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We Were Made For This – May 7th - Eletype

We Were Made For This – May 7th

By May 11, 2020 July 14th, 2020 No Comments

We Were Made For This – May 7th

This week we welcome Ryan Johnson, VP of Product Management at CallRail, for a lively discussion about remote working in this new normal. We covered a lot!

Click the image below to watch the full webinar ?

The transition, the culture, the tools and the bright side of remote working.

Tune in next week when we are joined by Brooke Beach the CEO of Marketwake. Register now!

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Michael: Let’s get started! I’m going to hand it over to Ryan. Why don’t you tell us a little bit about CallRail?

Ryan: Yeah, thanks Mike. So like Mike said I’m Ryan Johnson, I’m a VP of Product Management at CallRail. I’ve been there, will be 3 years this winter which has gone by in a flash. In the very beginning CallRail, you know in its most simplistic form was a call tracking and analytics company. So primarily focused on small-medium businesses and when people call those businesses, you know being able to attribute back where those phone calls came from like Google Organic or Facebook Ads and those types of things.

Over the past 3 years I’ve been there we’ve really expanded into other areas. So going into form tracking, and chat, and smartphones and these other things. So really trying to broaden our reach as far as you know, our customers being able to have that visibility into what is bringing them success, especially from inbound marketing.

Michael: Awesome, Ryan what kind of role do you play and tell us a little bit about the team at CallRail?

Ryan: Sure, so primarily myself and my team are focused on the execution side of product management and working with leadership on roadmap and of course partnering with our big engineering organization. So I have 3 distinct teams:

  1. The product managers
  2. The UX and design folks
  3. The content team.

Michael: That’s great. We’ve been chatting a few times over the course of the pandemic and you know, I think one of the most interesting pieces of the conversations that we’ve had is talking about what things was like before the pandemic and how did it change? What was CallRail day-to-day? How did the teams work? Where was the office? What was kind of the regular routine that you guys had pre-pandemic?

Ryan: Sure. As a tech company, we were very focused on being in the office and that collaboration. We’re located in downtown Atlanta, so the Equitable I guess the old Equitable building now the Georgia’s Own building. We have three floors that we occupy there, we’re almost over 200 employees. So, you know day-to-day it was going in the office and people enjoyed, you know when you probably have 30 folks that bike in and take MARTA like myself , commute from all over. So we were definitely an office-centric tech company with all the fun snacks and open areas and open floor plan in all that.

So pretty typical from that, not to say that we didn’t work from home, but that was kind of, you know a day or here, a day or two that you would do that, but most certainly the normal is being in the office collaborating with people, you know getting in the room white boarding stuff. So that was our normal life before the pandemic.

Michael: Yeah. I think that’s kind of the interesting…kind of the ironic part about it is that there’s a lot of technology companies, Eletype included, that we have the ability to remote work in the capacity to do it when it’s needed. But usually with a tech company you do want to be in person, you do want to be talking to people. You want to be around your co-workers whether that’s just from an inter personal standpoint or whether it’s from a practical standpoint because you need to do the design or you need to be in front of the whiteboard or it’s easier to communicate.

Traditionally, I’ve always felt that way as well as that when you’re in the office it’s a little bit more conducive to work, but I know that certainly has changed and we all have this very, very rapid transition. So the big question really is when did you guys make the call? When did you guys say we got to change what we’re doing here?

Ryan: As a leadership team, we have been talking about it for a couple of weeks and as everybody was at the time I think kind of joking about it, not really knowing the seriousness of what could happen. And then as we started seeing, I think what was it, Seattle on the west coast take some drastic measures, we seriously had some pretty intense conversations about it like what are we going to do? What does it mean to CallRail? We made the call pretty much, I guess it was the night before when we stopped accepting international flights if you weren’t a U.S. citizen. So it’s like the day before, we were like okay, tomorrow morning we’re going to tell everybody. That was like a Wednesday and we say okay, Thursday let’s tell everybody we’re going to go fully remote.

