Today on the RecruitingDaily Podcast, I’m speaking with Adriana Roche about how MURAL is effectively growing remote teams using an awesome digital workspace.
Short version: MURAL utilizes visualization, a sort of “whiteboard methodology,” to unleash the imagination of your teams and make it a lot more fun to collaborate, ideate and create better solutions.
Companies like IBM, Atlassian and Github have adopted MURAL, so if you haven’t seen it, check it out. You’ll be glad you did.
Adriana is the Chief People Officer at MURAL, responsible for recruiting, growth and team member development as the company continues its strategic expansion plans.
What does “remote forever” entail and is it even a real thing? How does a tool like MURAL work in the hybrid workforce? And a lot more; you have to listen to learn. Hear what Adriana has to say about the future and let me know your thoughts.
Listening Time: 27 minutes
Enjoy the podcast?
Thanks for tuning in to this episode of The RecruitingDaily Podcast with William Tincup. Of course, comments are always welcome. Be sure to subscribe through your favorite platform.
Ladies and gentlemen this is William Tincup and you’re listening to the RecruitingDaily Podcast. Today we have Adriana on from MURAL and we’re going to be talking about effectively growing remote teams, which of course we’re all forced into having remote teams more than a year ago. I think it was March 13th to a bit precise, so we were forced into remote teams but it’s going to be really great to talk to it with Adriana around how to actually grow effective remote teams. So Adriana, do me a favor and the audience a favor and introduce both yourself and your company MURAL.
Sure. Hi everybody, my name is Adriana Roche and I am the chief people officer here at MURAL. And we are a company that enables visual collaboration online so pretty much how can you use a whiteboard methodology to just unleash the imagination of your teams, make it a lot more fun to collaborate and ideate and just bring better problems to better solutions so here we are.
Here we are. So the advice that you give and then the things that you’ve done personally when you’re thinking about remote teams because everyone is talking about hybrid work and there are extremes where you have people that are forcing folks back into an office which might work for some, might not work for others and somewhere they’re going to be remote forever. So I read an article last night about how remote forever is one of the new perks of job descriptions which is interesting. And I do think it is actually really important because it was a couple of months ago when I was looking in deeds kind of their most searched terms and remote and remote work were their most searched terms, so. And I know people or candidates in particular are wondering, is this job remote? Well, now of course it makes sense that it is, is this remote forever? First of all, let’s just back up and start with, how have you rethought kind of remote teams and how do you build effective remote teams?
Yeah, I think the idea of remote or distributed, people like to use different words for it, it’s one of those things that used to be a few companies that would do it and everybody was like, oh, that’s kind of good for them but you can’t really do that. And a lot of the assumptions behind why people didn’t want to do distribute or remote have been called into question with the pandemic. And I think the biggest thing that employees have realized is that they love the flexibility, whether it’s fully remote or the most overused term right now, hybrid, people have just discovered that they really, really want that flexibility. And that has forced employers to really take a look into their practices and really say, okay, how do we want to get work done? What is the purpose of the office? How do we build this culture given that people really value that flexibility? And there is good things that come with that flexible environment. So it’s kind of a great experiment that I’m excited that we’re going through right now.
It’s interesting too because candidates now that we know that a lot of these jobs, a lot of the knowledge worker jobs will just kind of stay on that side, a lot of these jobs can be done remotely, you don’t have to be in the office. I mean, first of all, I know some people want to be in the office, I’ve actually been schooled on this most recently about fresh grads is they want to go to the office, they want to dress up, they want to get new clothes, they want to go into the office and all of that stuff and it’s like, okay, well that makes sense. So it’s like the office isn’t the enemy, never was, it isn’t now, and so I don’t want to demonize the office but at the same time I do love, and you said it, I love the idea, the concept of flexibility and letting people work how and where they want to work as long as they reach the outcome or the goals that are set for them.
Yeah. No. Absolutely. And I think you were mentioning a really interesting piece and that’s the evolution that we have seen throughout the pandemic, right? At one point it’s like, oh my God, how are we going to make this work? Then people started saying, oh, the office is dead, death to the office, and now people are starting to be like, okay, maybe there is a purpose to that interaction that we have when we would all come together under one place. But I think the important question that we need to be asking ourselves is what was the purpose of the office? Clearly it wasn’t to get work done, we’re all doing our work remotely right now and we’re doing it probably even better than we used to before. And even when you were in the office I would often see people just saying, okay, I’m going to sit at my desk, I want to put my headphones on, don’t bother me, you’re psyching the person that’s next to you, so it’s like, why are you even coming in?
And the things that you mentioned are right, right? Some people especially the young generation love going to the office because that’s where they’re meeting their friends, they’re dressing up, they’re getting out of their cramped apartments in cities and it’s just more of a social aspect. Sometimes you go into the office to do certain types of collaboration which maybe you don’t need to do them all in the office, sometimes you do them remotely, sometimes you do them in the office, but it’s all about those serendipitous moments where you meet people. So then if you take a step back and try to solve for that, the office just looks very, very different. Do you even have to have an entire big real estate filled with hoteling desk or is it just something that you get every once in a while for people to use? And that’s I think a really interesting conversation that people are starting to have nowadays.
