How to Create a Strong Hybrid Culture, with Jennifer Smith

Gabriela Molina

Jennifer Smith is the CEO and co-founder of Scribe, a software solution for documenting and teaching company processes. She is a Harvard Business School and Princeton Alumni and has previously worked for companies such as McKinsey and Greylock.

Jennifer Smith

Read the transcript

Luis:

Welcome ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of The Distant Job podcast. I am your host Luis in this podcast, that’s all about building and leading awesome remote teams. My guest today is Jennifer Smith. Jennifer is the CEO and co-founder of Scribe. Jennifer, welcome to the show.

Jennifer Smith:

Thanks so much for having me. Excited to be here.

Luis:

It’s a pleasure having you. So, I want to start, and the podcast is all about remote work. So, I want to get eventually a bit into Scribe and Scribe’s mission. But first, why don’t you tell me how your relationship with remote work started and how it has impacted your career?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, it’s a winding road that has changed a lot within a sort of sudden demarcation with COVID. So, I think might be true for a lot of folks. So, I started my career as a management consultant at McKinsey. That meant that I spent 250 days a year on the road. Didn’t have a set office. My office was my lap and my laptop, and my Blackberry back in the day. And so that meant, I got really comfortable working literally anywhere. Whether that be a plane, a hotel room, or often a supply closet at a client. Where they had space for a stool and a desk, if I was lucky, and me and my team. And now it’s since evolved working in technology, I think we’ve had more comfort with remote work perhaps than other industries.

Jennifer Smith:

Scribe is a hybrid team so we have an office in San Francisco. We opened it right before the pandemic when we were forced to shut it down. And so we’ve been operating mostly remotely for the last couple years with some occasional off sites. And we’ve only now just reopened the office on a sort of voluntary couple day, a week basis for those folks who happen to be in the Bay area, which is not all of our team. So, it’s been really interesting and I’ve been really glad to see the shifts. Not just in technology, but across all industries, because as I’m sure we’ll get into, there are just so many benefits of remote work, both to workers and to companies.

Luis:

So, take me through the mental process of the decision making that led you to decide that after COVID, after everyone spending some time working remotely, why did you feel that the office was something that you wanted to have on an optional basis?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, it’s a great question. And something a question we really grappled with. I mean, I remember we had several meetings as a leadership team and we sort of said like, well, we all got the vaccine, we all live pretty close to each other, sort of a historical accident. What do we do? Do we reopen the office? Do we go fully remote? And we ended up just asking our team. What do you guys want to do? What’s interesting to you? And what we heard from folks was I love working remotely. I love the flexibility that comes with that. We’ve obviously found ways to be really productive. I also love being in person with people and I love having the option to be able to come in and kind of feed off of the energy of my coworkers and be able to hang out with them and what feels a little more of an informal setting.

Jennifer Smith:

And so we said, okay, well, what if we did kind of a hybrid model where we keep the office open, it’s a much smaller footprint than the total number of people that we have. And we sort of say, you’re welcome to come in anywhere from one to a few days a week. And it’s been interesting what we see. We’ve got some folks who come in once a month. And we’ve got some folks who come in every day. And it’s really just a personality preference of where people feel they do their best work and where they feel most comfortable.

Luis:

Yeah. How long has that been going on for?

Jennifer Smith:

Let’s see, we reopened several months ago and then Omicron hit. And then we had to sort of tighten and close and then we’ve sort of reopened again just in the last few months. So, a few months now, compared to two years of being pretty much remote. It’s a learning for us of how do you now manage going back to hybrid where a few people are together every day, but by and large, most people are not.

Luis:

What do you think, what are the main challenges that you feel that you’re facing with that model?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, I think it’s still maintaining equality, right? So, when everyone is remote, all communication and learning and celebration and all of those things that kind of builds your culture and make people more productive are all happening online. So, they’re happening in our Slack channels. They’re happening in our internal Scribe workspace. They’re happening in Notion. All the things that we do to work. And so you don’t have to worry about is anyone being sort of left out of a conversation. As soon as you start to have a few people who are together in person who are having lunch, and now they can start brainstorming on the next product release and you’ve got the product manager who’s remote that day.

Jennifer Smith:

You’ve got to think about how do I loop people into those conversations. And so I’d say our biggest challenge is how do we honor people’s desire to be able to hang out together in person and work together in person some amount of the time, while still keeping it equal and making sure that all information is flowing to everyone, regardless of whether they happen to be in person or remote that day or that week, or that month, or that year.

Luis:

I mean, but isn’t that a bit of an artificiality let’s say, because I mean, we are in, I don’t work at Scribe. But if I would work at Scribe, we’re in a call right now where it’s just the two of us and we could be having a drink or something else and brainstorming could happen organically. So, I see your point, but I think that’s, people can talk away from the rest of the team in a virtual setting as well, right? So, is that really a big consequence of the hybrid office? Just thinking out loud about that.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. It’s a great question. And we’ve also then asked ourselves, are we inventing this problem? Is this something we’re afraid is going to, but doesn’t actually happen. And so it’s something we’re trying to keep our finger of the pulse on. And I’d say there’s two things we’re doing to try to monitor that. I do think there’s a little more ad hoc brainstorming that will come when people are together in person. And so we just try to make sure if people are in the office together and all of a sudden they start talking about something really important and there’s someone else who’s central to that conversation.

