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How to Create a Successful Remote Onboarding Process with Mike and Gaby

Mike Grinberg and Gaby Israel are the co-founders of Proofpoint Marketing, a B2B digital marketing agency. Although they are a couple working together in Minneapolis, their whole company is fully remote with team members and clients all around the country. They are also starting their podcast called The Mixing Business with Pleasure Podcast, which consists of an interview-style podcast featuring married couples working and owning a business together.

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Mike Grinberg and Gaby Israel

Luis:

Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to another episode of the DistantJob Podcast, the podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. And today, I your host, Luis, have two guests. Yes, this is a three person podcast. So, allow me to introduce the co-founders of Proofpoint Marketing, Mike Grinberg.

Mike Grinberg:

Hi there.

Luis:

And Gaby Israel.

Gaby Israel:

Hi, everyone.

Luis:

So, they are a couple, and they have started their business, Proofpoint Marketing, a people first B2B digital marketing agency. Well, they work together, they are based in Minneapolis. The whole company is fully remote with team members and clients all around the country. They are also starting their own podcast, The Mixing Business with Pleasure Podcast, an interview style podcast that will feature married couples working and owning a business together. So, Mike, Gaby, welcome to the show.

Gaby Israel:

Thank you, Luis.

Luis:

So, this was my introduction, but if I missed anything especially important that you would like to state, now please do. I cede the floor to you.

Gaby Israel:

The introduction was perfect, and I will say, obrigada, thank you. This is great. We’re excited to be here and jump right in.

Luis:

Okay. So, let’s start by talking about remote work and how it relates to your business. How has remote work made your business possible or helped you make it better?

Mike Grinberg:

I think-

Gaby Israel:

Well-

Mike Grinberg:

Oh, you go first.

Gaby Israel:

I’ll go. Okay. We started our company completely, fully being remote. That was the impetus behind the company, is we wanted to be remote, we wanted to have that flexibility. And we consider it both a responsibility but also a luxury, not only to our employees, but also to our clients. And let me expound a little bit on that.

Gaby Israel:

We started the company after what we call family crisis. Our daughter was born severely premature back in 2015, she’s had a long hospital journey. And when she came home from the hospital, she needed to have full time care, and there’s a couple of other ups and downs within this story, but to make a long story short, we decided to start Proofpoint as a way for Mike and I to be able to work from home, care for our daughter who had some medical needs in the early stages of her life, and also to do something that we enjoy and that we both have a passion for and experience in and something that we were excited about. And let’s be honest, we also were a young family, with a child that had medical needs, we also needed a way to be financially stable.

Gaby Israel:

And most importantly, I will say this, we were struggling to find a company that would have the kind of culture and flexibility that we needed as parents. Our daughter was still going to a lot of doctor’s appointments, needing to be seen by specialists and early childhood intervention for therapy and so on and so forth, and we simply looked at each other and we said, “Well, there’s no company out there, or very few companies out there that are going to be remote, that are going to be flexible, and that are going to allow me or you or both of us to have the type of flexibility to either, A, work from home completely, and/or, B, have that flexibility to work from home, a couple of days a week, take time off to care for our daughter’s needs.” We were very hard pressed to find that kind of a company out there.

Gaby Israel:

And so what do most people do when they’re entrepreneurs? They scratch their own itch. They fill a need that is out there that either, A, themselves they are feeling, or B, that they see out there in the world. And that’s a large part of why we started Proofpoint, and when you were doing the introduction, you said people first, and that’s very deliberate. We consider ourselves to be family first, and people first, and to allow our people, our employees, and anyone who we work with, the flexibility to put their people first, whether it’s their clients, their families, stakeholders in their lives.

Gaby Israel:

While working is important and something that we value and treasure, the institution of the family is, in our opinion, the most important institution out there in the world, and oftentimes, employees and professionals… I’d say up until the year 2020, we really had to make major sacrifices in the sense of, do we put our careers first? Do we put our family first? How do we balance at all? And it’s certainly not perfect. There’s certainly things that professionals out there in the world and us as business owners can do to improve this situation, but up until this year, before the pandemic, it was very difficult for working parents, especially working mothers, to be able to have the flexibility and the autonomy that they wanted to have in both their career and in their family lives. So, that is, in large part, the impetus for being remote and for starting our company. And I want to also allow Mike to say a few things in here because he always tells me that I hog the interviews. So, Mike, what would you add to that?

Mike Grinberg:

I mean, mine’s going to be a little bit more pointed to your question, Luis, I think. There are some very tangible benefits, obviously, which I’m guessing your listeners are going to be pretty used to, but there’s financial benefits in the sense of, because we don’t have to pay for physical space, we can pay our people more, or we can spend more on benefits, etc, and still have competitive pricing while making a good margin for us. There’s also the benefit of opening up our talent pool, right? I mean, Gaby and I each had, we could say, a fairly good personal brand, if you will, and a good network in Minneapolis, but that’s about it.

Mike Grinberg:

Other than that, Proofpoint was a no name brand, and it’s getting better, obviously, as we’ve been around for a while, but it’s very hard to hire when nobody knows who you are, right? And by opening up the talent pool to national, really, that really helped us hire quickly and hire really good people. Whereas if we were limited to just the Minneapolis area, while there’s a lot of really great marketing talent here, it’s much harder because not everybody wants to go to a startup agency, and it’s a unique value proposition. Even with the benefits that we provide in terms of remote flexible work environment, and some other things, it’s still not for everybody, so opening that up really allowed us to hire some really good people.

Luis:

Okay. So, I actually am interested in something that you mentioned, which is that you mentioned hiring nationally. Why did you decide that as opposed to hiring internationally? What are the key reasons in that decision?

Mike Grinberg:

That’s a good question. So, international is something we are kicking around as of right now as a way to potentially further scale, but two things, honestly, to start with, just ease of doing it, because I mean, finding contractors internationally, I think is very doable, finding full-time employees, and then you got to deal with foreign entities and all this stuff, and with a young business, we just weren’t willing to go that route. We are very familiar with the model. We have a good friend of ours who doesn’t own a business, but he works for a company, that’s what they do, they outsource development to Belarus and whatnot, they’ve got thousands of employees out there. We know a lot of people that do that, we just weren’t ready to build that model, if you will, but it is something we’re thinking of.

