat doc and they worked from there, which was amazing. I'm that's one of my regrets that I never got to go and work they are, because it just it looked...

...so cool. And and another city they they actually rented out a bar during the day because it didn't open until six o'clock at night, but it had great Wifi, so they had the whole place to themselves. Well, and that's such a cool example of when you give people creative freedom, when you grant them trust and you say hey, you know, we trust you to figure things out on your own and your adults and so here's the guidelines and have fun with in that that people get so creative. Yase. It's like I would never think of like, Oh yeah, that's have a boat doc office, but that's what's the creativity when you trust your people and when you empower them to make their own decisions. I think arguably one of the most important aspects of any chief people officers roll or ahead of HR is to make sure your managers are effective right, because managers are the leverage point. We all know the adage people join companies and leave managers, and so we want to build a great culture, we need to build great managers. So I'm curious how do you approach ensuring that your managers are continually learning, are the right managers, are taking care of their teams in the best possible way? While you're remote, when you don't get facetime with managers, when you can't just kind of pop in and have that feeling tone connection of the in person kind of bio energetic read of somebody, there's a few things that we do. I think the first thing is that we don't view we call them team leads managers, as a promotion. We view it as a developmental opportunity. We ask people who is interested and learning how to develop people. We have a list of people that are interested in when openings come up, we help them prepare for the role. So I just want to pose you there because I think that's right. There there's a couple of really interesting things you just said. One, you're changing the nomenclature from manager to team lead, and...

...so you're already changing a little bit of the expectation and kind of snapping people out of the hypnosis. And then the second is that it's a developmental opportunity for that person, which is fascinating right, because it's like usually people are like, well, the only way for me to get more social status and more money is to become a manager, HMM, which is such the wrong motivation to actually lead people. We didn't want to and sentivize that, and so people can step in or out of the team lead role with no change and pay no like repercussions. There's not a stigma around like, oh, I tried this for a year, doesn't like it, I'm going back to either lead a technical team or lead a project or just be an individual contributor. Three and a half years ago we worked with a consulting company called reboot to develop a team lead training specific to automatic and it was Terry Cologna's or great. Yeah, they're wonderful, amazing and have just been such a great partner with us, and so we developed three day and tensive training and we held the pilot and we said, okay, we're going to do the pilot in person so we can get real time feedback and change things. But the actual roll out of the program will be online, as we're distributed. And at the end of the pilot people said the best part about this was being in person. So we were like all right, let's let's look at our plan. And so what we did was almost every month we offered a cohort. Cohorts were limited to twelve people, so it was really small. We brought people together in person for three full days, you know, had great training with the same reboot facilitators, and so they got to know automatic,...

...they got to know our culture, they got to know, you know, kind of some of our quirkiness, and then we were almost through like training all hundred and seventy of our team leads when the pandemic struck, and so we did pivot to online. It's different. I think we are losing you know, there are even though we're distributed, there is some magic that happens when you see people in person. What I would argue that there's actually more when you're distributed. Magic is even more potent for that in person because you aren't taking it for granted. It's like, Oh my God, I've had so many video calls with you and now I you're actually a real human being. Yeah, yeah, and we don't limit it just to team leads. So if someone is interested and becoming a team lead, or if they're leading a community project or they're leading a guild and our support, we open it up to them so that they can take it even before they're in the role, and that's to help develop people so that they're not deer in the headlights once they're finally in the role. And do you keep it that small size of about twelve people, twelve or less? Yeah, I love that. It's both a developmental opportunity for the team lead and that part of their role is to develop people and having that frame of you know, it's not like the team lead knows it all and is kind of Lording over people and developing them. It's like we're all we're all developing together. I think that's the right tone. Right. And then, in addition to that, about a year ago we actually hired a chief learning and development officer, which was fantastic, and he's growing his team and has just like it's just been amazing to see, when that's the only thing you're focusing on, how much can be achieved. And you know, he started these coaching groups. Still partnering with...

