Let’s think back to March 2020, a time that showed the world just how unpredictable the state of work really was, as companies all over the world shifted to being fully remote with very little time to prepare. Most of them weren’t ready to do so. They didn’t have the right tools, communication strategies, or processes in place to handle such a radical change.
One company that was more than ready? Articulate, an organization that builds creative platforms for online training, has been fully remote since it was founded by Adam Schwartz in 2002. In fact, it was one of the first fully remote companies in the United States.
Here to share her perspective of hybrid work, how they’ve thrived in a fully remote workplace for so long, as well as tips for companies who are still struggling with the initiative, is CEO of Articulate Lucy Suros, who sat down with Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence.
How Articulate went remote
While many companies had remote work forced onto them at the height of the pandemic, Articulate has always been remote and chose to do so out of necessity. When Schwartz put his entire life savings into Articulate, he was based in New York City. He quickly realized he needed to hire experts, and he did — one in India and one in Missouri.
For those of us who remember 2002, there was no Skype, Zoom, or Slack. Schwartz and the first two hires made it work through phone calls, email, and yes, even fax machines. While the move to be remote was out of necessity, Schwartz wanted to hire experts in the field, and it didn’t matter where they were. What did matter was the type of people a remote-first job attracts: people who are self-starters, who are self-motivated, and who are highly productive workers.
“Adam found that this was a great way to run a company and build a culture focused on doing work that tangibly moves a business forward,” shares Suros. “He also quickly realized that remote work attracted an excellent caliber of employee: people who were uniquely self-motivated and self-directed.
It’s all about removing the stigma behind the remote worker and realizing that people want to be remote
Remote first should also be people first
While some organizations questioned if remote work was going to, well, work, Articulate has been reaping the benefits of being a remote-first organization for about 20 years. For Suros, it’s all about creating an environment where people – both employees and customers – can grow and flourish in more ways than one.
“A lot of companies are always chasing the next quarter. One of the reasons we are highly productive and highly successful is we put our people first; we make the effort to see them as individuals and understand what makes them go the extra mile. When our customers interact with us, they see that we really care about what they’re doing and what they’re trying to accomplish. We focus on helping people flourish as human beings, not just workers in a machine, and supporting them through their journeys,” shares Suros.
Overcoming remote obstacles
That said, being fully remote does come with its own share of obstacles. It can be challenging to build a human-centered organization without face time and being in an office environment.
“Leaders need to think carefully about the tools and technologies they use to communicate and collaborate. Then, ensure everyone has complete clarity on how to effectively use them,” explains Suros.
While Articulate started over the phone, email, and fax machine in its nascent years, it eventually turned to the tried-and-true tools we know today — Zoom, Slack, and Trello. And while these software choices can increase productivity, there’s some fun involved, too. Suros shares, “We have more than 500 Slack channels, and many of them help our teams connect socially so that we can all stay connected as humans.”
Hiring and onboarding
In addition to overcoming the communication aspect of being remote, there was also the hurdle of hiring and onboarding remote workers in the midst of Covid. At Articulate, leadership is very intentional about how they hire and onboard, with a 3-day “ramp camp” focused on Rise courses, comprehensive Trello boards, and Zoom meetings.
When you’re remote, it’s actually a great opportunity to think about things intentionally, like how you communicate, how you collaborate, that if you’re in person you might not be as intentional about.
Articulate took a similar approach to hiring remote employees, as their primary focus was finding thoughtful and trustworthy doers. To do this, they took a look at their star performers in the company, all in different departments, with varying roles and seniority levels. “
My advice to leaders? Look at who have been your star performers over the last 18 months and find the commonalities between them – and search for candidates who share them.
We hire based on these attributes, we fire based on these attributes, and we aim to cultivate these attributes through our training.”
The company also pays special attention to how they celebrate their employees who go above and beyond and display the company’s core values. For Articulate, it’s all about continuous feedback and acknowledging those who have gone the extra mile. “We have a Slack channel called ‘props’, where people are constantly high fiving each other and recognizing others who have helped on projects and products,” explains Suros.
Finally, it’s common for organizations to be unsure of how to make training effective when working remotely. “Pre-pandemic, company training meant you’d have someone standing in front of a PowerPoint with folks you’ve brought into the room, flying in from all over the place. It was pretty passive,” shares Suros.
To avoid this, companies need to take the time to rethink their training programs, sorting out how to make online training work while still building a culture of learning. “Companies need to democratize training development so that folks can share what they know, and do it in an environment that recognizes the whole human. You want your people to have this growth mindset, this self-perpetuating learning culture. Give people the technological tools needed to easily create training, and do it in a way that’s designed for online training. You want to make sure that you’re creating an environment of learning and supporting people with the right creator platforms for training so that anyone in your organization can share what they know,“ explains Suros.
The business benefit of a human-centric approach
It may feel unusual to have a business approach centered around building a trustworthy connection with your team, but this approach offers real benefits.
It’s important for all organizations, especially remote ones, to see people as whole humans so that they feel they can bring their whole selves to work. “When people feel seen and when they feel they can be their whole selves at work, they’re not spending any energy hiding pieces of themselves. What they’re doing is spending all of their energy growing and flourishing as human beings in the work that they’re doing,” shares Suros.
When you do this, your business sees the benefit of getting the most out of its employees. As they grow, they have the potential to do things that they may not have ever thought they could do because they now feel seen by their coworkers and by leadership. Suros explains, “Companies that put this focus on their people will see that it drives real business benefits. And if you’re not doing that, you’re already missing the mark.”
She adds, “Our secret sauce is to create a human-centered environment where you’re paying attention to how people interact and to how you can help them grow. We all have so much in us that is just waiting to blossom, and if you create the right environment, you’ll bring all that potential to life.”
How do you know it’s working?
Once you have these processes and initiatives in place, how can any organization know it’s working? At Articulate, they do this in three key ways.
First, they conduct an annual anonymous engagement survey. The survey provides a pulse check on how their team is feeling and doing, which they then use to develop their roadmap for the following year.
Second, they look at Glassdoor reviews and feedback given by employees. “97% of people say Articulate is a great place to work, and we have a CEO rating of 99%. This lets us know that we’re doing something right,” elaborates Suros.
The third tactic the company uses is paying close attention to inbound messages, which allows them to listen to employees in real-time.
Advice for companies
No matter your industry or the size of your company, it’s possible to make remote or hybrid work styles work if you take the right approach. It’s all about creating an even playing field, no matter where your employees are.
“I recommend thinking about being remote first. Even if you’re hybrid, you want to organize operations as if you’re remote. Think about how you structure your operations, your communications, and your collaboration approach to be remote. Then, if you move to a hybrid environment, you don’t have an uneven playing field and everyone will feel as if they can collaborate and share ideas equally,” Suros explains.
Another key point is that companies need to take the time to listen to what their team actually wants and which work style they prefer. “
Your employees don’t want to commute two hours to work. They want that time back. They want to live more balanced lives.
I’ve been talking to other leaders and they are flabbergasted that people want to work remotely. They’re also flabbergasted when they learn that Articulate has been doing this for nearly 20 years. Before the pandemic, people couldn’t believe that we were so successful from both a business perspective and a human perspective – all while being fully remote.
I think hybrid is here to stay, and the most competitive companies are going to be those companies who take that seriously,” Suros emphasizes.