Luis:

Yeah, absolutely. No, I fully understand because that’s actually what DistantJob does. DistantJob deals with businesses that actually don’t want to deal with the HR red tape of hiring people internationally, and we hire them for them. So, this is definitely a challenge that ends up in my table very often. You were going to add something, Gaby.

Gaby Israel:

I was going to say the idea of working internationally very much appeals to both Mike and I. We’re both American citizens, we live in the United States, I was born here, but we both have an international background. Mike’s family’s from the former Soviet Union, my mother’s from Brazil, my father’s from Egypt. We have family all over the world. So, prior to the pandemic, we had a lot of fun traveling and a lot of wonderful places that we had to visit that we could visit. So, the idea of hiring abroad is very appealing to us. Not only that, one of the other personal benefits to us and things that we can also extend to our team, to our employees, is the ability to travel while working, to live abroad, or to live in a different place for a period of time and still have your job, and still be able to work and live in a new place. And that, to us, is also very appealing and also very big part of why we wanted to be remote.

Gaby Israel:

We live in Minneapolis, Minnesota, and for listeners out there that may not be familiar with this part of the country, it is very, very cold, especially in the winter. We get temperatures of negative 40 degrees Fahrenheit, so very, very, very cold for celsius people. And one of the things that we’ve always talked about is going to Florida, or going to Arizona, which are warm and lovely states here in the US that allow us to still stay stateside, but get away from that horrible cold Minnesota weather. And we’ve actually had-

Mike Grinberg:

And we have gone to Brazil in the winters in the past.

Gaby Israel:

Yes. I was just going to say, in 2019, we spent almost four weeks.

Mike Grinberg:

It was a month.

Gaby Israel:

Yeah, it was a month in Brazil.

Luis:

Which part of Brazil?

Gaby Israel:

We were in Rio de Janeiro.

Luis:

Oh, yeah, that was hot.

Gaby Israel:

Yes. My mother’s from Rio, and we were visiting my grandmother. And we not only worked abroad, we also brought our daughter, who at the time was four. So, we were working and-

Mike Grinberg:

And we were expanding our team at the time. So, we were interviewing people-

Gaby Israel:

We were interviewing people.

Mike Grinberg:

… in different parts of the US while we were in Brazil.

Gaby Israel:

While we were in Brazil.

Luis:

Yeah, I’m not going to believe that. I don’t think that it’s possible for people used to Minneapolis weather to be able to function at 40 degrees Celsius. That’s not happening. It’s melting most of the time, and then 10% of the time.

Mike Grinberg:

It gets pretty hot here in the summer, so we were-

Gaby Israel:

Summers are very lovely, but winters are just horrific.

Luis:

How nice.

Gaby Israel:

Yeah. So, we like to escape whenever possible.

Luis:

Sound great.

Gaby Israel:

Yeah.

Luis:

Sounds great. Yeah, that’s definitely the travel… So, I want to go back to the traveling, I’m going to make a flag here, but I want to linger a bit more on the hiring, because this is something that I found… and feel free to take me up on that if you don’t agree, but what I found is that you can get a person that’s a really good fit for the job, that has all the right skills, and the right references, and the portfolio of previously great works in the area, but then they lack certain skills that enable them to be a good member of a remote company. So, I find that there’s a separate set of skills, and you seem to agree-

Mike Grinberg:

Very much.

Luis:

… that are required for remote work. And I wanted to ask you, what are the ones that you identify when you are hiring?

Gaby Israel:

That’s a fantastic question, Luis.

Mike Grinberg:

Yeah. If I can take that one. I’m glad you said that because it is something that I’ve found myself arguing with people about over the last three, four months of this pandemic, because everybody’s screaming, “Hey, remote work is the future,” to which, yes, there’s some truth to that, but I think there’s this big misconception that all it takes is some technology and you’re good to go, and that’s just simply not the case, and it’s not for everybody, at least not right now.

Mike Grinberg:

I’m going to give you a little bit of a roundabout answer, but there’s a number of people who we interviewed for the position and we’ll ask the question… especially ones that haven’t worked remote in the past, we’ll ask the question, “Why do you want to work remotely?” And one of the things we look for is for them to say something about improved efficiency and things like that, something about the work itself. What happens a lot of the time, people who’ve never worked remote, they really only think about, “Okay, well, here’s what I’m going to get out of it. I’m going to have a flexible schedule, I can do my laundry, I can do this, that and the other,” and it’s like, “Okay, that’s great for you, but how are you going to get the work done? And how is being remote going to help you do the job better?”

Mike Grinberg:

And a lot of people can’t answer that because they’ve never thought about it, and when they actually get into doing the job, they can’t, because they’re like, “Oh, well, I want to talk to somebody. I want to just swing over to their desk.” Well, you can’t do that. Now you have to make a phone call, or call somebody via Slack. So, I don’t know if I can point pinpoint to skill per se, definitely it takes somebody that’s more independent and that’s more like a self-starter, I guess. And I hate to use buzzwords, but that’s the reality. You have to be able to walk into your own home office or into your co-working space, if they’re open, and just be able to start working, versus having to walk into an office and say hi to 50 people and whatnot.

Gaby Israel:

Yeah. I would add to what Mike is saying. Definitely someone that thrives in being independent, thrives at being a self-starter. I think there’s also a high degree of ambiguity that somebody needs to be okay with. And certainly, there are a ton of remote companies that are very well established and that have everything laid out in black and white, but there are a lot of companies, like ours, that are still in our early days where there’s a high degree of ambiguity. And so I think that we strive to hire individuals that, number one, have remote experience, that have worked remotely in some capacity, and also individuals that are okay with ambiguity, that can actually say, “Okay, I see the vision that you want to create, and I’m okay not having a template or not having a black and white process to follow, I’m okay, meandering my way along, but we’re eventually going to get to the end goal.”

Gaby Israel:

And we try, as part of our culture, to encourage all of our team to say, “Okay, we want to talk about what the end goal is going to look like, whether it’s a client deliverable, whether it’s an internal process,” whatever that may be, we always talk about, “Okay, this is what we want the end objective to achieve, to do, to look like,” but how we get there is open to interpretation. And sometimes we take what an employee might have an idea on and we build the process around that. Other times, Mike and I might have a very distinct process that we want to carve out, and we turn to our team to say, “Okay, guys, what do you think of this?”