Reboot of team leads within the organization, but that's somebody should to six people, and so these are ongoing coaching groups that we have every couple of weeks. We've learned how to be coach us to each other. So we focus on asking open and honest questions and inquiring and encouraging innovation and imagination and possibilities and it's just I have to say that like I just love the five other people in my group like it has been the most amazing support and I just I feel like we, you know, we really have each other's backs. Not that I didn't feel that before, but when you get to be a large organization, it's nice to have a small cohort that you just really you know, they're your people. Those six person groups self facilitated, or is that also through reboot, or do you have internal that you worked at? We do have external reboot facilitators with each six person group and right now I think we have we're running three groups concurrently and then, you know, we'll run these for a while and then new people can apply to be part of it. Do you have any global rituals that you do? Is Our company, you know, things that every person participates in on either daily, weekly, monthly, court, early annual basis. We have monthly town halls where Matt Ball and leg who's our founder, takes questions from anyone in the company. We also do short demos of things that teams are working on, either new product releases or mergers, are acquisitions that are coming up, and just sharing information that way. We used to have burrito Friday. What else do? What are else? Are routchels of you know, they are there, like a slack channels that are really hot right now. I'm assuming you use...

...slack. We do you slack a lot. We are slight channels, are team channels and work channels, but then we also have what are cooler channels about, like music, giving advice to companies about how to blend if you're, you know, mostly remote or fully distributed, that facetime. How do you guys think about that? Besides the annual gathering or anything else you want to say on that to you? Yeah, so there was the the annual gathering, which has gotten larger and larger each year. We also encourage teams to get together a couple of times a year and our teams tend to be smaller, usually, you know, ten to fifteen people. We give them a budget, they figure out everything on their own and then afterwards they write a report. And so we have an internal P to the wordpress theme that we use. So as an internal website that has reviews of every team meet up that has happened for the past ten years. Should check and see how many entries there are, and then we pull all that data into a spreadsheet to show, like, which locations for the most popular, how many days people stayed, like good things about it, bad things about it, average cost for flights, depending on, you know, where people were coming from, average cost of hotels, which obviously that luxtually. It's over time, but it can give it's some good information to have as you're starting to plan something. I love actually tracking the reviews and actually using that as hey, let's learn. That's cool, the resources of our shared learnings so we can continue to optimize and make them even cooler and cooler. Yeah, and we give people a template. We're like, Hey, these are the things that we would like for you to answer, the information we like, and then anything else. And so usually the post of the recaps of the meetups are that information, but then just a ton of pictures as well, which is just great. And then we also, in addition to the MEETUPS, we...

...encourage folks to attend conferences together. So, you know, we'll often have, say, our developer hiring team, I think it's called lead Dev, Def lead let lead Depp is a conference and it was so good someone won't one year. It was so good. They posted the notes. People are like, oh, that's so interesting, I want to go next year. And so then the next year like maybe ten people went and then actually twenty people went together, and so that's another thing that we encourage is share your learning experiences and we do ask that whenever you do something, you know, post a recap of it so that everyone can learn from it. And again, all of these P two's that we have internally are open to the whole company. I think we've got about a thousand P twos now. It's like guess a lot and we occurse people don't follow all of them. Like you know, it's there, you can search for information, but there's only about twelve that you need to like really keep an eye on. What are the things you would mentioned before we started recording was that you think there's a missed opportunity for increased transparency as we've gone remote. Could you just speak a little bit to what you think about, you know, how can companies effectively create more transparency and what the benefits are of that? Yeah, so I think one of the ways is to move away from email as much as you can, because the emails are very closed communication. Only you and the people you choose can absorb that information. We use wordpress and we have websites. Anyone can visit those website. Anyone can post on this websites, anyone can added information or look at, you know, what's on there. When I have new people join my team, we have the whole team meet with them oneonone...