2 or 3 weeks I think was the time period we had put out at the time and have everybody come in and get their stuff Thursday if they want to come in on Friday and grab monitors or chairs or that type of stuff. At that point, we thought it was such a short-term type of event. I think most people just kind of said, ah no, I’ll grab my laptop and maybe my keyboard or my mouse or something. I certainly didn’t grab any of that stuff. We made the call and I think people were happy that we made the call relatively early. I think it took a lot of other companies into the following week to do something. So I think the employees appreciated that and yeah here we are May 7 and it seems like ages and ages ago.

Michael: The funny part about when do you make the call. We’re thinking the government can make certain policies, certain recommendations and then when a larger company, whether it’s like a Facebook or a Microsoft starts to make the call that they’re sending folks home and they’re moving to a remote workforce, what happens is it kind of trickles down. And personally, from our standpoint at Eletype we saw when CallRail was like they’re remote working as well, they’ve closed the office. We were like maybe we should too. So it definitely kind of has a waterfall effect there on how people make the call. We take the lead from companies that are setting that example. We definitely followed you guys in that example.

What do you think worked? During that transition how did you guys communicate, what do you think went well from your communication, and then what maybe could you have done differently?

Ryan: Yeah, you know I think communication went well. I would say CallRail, in general, are pretty transparent. I would like to say we’re probably more transparent with our employees giving everything going on to say hey, we don’t know the answers to all the questions that you have, this is what we know today and we’re going to update you on a weekly basis.

Of course, when you make a decision like that people start thinking about how is this going to impact business and those types of things. Certainly that first week I don’t think we had gotten there but you know, the biggest thing that worked was just being transparent with our employees and team members and making sure that no one was stressed out about it because then we started getting words like, oh gosh schools are starting to close down.

It was a snowball, every day something new was happening. And for us, it was just telling everybody listen, we’re all in this together, we don’t know what’s going to happen, we think this is the best for our employees and safety and really just speak up to us like what is working, what’s not? As soon as schools closed we kind of came out and said, hey, work from home now is that work from home days that we had before right? It’s work, and parent, and teach, and deal with the dogs, and all these different types of things.

So I think it was just kind of being open with everybody to say hey, we know this is taxing and I think that works really well to just try to comfort folks to say regardless of the situation, we’re dealing with things that none of us ever dealt with. There’s not a playbook, there’s not a box that you smash with a hammer that’s like okay I’m going to get the pandemic playbook of leadership. We’re going through all this together and so, we look to our employees for feedback and stuff too and say what do you want to hear? What’s enough information or too much information? And so I think that transparency has worked the best regardless of what the topic was right, whether it was a business or productivity or anything else.

Michael: I think it’s a great word just the transparency and telling everybody that you don’t know the playbook. And while there might be a playbook on how to handle a pandemic from a healthcare standpoint, there’s certainly not a pandemic on how to handle offices switching to full remote workforce or what happens when schools shut down for like a couple of weeks to a couple of months and you have to homeschool your kids and how do you manage all that stuff?

So there’s definitely not a playbook and just being open and transparent about it is something we try to do as well. And just kind of rolling with the punches because I don’t think like what you’re saying anybody knew that it was going to go from 2 weeks and now we are at 2 months. Certainly we’re going to be at this for a little bit longer but was there anything you guys would have done different from a communication standpoint? Is there anything that in hindsight? I know in hindsight for us I say we did the same thing. We didn’t know what to take out of the office and kind of packed up thinking would be back in a week or so but no, we all had to go back and grab monitors and grab office items and things like that. Anything you guys would have done differently?

Ryan: Yeah, I think we probably would have done the same thing saying bring your Aeron chairs home or whatever as we’re all breaking our backs in dining room chairs and couches and whatnot or just fancy-looking chairs that don’t provide comfort. I think it’s hard because we are optimistic at that point. None of us have been through it, none of our parents have been through something like this so it’s kind of hard. You always want to be optimistic especially in our industry in tech and stuff. It’s always positivity and growth and all these types of things. Could we have been a little bit more bearish on what was to come and had people take more things home or those types of things? Certainly, looking back at it with the information that we know today.