Gaby Israel:

And one of the things that we are currently doing is looking at all of the internal processes that we have and all the things that we want to build out, and we’re taking our time right now to really build those out, and carve those out, and create those templates and those models, because like Mike was saying, an employee that works in a physical location, they have the luxury of learning by osmosis, they have the luxury of talking to their colleagues right next door to them, or hearing things in the hall, or listening to conversations. We can create some of that through Slack, we can create some of that through technology, but not everything can be duplicated. You can’t get that same experience. So, I think that we do need to have individuals that thrive with some level of ambiguity, I think that’s very important.

Mike Grinberg:

And one thing to add, which to a certain, gets more into recommendations of how to manage remote teams, but Gaby, you mentioned ambiguity, I think, especially for smaller businesses, what you find in a remote setting is that ambiguity is amplified in a remote setting, because like you said, people can’t learn by osmosis anymore, which means that ambiguity becomes more difficult to deal with. So, from a management perspective, what you want to do is document as many processes as possible or as early as possible to avoid as much of that as you can, but you’re still going to have it, and you just have to be aware of it and hire people that can deal with it, because there’s always going to be something that’s never been done that’s new that you now have to figure out how to do.

Luis:

So, yeah, this segues actually very nicely into something that I like to talk about, that’s onboarding. Actually, I haven’t talked about onboarding on the podcast for a while, so let’s have at it. So, obviously, the documentation is very important. This is something that I repeat a lot to people who want to manage remote teams, and glad to see that we’re on the same page. Documentation is super important in remote work, because as Gaby said, there’s not that osmosis that happens when people are stuck in the same room or in the same building. So, documentation is crucial, but a lot of companies have trouble when they produce a lot of documentation, sometimes high quality documentation, but then it just lingers in a Google Drive and they don’t know how to apply it. So, let’s say that you hire someone for your business, what is the onboarding process like? What is the curriculum for the education of, here’s out to be a successful employee at this company?

Mike Grinberg:

Gaby, I’ll let you start, but there’s two answers to this question. There’s the what we have right now, which is pretty good, and then there’s the what we’re developing, which is going to be better.

Luis:

That’s the proper direction, Mike.

Gaby Israel:

Yes. Well, I think the question of onboarding is such a crucial topic, and like Mike said, we have a process currently, and based on the learnings that we’ve had with this process, we’re armored with some really good ideas of what it is that we want to do in the very near future.

Gaby Israel:

But to answer the question about onboarding, I want to say one thing first before jumping into this. When we started our company, one of the first things that we did, in terms of documentation, was a culture book, and this is very different than an employee handbook. An employee handbook tells you and tells your employees, okay, things around sexual harassment, and hours of operation, very operational, very transactional information about what you need to know about this company. And if anything, it’s sort of like a CYA, cover your ass kind of thing. Not that I’m downplaying the need for or the importance of the employee guide book, but simply that we focused on the culture book.

Gaby Israel:

And I’m sure, Luis, you’re familiar with these things, and for listeners out there, we took a lot of inspiration from some very big and iconic companies, and specifically, remote companies, but also large companies that pride themselves on their culture. We looked at Netflix, GitHub, HubSpot, gosh, Google, a couple of other big Silicon Valley organizations that had a very robust culture book, and that’s where we took our inspiration. And I said to Mike, I said, “We need to do this.” Again, simply because an employee joins the company doesn’t mean that they’re going to know everything about the culture, because they don’t have that luxury of learning via osmosis, so we put together a culture book.

Gaby Israel:

And I call it a living and breathing document because it’s something that we periodically will turn to and update and say, “Okay, we learned this, or we did this and this failed, we’re going to change that, we’re going to update this.” So, it’s prefaced from the beginning, and it is one of the first thing we actually go through with an employee on their first day of onboarding, is to go through that culture book. So, that’s kind of day one. Day one of an onboarding.

Gaby Israel:

Prior to pandemic, we would fly the employee to Minneapolis. We did have an onboarding situation that was entirely remote, but ideally, we like to have our employees meet us in person. We think that there’s value to not only to thriving remotely, but also having those important touch points when we can come together as a team. I think now more than ever, we are recognizing and realizing the value of human to human contact and being close to one another.

Gaby Israel:

So, typically, the onboarding would be in person, it would be in Minneapolis at my co-working space. And day one would be, “Hi, nice to meet you.” Having some breakfast, and then jumping into the employee culture book. And that really talks about the mission, the vision, our values, the brand promises, things that we want to have externally facing to our clients, and then also the internally facing things, our values, what we do, what we believe, what we say, what we don’t say. So, that’s kind of day one.

Gaby Israel:

And then for us, it would typically be a four to five day in-person onboarding experience in the Twin Cities. We try to pepper in some fun things, we’d go to a fun restaurant in the evening, order in some good food. We also make it a point, for our other employees that are currently working remotely, to join us into that experience as well. So, there’ll be Zoom calls where the new employee can meet the other team members and we’ll have virtual lunches. So, we might be eating together, but our team is also joining us on Zoom, we’re having lunch, we’re talking.

Mike Grinberg:

And we set up individual one-on-one coffee meet and greets too so they can just get to know each other without having us around.

Gaby Israel:

Exactly, yep. So, that’s also part of the onboarding experience.

Gaby Israel:

And then the rest of the week we go through the tools. So, we talk about Slack, how we use it, why we use it, and just kind of go through the setup. We just switched over to a new tool called ClickUp. It’s virtually identical to Asana. It has a couple of extra bells and whistles than Asana does. So, we talk about how we are using ClickUp, and how you should be tracking your time, kind of some of those back end administrative things just to get the employee in tune with the rhythm of the tools that we use. We also make sure that they have their emails setup, signature, all those standard things.

Gaby Israel:

In addition to all of that, one of the things that we spend a considerable amount of time on is what we call the Proofpoint process. And the Proofpoint process is front and center on our website. Anybody that wants to go check it out, the URL is, www.proofpoint.marketing. And our process is a framework by which we work, by which we deliver all the results that we do to our clients. And so it’s very important that new employees joining the company understand the various phases within the Proofpoint process, what is expected of them, how their role interacts with other roles in the agency. So, in particular, the client services role with the SME roles, so the subject matter experts, how they interact internally with the various teams, but also externally with the client.