Jennifer Smith:

Just ping them the way that you would, if you were having a phone call and all of a sudden you realize that you wanted to have someone part of that conversation. And then the second is we’re just kind of checking in with people who are remote and saying, are you feeling a difference now that some folks are back to the office? And I think to your point, what we’re hearing from folks is no, I haven’t noticed a difference. It’s not an issue.

Luis:

Yeah, for sure. So, let’s talk a bit about how you develop that culture. I have to imagine that it has a lot to do with Scribe’s missions. So, why don’t we go over Scribe’s mission?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. It’s to unleash and up level the world’s knowhow. So, that sounds really big and broad. But let me kind of break it down, which is, everyone’s got something special they know how to do. Everyone knows how to do something valuable and unique on their computer. And most of that knowledge is still trapped in people’s heads. Like if I want to show you how to do something, here’s how you edit a podcast using whatever tool it is that you use to do that. What are our options today? Maybe you hop on a Zoom call with me and you show me how you share your screen. You show me how to do it. Maybe you send me a really lengthy Slack. Maybe you write up a long document and you’re screenshoting and copy pasting how to do it.

Jennifer Smith:

More likely I’m probably just not learning that from you. And I’m sort of trying to figure it out on my own. And so with Scribe, we said, well, what if we could just watch you do your magic? What if I could just watch you use your editing software and automatically capture what you know how to do? What if documentation just became digital exhaust, just the byproduct of you doing what you normally do. And so the ways Scribe works just at a really high level is you click the record button and you just do that process that you would normally do. And when you’re done, you click stop record. Scribe will then autogenerate step by step written instructions with screenshots that show how to do that exact process. We call that document as Scribe. And there’s a bunch of ways you can edit it and customize it.

Jennifer Smith:

But the point is, you don’t really need to, right? All the info, someone would need to know how to also do that process is automatically contained in that Scribe. And so the idea is what if you could just automatically capture all of this knowhow, all of this knowledge that lives in people’s heads of what are they doing all day long when they’re nine to five fingers on keyboards, creating value for themselves, for their company, for whatever their work is. What if you could just capture that automatically and make that really easy to share with other people? What if we could just take the best of what everyone knows how to do and make it accessible to everyone at the stroke of a key?

Luis:

Yeah, that’s very interesting. And I think to me, it’s fundamentally interesting because it helps solve it. It seems to be directed to helping solve one of the key issues with remote work, which is knowledge sharing. I know that a lot of companies, maintain Wikis. We had Distant Job maintain a Wiki ourselves. But at some point I’m very defensive about what I ask people to put on the Wiki, because I realized that maintaining a Wiki can become a work onto himself. And I’m in the business of helping people recruit. I’m not in the business of building Wikis. So, it’s definitely something that if you let people go wild, it becomes a completely different product on its own. So, the idea of capturing what’s happening in an easy way, and then especially the point of automatically converting into an instruction set seems particularly suited to communications in remote work. Was that part of the brainstorming that led to the product? Or was it just a happy coincidence that you were synchronously with the adoption of remote work?

Jennifer Smith:

I’d say it’s a mix of both. We certainly didn’t, we started the company before COVID, so we didn’t anticipate COVID and that there would be this sort of market shift of so many folks who probably previously would’ve said, I will never be a remote company. Now being remote. We work with some really large banks as an example. And if you had asked them in 2019, will you ever be remote? They would’ve looked at you funny for asking the question. And now I talk to them and they’re saying, oh, I think in three years when our lease is up on our headquarters, we’re going to take away half the footprint. So, we’re just living in a different reality that we had never predicted.

Jennifer Smith:

What I do think it helped shed a light on is, as folks are working more remotely, I think you’re starting to see more of the cost of this, I call it collaboration overload. Not the first person to call it that. I think it becomes more apparent because when you’re in person, maybe you’re still maintaining that Wiki, or maybe people are just kind of popping their head, asking the person next to them, hey, can you remind me … Or I have a quick question. How many times have you been asked? I have a quick question. Can you just quickly show me how to do this thing? And you wrap it into a social conversation and you almost sort of don’t notice it. But it’s a real cost, it’s a real cost, is disruption. When you’re remote, it’s much easier to measure that because now it’s a Slack message that comes across your screen that says, I have a quick question. Or it’s an invitation to a Zoom meeting. That’s like, hey, can you quickly show me how to do this thing?

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. It’s the Hey culture, right?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. Right. And in some ways, you welcome it. Because you want to have that connection with people, but then when you add up and each individual one is maybe, what do you spend, five, 10 minutes on a Hey most, maybe a couple minutes. But then you add up how many Heys are you getting in a day?

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a lot of Heys.