Michael: Yeah, no one really saw this coming. The other thing that I didn’t see coming or didn’t even think about that you reminded me of on our call we had earlier in the week, was we think about things, we’ve been thinking about these webinars and thinking about talking to companies about how they’ve been managing this transition to a remote workforce. Usually under the context of Technology like what tools are you using? Are you collaborating? How you are you staying productive?

Something that you brought up on the call which I thought was really, really important for us to talk about in the webinar today. So talk about culture. How do you change the company culture? How do you maintain the company culture when people aren’t together in the same office especially coming from an environment where people are used to being in the office? There’s a lot of companies out there that are fully remote or kind of remote first type companies and they have their own best practices in place on how to create a culture when you’re remote. But for companies like ours that are usually in the office, you guys have a large office over 200 people, beautiful office downtown.

Eletype is at ACDT. Even though we have a small office we’re part of a large incubator. We are around dozens and dozens of other companies, we’re right there in Georgia Tech, we see people, colleagues, friends every single day. When it comes to how do you maintain culture now that you’re remote for the foreseeable future, what did you guys do to enhance that or maintain it?

Ryan: Yeah, as far as the transparency, I think we put the gas pedal down on that. To say we’d already been going down that road of being more transparent when we do those employee engagement surveys or the best companies of Atlanta, like those types of things. Some of the feedback we got was like hey we’ve grown so fast, we really want to know what’s going on. So we had started going down that path anyway, but we really pressed the gas pedal on that.

We use a Looker for all of our dash boarding and so we build dashboards to say hey, how is the business tracking on a daily basis? How bad are things dropping? How good are things leveling off, those types of things? So I think that was a little bit of change in the right direction and not sugarcoating it and say hey, this is hard times. Like I said, we support small-medium businesses. That’s our core customer group and everything on the news is just about how bad they’ve been impacted right? So, really trying to let the company understand how we’re operating as a business and how we’re doing.

As far as the culture itself, we’re so used to interrupting each other in the office, go grabbing coffee and the impromptu things and really collaborating with people and teams that we might not want to bother. So I think that was like a big change in the culture, you’re all at home, you think twice before slacking somebody or texting somebody or picking up the phone. Or I wouldn’t hesitate based on someone’s body language sitting 10 feet from me like hey Kara, let’s get this room and do this.

That becomes really difficult and so as far as our business culture that certainly amped up to say hey, our customers are getting impacted, how do we provide value to them like right now? Let’s not do these really big projects. They need help today and so how do we support them during this time? Whether it’s relief pricing types of things or just easier ways for them to manage their account like everything kind of came on the table. So from a culture perspective one of our statements “is deliver amazing product” and those types of things and a lot of focus around the customer. So it was certainly focusing on that and then obviously with everything going on with morale and those types of things, I think we all have our ups and downs.

So there’s, you know, a lot of different things we’ve done at CallRail. You know, I use this outfit to pop into meetings every now and then. This is my angry big bug costume. Then I noticed, you know, I thought it was kind of cheesy; would people be weirded out by it and it got a laugh. Then like the next meeting someone dressed up as a cowboy and then one of my PM’s is like, you know, screw it, I’m just going to dye my hair blue.

So, you know, those things, you know, our culture was fun before in that way and so to kind of continue that remote and you know, certainly in the beginning, you know, everybody did the remote happy hours and lunches and stuff. And I think over time it’s gotten, you know…sometimes it’s effectiveness has worn off a little bit. But you know, we’ve had to do different types of things. I think I mentioned to you when we talked you know, we had an alpha launch, which is like a huge thing, right? I mean, you know, that’s like trying to get something in the customers’ hands through all this crazy stuff. Our CTO, Elliot in our PM over that project, Tatum, they literally drove to everybody’s house on the team and left a bottle of champagne on their porch.