Gaby Israel:

So, we have an internal deck in which we take the employee through, what is the Proofpoint process? What are the various stages? What are the deliverables? Because we have outlined, specifically, the deliverables and the outcomes that we expect to achieve at every stage of the Proofpoint process. And most importantly, what is their expected role? What is the expectation that they need to fill within this Proofpoint process?

Gaby Israel:

So, at this point, we’ve gone through quite a bit of information with the team, they’ve had the chance to meet us, they’ve learned about the Proofpoint process, they’ve spent some time with the employee culture book, the company culture book, we’ve gone through tools, and some of that back end stuff, email, drive, etc. They’ve also now had the chance to meet individually, one-on-one with other folks in our company. And, Mike, I believe you wanted to jump in and say something.

Mike Grinberg:

Yeah. I mean, just very high level, there’s three things we try to achieve in our onboarding. We try to make sure that the employees understand the culture, so that’s the culture book that Gaby mentioned, we also go through a series of personality tests as well, and then we review them together so people can understand, “Okay, here’s how I operate, here’s how my boss potentially operates, or my co-workers, etc.” Because that’s important, especially in a remote environment where you might not see the person all the time.

Luis:

Any specific kind of personality test?

Mike Grinberg:

The two that we have been doing now are Gretchen Rubin’s Four Tendencies and the 16 personalities, but we’re just going to start switching over to using Crystal, which lets us do… I don’t know, there’s like 10 of them in there. So, we’re going to probably have them do a whole bunch more, because it’s good to look at it in different ways and they all kind of highlight different aspects.

Luis:

For sure. For some.

Mike Grinberg:

And then there’s, obviously, all the processes that do exist, so they can really get a handle on when do meetings happen? Also things like pet peeves and stuff like that.

Gaby Israel:

Mike, because we kind of put that out there, let’s share a little bit with Luis and the listeners about some of the things that we are currently working on to improve our onboarding process. I’ll let you start.

Mike Grinberg:

The last thing I’ll mention too is the other big thing that we focus on for the onboarding is we build out a 30-60-90 for everybody, which I’m sure everybody’s heard of it. But it’s not just a document that they get, we then take it and put it into our… pretty much it becomes a project within ClickUp, and we literally track, “Okay, on month one, we want you to accomplish these five things, or 10 things,” or whatever it is based on the role. And in our one-on-ones, we’ll track against them. “Okay, well, one month in, it looks like we completed these, maybe not this one, and what’s the reason for that?” And if that make sense, then we move on to the next one, etc.

Gaby Israel:

Oh, before we move on to… I’m remembering something. Before we move on to the things that we’re improving, I do want to mention one other thing to our listeners out there. One of the things that we do during onboarding that’s probably different, and I know that it has appeared jarring to some of our employees to hear this, but we’re very open about it.

Gaby Israel:

One of the things that we tell our onboarding employees is that, while we’re extremely happy that they’re here, while we believe that our hiring process allowed us to hire the right person for the role and bring them in, we do recognize that employees may not… When you start a new company, there’s always going to be this idea of, “Gosh, is this the right role for me? Am I the right fit? Is this what I really want?” I think that throughout people’s careers, they may believe that they found the right company, they may be really excited to join the company, but as you get started, there’s always things that change, there’s always different perceptions, different needs, and employees needs will evolve and change over time, and sometimes that is not always lined up with what the company can offer where the company is at.

Gaby Israel:

So, what we do is we tell all of our employees right up front during onboarding, “Hey, look, we’re super glad you’re here, we’re pumped, you’re going to kill it, you’re going to do awesome, and we’re glad you’re here and we want to make you as successful as possible. But we also recognize that if within the next 30, 60, 90 days you feel that this is not the right role for you, or you’re disillusioned by something, or something comes up and you’re like, ‘gosh, this is not the right fit for me,’ we want to have a very open dialogue with our employees that if at any point in time they feel that working at Proofpoint is no longer in line with their goals, in line with their professional needs, that they can come to us and talk to us and let us know that, and that we are not only going to support them in that decision, but we’re also going to try to help them to land into their next role.”

Gaby Israel:

And I know that that sounds crazy, and that sounds completely opposite to what people do in an onboarding, is you want to celebrate the employee coming in, you don’t want to talk about the fact that they may be leaving, but we want to have those conversations up front and center. We want to change the way that, not only people hire and people onboard, but also the way that people afford a company, and the culture that we want to create is one that is very open and transparent. And so the idea that an employee has to hide their true feelings about working with us, or working in the company, or their intentions is just silly.

Gaby Israel:

Now, we know that that’s not going to change overnight, we know that there’s a lot of work to be done in that area, but we do, from the get go, make that clear to our employees, that if at any point in time your expectations of working at Proofpoint have changed, you’re no longer satisfied, there’s something that happened, or you’re looking for something different, you want to grow in a different area, let’s have that conversation, let’s talk about it. Maybe that means that we can either move you into a different part of the company, or carve out a different role for you, or maybe it is that we have to come to that realization that this is not the right role for you, and how do we do that gracefully?

Gaby Israel:

And that’s something that we’re very… it sounds silly to say, but we’re very passionate about ensuring that our employees are not only happy with the role that they have here and that they’re content with being at Proofpoint, but that if at any point, they’re discontent, either, A, we can try to rectify that as employers and find the right solution, or, B, if it’s something that cannot be rectified simply because the employee is looking for something different, we want to be the type of employer that can support them through that journey and help them land gracefully to their next role.

Gaby Israel:

So, that’s something that we don’t have all the answers on it, it’s still something that we’re looking at, and working at, and striving towards, but that is something that we talk about very openly in our onboarding that, “Hey, we’re glad you’re here, but always keep in mind that if you don’t want to be here, let’s talk about it.”

Luis:

Oh, yeah, that makes absolute sense. It’s not going to be good having someone that’s that’s actually not that inspired working at the company just because… Obviously, as a recruitment agency, we know that companies incur huge costs when they lose people, that’s why retention is so important, and remote work helps a lot with retention, but at the end of the day, if someone is staying in the company just because that’s become the new norm, that’s the comfort zone that they don’t want to leave even though that it’s definitely better for them to do so, then they’re not doing much for the company as well. I absolutely agree.

