Guest Emilie Schario from GitLab on remote work and leadership

June 12, 2020
To listen to the full episode, click here

Joe: (00:00)
Welcome to the DNA and experience podcast from CloudApp, where we discuss how and why creating an experience is so important and the psychology behind what makes an experience. So great. Thanks for joining us. Hey everyone. I am really excited to have Emily Schario with me from get lab. I'm a very big fan of get lab and everything that they do with content and just their products in general. And also during this time being a real leader in remote work, since they're a completely remote company and have been since the beginning, uh, Emily is the internal strategy consultant over there. Um, she's a fellow data nerd like I am. Um, my background from Adobe was in as a data analyst. So similar starts for Emily and myself, and I'm excited to dig in a little bit more on the modern workplace. Uh, Emily, if you wouldn't mind giving us a little background on yourself and get lab and kind of how you've been, uh, living through quarantine.

Emilie: (01:05)
Thanks so much, Joe, for having me, I'm really excited to be here today. Uh, my name like you said is Emily Schario . I live on the East coast of the U S with my husband, uh, in Savannah, Georgia, and I joined Git Lab two years ago tomorrow, actually, uh, which time flies when you're having fun. I never would've guessed. It's it's feels both like forever and yesterday, which is awesome. Um, I joined as our first data analyst and really focused on building out our data stack and creating an analytics and reporting system. We were a data team of three for a long, long time, um, until we were about 800 team members. And then we grew a little bit, uh, and then after serving in that role for a bit, I moved into a data engineering role and then the role that I'm in now, internal strategy consultant popped up and I kind of jumped at the opportunity. What I do is kind of, uh, my team is the primary cross functional group in the business, and we solve the problems kind of as they come up, you can think of us, um, almost as a proactive firefighters. So solving things before they turn into urgent and important issues, um, and kind of helping make sure we're building cross-functional efficiencies. So, uh, that's the short version. It's, it's really incredible. Uh, when I joined Philip, we were 290 people two years ago. Uh, today we're like you said, over 1200 team members in over 65 countries around the world, and it is so exciting to see more people buy into what remote work can do to them, for them.

Joe: (02:47)
That's really great. And definitely being close to any data role. You're a very wanted person, uh, both for your ability and also every, every team needs data or insights. So I'm sure you're very popular with, with your teammates.

Emilie: (03:01)
Absolutely. I've yet to meet someone who doesn't have just like that one quick, real fast, by the way, can you do this data thing for them?

Joe: (03:08)
Yeah, it's always like, Hey, can you just push that magic button and refresh that report for me? Um, well, I'd love to, you know, dig in a little bit more on the modern workplace and what your thoughts are on kind of what that looks like. Um, you know, get labs certainly has a modern feel, uh, with going away from, we need a centralized HQ and rolling in a hire people within a 20 mile radius of that and really limiting your, um, abilities to, to grow. So what does that look like to you and how do you feel that get lab fits into that?

Emilie: (03:44)
I, I think one of the big things that we're going to see is increased individual efficiency. Like when you're not in an office distracted by the cool lights or the gong, or, you know, all the someone walking into the coffee machine and someone complaining that someone didn't empty out the coffee machine or whatever it might be when you remove all those distractions, people can be more effective and when they can be more effective, they can do so much more in their work. It's not that you're asking people to work more hours or it's that you can get more focused work done. And I think there are a couple things that we're seeing, like people have this epiphany, they see that this effectiveness can be tapped into. And now it's about how do you continue to make it easier to tap into that effectiveness and asynchronous work?

