4 Boston Leaders Share How 2020 Changed Their Perspective on Remote Work

December 17, 2020
The Boston Public Garden In Winter
PHOTO VIA Marcio Jose Bastos Silva FOR SHUTTERSTOCK 

This time last year, nobody could have predicted that “remote work” would be the biggest tech trend in 2020.

Even those who did forecast the growth of remote recruiting and hybrid work models could not have foreseen the industry’s sudden and seismic springtime shift from working in offices one week to at home the next. For some companies, 2020 challenged their notions of how successful remote teams and companies could be, while for others it presented an opportunity to put established hybrid work models to the test. 

We recently spoke with four Boston tech leaders about how 2020 has shifted their opinions on remote work and what almost a year of working from home means for the future of their companies.

 

Alexandra Linares
Senior Manager, Talent Acquisition

For Alexandra Linares, senior manager of talent acquisition at Corvus, 2020 was not so much about learning to embrace remote work as it was building off of the company’s established hybrid work model. According to Linares, this deep experience with remote workers enabled her team to continue recruiting and also provided the foundation for employees to find new ways to come together over video calls and chat apps.

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

Corvus has seen the value of remote work since our earliest days, and before COVID-19, we adopted a hybrid model that allowed employees to work remotely as well as onsite. This strategy has separated us from many companies by allowing us to expand our talent pool and engage with people all across the United States.
 

Corvus is in hypergrowth mode, and we’ll continue to embrace our hybrid working model as we look to double in size next year.


How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

We’ve been following our hybrid working model and exploring new ways to build meaningful and lasting connections across our geographically dispersed teams. Just like the intelligent, tool-building family of birds that gives us our name, our Corvids are resourceful. Leveraging tools such as Google Meet and Slack, our team has hired over 80 new Corvids during the pandemic and fostered collaboration, creativity and innovation virtually during one-on-ones, all-hands meetings and even an “ugly holiday outfit” fashion show.

Corvus is in hypergrowth mode, and we’ll continue to embrace our hybrid working model as we look to double in size next year. While we’re excited to reopen our Boston headquarters in the first quarter of 2021, we’ve proven our ability to soar regardless of where we expand our nest.

 

Mark Bryan
Director of Talent Acquisition

Jobcase had remote team members prior to the pandemic, but Mark Bryan, director of talent acquisition, said its perspective on recruiting has changed since the company went fully remote. Bryan said Jobcase’s plans to up its recruitment of remote workers in part because its culture has proven capable of bringing a large and dispersed team together.

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

We’ve always had team members working remotely across departments, but the majority of us have been at our Kendall Square HQ. Unless you’d worked for a fully remote company before, I think people across many industries were unsure how to keep communication, collaboration and team-building moving in a positive direction with everyone working away from the office.
 

We plan to take advantage of diverse talent across the country and make fully remote employees a bigger part of our hiring strategy.


How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

We do everything we can to foster an inclusive and fun workplace culture — one where people appreciate and enjoy working together. It’s a big part of our ability to set and accomplish meaningful goals, build lasting relationships and help millions of our members make the most of their own work situations. Now that we can’t be together in the office, it’s been vital to ensure that our strong bonds don’t fade away.

We’ve played to our strengths by making sure our teams feel connected with a variety of virtual events, including biweekly all-company meetings, mental and physical health breaks, safe spaces to discuss recent topics, talent shows, trivia nights, cooking classes and more. All of these events have been led by Jobcase team members, allowing us to learn more about each other.

Also, our recent remote working experiences have changed our long-term perspective on building the team. We plan to take advantage of diverse talent across the country and make fully remote employees a bigger part of our hiring strategy. It’s too soon to know exactly what this means for the future, but I know we are excited and proud of how the company has adapted and thrived under these new working conditions.

 

David Cancel
CEO/Co-Founder

Though remote work has prevented team members from “showing up” in an office, David Cancel, CEO and co-founder of Drift, said that leaders at the company have worked toward “showing up” by being fluent in online communication and empathy.

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

Before the pandemic, the debate over remote work revolved around its perceived impact on productivity, collaboration, employee engagement and culture. I say “perceived” because it was pretty easy to find research studies that supported either the “pro” or the “con” sides of remote work. Some surveys have suggested remote workers feel more autonomous and empowered. Others warned that remote workers feel isolated and disconnected from the team.  I used to believe that you could build an in-person culture or a remote work culture, but that a hybrid of the two was destined to fail.