Luis:

So, Mike, I wanted to get into traveling, but I think that before you still wanted to go over a few points about how you’re improving the onboarding process.

Mike Grinberg:

Yeah, well, I’ll keep it short. I mean, really, we’re trying to do two things, and it really ties back to process in general. I think, process documentation, like we said, is extremely important. So, the two things we’re doing and we’re kicking off is, we’re calling it micro documentation. So, pretty much anytime anybody internally does something new for the first time, we’ll document it, and we’ll try to do as much of it on video as possible, because I think that’s a good way to ingest information. And we’re most likely… we haven’t made a final decision, but going to be using the platform Guru to do that documentation just because it’s easy, and I have the cards, and it’s pretty much made for exactly that.

Mike Grinberg:

And then the other thing more specifically, is we’ve done a pretty good job of documenting the macro processes. We haven’t done the best job just yet in some of the micro ones, meaning like client specific background or whatnot, project specific. So, we have good background, “Okay, here’s where the client is, here’s what they do, here’s who the stakeholders are, etc, etc, but we haven’t documented top level past performance trends and things like that, like for a paid media person coming in or something like that. So, that’s the big thing that we are taking on right now.

Luis:

Oh, nice. Nice. That sounds like that’ll be a good improvement, especially the part about the documentation, again, just to stress how important that is.

Luis:

So, at the beginning of the conversation, we talked a bit about traveling, you talked about that was one of the big benefits. I actually want to know what’s your pre travel and during travel process, because I’ve done some traveling, and sometimes it’s worked well, and other times it was a massive disaster that I was not prepared for. It just seems that even though remote work is taking the world by storm, the infrastructure is not there and it’s very unevenly distributed. I have literally been in the most hidden corners of Brazil… Okay, so maybe not the Amazon, but you get the picture, right? In a place where I wouldn’t expect to work remotely and there’s pristine Internet connection in the middle of Brazil. And on the other hand, I’ve been trying to work from my hotel room in Dusseldorf, a bustling German city, and I couldn’t even get a 4G signal strong enough for Slack. It was insane.

Luis:

And obviously, if I have backup, right, being that DistantJob can survive a couple of days without me, it’s been built in that way, but I would have preferred to work. So, I guess what I’m asking is, how do you plan when you go traveling to make sure that you can honor your commitments with your clients and your team? And when things go wrong, what is the emergency plan?

Mike Grinberg:

It’s a good question. Gaby, you want to take it?

Gaby Israel:

I’ll start, but I know you’re going to jump in and have some good things to say. I will say this, we also just got super lucky on a couple of occasions, because things that went wrong and that happened badly happened at the end of our trip, so we were not impacted during the trip. I’ll have a quick side note on that. We’ve been to Brazil now twice since the inception of our company, to visit family, and both times we brought laptops, cell phones, work, all the things that we would need to work, because the trip was not just vacation and not just visiting family, but also the need to manage our business and clients and so on and so forth.

Gaby Israel:

On our first trip to Brazil, we were traveling also with our daughter, she was two and a half at the time. And a two and a half year old child has a considerable amount of stuff that you need to bring with them. And to make a very long story short, we were just flustered traveling with all her stuff, and our work stuff, and the laptops, and this, that and the other. We were going through customs, we’re leaving Brazil heading back to the United States, and somehow… Don’t ask me how, Luis, because I still don’t know how, but we left both my laptop and Mike’s laptop on the conveyor belt in Brazil-

Mike Grinberg:

They were both in the same bag.

Gaby Israel:

… in the customs, going through the safety checkout, left both. I have a Mac laptop, Mike has an expensive, whatever it is, I don’t remember what you were using at the time, we left them both there on the conveyor belt. We didn’t realize that our computers were left until we had already reached Atlanta. We traveled from Rio de Janeiro to Atlanta, Atlanta, Minneapolis. When we touched down in Atlanta it’s when we realized that we left our laptops in Brazil.

Gaby Israel:

So, thankfully, during the time that we were there, we had our computers and everything was fine and we were able to work. It was only when we got home that we were a little screwed.

Gaby Israel:

But to answer your question, it takes a lot of coordination. So, we will prep our clients. If we’re going on a long trip, especially international trip, we will prep our clients at least a month out, because we typically know several months prior to when we’re traveling. So, we’ll prep them a month out and we’ll keep that kind of a little note in our signature, in the email of our signature, so they see that when they receive emails from us.

Gaby Israel:

We’ll remind them during one-on-ones, we’ll say, “Okay, we’re going out, we’re going to be out of the country.” We also try to let them know ahead of time, as well as our team, the days that are complete blackouts. So, travel days are generally blackout days, because it’s impossible, at least for us with a small child, to be answering emails in the airport, because what’s going to happen is we’ll probably leave either our laptops, or our cell phone, or maybe even our child at the airport.

Mike Grinberg:

[crosstalk 00:41:16] that anyone can do anything at all with a small child, regardless of traveling or not.

Gaby Israel:

Right. So, we generally say during our travel days, those are blackout days, we are not going to be reached, we’re not going to answer emails until the following day. And then also, if we know ahead of time, the days that we’re going to want to do a family day, like go to the beach or travel to another part of the country, those are also blackout days, and we do our best to try to let the team know ahead of time. So, we will do a considerable amount of planning on our end to figure out our travel dates, our internal travel excursions while we’re there, and to make sure that that’s communicated internally and externally.

Gaby Israel:

As far as logistics for Internet and connectivity, we do the very best that we can to… We generally would do Airbnb, because that gives us flexibility with our daughter to prepare meals and such, so we do our due diligence as much as we can to talk to Airbnb hosts, ask them about their Internet, make sure that they have high speed, look at reviews. There’s a lot of information that you can find out ahead of time if you put in that time, if you put in that due diligence.

Gaby Israel:

So, for us, when we travel, especially internationally… Nationally, within the United States, it’s really not that big of a deal and we can almost pick up on a whim, if we wanted to just go on a weekend trip, we could, or a couple of days without much prior notice. But internationally, especially to your point, Luis, you don’t always know what the connectivity is going to be like, you don’t know what the bandwidth is going to be like, so it really just requires a lot of upfront planning.