Emilie: (04:37)
Asynchronous collaboration is probably one of the biggest things that I think unlocks that for people is moving from a, Hey, let's hop on a meeting to discuss this thing too. I'm going to put my thoughts in writing and spend some time making sure they're organized, communicate them to you. You can ruminate on them and get back to me. And now we both organize our thoughts. We're in a much more productive place and we didn't use the same 30 minutes of each other's time. Uh, and that's, I think the next phase, I would hope that in office, not an office, this is something that more workplaces across the, the business span can, can adopt because it's not something that only benefits remote companies. It's something that benefits people who are working period. Um, and I, I mean, cloud app is a great example of this, where you see a bug and a product, and you want to record a quick, like, this is what I'm seeing.

Emilie: (05:35)
Is this the expected behavior? And you send it over to someone, um, or you screenshot at an arrow, like, is this button labeled correctly? These are the things that really tap into, Hey, we don't have to hop on a call and share a screen. We can do this kind of separately, um, and still make more progress. And this lets people work, uh, things outside the standard nine to five, right? So that's really powerful when people are working across time zones, but it's also great when people are, uh, like I like to go to the beach really early in the morning. Sure. But I know some people who live closer to the beach who liked to go in the middle of the day. So they work a couple hours, they go to the beach and then they go back to work for a couple hours. And if that's how you want to live your life great. Or if that's, when you want to go grocery shopping, or if that's where you, whatever your thing is, you want to stop it into your kid's school for a noon performance like there. Why do we need to be changed for desks for certain hours? If we tap into working asynchronously, we create this new way that really empowers people to work when and where they're at their best. I think that's kind of the key that's going to unlock the next level for most people and most workplaces.

Joe: (06:50)
Yeah, it's really a good point. And we, we put out this report, I, we found this, um, data during actual quarantine. Now we're kind of out of quarantine now, but, um, cloud app had massive spikes during the morning commute time. And then also after normal working hours. So like after nine to five, and we put that data, you know, out in the public, it was like three X increase on both sides. Also executives were the most, uh, largest increase in terms of like a user base using it more. And that like applied to my own life, which you mentioned similar is like suddenly I had my kids that I was helping homeschool with my wife. And so I was like eating breakfast. And then I was working a little bit and I didn't have to drive, you know, 20 minutes to the office anymore. So I was working during that time and then I would stop and I would take like a productivity break on the trampoline with my kids. And then I would go work for two more hours on I'd eat lunch with them. And then, uh, you know, some, my two year old would come and ask me to play with them for 30 minutes and then go do that. And then I'd have to work a little bit more at night cause I had taken no breaks during the day. So I think it's like fitting into that, finding the meshing of the balancing of work and home life. And they're kind of forced into it, uh, to figuring that out. Yeah.

Emilie: (08:15)
I think we've talked about this before you and I like the experience of working remotely during quarantine where you might not have childcare is not the same thing, hopefully normally. And so it's important to differentiate those things where, you know, in more normal circumstances, normal and air quotes there, but more normal circumstances, you know, people who are working from home in their remote environment will still have kids in school and they're not trying to balance childcare with their work responsibilities, but even in those cases, they still can take advantage and from asynchronous collaboration.

Joe: (08:58)
Yeah. Yeah. That's a really good point. Um, and I think, yeah, I, I think one of the highest engaged social posts I had over the last three months was, uh, let's just remind ourselves, this is not remote work. This is working at home during a pandemic. Um, so, you know, with, with, uh, we did a survey last fall about, um, office workers and showing that younger generations more than 50% were already working remotely. And the majority of the time anyway, uh, with how expensive the Bay area is and other cities that have a lot of, um, people working there. Uh, what do you think this situation, uh, has done for both companies that are been forced to produce remote playbooks, to people kind of learning skills of working at home? How has that accelerated kind of the modern workplace and the remote work shifts that you're mentioning?