...just to, you know, build those personal relationships. And I also share, like these are some really important p two posts that will give you kind of an overview of the flavor of our team, like the cultures, how we make decisions, what are some of the historical policies that we put in place them why? And that's all there, and so it's a much more proactive way to consume information. I also think that, particularly when you are distributed, it's easier for people to make up stories about things. So if leadership has not communicated, it's probably not malicious, it's probably you didn't think they needed to communicate or they forgot, but people will start making up stories. And so if you can actually put the information out there and share like hey, these are some things that we're considering, these are the ways that will make the decision. You know, I'm having a meeting next week. This is what happened, this is the decision we came to. Like it's all there, and so if someone it's been really great, because it's not just leadership that points out that information to others, it's also team members. When someone speculate something that isn't true, a teammate can say, oh no, there was a post on that P to here. Let me get it for you, and so it's just much more we're not trying to hide anything like this is I don't know, it's just what I think. We often think, oh well, we only need to go out and communicate the end result of the conversation, and really it feels like leadership in the day and age is of actually about including people in the process, letting people know this was the arguments we had at the leadership level and this is where we ended up and this is why we actually are choosing this path, because if we come out and say think this is where we're going, people are like, I can't believe you didn't actually even insteader my opinion, and it's like no,...

...there's so much more that went into this, and so it's kind of like, Hey, that's actually bring people in a little bit more on the sausage making, not just serve up the sausages. And I'm laughing because we had an initiative where we were looking to perhaps engage with one of the companies that actually employees contractors as Employe and the countries where we don't have employment entities, and I was like, Oh, this is going to solve so many problems, and I made the post about my first initial meeting and I got I got a lot of opinions and I was like wow, I'm really glad that I posted this because I could have made a huge mistake. Yeah, yeah, right. So when you think about, you know, the level of transparency, like at what point is it to transparent that you have companies that made a cord of their culture like buffer was an a gret great example that. You know, they said, look, we're just going to have a formula and that we're going to publish all our salaries. And you know, I think that comp is an area where a lot of companies kind of shy away from being transparent. What how do you guys think about that? That's a great question and we are comp is very centralized. So only the HR team and our payroll team and Matt no compensation and make the compensation. So even our team leads don't know the compensation of folks on their team and I would say this is one of the areas where we do get pushed back from our employee so like, you're transparent about everything except for compensation, and I like, yeah, you're right, we're not, and there's there's a few reasons for it and people agree and disagree, which is fine. But we currently have foes and seventy seven countries we pay and I think forty one currencies. Wow, so yeah, a lot of currencies. Yeah, we also tend to buy US more towards internal equity rather than local market, labor...

...market data, and so it's just it's super complex and complicated and we haven't heard any arguments about why we should be publishing everyone's salary and we've actually heard a lot of people say like it feels super uncomfortable if you did that, like we're not down with that, but we are. One of the things my team is working on is how can we be more transparent about the process? So that's a big challenge for us and we are we are doing our best to document and get information out there and it is one of our big areas for improvement. Okay, we're running up on our time and so I know it feels like we're just getting started. As you know, fifteen five we ask questions. You know, that's why it, our platform, is really all about as using questions to create more performance dialogs between employees and managers and giving leaders a pulse on what's really going on. And so what we ask, and you may have heard this on some of the episodes, maybe not. I don't know if you've been entirely consistent, but I always am looking for great questions to ask our company, all of the fifteen five ors. What question do you think we should ask our whole company? And you know, maybe what question could come from of like what would you want to ask all of the automaticians this week? It's kind of obvious one, which is we ask a lot. What are we doing well? What do we need to improve on? So that's kind of the general but I think, given that these are stressful times, the one question I would ask is cheers, something where you really shown this week. Hmm, let's acknowledge the the brilliance that we have here. It's really good. It's so important to reflect on the positive given all the stress, and we tend to go to the...

...negative first. So yeah, building that muscle, I think, is really, really critical. Yeah, Lorid, you have any final words for our listeners? Just love this so much. I'm so glad I got to to the thank you. It's always a pleasure, Laurie. Love our conversations. It's great. It's great to connect and I'm so glad that we got to share your wisdom and thinking with our listeners. Yeah, thank you and I look forward to hearing more episodes from y'all. Thanks, Lori really good to have you. Fifteen five is the only evidence based people and performance platform for highly engaged and high performing organizations. Strategic HR leaders in all industries use the platform to win by improving communication, up leveling their managers and increasing company wide engagement. Learn more at Fifteen Fivecom you've been listening to HR superstars stories from the front lines of HR and people ops. Be Sure you never miss an episode by subscribing on your favorite podcast player. If you're listening on Apple PODCASTS, we'd love for you to leave a thoughtful review or give a quick rating by tapping the stars. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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