Mike Grinberg:

And we do have a backup. It’s not amazing, but it does work in a pinch. We purposefully shifted our phone service over to Google Fi, which works everywhere, and we can always do a hotspot. Now, obviously you have to depend on the mobile network, but at least you can usually get an email out if you need to, or get a document and do something. A lot of stuff can be done on mobile these days too. So, at least I’ve gotten pretty good at doing virtually everything I might need to do on my phone, like reviewing documents and stuff like that.

Gaby Israel:

The last point that I will say is around safety, is around security. We have taken a lot of steps to ensure that if, God forbid, we lose our cell phone or a computer at the airport… I do want to say one thing, to the credit of the Brazilian airport security, they did reach out to us and they were able to get our laptops back to us in the United States.

Luis:

Oh, that’s awesome.

Gaby Israel:

So, that was amazing. And this was-

Luis:

As someone who has been to Brazil many times, highly unexpected.

Gaby Israel:

Exactly.

Mike Grinberg:

Exactly.

Gaby Israel:

We were pretty much ready to buy new laptops and start over. And we learned a very, very important lesson, this was very early into our business. The reason the airport authority was able to get our laptops back to us is because I did not have security measures on my laptop. So, they were able to open it, login, and find my email address, and find my cell phone. Thankfully, they did not get my credit card or any other information. They were very honest and respectful about that. But that was a huge eye opener for us, because immediately following that trip, and again, this was very early into our entrepreneurial journey, we said, “Okay, number one, we can’t leave our laptops anywhere. Number two, if God forbid, we do, we need to have safety mechanisms in place.”

Gaby Israel:

So, we do have security measures, we’re working now with an IT company that can lock down our computers remotely, and so on and so forth. So, that is also a huge point of note for listeners out there, that if you are planning to travel, and you are taking technology with you, number one, try not to leave them on the conveyor belt in your destination.

Luis:

Good tip.

Gaby Israel:

Right. But number two, make sure that you do have safety mechanisms in place so that if your laptop is lost or stolen, your company’s business, your company data, your client data, your own personal data is not compromised. Like any good citizen of the world today that uses a laptop, which is just about everyone, we make sure that we periodically back everything off to an external hard drive. We have multiple external hard drives and multiple cloud backups so that data is not compromised, information can be saved, and in the event of a bad situation where you lose it, you still have a backup, everything is safe. So, that’s one major point that I would throw out there to our listeners.

Luis:

Nice. Thank you so much. Mike, would you like to add anything?

Mike Grinberg:

Yeah. I mean, the big thing, at the end of the day, it just comes down to setting expectations. So, I think we learned our lesson, the first time we went to Brazil, actually, where we didn’t do a good job of that. We just said, “Hey, this can work, we’re going to travel,” and that’s kind of all we did, and it was a disaster.

Mike Grinberg:

We also had a very demanding and bad client at the time, who we stopped working with soon after that, but with that in mind, we were still at fault for not setting expectations appropriately. So, like Abby said, well in advance, we’ll set protocols. Our out of office says on the days that we’re out, it says we’re out, “You’re not going to be able to reach us. Here’s who you should reach out to. If this is urgent, resend your email with the word critical in the subject line,” which then creates some Zapier automations in our end so we get notified. So, there are things that we’ve put in place to make sure that if there is something critical, we can get to it.

Mike Grinberg:

And also, when it comes to setting expectations, we will actually define what critical means, because what I see other people doing is, “Hey, I’m traveling, or I’m busy, whatever. If this is critical, please resend an email that says critical.” Now, what’s critical to you may not be critical to them, or vice versa, and we really want to make sure is, hey, I’m traveling, I can’t get to it, so I might have to go out of my way to help you. Ir better be worth your while and my while to do so. So, we’ll actually go out and say, “Okay, these are examples of the types of things that are listed as critical. If it’s not one of them, please don’t label them as such. Please reach out to the backup etc, etc.”

Luis:

Yeah. So, that’s a great point, and that’s actually something that I want to hold on to for a little bit, because I think that in remote work, it’s one of the things that we don’t talk a lot about, and is of the utmost importance, which is the setting expectations, even if we remove traveling from the equation. One of the best things that one can do to ensure great remote work and great remote teams, is when the boss sets the expectations, when the boss or the manager or the team leader sets the expectations of the new employee, but also the opposite, when the employee actually explains their process, say, “Hey, this is how I intend to do the work. These are the times that I intend to go into deep work. These are the times that I think I can be available for communication. Does that work for you?”

Luis:

I have tough bosses, right? Gladly, there are not many people above me in DistantJob, but the people who are, they are demanding, but it’s impressive the amount of stuff that I can get away with if I just tell them what to expect, right?

Gaby Israel:

Yes.

Mike Grinberg:

Yes. That’s a very good point. I mean, in onboarding, we will encourage people coming to work for us to create those expectations. So, we’ll ask them, “Hey, do you have a drop dead date when you have to be done?”

Mike Grinberg:

So, for example, we have an employee who has a two month old, and her husband has a pretty demanding sales job, so he’s got very strict hours and whatever, so she’s done at 4:30 every day, literally, it’s like clockwork. That’s okay. As long as we know that, that’s perfectly fine. So, we have some employees like her that are very, “Okay, I start at 8:30 end at 4:30, that’s it, that’s what you can get from me because that’s all I can do with a two month old.” Versus we have others who are more flexible and they may work a little bit in the morning, they’ll take a break during the day to help the kid with school… I mean, I’m talking right now, they help their kid with school, etc.

Mike Grinberg:

And we do a very good job, just in general, as a culture, setting those expectations for each other. So, even if it’s a last minute thing, we’ll say, “Hey, we’re going to cut out early, here’s what that means. We’re going to move these things to tomorrow, etc.” And we allow our employees to do the same thing. And in our case, there’s that added issue with setting those expectations for clients, but even our clients are used to it. Like, we allow our employees to tell the client, “Hey, I’m going to be out the second half of the day. If you need anything that’s urgent, here’s what you do.”

Gaby Israel:

Yeah. And just to add on to what Mike said, because he really captured it, in our culture book, and I’m going to be hard pressed to remember verbatim what we say, but essentially, we have a couple of pages in our culture book in which we talk specifically about the word culture, and there’s a couple of lines in there, Luis, that really get at what you’re talking about, about setting expectations. And we really put that responsibility and that onus on the employee.