Until COVID-19, allowing or disallowing remote work was more of a policy decision based on the message that leaders wanted to send. In my case, requiring an in-office culture meant that our team members would have a consistent employee experience that we could easily measure and enhance.
 

The realities of COVID-19 have not just changed my outlook, but transformed the way I think about how work should get done.”


How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

The realities of COVID-19 have not just changed my outlook but transformed the way I think about how work should get done — which is ultimately why I decided to allow employees to work from home until June 2021. Because of this, I have been thinking a lot about how leaders need to show up for their team, even if they can’t “show up” in any physical sense. That means business leaders who were accustomed to hosting large in-person employee gatherings need to become better versed in Slack, video and other messaging services. Remote workers need to know that they can approach you there as easily as they might once have talked to you in an elevator.

Successful remote work leadership entails not only making yourself available in all these channels but also becoming fluent in the unique tone and etiquette they demand. We need to continue to ensure that our employees feel supported, even in a remote setting. At Drift, we often talk about “meeting customers where they are,” because we owe them that. We owe employees the same thing, especially now.

 

Juli Rochon
SVP, Talent, Development & Communications

Though she enjoyed the benefits of in-office work — namely, being able to interact with fellow coworkers without having to schedule a call — Juli Rochon, SVP of talent, development and communication at Nuance, said that the past 10 months have shown her that if an entire workforce is intentional about staying connected, remote work can succeed.

 

What’s a preconceived notion you had about remote work prior to COVID-19?

As someone who has always worked out of Nuance’s corporate HQ in Burlington, I definitely had some preconceived notions about being remote prior to COVID-19. I am motivated by the energy and connection that a busy office brings, so I always prefer to be in the room with others rather than calling into a meeting or being remote for a discussion.

Luckily, I was not alone in feeling this, and prior to COVID-19 we prioritized creating a consistent experience for all of our employees regardless of whether they were remote, worked from an office or a combination of both. By setting up our technology and systems to create a more seamless experience, we had the right tools in place when we transitioned to remote work in March 2020.

From there, we built on this strong infrastructure, implementing innovative ideas and ways to stay connected based on feedback and suggestions from our employees. We introduced Teams chat rooms based on different topics — from “Parents Corner” to “Cuisine Scene” to “What to Watch” — so employees could stay connected. We also implemented fun wellness activities and live events for employees to join, some even with their families and friends, and created themed “Snap and Share” challenges for our employees to post pictures of their new work environments or favorite sports teams.

While we might be further apart physically, our employees continue to find new ways to stay connected, and together have actually brought us much closer to one another. 
 

While we might be further apart physically, our employees continue to find new ways to stay connected, and together have actually brought us much closer to one another.”


How has your opinion shifted since transitioning to a fully or partially remote workforce, and what does this mean for the future of your business?

For me, since we became fully remote 10 months ago, my opinion on what is possible through remote work, my level of empathy for what it feels like to be on the other end of a camera for a full workday, and my understanding of what it takes to make things work today and in future has been forever changed. It is crystal clear to me that with the right foundation of technology, trust, focus and communication, we can be productive, innovative and drive great results for our customers while working remotely.

For the first time, all 8,000 Nuance employees are sharing one unique work-from-home experience, and it is bringing us together like never before. Throughout the last 10 months, one of the things I’ve learned the most is just how critically important communication, authenticity and honest connection are for our employees and for ourselves. Our leaders have prioritized communicating frequently and transparently so our employees have the information they need to be successful.

We’ve ensured that everyone has the flexibility and support needed to take care of themselves and their families so they can show up and do their best work. We also made sure that there continues to be two-way communication, and that all employees have a voice and can raise concerns, share their work experiences and be a gauge of how effective our programs and initiatives truly are. Amazingly, during the middle of the summer we conducted our annual employee survey and had the highest engagement score and biggest improvements to date.

Through Nuance’s unwavering focus on communication, trust, and support, we’ve solidified a model that we are confident will allow us to continue to be a great place to work, wherever that might be in the future.

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