Michael: That’s so awesome.

Ryan: Think about Woodstock to way down South and it just meant so much and it was a huge morale boost to say, hey, like normally in the office we would have had a toast and hey, cool, fun and all that. But the fact that someone got into their car, drove 40 minutes to do this it was, you know, it was a big morale boost.

Michael: Yeah. What I love about that example is, and I’ve told that example to several people since we talked about it last week, is that we’re talking so much about, hey, because people are remote what type of tools and technology can we use to connect everybody? But when it comes to culture, just the idea of driving to somebody’s house, you wouldn’t have to do that if you’re all working together because you’d be in the same office and there’d be no reason to. But now that we’re apart the effort that it takes and the thoughtfulness to go deliver something to somebody’s house when they haven’t had any interaction from the company, it’s such an offline kind of low-tech way to do something that has a huge bang for the buck when it comes to culture that, I mean, everybody’s going to tell that story. They’re going to do more things like it. You’re going to tell the story to folks like us and on the webinar. We’ll go back and do similar things. I just think the effect on your culture and everybody’s culture when it comes to remote working has gotta be focused a little bit on what can we do that’s offline, that’s low tech in addition to what are the tools and technology we use to kind of connect on day to day. I love that example so much. I hope other people get creative ideas like that as well. That I need to show up on zoom meetings with like a wig on or something.

Another thing we’ve been talking about, you know, here at Eletype, but also on some of the webinars in general. If you’ve been following our emails, we talked about that sometimes too is during the pandemic, you know, is there a bright side to what we’re doing here? And having a bright side doesn’t mean that we’re in any way making light of the situation, but it does mean that everybody’s impacted differently. I know in my interactions with folks like you Ryan or even internally at the company or other partners that I’m talking to on a day to day basis, there is some bright sides to all of this. Like what are you learning as a company that maybe you wouldn’t have learned if it weren’t for the pandemic?

Ryan: Yeah, I think that, you know, especially when you get to the size of CallRail, you start to lose the personal details and understanding about people and what they go through in life. Certainly depending on what cohort you came in on, you, you know, you kind of stick to that. But the bigger and bigger you get, you start to lose that. Certainly I think it’s probably worst for some of the early folks that have been at CallRail for four or five, six years. But to me, really the biggest thing is just having more empathy for people. I think in the beginning when you and I talked it was like, gosh, everybody who has kids, like you kind of feel bad for them, the worst, and then you realize like very quickly, like it doesn’t matter.

Right, I mean, there’s folks that you see that have two dogs and it’s just like every person that walks by the front of their house, the dogs are screaming, you know, barking just as loud as my two daughters are fighting over a toy or if you’re single in your apartment in Midtown like you get to look at everything but you don’t get to go have fun anywhere. So just the empathy to say like, wow, like people are really going through this in their own ways and we have to be more empathetic. I think it’s made us more flexible on schedules. Like I can tell you right now, any meeting, any reschedule, any cancellation, it’s like nothing. Like, okay, cool. Like somebody has something we’ll figure it out. Or even if we start a meeting and something happens, it could be technology, it could be that or, you know, you get annoyed, like, gosh, like they got kicked off the internet again. Like no one cares about that. Like, they understand.

So I think we’ve, as a company, we’ve definitely gotten more empathetic with what people are going through and we see a tiny lens into their house. Like one of the things that someone told me the other day, like I’m either here, which is downstairs or I’m in the living room, you know, if, if my wife is using this area, this office downstairs. Then the other day I just switched it up and went into the dining room and people were like, oh, where are you sitting? Like, what’s behind you? And then they saw my daughter come up, you know, waving her hand for like a snack or something and they’re laughing. I had no idea and I’m talking about something really serious.