Emilie: (09:56)
I think it's both accelerated and creating some very strong, uh, anti fans, you know, remote work. Isn't something where you flip a switch and it's like, okay, I'm just going to work from home. Now I do this full time. So I have a desk, I have a, it has a thing. He goes up and down. I have a chair, I have a monitor, I have a keyboard I'm set up to work remotely. And that's different from someone who lives in a city, in a small studio apartment, where they are used to leaving the house every day, because they don't have any space in their apartment to do anything else or someone who, uh, has childcare has childcare normally. And now they go and suddenly they're trying to balance those responsibilities or even someone who works remotely full time, but it's used to going into a coworking space every day. So for those people, I worry that what they've done is gotten a sour taste about remote work in their mouth and they are off put by it. And really that's disappointing to me because I do think remote is the future. And what this has done is possibly sour them on remote entirely. On the other hand, I'm hearing these stories from people who were very adamantly opposed to remote prior, and now they've bought in that drank the Koolaid and they are here. Uh, I was talking to someone yesterday who he's got a background as like a early stage employee at a couple of different startups, like single digit. And his thing was when you're under 20 people, you have to be in the office because you're building your culture. You're creating team cohesion. You, he laid out all these reasons for me that you have to be in the office. And then as our conversation went on, he said, but we're seeing the increased productivity with increased happiness. People don't have to commute an hour into the city anymore. Their team members are saying, we want to keep doing this remote thing. And the business is seeing positive effects from it. So his mind has completely changed even for all those things that he laid out as must haves. What they're seeing is you never did it before. So you couldn't picture how to solve these problems remotely. Now that you've had to, you're figuring it out. So you might, before March, you may have never have onboarded an employee or a team member remote. You may never have hired someone only overview, but today, like you see something totally different because you've got this different experience and that's kind of, I think, challenging some people's existing paradigms.

Joe: (12:39)
Yeah. That's a really good point. Like I onboarding is a good example. You mentioned, um, I'm onboarding like a couple of interns right now and that's something I've never experienced. Uh, interns are very heavy touch. Like you need to help and make sure they know exactly what they're doing, what you expect. And so it's, it's forcing me to really like, do a lot more documentation, um, and have like a real setup plan versus before it was kind of could be a little bit more wild West if they were like right next to you and you could, uh, you know, jump in and have them do something. Uh, so I have to figure out how to combine like zoom with like cloud app and documentation on, uh, you know, like confluence and having them know what they have to do. And it is, it is definitely, um, it's not hard, but it forces you to do something you're not necessarily comfortable with.

Emilie: (13:42)
Absolutely. And think about, you know, I'm almost a little jealous of those interns because all these feelings that are really hard, they're going to eat, they're going to learn the hardest way possible. That's like lower stakes situation where while they're interns, as opposed to when they're in their first job or bits crowd, and there's a global pandemic and they can't work from the office anymore. Right. They're going to learn now and they're going, their whole careers are going to be better off for it.

Joe: (14:15)
I'd love to get in on a get labs culture, just a teeny bit. Um, how do you guys, you know, you've talked a lot about async and, um, you know, tools like cloud app, how do you combine like the async with, with like a zoom call or blue jeans or whatever, you know, Google meet or whatever you're using. And then also like virtual meetups. And I know you guys do an actual annual meetup in real life as well. How have you kind of figured out how to mesh the digital with the real, uh, to kind of form, you know, an effective company?

