How is it possible a company of Zapier’s size does not have a single office and 250 employees? Two words. Fully Remote.
Zapier, who created the easiest way to automate your workflows, has its employees spread throughout 6 continents. They’ve managed to build trust, strong communication, and productivity all while being fully remote.
I recently had the privilege to speak with Emily Breuninger, Manager, Partnerships- Launches, about how she’s able to manage her fully remote team. She’s in charge of helping build integrations with Zapier, go to market strategy for partners, and partner acquisition.
Move to Asynchronous
Just like GitHub and Automattic, Zapier relies heavily on asynchronous communication. Asynchronous is the key for fully remote companies; allowing remote team members to work comfortably and collaborate within their own time zone. Emily explained that their advantage from other companies that are partially remote is that Zapier relies primarily on asynchronous communication through the web.
“We try to do all our meetings asynchronously...we rarely use email which is something I think is unique about us. We try and keep things as asynchronous as possible to give every time zone representation.”
Collaboration and emotional conversations need to be tied into a Zoom call. “If we really need to collaborate on something, we'll schedule a meeting. And that tends to work pretty well for us.” She added, “There are certain circumstances where I have asked to get on a call and that's when I feel like emotions are high. I want to make sure that I'm coming across with my body language and with my tone of voice”
However, most decision making conversations are made over asynchronous communication channels like Slack.
“It's very rare that I'll ask my coworkers to get on a call to discuss an idea or to make a decision. It's all just asynchronous.”
Create Historical Context
At Zapier, almost all channels are public to create historical context.
“You can search through slack to try and find an answer to a question you have or follow along threads that you want to learn more about."
She explained it was important for teammates to be able to go back and see how decisions were made in the past. For example, they may be able to search for why a project was not pursued or if someone had already been working on it. If the channels were isolated and closed off, people would become massively unproductive and not see what had already been tried. So when new hires are brought in to the company, and want to try out their own ideas, there is documentation showing whether or not the idea had been tested before and what the challenges were.
Focus on Culture
Keeping up with Zapier’s 1000+ public channels can be daunting but Emily enjoys the activity. She says there’s a "playbook” on how to name channels since there are so many. One thing that Zapier does to keep people together physically is creating channels for cities where multiple employees work. She happened to be in Washington and there is a channel called "City-Washington" she can pop into at any point and find other Zapier employees.
Zapier has the typical channels like most other teams but they added channels that were not work related so their teams could meet in person or find like-minded friends.
“We have feed channels which are usually apps that we've set up that send information into a specific channel like food, music, dogs, and workouts.”
Her favorite channel is #fun-Zapier, which is a combination of any subreddit that you can imagine. Just random, weird things you'd see on the internet or weird things they come across in their day. It has become a spot where you can hang out with your coworkers. This type of culture has made Zapier flourish and continue to dominate their space.
The most important thing to take away from Emily and Zapier is you need to focus on asynchronous communication, historical context, and culture. In an office, everything is synchronous which means collaborations happens in real time but those who are not physically next to you will not be in the collaboration process. Switching to async means everyone will have a say and also means your Slack channels will become private, searchable FAQ of your company. Creating historical context within your company not only helps your new hires become acclimated more quickly, but more efficiently by learning from others without taking up anyone else's time. Finally, intentionally creating virtual spaces for employees to "hangout" outside of work channels is the best way for them to actually hangout outside of work too.