Jennifer Smith:

A lot of Heys. And there’s a lot of interesting psychological research around context switching. And so the Hey may cost you a minute, but it actually cost you three minutes in terms of lost of productivity. Because by the time you contact switch and remember to go back to what did, you’ve lost a lot more out of the flow. And so I think this shift to remote has highlighted a problem that’s just been hiding in plain sight for so long. And I think we kind of just assumed it was a cost of doing business. The way that kind of the world worked. Yeah. Knowledge sharing is going to be hard. Yeah. I’ll just have to ask people how to do things. And then we went remote. Many people have been remote before, but now the world in mass went remote all at once. And I think that cost became just so much more apparent, so much faster.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. For sure. For sure. There’s a lot of that, hey, how to do this? Hi, how do you do things around here? I find that a lot of that used to be, it just used to happen in the normal office. That knowledge was just transferred almost seamlessly. We’ve had some success fighting that with mentors. But at this job, we have a bit of a mentor culture where when someone is new on the team, we assign them a mentor and they’re responsible for showing the ropes. But again, we also did-

Jennifer Smith:

Oh, that’s great.

Luis:

We also did the Wiki thing. How do you usually-

Jennifer Smith:

How’s the Wiki going? I’m just curious. People have very strong opinions I find on their Wiki.

Luis:

Yeah. Well I found that I don’t have a great relationship with the Wiki. I find it a bit of unnecessary evil. My preferred situation is the, let me Google that for you. That’s my preferred thing. And even I’d rather, if someone exists in the company Google Drive, in the Google Office, I can find it right. That’s my preferred way of doing things. If I have a question, I quickly jump on Google Drive and I type a couple of search queries and I usually get it. But I realize that not everyone’s brain works like that. Not everyone – 

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. You’re a nicer coworker.

Luis:

A lot of people are more trained to table of contents than to search functions. And I respect that. As a writer myself, I do see the value of having a table of contents. And I understand why a lot of people would feel more comfortable with that. And we do try to be very mindful not to produce what I call Wiki waste. Meaning not just writing everything down, just for the sake of writing it, just write same thing down if there’s a reasonable chance that someone will need it later. Which I guess brings me to the next question that I feel I should ask. I guess, that it could be tempting to just have Scribe on all the time. How do you suggest people figure out what is the thing that they should make the Scribe off?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. Great question. It’s anytime you’re doing something that you think someone else might need to do or might have a question on how to do. So, if you’re doing something that is bespoke single to you, no one else ever does it, or it’s a one off thing. It’s never to be repeated. You wouldn’t Scribe that. Why would you? But hey, you are processing payroll. You are paying an invoice. You are generating that quarterly sales report. Those things that you continue to do on a daily or weekly or monthly or quarterly, or sometimes even annual basis that other people in the company also have to do. And so what we tell people is just hit the record button when you do that process. And now you will have a Scribe on how to do it, and it will be in your company shared repository.

Jennifer Smith:

And so hopefully you have coworkers like you, who will then just go in and say, how do I pay the invoice? And they’ll find the Scribe and they’ll self-serve, and they’ll never have to bother you. But even if they do ping you and say, hey, wait, how did I do this thing? Now you can just shoot them a Scribe. Rather than having to jump on a call with them. And the behavior change we really try to push people to is when you have a question on how to do something, look to see if there’s a Scribe for it. And if there isn’t, when you get the answer, create a Scribe. Or have someone send you a Scribe. So, now the next time someone has that question, you’re not all reinventing the wheel over and over again in private Slack channels or Zoom calls or wherever these questions are getting answered today.

Luis:

So, give us an example. What was the last Scribe that you made yourself for your team?

Jennifer Smith:

I mean, it’s a great question. We make them all the time. I think, well, I made one last night, right before I went to bed. We were generating different pipeline sales views in Salesforce. And I had a question for my team, hey, how do I get this kind of nuanced view of something in Salesforce, because it’s not always the most intuitive UI as folks who want to use Salesforce. No. Yeah. And so my sales leader shot me a Scribe on how to do it. It’s actually really interesting. Someone on our company set, we do a lot of work in Slack as I’m sure many folks do. And someone in our company set up a Slack bot just to kind of troll us, which was anytime, and it was programmed to trigger anytime someone said, hey, how do I. Or can you show me how?

Jennifer Smith:

There were a few of those kinds of triggers that. And someone asked something like how do I change my faucet or something. Something that’s not addressed by Scribe at all. Not anything on their computer. I can’t remember what the question was. And the Slack bot triggered. And everyone was like, whoa, what is this? And it says, oh, you should really create a Scribe for that. Like they were trying to be funny. And the person who created it was like, I created this three months ago, guys. No one has just ever asked the question like, hey, can you show me how? Or hey, how do I … Because we have Scribe and because we’re getting all those questions answered already.

Luis:

Okay. Interesting. So, tell me a bit more about that office culture at Scribe. So, I don’t know how big the team is, but as the CEO, I assume you have a handful of people working under you. So, what is your management style? What is a typical day? What does a typical week look like?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, so we’re 45 people. And from the early days when we were only a few people have thought a lot about how do we create, what kind of environment do we want to create? And so we are very intentional about talking about our culture and values and continuing to revisit and refresh that as we grow as a company. And as we add more people and more perspectives. One of our key values is be the place where great people come to do the best work of their careers. And so there are two parts to that. One is thinking about what does great look like? And so we’re really thoughtful about what our hiring and recruiting practice is. And both in making sure we get good talent, but also where we make sure it’s a two way fit both the entire time.