Emilie: (14:56)
Yeah. So, um, let's start with, what are the things we do in person that kind of, I would say almost form a bottom layer of the pyramid. So we do get together every nine months, we host an event called get lab contribute. Um, and it's always in a different place of a different part of the world. Uh, it was supposed to be in Prague this spring, but we lost it to the reality of the time, fortunately. Um, but you know, we'll, we'll have one hopefully again soon and that'll be great. Uh, and that's a great time for everyone to come together, the whole company, and it's not death by PowerPoint. So we don't like present you with a bunch of information. It's not a work trip. Uh, it is about building relationships with your team members. So we have an opening and closing keynote, but otherwise it's really casual. There's an unconference, there's just team member, organized things. There's like a soccer game and Dungeons and dragons game. It's really just about building relationships. Cool. So that's kind of the primary in person thing. And then there are these where there are regional concentrations of team members. A lot of them do monthly coworking space here in the U S there's a large concentration in Austin. Um, in the Netherlands, there's a large concentration in Utrecht in, uh, um, Sydney, Australia. There's a large concentration. So those team members will do monthly coworking. Uh, and it's a great way for them to get together. We do like a, we have a budget for Christmas parties or holiday parties, so that's great. Um, and then there's all that time in between, because if we're go only getting together over nine months, like how do you build those relationships along the way? And we, what we do is we have these things called coffee chats where no agenda just send someone a calendar invite includes 30 minutes or 25 minutes. Cause we do speedy meetings. And it's just like, you talk about whatever you want. It might be like the latest episode of something you watched on TV, or it might be, uh, what kind of coffee you're drinking. So we have those things for building one on one relationships. We also have these take a break calls. They're a little bit more organized. They happen three different times of the day on Tuesdays and Thursdays. And they're organized by topic. So there's one, that's just about coffee. There's one that's for sports. There's five or six of them. All of these have like a different, uh, a different group of people who regularly show up. So the general idea is here's a place you can hop in for 25 minutes on a Tuesday, just like stumble upon new team members. And it's a great way to find other people who have similar interests to you and have discussions around it. Those I think are the big things. And then you do build relationships just from interacting with people and writing. Um, you know, it's, it's from the minute you got your welcome email for the onboarding, through every interaction with every team member along the way, like you are cultivating and building relationships.

Joe: (18:19)
Yeah. It's really good point. I mean, I love those like virtual meetups that you guys have scheduled. I think that's really smart to have some structure there. Um, one thing, you know, cloud app is more than 50% remote. Uh, we, we, our biggest office is pretty small. Like we have like 15 of us in the biggest office in Utah. Um, but to your point about conversations, creating those relationships and just working together, like we had this offsite in February before, uh, you know, everything started to shut down and we brought everyone into Utah. Um, we flew people from Europe and Mexico and the Bay area Midwest into Utah. And that first night like me and some of the leadership, you know, we kind of didn't know what to expect. And I'm kind of the hosting leader, even though, you know, our other executive leaders were there and I felt like this anxiety of like how it was going to go and we didn't have anything scheduled. We just had board games like sitting on this table and these condos that we rented and people just like started playing the games and talking, and it was like really organic. It wasn't like, Hey, we have this team building activity for the first night that you guys are here. Like everyone just was like, Hey, it's good to finally meet you and see you. And then people were talking about, you know, their families and playing board games. And it's really cool to kind of see that, you know, we're humans, we like connecting, uh, sure. When this virtual environment, but you know, we are going to be able to build that into a real relationship when we actually get to meet up.

Emilie: (20:04)
Absolutely. And I will say the biggest shocker when you do get in person is like, Oh, you are taller or shorter because when you're on a call, especially if you've got your office set up, well, you might not have any idea how tall then on the other side of the call is, and then you meet them in person. You're like, Oh wait, you are much taller than I thought you were. And it's just like that moment where you're like, Oh, we've never interacted in person before. And I remember I have a colleague who I was on weekly calls with him working through this intense project. And then I met him in January and I was like, wait, this must be the first time I meet you because you are way, way taller than I am. It's just one of those things that, um, I don't know. It's, it's just a funny thing about it.

Joe: (20:54)
It's very, very good point. Very good point. Uh, you know, as we're, as we're kind of closing up on our conversation, uh, just a couple of other things I want to ask you, what are some things, I mean, you guys were already remote, but what are some things that you've learned from either your own leadership or leading yourself during these, this crazy year, um, of how to, you know, effectively come together, collaborate, communicate, you know, understanding people are in different levels of stress, um, with outside forces or some things you've learned both about yourself, your company that has really been helpful.