Gaby Israel:

We say, “As an employer, here are the expectations that you have of us, here are our responsibilities, but as an employee, these are your responsibilities.” And one of those big responsibilities that we put on our employees is communicating their schedule, communicating their needs, communicating the changes that they may have during the week, or during the month, or during a particular time period where their child is home sick, or the husband is out traveling, whatever that case may be.

Gaby Israel:

I think that this goes without saying, employers around the world have a tremendous responsibility to their employees, to their stakeholders, but I also believe wholeheartedly that as an employee, you also have a responsibility to your company, not just in delivering the work, checking off a box at the end of the day and saying, “Oh, yeah, I did this, I completed this,” but thinking about the stakeholders in your company, thinking about your team, the people whom you work with, the people whom you report to, your clients. Everybody’s actions have… Newton’s law of physics, every action has an equal and opposite reaction. So, anything you do…

Gaby Israel:

Perfect example. If I were to take off this afternoon and not alert my team, or not put my out of office responder on, that can cause a bottleneck, that can cause a problem, somebody’s not going to be able to reach me, my clients are going to be wondering things. I’m not good at science and physics, that’s why I went into marketing, but I remember Newton’s law of physics is every action has an equal and opposite reaction.

Gaby Israel:

So, simply, we try to foster the culture and educate our employees that, “You have a responsibility. You can make your own schedule, you can change your schedule, you can be flexible in where you work, how you work, when you work, but if it’s not communicated, if we don’t know, if we don’t have visibility to it, then that’s a failure. And that’s that’s your responsibility to ensure that your teammates, your subordinates, your leaders, your clients, any stakeholder in the company has clear visibility to where you are and what you’re doing. Not because we want to be voyeurs and know what they’re doing at all times, but simply because it’s about accountability and it’s about being a team.

Luis:

Nice.

Mike Grinberg:

The last thing I’ll throw in there is-

Gaby Israel:

Are you sure it’s the last thing, Mike, because I think we’ve been saying a lot of things about this?

Luis:

Feel free to. If you have two more, it doesn’t need to be the last thing.

Mike Grinberg:

No. When we were talking about… Now, I just lost my train of thought. Thank you, Gaby.

Gaby Israel:

Sorry.

Mike Grinberg:

Yep Well, move on. I don’t remember what I was saying.

Luis:

Okay. Well, it really was the last thing. Let’s start with some rapid fire questions, and maybe, if you remember, we can go back to it during the rapid fire questions. No problem.

Luis:

So, this is only the third time that I’ve had a couple on the podcast, so usually, the rapid fire questions are straight, I ask a question and the guest answers, but because you are a couple, I think it would be fun if you discussed it and came with an answer together instead of each of you giving your own answer. Though, if you are stumped at any point, feel free to give a couple of answers instead of a single one.

Luis:

But let’s say that you had $100 to spend with each person working for you, what would you give them? And the rule is, you can’t give them the money or any cheating thing like gift cards or something like that.

Mike Grinberg:

That’s an easy one. We’ve already done one and we’ve offered another. Actually, literally, the cost was 100 bucks. The first thing we did when the pandemic hit is we purchased grocery delivery subscriptions for everybody on our team.

Luis:

Oh, nice. That’s so cool.

Mike Grinberg:

Because it was just one of those things where… We can’t take credit. We heard about that from, I think it was-

Gaby Israel:

It was another podcast that we heard it from, yeah.

Mike Grinberg:

Yeah. And we were like, “Oh, that’s cool.” Because the reality is, if we can take one worry off of our employees during this crazy time where they don’t have to do that, that just helps them do their work better and just be better. And the other one I’ll throw out there, which we haven’t done yet but we’ve offered, is there’s a service called Read It To Me or Read It For Me, I forget, and they have a lifetime subscription deal going on right now for 100 bucks, and we’re like, “That’s an easy way to give extra education for everybody and then it gives us things to talk about.” So, that’s something we’re going to be implementing.

Luis:

Nice.

Gaby Israel:

Yeah. I would concur with everything Mike said, so I don’t need to add to that question.

Luis:

All right. So, what about yourselves? What purchase has made your work life easier or more productive in the best year?

Mike Grinberg:

That’s an easy one for me too.

Gaby Israel:

I think our answers are going to differ on this one. So, for me-

Luis:

Okay. You can fight it out. I’m okay.

Gaby Israel:

… I will say Slack. I know it’s an easy one, everyone is using slack these days. We were maybe a little bit late to the bandwagon. We were using another tool, somewhat of a competitor to Slack, and I was reluctant to change because I liked it and because I thought it was great, but then since we made the change over the past year, late last year, 2019, that we moved over to Slack, I cannot imagine running this business without it. So, to me, that’s super important.

Luis:

Nice.

Mike Grinberg:

Mine’s more personal, which is there’s a service called brain.fm, and pretty much it’s like scientifically developed music tracks for focus and for sleep, and I use it for both, and it works like a charm. I tried it out, they had like a lifetime subscription deal at some point, so that’s how I got into it, but I’d recommend it to literally everybody that asks because it’s totally worth it.

Luis:

Awesome. Awesome. Great suggestion. Thanks. So, let’s talk about books. What book or books you have gifted the most?

Gaby Israel:

Oh, that’s a good question, Luis. Okay, Mike, we’re going to be aligned on this one. We didn’t touch upon this in our call, and maybe we can talk about it at another point in time, we have what we call an employee PPM Box Proofpoint marketing, PPM, PPM box of goodies. So, anytime a new employee joins the company, they receive a box from us. It’s really lovely, it’s printed, there’s a lot of swag inside, printed things, but two of the more critical things that we have in the box are two books that we purchase for every single employee. One of the books, it’s called-

Mike Grinberg:

Linchpin.

Gaby Israel:

Linchpin, by… What’s his name?

Luis:

That’s Seth Godin’s book, right?

Gaby Israel:

Seth Godin. Right, Seth Godin. And then there is a book by Simon Sinek called, All Together, or In It Together, something like that, Working Together, and it’s a small book, and it’s almost like a children’s book. It’s illustrated, it’s a series of cartoons, but it’s an allegory for work-

Mike Grinberg:

Teamwork.

Gaby Israel:

… business culture and teamwork. And the message and the spirit of the book really, really resonated with the culture and the vision that we have for our company. So, each employee will get-

Mike Grinberg:

Both books do.