Jennifer Smith:

Like is this person going to thrive in the kind of culture we’ve created? Do we think they’re going to add to the culture that we’ve created? Do we think they’re going to enjoy it? And then the second part is how do you create an environment where people can show up and do work that they feel really proud of? And so, to us, that’s an environment that’s very transparent and respectful and collaborative. Also, one where people show up and really challenge each other. And so one of our underlying key values is a growth mindset. This idea that things can always be better. You can always be better. Our product can always be better. Our customers, the way that they work can always be better.

Jennifer Smith:

And so we’re constantly trying to find, what is the truth? And then we’re intellectually honest with ourselves about what is the right answer here? Doesn’t matter where it came from. Doesn’t matter who had it. All that matters is that we’re continuing to try to get better. And so what that leads to it is an environment where people share credit and accept blame. Meaning we celebrate all of our wins together. And if something goes wrong, people sort of say, oh, that was my fault. I’ll learn next time. Let’s move on.

Luis:

That’s a powerful thing.

Jennifer Smith:

It really is. It really is. And it becomes self perpetuating because we explicitly look for humility when we’re recruiting. So, you get kind of humble people in the door who are excellent at what they do. You would never know it because they won’t tell you. But they’re excellent at what they do. But then they come in and they sort of see this culture and then it kind of perpetuates on itself. Where people kind of come in and say, oh, okay, this is the way things are done. And so what they’re doing is they’re lifting other people up and really trying to help them grow in what they want to be doing.

Luis:

Yeah. What does that look like? What does that recruitment style look like?

Jennifer Smith:

I always say recruiting, you’re selling from the moment that you meet someone, but you’re also anti-selling the entire time. And what I mean by that is Scribe or really any opportunity is a great fit, but usually for a specific kind of person. And so I always think of recruiting as you’re having a set of conversations to cry to as quickly as possible discern, are you the right kind of person? And are we the right kind of thing for you? It’s almost speed dating. But where you’re not being coy. I mean there’s no sort of social construct around playing games. Do they me or do they not me? We don’t do any of that part. It’s just entirely like, this is what the opportunity is.

Jennifer Smith:

This is why it’s really exciting. Here are the reasons you should not do this. Whenever I’m talking to candidates, I will spend quite a bit of time telling them why they should not come to Scribe. Why it might not be a fit for them. And if they sort of look at that and say, oh, well actually it is for all these same reasons. The reasons it’s not a fit are the same reasons it would be a fit for the right person. And so if they look at that and say like, oh gosh. Early stage startup journeys is not for me. Then I say, that’s great. I’m so glad we figured this out now. Let me make three introductions for you so you can talk to some companies that might be a better fit. But for folks who get through that funnel, they’re then really clear about this is what I want.

Jennifer Smith:

And I think in many ways, what we’re going for is this feeling of like, I’ve been waiting to find an opportunity this. Maybe I didn’t even know it yet until I saw it. And so by the time we get to the end of that process, we are just both so excited on both sides. And I always frame it as like, you have to get to a heck yes. Like if we’re not entirely heck yes, jumping up and down about a candidate, we won’t extend an offer. And if they’re not, heck yes, jumping up and down about Scribe. We also won’t extend an offer. Because we’ll say you deserve to be heck yes about whatever it is you’re doing. If it’s not us. Totally fine. Great. Glad we realize that now. Again, let me make three introductions for you to help you figure out what that thing is.

Luis:

Yeah. So, how is your move to hybrids and influenced that? Because you said that perhaps accidentally most of the people were in San Francisco, when you started. Are you stretching a bit more worldwide now or do you still want to get the sense that people are more or less nearby? So, if they choose to, they can go to the office.

Jennifer Smith:

Hybrid I think has enabled us to get the best of both worlds and really access broad talent pools. Because we do both and we can support both. So, if we meet a really great content marketer who happens to live in Toronto, we can say, great, no problem. You can work fully remote. And when we have our marketing team offsite a couple time a year, come out to San Francisco and enjoy the Bay. And that’s a great conversation. If we happen to meet someone who lives in the Bay area and says, gosh, I really miss going into an office. And I’d love to be able to come a few times at my discretion. We say, great, we have that option available too.

Jennifer Smith:

So, I think it’s been a big blessing not just for us, but I think for employers everywhere, where now you can access a much bigger talent pool. And in some ways it’s kind of crazy that we previously were limited to only the people who lived within a 20 mile radius of where we’re located. And I’m lucky I’m sitting in San Francisco. So, there’s a lot of talented people who live within a 20 mile radius of where I am. But that’s still a small percentage of the total world’s population of really talented people.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. It would be a huge coincidence if all the good talented people were actually there. So, for sure, for sure. It’s nice to have that. It’s nice to have that option. Has it affected the way you run the interviews anyway, because I see that your interviews are probably very intense, very thorough. Because you do try to reach that cultural fit. I think it’s fair to say that it’s a cultural fit. So, in the absence of an easier opportunity to meet candidates in person, I assume that most is done by video or text, how does that look like? How has that changed?

Jennifer Smith:

It really hasn’t, to be honest. We still do our interviews via video. And most of the folks who are within a 30 mile radius of where I’m sitting right now, I didn’t meet in person. We hired them fully, virtually. Fully over Zoom. And it was only once we had an offsite or after Omicron where we got together a few times. That we met in person for the first time. And to me, it’s kind of telling in my reaction when I meet people for the first time, because sometimes I don’t actually remember if we’ve met in person before.