So I think it’s just an easy way to get a lens into someone’s life without like asking, you know, being so formal and talking about it. I’m a very visual person, so I just think it’s really cool to kind of see, you’re like, Oh gosh, that’s our house, that’s the architecture. Someone on my team even said like, oh, I have that same post in my house. Right. You know, like something simple. So I think a lot of companies are hopefully going through this in the same way as to, you know, be more empathetic and more flexible when it comes to, you know, meetings and schedules and working together.

Michael: Yeah. Isn’t that a weird kind of side effect that being remote and being less connected personally has given us more empathy for what people are going through in their day to day personal lives? Like you probably learn more about what’s going on in everybody’s personal life, the person’s situations, what their living environment is, like what they look like at home, what they’re doing than you ever would have when you kind of put on your formal, hey, I’m coming into the office.

Even in a laid back work environment like you guys have, like we have, you’re still coming in to work. And you’re in work mode and you’re coming in. But in this environment, you know, you’re kind of halfway at work and you’re kind of halfway at home and work bleeds into home life and vice versa. Everybody gets to learn a little bit more about what everybody’s doing. And that’s a great word, empathy. It’s like, yeah, I get it. I get what you’re going through now.

It could be really great things too. It’s like I have a better appreciation for what your kids are like, what your personal situation is like. Like if you’re younger, what your dating life is like or not like because you can’t go out, you know. There’s so many like weird things that are going on right now. I think there’s definitely some bright sides. I know we’ve talked about this in the past, but spending a lot more time with the kids, a lot more family time, a lot more family dinners. I’m spending a lot less time in the car in commuting, which is like time back in my life. So there are some great things going on. I always preface all of that by saying we’re fortunate here to be in Atlanta where I think we haven’t had you know, the biggest impact as like maybe like a New York City has. So we are fortunate. I do think there’s a bright side I think we can talk about. It definitely creates empathy between people. I just think it’s ironic that people actually maybe are getting closer together when they’re further apart.

Alright, well let’s transition away from maybe like the the interpersonal stuff and get back more into the technical stuff. When it comes to the tools that you guys are using for collaboration or communication and organization, what are you guys using? What’s working? Any recommendations for people that are listening?

Ryan: Yeah, so you know, before all this, we’ve used Slack for years now and you know, I think we’ve optimized it in certain ways. Slack bots update us on all different types of things. Whether it’s you know, new customers or you know, things, you know, that may be triggered on the engineering side, something to go look at, anomalies and those types of things, failed integrations. You know, all that fun stuff that we worked with, with Eletype on, you know, those those are certainly important and help out. So we’re very centric with that. We use Zoom, we use Google meets. You know, I think now everybody has started testing out other tools to kind of see what was best. I think we usually use like Google Suite products for collaboration and communication and then, you know, everybody realized with Zoom like, hey, I can see a tile of everybody’s face. I can’t do that with, with Google Meet, you know, when you have a big meeting.

Then of course, look at what happened. Google Meet did an update, now they have tiles. So it’s kind of nice to see like the tools realize like, oh gosh, like we really have to innovate right now because so many people depend on us. There’s certainly like, you know, I prefer video calls, so whether it’s Zoom or Google Meet you know, collaborating, you know, again, G-Suite stuff. So Google Docs, Google Sheets all those types of things. Then our normal you know, tools that we’ve used before, I think we’ve just gotten more rigorous to make sure they’re updated. So you think of like, you know target process for product and engineering, you know, tracking and collaboration. Asana, so marketing, some other groups use the Asana boards kind of the same way.

So we use all those tools and they’re not all necessarily serious either. I think we talked even with Slack, you know, we have a channel in there that, you know, today’s kind of flavor of the culture was like, post your high school photo or prom photo. That obviously was a fun event. But then, you know, Andy, our CEO will pop in and say, hey, like, what’s one thing you got done today? So, you know, as much as it’s that like one-to-one or one to many communication, we kind of use it for announcements and just, you know, kind of transparency and to say like, hey, what did every team accomplished today? Or what do we deliver to customers today? Slack’s been really helpful with that. As far as like offline tools and services, I can’t really think of any like, gosh, like all mine are just so connected.