Gaby Israel:

Both books do, right.

Mike Grinberg:

Because Linchpin is sort of how we want our employees to behave, and that really is reflective of the type of culture that we’re trying to build, and the other one is about what the clients can kind of expect by working with us, we work as a team, etc, etc.

Gaby Israel:

Yeah.

Luis:

Nice. Okay. Nice recommendations. Thank you so much. So, we have reached the final question. The final question is a little bit more elaborate, so please-

Gaby Israel:

We’re having such a good time, Luis, I think we could keep going.

Luis:

Yeah. It would be nice, but eventually people are going to… Actually, I don’t know if people listen to podcasts anymore. There’s no more commutes.

Mike Grinberg:

Podcast listenership did go down, but I think a lot of people are starting to listen to them at other places, like while cleaning, and walking the dog and all that.

Luis:

Yeah. I used to say I like to make the podcast around one hour because that’s the average commute, but I guess that’s an outdated model now.

Gaby Israel:

Yeah.

Luis:

Okay. So, here’s the deal. Let’s say that you are hosting a dinner and the dinner is going to be attended. You are inviting the important people, the decision makers at top tech companies. We’re talking about CEOs, CTOs, hiring managers, etc. During that dinner, there’s going to be a round table about remote work and the future of work. Now, here’s the twist. The dinner is happening at a Chinese restaurant, so as the hosts, you get to pick the message that goes inside each fortune cookie. What is the fortune cookie message that you, as a couple, are going to write?

Gaby Israel:

Oh, my goodness, this is such a good question. Did you come up with this one all by yourself, because this is a good one?

Luis:

Close. There’s one question that I stole from another podcast.

Gaby Israel:

Mike, do you have something?

Mike Grinberg:

I have a gut reaction one, and I’m trying to think of how to put my other more eloquent thought into a fortune. My first one that comes out is… it goes back to, I think, one of the original conversation topics here is, remote work is not the panacea, it’s not the answer to everything like people are trying to say that it is, it’s just not. That would be one. And the other one, I’m trying to think of how to put it in the form of a fortune, but it would be something around technology needing to evolve further to make remote work actually be the panacea, which is what people are saying. I think the tools we have right now are great, but I think AR and VR are going to be the next step where we actually try to create that environment of in-person meetings, but still being virtual.

Gaby Israel:

And for me, I would kind of reiterate the point of process and documentation. We talked a lot about that during this show, and I don’t think we can stress it enough when it comes to remote environments. So, I would say, remote workers are not going to learn by osmosis, we have to document, we have to create those systems and processes for success. Something like that but something that-

Mike Grinberg:

Those are very long fortunes we just gave you.

Gaby Israel:

Right. I was going to say something that Confucius would say, but along those lines.

Luis:

Yes. People will have the joy of unrolling a very large fortune cookie.

Mike Grinberg:

Or eating a very large fortune cookie.

Gaby Israel:

The cookie is going to be the size of your hand. It’ll be a little bit bigger. Yeah.

Luis:

It’s a big cookie. It’s actually a fortune pie.

Gaby Israel:

A fortune pie. Yeah, why not? Exactly.

Luis:

Exactly. Let’s innovate. So, this was a lot of fun. Thank you so much for being here.

Luis:

Now it’s the part of the show, we arrive at the part of the show where I would like you to let our listeners know where can they find you, where can they continue the conversation with you, and where can they learn more about your business and upcoming podcast?

Gaby Israel:

Well, first, thank you so much, Luis, for having us. We had such a wonderful time talking to you and I hope that your listeners from this show gets a lot of good things and a lot of things not to do as well. So, for anyone that wants to continue talking to us, we love to talk, find us on LinkedIn, Gaby Israel Grinberg, and Mike Grinberg, we are both on LinkedIn and we’re pretty active, so please connect with us. Our website, again, is Proofpoint, so www.proofpoint.marketing.

Gaby Israel:

And as Luis said, we are launching our own podcast, hopefully in a couple of weeks. It’s called Mixing Business With Pleasure, and we interview couples, married couples or couples in a committed relationship, that own a business and work together. So, we are always looking for amazing couples with an awesome story about the pleasure and the business side of their lives. You can email us at [email protected] Our website is in production and it will be mixingbizwithpleasure.com. We also have our social channels setups, so you could find us there. And the podcasts will be released to all major podcasting networks.

Luis:

Awesome. Mike, anything to add?

Mike Grinberg:

No. Gaby’s got it pretty well covered.

Luis:

All right. So again, thank you so much for coming, and thank you, the listeners, for listening. This has been Luis with Mike Grinberg and Gaby Israel on the DistantJob Podcast, a podcast about building and leading awesome remote teams. See you next week.

Luis:

And so we close another episode of the DistantJob Podcast. And if you enjoyed 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 convince 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. You can also help a lot leaving reviews on iTunes or your podcast syndication service of choice. Reviews are surprisingly helpful in helping the broadcast gets to more listeners.

Luis:

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 episodes 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 you need and we will make sure that you get the best possible candidate 20% faster than the industry standard. And with that I bid you, adios. See you next week on the next episode of the DistantJob Podcast.

 

More ways to listen:

Onboarding remote employees is something that most new, and even old, remote companies are continually changing. Many virtual companies learn how to do this with their own experience, whether it is by creating employee handbooks or emphasizing more in the company’s culture.

In this podcast episode, Mike, and Gaby, share a detailed guide on how they were able to create a successful onboarding process and some of the key steps to keep in mind. They also reveal their journey to build and manage a remote marketing agency and the lessons they’ve learned regarding culture and transparent communication.

''We want to change not only how to hire and onboard people but also the way that people offboard a company, and the culture that we want to create is one that is very open and transparent.'' Click To Tweet

Highlights:

  • How hiring remotely allowed them to hire better talent
  • Advice to identify skilled remote workers in interviews
  • Why documentation is essential in remote companies
  • How their virtual onboarding process looks like
  • Why offboarding is important in remote companies
  • How to set expectations for your employees
  • Tips for creating transparent and honest communication in your team

 

Book Recommendations:

 

Don’t forget to SUBSCRIBE so you won’t miss all of the other interesting episodes that we have coming up in the next few weeks!