Jennifer Smith:

Maybe you can have this feeling too, of people you just spend so much time with talking over video and text and phone calls and whatever. And so what you mean for the first time, you’re almost like, have we? I feel I know you really well. I can’t remember if this is actually the first time that we’re meeting or not. And so I haven’t noticed a difference for us at all in terms of what the hiring process looks like or what those conversations look like, or how quickly or easily we’re able to get to that hack yes, based on where someone’s located.

Luis:

Yeah. Well that’s very familiar. The story of my life really. Terribly embarrassing at parties.

Jennifer Smith:

It is. I’ve defaulted to the good to see you. You’re trying to remember if you’ve met in person before or not.

Luis:

Yes. Yes. You do that wave where you’re trying to wave at someone and then you realize they don’t recognize. So, then you just calmed your hair with your hand. Like it’s, yeah. Oh, I didn’t meant to wave. I just need to smooth my hair a bit. So, yeah.

Jennifer Smith:

You’re more polite. I’ll march straight up to them and be like, I’m Jennifer, remember?

Luis:

Jennifer who? So, yeah, yeah. That’s something. Okay. So, what does your virtual office look. When you open your laptop or your tablet, or maybe you work at the desktop? I don’t know. You’re going to tell me for sure. What are the apps that you begin your day with? What are the tabs that are always open on your browser?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, I mean, my answer, first of all, is all of the above. So again, I kind of work anywhere. So, even when I’m working from home, I’ve got several different office stations that I just sort of migrate between, I think maybe it’s a leftover relic from consulting days when I never worked in one stationary location for more than a few hours. I’m constantly on the move between my laptop and …

Luis:

Am I going to use the pantry computer or the kitchen computer today?

Jennifer Smith:

Exactly, exactly. I to kind of roam around. I live in communication with my team all day long. And so I am constantly in Slack. It’s the first thing that I check when I wake up in the morning, when I’m looking at my computer to see if there’s anything my team kind of urgently needs from me. And so we do almost all of our internal communication around Slack. In terms of creating documents and such, we’ll do that in Notion or Google Docs. We now have the pain of being split between the two of them, which I just don’t recommend for anyone. Despite our best efforts, somehow we’ve ended up with those plus Miro. So, now there’s a kind of a mess of where different collaboration documents live. And then I’m a lot of my day in Zoom or I’m taking phone calls with folks.

Jennifer Smith:

I try to move from Zoom to phone calls for folks that I know really well, just so I have an excuse to not sit in what sometimes feels a square box of jail where you’re trying to stay within the frame of the Zoom and sit still. But it’s almost entirely communications. And then email, I obviously continue to use email. I don’t think we’ll see it go away anytime soon. But that’s entirely for external only communications. So, whether I’m talking to customers or vendors or investors, although even investors I’ve migrated mostly to Slack or text.

Luis:

Yeah. Interesting point, the point in notion. Especially given the nature of your business as most businesses use Notion for something a Wiki situation. I’m actually surprised you use it. I do feel that nothing against Notion in particular, I mean, it’s a tool and if you it, all the power to you. But I do feel that there’s a bit of a cultural expectation that develop over the last two years or something that if you’re a startup, you should be using Notion because it’s the cool toy to use. I actually don’t see a great benefit to it. If you have a healthy let’s say Google Documents culture.

Jennifer Smith:

I agree. So, I personally use mostly Google Docs. I think what we’ve seen is different folks have different preferences around what happens. And so my marketing team loves to use Notion, I think, because it enables them to be a little more expressive and when they’re putting together copy for the latest product release or something. So, we’ve got kind of folks using a mix of the two. We do not really use it as a Wiki. So, we use it much more for living documents that we’re collaborating on. So, creating things or even some light project management of say a content calendar right of stuff that’s going to come out. We don’t really use it as a place where we go back and reference things that have happened in the past or where people are spending any time going in and documenting things that are already known. It’s entirely about creation or brainstorm of things we don’t know yet that we’re trying to get to some kind of truth to.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. Interesting. All right. So, I want to ask, if you had 150 bucks to spend on each of your employees and the rules are you need to buy in bulk, you can’t ask each one what they want and you can’t give them a cash or a equivalent like a gift card. What would you get them? What did the express purpose of improving their work life situation, work life balance, or just make them more productive in general. Can be anything app software, digital, physical tool, experience, whatever.

Jennifer Smith:

Oh, interesting. I think it really would vary based on the person and the function and what they’re trying to do. And we actually offer a $500 work from home stipend for folks. And I wish I had looked at the data before we came to this conversation, because I actually could have told you empirically where folks chose to spend that money. What I’ve heard kind of just anecdotally from talking to folks is for a lot of them, it was investing in good setups of hardware. So, getting a nice external monitor and a microphone and noise canceling headphones for folks who are working from home. And they’re able to sort of create an environment where they feel it’s almost replicating the office in terms of a quiet space where they can work.

Jennifer Smith:

In terms of software, I’d probably replicate the software stack that we have today. And I wish I had some, when I say across the country, we could get into across the company, we could get into individual kind of functions. And what I think is interesting there. The thing that has been most helpful for us that is worth every dime we spend on it is Slack. And then we obviously don’t pay for Scribe, but we live in Scribe every day as a team as well.