Michael: Well the offline one was really interesting was like actually driving to somebody’s house. Driving to somebody’s house and dropping things off. I was just so impressed by that. It made so much sense, but it also struck me as something that I never would’ve thought of. You know, it’s like, yeah, you can connect offline too, you can go send stuff. It’s amazing.

So when it comes to Slack in general, and what we’re going to do for the kind of the back half of the webinar here is get any advice from you, are there any tips that folks can use, that you guys have used that has made you more efficient and more effective inside of Slack, due to the pandemic or anything that you want to share, kind of tips, best practices?

Ryan: You know, the hardest thing with Slack is when you really use it a lot, it can get overwhelming, right? So it’s that balance of like how many channels are there and what are private or what are public. Which ones do I pay attention to. I think the big thing that we started using more that I would say previously it was mostly random, is kind of the status update. Are you in a meeting or are you on a phone call? So it seems like people use all the integrations with Google Calendar and those types of things so that you kind of think twice before you reach out to someone and be like, hey, I’m not available or I’m eating lunch or I went for a walk or you know, I’m working on a design concept. I think that’s been used a lot more just so people kind of understand before they interact with you. You know, if you’re dealing with baby time they know that you might not get a response right away.

Michael: Yeah. You mentioned that earlier too, the idea that if you’re in the office and you walk by somebody’s office or desk, you can clearly see that they’re not doing something or that they would be willing to have a conversation or come into a conference room or go for a walk. But when you’re behind kind of Slack, are you behind, you know, when you’re remote you don’t really know when to reach out. And we’re not going to cover it on this webinar, but we covered it on one of the previous webinars that we did around Slack apps and Slack integrations and Google Calendar was a big one.

When Google calendar updated their Slack app to include automatic status updates, we all noticed that happened kind of automatically. Like we didn’t have to do anything. It was like, oh, if I have a meeting, oh my Google Calendar, my Slack status is automatically getting updated to ‘I’m in a meeting’ and then it’s actually giving you a notification about the meeting. If it’s a Google Hangout, you can actually get a link inside of Slack that allows you to go into the Google Hangout. Those are kind of small things that were really big game changers when it came to knowing when you can reach out to somebody in Slack cause you just don’t know. Yeah, we really liked that and that was a huge one.

For anybody who hasn’t been on our previous webinars, we kind of talked about, you know, why is Slack right now a mission critical platform. Eletype is built a hundred percent inside of Slack. That’s great for teams that are using Slack. But what’s happened over the last two months is everybody has transitioned to becoming a remote workforce extremely rapidly here. And one of the things that we’ve noticed in talking to customers that do use Slack on the day to day is that it can really be game changing when you implement Slack properly. But what we’ve noticed is that Slack is frequently underutilized.

Ryan, I don’t know if you guys have seen this as well, but when Slack is implemented in an organization, it gets implemented in a very organic way. It happens team by team, person by person, then it kind of grows through the organization, which is really a new phenomena when it comes to enterprise software. Usually enterprise software is bought by somebody up here who made a purchasing, they bought the license for all of the people. Then everybody gets on board and it becomes like a formal roll-out of something. But Slack never worked that way.

What happens is I think people get introduced to it and kind of bits and pieces and they think it’s a chat app. Then they realize you can do a video call or that you can set your status or that there’s channels. Well now I have too many channels. What do I do with too many channels? And now these too many channels are giving me too many notifications, but no one taught me how to mute the notifications or configure them. So it just kind of rolls out. It oftentimes spirals out of control. The number one issue we hear when talking to our clients about Slack is they say, you know, it’s too noisy or can become overwhelming. So when it’s underutilized, I think people aren’t getting the best out of it. There’s a lot of features that we think are underutilized. I’m going to go through them real quick. Ryan, maybe give me your comments and feedback on these as well.

Getting the Most Out Of Slack

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Michael Sengbusch

Michael Sengbusch

CEO of Eletype - Entrepreneur, Founder, Engineer