talent December 20, 2019

Making Remote Work at Stack Overflow – Interview Ilana Yitzhaki, Senior Manager, Employee Experience

Ilana Yitzhaki talks about how to create a great experience for employees in three Stack Overflow offices and remote Stackers across 14 countries. What does your current organizational setup look like and in which units do you work remotely?
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Content Strategist - Former

Ilana Yitzhaki talks about how to create a great experience for employees in three Stack Overflow offices and remote Stackers across 14 countries. What does your current organizational setup look like and in which units do you work remotely?

At Stack Overflow we have remote culture built in. Even though we want people to have the opportunity to work in one of our offices in NY, London, and Munich, we have 39% of our employees working remotely across 14 countries. And 80% of the engineering team is remote. 

What does your collaboration practice look like on a day-to-day basis (e.g. synchronous vs asynchronous communication, meetings, brainstorms, etc.)?

To make asynchronous collaboration work there needs to be a lot of transparency and a commitment to documenting decisions. All proposals are discussed in written form, through Google Docs, where people can comment. As for chat and conversations, we rely on chat tools, or video conferences. Here we live by the ‘if one person is remote, everyone is remote’ philosophy. Often times, I’ll walk around our HQ and see two people in adjoining offices on the same meeting via Hangouts. 


Do you have any key paradigms or must-haves for organizing your remote work collaboration?

When it comes down to it, you really need the same attitude as if you were ‘going into work.’ It comes with a certain discipline of reaching out. And we see it in the department and teams chat rooms. People say “good morning” to each other when signing-on. 

A lot of it is about not actually seeing any difference in working remotely. With the right set-up for remote meetings and collaboration tools, you should not even notice if someone is remote or in one of the offices. And other than missing out on the free lunches, it should not matter to them either. 

I remember one of our product managers, actually did all his interviews remotely, even though he lived in NY and was going to work from the NY office. A call should be treated like meeting someone in person.

Which are the most important tools for your remote collaboration?

I mentioned the Google Suite. So Calendar, Hangouts, as well as Docs, Slides, and Spreadsheets are popular around here. For calls, it’s Hangouts, Zoom, or Slack depending on the size. One thing we do is to record some meetings and trainings as well, so people in different time zones or traveling can watch them later.

Like most companies we use Slack. This is a great tool to mimic the conversations you would have with a colleague sitting next to you. But I think the fact that we are a remote company first means that people feel way more connected to other parts of the company based on shared interests. For example, we have Slack channels for baby pictures, travel, pets, gaming, and podcasts but also affinity groups like LGBTQ+ or Neurodiversity.

Because we work asynchronously, we may need to have questions answered at times colleagues aren’t available. Here we rely on our own product Stack Overflow for Teams. Unlike employees who work in the office, remote employees don’t have the ability to shoulder tap their colleagues when they need help. This is what Teams does. It’s a searchable knowledge base built-out of questions and answers. So instead of a subject matter expert answering one question 100 times a day, to colleagues around the globe, it is answered once and made accessible to anyone in the organization.

How do you reflect the remote work specifics in your approach to leadership, coaching, and mentoring?

I don’t think these are affected by remote culture much. We have regular 1:1s and weekly team meetings, just like we would if everyone were in the same office. However, we do want all remotes to feel connected to the head office, so new hires do an onboarding here, so they meet leadership and fellow team members in person.

Meetups are another way for us to nurture learning, growth and leadership. This year we are hosting our first full company meetup. It’s just a way to make sure there is never any danger of working in silos, and further building connections and camaraderie between departments and colleagues as well. It’s really important to us, to create those relationships that way. 

Which key skills are important to work effectively in your remote work organization?

As I said before, the discipline that comes with creating a habit even though you are alone in one room, you are plugged into an international team. So it’s a lot about manners around reaching out and overcommunicating where necessary. You have a lot of autonomy to work on your projects, but you do need to document a lot, to make it work asynchronously. Communication is very important here. It is on each employee to make sure they speak to all the stakeholders when working on something. 

A lot of the soft skills needed come out in interviewing remotely. There, you can really see a person’s communication style. So you test it in the setting they are going to be working in. 

Which tips can you share to have fun working remotely?

We make sure there’s a space to catch up on things unrelated to work much like one would at the lunch table. We host remote bev bashes and morning coffee. In addition to the specific Slack channels, I mentioned above, we also have a program called “Stackroulette” where we set up three employees mixed by an algorithm per department, tenure, and regions. They get to chat for 30 minutes and get to know each other better.  When the offices have their summer party, we make sure each remote takes an afternoon off to have some fun too! And come holiday season, remotes are welcome to join any office celebration. But if they can’t attend, they’re given a stipend so they can celebrate in their own way. 

This interview first appeared on Digitale Leute

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