Luis:

Yeah. Well that’s the advantage of building the tool. You get to use it for free.

Jennifer Smith:

We get to use it for free.

Luis:

Yeah, yeah, yeah. For sure. So, why about yourself? What was the expenditure you did in the last, let’s say six months that made the most different for your, the most impact in your work life?

Jennifer Smith:

Interesting question. Well, for me personally, it’s probably been our accounting firm. Because it was a lot of work that I kind of took off of myself personally. We’ve made a lot of investments in our security and privacy posture of our software. We’ve built for it from day one. If you can imagine, when I’m talking about taking screenshots of what people have on their computers, we have built a lot of stuff into the software to really protect that and to make sure that you have full control over what is captured and if you capture something you don’t want to, you can redact it and take it out. And we even have auto redaction, which will automatically scrub this kind of stuff. But there’s a bunch of stuff that we continue to do around that.

Jennifer Smith:

And so we’ve purchased software that continuously monitors our security posture to make sure that we are in compliance with all the things that we say that we do all the time. And so I think that’s actually been worth a ton for us just in having peace of mind of knowing that we’re doing all the things that we said we’re doing and that we think we’re doing to make sure that we actually are. And as you can imagine, that also matters a lot to our customers too, that we’re able to show them and say, look, we’re not just so two type two compliant, but actually here’s the real time monitor on an ongoing basis that shows that we do this stuff. So, probably not an exciting answer.

Luis:

No, no, no, no. I understand.

Jennifer Smith:

But a truthful one of stuff that’s important to our business and in an instance where software just makes that easier and gives you more peace of mind.

Luis:

Yeah. And back to the accounting point. Not having to worry about accounting is one of the great blessings one can have in their lives. As far as I’m concerned.

Jennifer Smith:

Unless you’re an accountant. My kind of motto is, you should figure out the things that you are uniquely, exceptionally good at and just think about one proxy for that is, what are the things in your day that give you energy? Those are probably the things that you’re good at. Those are the things that you enjoy doing. Presumably those are things where you can add the most value and then think about what are the things in your day that detract energy that you really don’t doing that you sort of drag your feet on and try to delegate away as much of that ladder campus possible.

Jennifer Smith:

So, you spend as much of your time doing the things that you are uniquely good at. Because chances are, that’s what’s driving 10X for your business and all that other stuff. If someone else were doing it is just freeing up your time to do the thing where you’re adding more value. And so I look at how I spend my time and counting for example was not a good use of my time. I’m not particularly good at it. I don’t enjoy doing it. There’s no reason I should be doing it. And so stuff like that, I’m constantly looking at it and saying like, how do you delegate that away to someone else?

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. For sure. I want to talk a bit about books. I know what your relationship is with books. I personally enjoy gifting books and I always think that it – .

Jennifer Smith:

What was the last book you gave as a gift? Give me a book recommendation.

Luis:

Oh, it’s been a while. It’s been a while since business related, but I gave Antifragile by Nicholas Nassim Taleb. It’s one of my favorites. So, that was the last one.

Jennifer Smith:

I love his writings.

Luis:

Yeah. Yeah. That was the last one. I find that they are tough reads. I need to read each of his books a couple two or three times before I feel that I really integrated the message because they can be quite dense. But I think they’re they’re unique. I also on a non, well, I say it’s non-business, but really it’s life and business is part of life. So, I guess it could count as well. I gave Awareness by Anthony de Mello.

Jennifer Smith:

Oh, I haven’t read that one. Let’s write that one down.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s a nice. That’s a powerful book. So, I guess it’s … Well, you preempted me. So, I guess now it’s your turn.

Jennifer Smith:

To answer your question on my relationship with books. My husband is a complete bibliophile. I estimate we have maybe 5,000 books in our house. So, I always joke if there’s an earthquake in California, you will find me buried under a pile of books. I worry a little for my physical safety.

Luis:

There are worse ways to die.

Jennifer Smith:

With all these books around. Yeah. That’s what he says. I open a closet and books jump out at me all the time. But sadly, I still don’t read as much as I would to. Let’s see a recent book that I’ve read. Have you read Frank Slootman’s book? Do you know who Frank Slootman is?

Luis:

Can you remind me the title?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. Frank Slootman, he wrote a book called Amp It Up pretty recently. Frank is pretty well known in tech circles. He actually used to work at the venture capital firm where I was … So, he’s founded several very large companies. Most recently, Snowflake Computing is the fastest growing company. And he was previously at ServiceNow and Dataman and a bunch of other companies. So, really kind of well revered CEO and founder. And he wrote a book that is really just about if I were to sort of distill it down into the core message, Amp It Up, how do you instill urgency and go faster? How do you constantly set the pace and set the tone in an ever accelerating way for an organization? And I’ll share maybe one little thing that he has in the book that I shared at our company all hands, which I just think is a fun framing for life.