Emilie: (21:33)
So I see this in my colleagues and I also experienced this a little bit in myself where there's like this low level of stress that people are experiencing from being quarantined. But there's this, uh, we have a, don't ask, just tell policy, vacation policy. We want team members to take the time they need, but it almost feels a little bit wasteful to take time off to what ghosted on your account. I was in a position where I had a, my husband and I had a vacation planned back in February that got canceled and I had the two weeks booked off work and we're going to have a 10 day vacation. We really planned on this for awhile. And I remember looking at my calendar and feeling like, what am I going to do with two weeks at home? And I talked to people and it's not just me. They're also feeling this. Like, why would I want to take things in? And I think the best, you know, we as a business have GitLab has implemented this friends and family day where a couple of times we had the first one May 1st, we'll do another one on June 12th. And those are about, um, you know, ensuring like people are saying, Hey, I don't want to take time off, but I need time off when we're solving that problem for them by pretty much shutting the business down, um, with a couple exceptions, like support and on-call roles we'll be working, but those folks will take a different day to compensate for it. We want to make sure that we're communicating and actually walking the walk and talking the talk around building a sustainable work culture. We know that this low level of stress is real and it has a longterm effect. And we want people to take time off. I think that it would be really easy for us just to talk about it and remind people. And what we're seeing now is an actual action by the business. I'm hearing more and more companies doing that. It's really great to see them putting their team members wellbeing.

Joe: (23:39)
It's a really good point. Yeah. I liked that. I think, yeah, there, there is a real, like weirdness in that. Um, I like the adjustment of being, having my home and work life blended, uh, which we talked about a little bit, um, where it's like, you need a break, but there's no break to be had because your, your kids, my kids have needs. And like, my work has needs and they're kind of meshing together and my wife and I are taking breaks to help each other work and that type of thing. Um, yeah, that's really cool that to make sure there's a focus on taking those breaks and making sure that they're, you know, recognized.

Emilie: (24:22)
Yeah. I think it's a great example of what it's certainly not the only thing that can be done, but it's a great example of one step that can be taken.

Joe: (24:31)
Normally, normally at this point, I ask you to look into your crystal ball and kind of tell the future, but, um, with, with, with your kind of background knowledge in remote work and the remote work being kind of, part of the, part of the definitely the modern workplace, what are some tips and tricks that have helped you, uh, to really, you know, be productive, not get distracted while at home, um, have an effective Workday and look back, you know, while you never left your house, um, and feel like you had a productive day.

Emilie: (25:07)
Yeah. So, um, what I'd like to preface these sorts of advice with is what works for me might not work for you. Totally. Yep. I know people who were like get dressed every day. I do not get dressed and wear shorts to work. I am one of those people get stressed from the waist up, cause that's all you can see. And it doesn't matter what works for me, we're going to work for everyone. And so I, the advice is like, try something for a month, see if it helps, if it doesn't try something else, if it does great, like, I don't want to stress about whether I'm, you know, dressed enough for work. Uh, I keep my office door open most days. Cause my only coworker is my dog. But if I had, you know, children, I may have a different approach there. I do have a daily routine that helps me transition from like waking up, working out breakfast. Okay. Now I'm going to work. Um, and that makes it nice for me to be like, okay, now I'm in my work mindset. I got my bowl here because like I bring my breakfast to my desk and I spend my first 20 minutes like catching up on everything that happened. And that's like the way for okay. By the time I'm done with my breakfast, I'm ready to dive in.

Joe: (26:34)
Yeah. Yeah. Cool. That's really great. Uh, Emily, this has been a fantastic conversation. I appreciate your time. I'm glad that we could be connected and that I could have you on the podcast today. Um, thanks for your time. And everyone check out, get lab, their legendary, uh, for their handbooks and great content and also a lot of great products that can help a lot of different teams. So check out, get lab and definitely find Emily on Twitter and LinkedIn as well.

Emilie: (27:00)

Thanks Joe. Thanks for having me. Thank you. See ya.

Joe: (27:34)

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