Jennifer Smith:

There was a Volkswagen ad back in the 1990s. Some of you might remember it how to photo of a Volkswagen. And then the slogan drivers wanted. And Frank tells a story which is In your company and in life, there are drivers and there are passengers. Drivers are the people who are setting the pace. The car would never leave the station if you didn’t have the driver, they are the ones with their foot on the gas pedal and their hands on the steering, constantly thinking about where should we be going? How do we get there? And passengers are the really nice people who sort of go along and support that. But if the passenger weren’t in the car, the car would still go where it is. And in many companies you have drivers and you have passengers and the drivers are the ones who drive your business outcomes.

Jennifer Smith:

And the passengers are almost sort of a tax on the system. And you might not even know it because they’re often the friendly, nice likable people who are sort of just supporting everything. And so the challenge he has in the book that I kind of shared in our all hands is, are you a driver or are you a passenger? And it’s a tricky question because we’re all drivers and we’re all passengers at different times in our lives and in different circumstances. But the idea behind it is how can you be more a driver in most instances, whether that’s at work or even in your day to day life.

Luis:

That’s a nice vignette. Thank you. Thank you for sharing. So, can you repeat the title of the book please? I want to make sure I got it right for the show notes.

Jennifer Smith:

I’m pretty sure it’s called Amp It Up.

Luis:

Amp It Up.

Jennifer Smith:

By Frank Slootman.

Luis:

Nice. All right.

Jennifer Smith:

Unlike Caleb’s books, it’s a sort of nice quick maybe bedtime read. Not particularly dense.

Luis:

Yeah. It takes all kinds. It’s nice to have books like that. That I don’t feel I need to, or to pour over like a treaty. So, for sure. Okay. So, I want to ask one more question. This one has a bit of a longer setup, so please bear with me. But we were talking before we started the show about our risk profiles when it comes to COVID and going out and getting together, let’s imagine that’s a nonissue and that we can get together for dinner again, safely and in large quantities of people. Let’s say that you’re hosting one such dinner and in attendance are the decision makers at the top tech companies from all over the world. And the round table of the night is about remote work and the future of work. Now, the twist is that you are hosting that dinner in a Chinese restaurant. So, as the host, you get to choose the message that goes inside the fortune cookie. So, what is the fortune cookie message that these people are going to be reading this evening?

Jennifer Smith:

Ooh. I have to say, as you were asking the question, I was trying to guess where you were going with it. You kept me guessing up until literally the last second. So, the first thing that popped in my head, which I’m not sure this is my answer, because I want to think about it a little more. But the first thing that popped into my head was basically change is constant the future is already here. And what I mean by that is the ship has already sailed on remote work. And that it is the new norm. It is what people want. We have proven that people can work as effectively, if not more effectively and efficiently when they’re remote. And I think most leaders sort of intellectually get that. I think we’re seeing with a lot of the tech companies here, big tech companies in particular, kind of a chasm where some of them have really embraced that and said, okay, we’re all remote.

Jennifer Smith:

You don’t have to ever come back to headquarters. And then we’re seeing a few of the big ones that are literally this month now pulling people back. And I’m hearing the backlash of it from folks who say, gosh, during the pandemic, I worked remotely for two years. And by the way, I moved my family to Utah. And now you’re telling me that I have to come back here or quit my job. And I haven’t seen any numbers on this yet. It’ll be interesting to see when that data becomes available. But at least anecdotally, I’m hearing a lot of people who are saying, fine I don’t come back. And so I wonder what impact that has for those companies and their ability to access talent longer term. Especially think for big tech companies that we’re kind of facing a shift in attitude, I think in public attitude and perception of tech companies.

Jennifer Smith:

Like I’m curious, do you kind of feel it where you are they’re sort of in my backyard, so maybe I have a worked perspective, but I think they used to be quite revered as really, really held up as sort of these great achievements of humanity and these folks who have the right answer and are sort of just at the forefront of innovation and changing the world. And I think now, especially with some of the backlash against social media and other things, I think people look at them with a little more skepticism. Like are you maybe making the right decisions on behalf of all of us? And so I think remote work is just an example of where they’re not embracing sort of the reality of where people are and meeting them where they’re at.

Luis:

Yeah. Well, I mean, this job is a recruitment company that’s focused solely on remote. So, we do feel that there’s an exodus, sort of an exodus from Silicon Valley. But that’s not necessarily only to do with the perception of the tech companies, I think that most candidates still really would to work at the prestigious tech company. I just think that people feel they can get a better quality of life away from the valley and they’re giving a bit more importance, giving a bit more importance that. So, that’s how I feel. That’s what I’m looking about that. I don’t think that the companies have necessarily lost a lot of their prestige. I just think that after three years, almost three years of pandemic, a lot of people have adjusted their life priorities. So, that’s a part of that.

Jennifer Smith:

Well, and for the first time in human history, we’re able to decouple where you work and where you live. And I think Silicon Valley was a huge, as a region was a huge benefactor of the fact that those things were so closely tied for so long. Because I think you had a lot of people move here who didn’t have ties here who otherwise wouldn’t be living here. But said, it’s worth it to me because I want to work at X, Y, Z in tech and now they no longer have to do that. Now they can say, I can live in my hometown or near the mountains where I’ve always wanted to be, or by the beach, whatever their story is. And I can still work and it’s not no longer a trade off.

Luis:

Yeah. That exit is a real thing. And I think that ultimately it’s for the best for everyone. For the people staying and for the people go going. Because humanity works better when it’s a bit distributed. There’s less stress. There’s less stress on a single place in a single state, in a single city. And more of the benefits, more of the richness flows out to lesser populated areas. So, while there’s certainly some social strain in the process, I think that ultimately everyone is going to be better off.

Jennifer Smith:

I totally agree. I mean, I was an economist in a former life. And so the economist in me loves the idea of having a more open market for talent and labor. Because it leads you to a more efficient outcome where now you can better match sort of supply and demand where you no longer have a geographical constraint. And I think that has excellent implications, obviously for the individuals on the companies who are now able to access a wider range of options, but for society too, for exactly the reasons that you’re talking about. Cities are the original network effects. And we know what happens with network effects is they keep strengthening each other. And so what you end up with is for example, what we see here in the bay area, with out of control housing prices and major traffic and transportation disasters, and all kinds of things that come from just having so many people located in particular place. Now imagine we can spread that opportunity everywhere.

Luis:

Yeah. That’s great. I mean, it’s become a big priority for tech companies in particular, but really for the world, the business world in general, the quest for diversity and it’s worth pointing out that it, obviously you can get a diverse team if you only hire in the valley. But how much more diverse is it going to be if you, instead of hiring from the valley, you hire from five different continents. Probably that’s going to be even more diverse. If diversity is a goal worth pursuing, which by all accounts, by all metrics, it seems to be then why not just go to the world for that.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, exactly. And then diversity shows up in many different ways. And so there’s also diversity of sort of thought and background and experience. And you just, almost by definition are going to get that from people who live in radically different places have had really different life experiences growing up.

Luis:

Exactly. And cultures, of course that brings up another can of worms, which is how you can conciliate people from very different cultures in a single workspace. But I do think that part of that, of the answer to that is having a solid company culture to act as glue between those. So, that seems to be something that we’re being able to slowly solve. So, yeah. And anyway, this extended a bit. So can we go back to your, you said you had a second fortune cookie message, maybe you’ve forgotten about it. The first one was quite good though.

Jennifer Smith:

Oh, yeah. I combined the two together. I said the change is constant and the future is already here.

Luis:

Exactly. So, we can go with that if you’d like it, sounds great to me.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. Do you have a better suggestion?

Luis:

No. It’s your fortune cookie.

Jennifer Smith:

Yes. You’ve probably thought about this for a while. I’m curious, what would you put in a fortune cookie?

Luis:

It’s your fortune cookie. I’m not going to bud in. But, yeah. It was wonderful having you for the podcast. Great conversation. Thank you so much for being here with me. I do want to ask, where can the listeners find you and continue the conversation with you? Where can they learn more about Scribe and what Scribe can do for them?

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah. So, folks can check us out at scribehow.com. Scribe H-O-W .com. Our product is free. It takes four minutes from the moment you land on our site to actually create and share your first Scribe. We’ve actually tested this. We’ve got users in over a hundred countries. We’ve not translated the product yet. Even if you don’t speak English, it takes you four minutes to get through that process. So, just really, really easy. If folks do want to upgrade to the paid product, we’ll have a promo code for listeners here, at Distant Job, use the promo code, and maybe you can share it in the show notes as well. But the main product is free itself. So, you can check us out there and then feel free to follow us on Twitter or LinkedIn.

Luis:

All right. I’ll include all of that in the show notes, Jennifer, thank you. It was awesome having this conversation with you. Thank you so much for being on the show.

Jennifer Smith:

Yeah, this was a ton of fun. Thanks for having me.

Luis:

And thank you for listening dear listeners. This was Luis and the host of the Distant Job podcast, your podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the Distant Job podcast. And if you enjoy the episode, please, you can help us out by sharing it on social media. That would be great. It’s how we reach more listeners. And the more listeners we have, the more awesome guests I can get in touch and convinced to participate in these conversations that are a joy to have for me and I hope they’re a joy for you to listen to as well.

Luis:

You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the podcast get to more listeners. Now, another thing that you might want to do is go to distantjob.com/blog/podcast, click on your favorite episode, any episode really, and subscribe. By subscribing, you will get a notification whenever a new episode is up and whenever we get the transcripts of the episode up, so you can actually peruse the conversations in text form.

Luis:

And of course, if you need to find a great employee for your team, a great remote employee, you should take the whole world into consideration and not just look to hire locally, not just look to hire in your country. Look around the whole world, because that’s the talent pool that contains the best talent. And to help you with that again, distantjob.com is the perfect place to start. You will tell us who we need, and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate, 40% faster than the industry standard. And with that, I bid you adieu. See you next week on the next episode of the Distant Job podcast.

Many company leaders are transforming their work models, prioritizing flexibility. In some cases, this means embracing a fully remote model. In others, it is about a balance between in-person and remote work.

During this podcast episode, Jennifer Smith shares how Scribe transformed into a hybrid company and the challenges and advantages of such model. She also emphasizes key elements to building a healthy and strong company culture that goes beyond an onsite location.

Highlights:

  • Insights about building a hybrid work model
  • Main challenges of having a hybrid model
  • How to adapt your culture to hybrid teams
  • The importance of having the right documentation tools
  • How to identify which processes need to be documented
  • How to build a powerful and collaborative culture when working with hybrid teams

Book Recommendations:

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up every Monday!

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