Yeah. It’s funny because if I had three children under the age of six, no offense to my kids or my wife, I would want to go to the office just to escape. So, I mean, again, not putting fresh grads on the spot, I mean, I think it’s a tapestry, some people thrive. I think that’s one of the things that I want to get your take on is finding out where you as an individual, contributor, as an employee or an executive, wherever you are on the spectrum, where you thrive best, where you do your best work and then let’s build around that. So how do we know that? How do we know, I mean, either as individuals or how do we hire for that? How do we ask questions for that?
Yeah. So how do you know that? That’s really interesting and I think it’s a bit of a trial and error. I think that while the pandemic has demonstrated that we can all do work remotely and probably even be more productive while we do it, it has also been a really odd time because you’re stuck at home, the kids are not going to school, you can’t see your friends, you’re in lockdown. So whenever I talk to people about going back to the office, the most often cited thing that they want is the social interaction. And I do have to wonder if it is because you’re just not seeing people, period, and you’re craving that. And the reason why I think about this is that in Australia now they’re in lockdown again but they opened up faster than the rest of the world. And some of my colleagues that work there told me that employees came into the office every single day the first week and after that they’re like, okay, I’m good, I don’t have to go in.
The newness wore off.
Yeah. It was like, okay, I don’t have to go in, the commute kind of sucks, I saw you guys, I missed you, I don’t need to see you again for another month. So it’s really tough to figure out what works for you until you experiment and you test it out and I think that that’s the reality that we’re going to find ourselves into for the next year or two or three is that, and this is why I encourage employees and companies to do is, experiment and be flexible even within your flexibility because you just don’t know, this is all new to everybody and everything is changing constantly. So just kind of experiment and be adaptable because that’s the only way we’re going to make this work. And I just think this is almost like an industrial revolution, right? So many changes are happening at once, it’s kind of hard to predict what the future is going to look like even for you as an individual.
Oh yeah. I think when you said the word commute I cringed and I think recruiters all the way from executive search, all the way to staffing, I think the word commute is going to be a hard sell for folks. I mean, first of all, you got to do what you got to do to make money so no hate. But in some of the larger cities where you’re looking at at least an hour each way, now that we’ve learned that we can do some of these things in a different way, man, that’s going to be a tougher sell. Especially, I’ll pick on Silicon Valley just a little bit, but when you had an office and all the lunches were taken care of, you had a full cafeteria and you had a masseuse, you had all this crazy perks in the office, yeah, I could kind of sell that. You know what I mean? As a recruiter, okay, I can sell that. But now, two hours of my life in a car or in some type of transit, I don’t know if I can sell that, that’s going to be a really hard sell. So.
Yeah. And this is exactly why I think it’s so important to have that conversation around, what is the purpose of us getting together? Because if the purpose of getting together is just to sit in a desk and just do work, you’re going to have a hard time selling that. But if what you’re selling people is, come into the office whenever it is, could be once a week, once a month, whatever works for your team, we’re going to have everybody together in a room, we’re going to collaborate, we’re going to ideate, then we’re going to have this social moment, then we’re going to have these team building activities, maybe that’s something that you can sell because that’s exciting, you can sit in an hour in traffic just to go do that.
Yeah, that’s a fun bit.
What you’ve described though is you’re creating an event, you’re creating a memory. We’re going to create kind of a memorable experience if you will and it’s bespoke, there’s a reason, you used the word purpose which I really love. There’s a purpose for us to get together and it’s going to be team prompt. So there’s a real reason we’re all going to fly in, drive in, whatever, we’re all going to get together, we’re going to do a bit, it’ll be fun, it’ll be memorable, there’ll be great outcomes from it and then we’ll go back to our respective whatever work styles or whatever works for us. You also used the word experiment which I think is tethered to the word hybrid.
So I think when people say hybrid, I think not always at a drinking game but it’s a code for, everyone is going to do this differently. Everyone is going to come to their own conclusions differently, offices, regions, different size companies. And if they’re open, I think when you write especially if I’m talking to HR or if I’m even talking to the C-suite about hybrid work, I’m probably writing that in pencil, right? Just to make sure or a wipe off marker where it’s like, you know what? We’re probably going to edit this a few times.
100%. And I think flexibility by definition means different things for different people which means it’s going to be messy.
It is going to be messy.
Yeah. So you have to be open-minded about it, be willing to just test it out, some things are going to work, some things are not going to work and you’re just going to iterate along the way. But how fun though, it’s really exciting to be able to co-create what the future is going to look like. And that’s one of the things I love about working at MURAL, it’s just one of those places where you’re not just encouraged to do it but you’re expected to, it’s like, how can we do it ourselves so we can help other companies do it better? And it’s fun, it’s a fun time to be in this place.
It’s funny, there’s an old story about NASA in the ’60s where they celebrated failure because they had to put a man on the moon by the end of the decade, right? So they could say they failed first because just getting a rocket ship to go somewhere they had to fail. So they had in Houston, I remember this because I toured the facility and they had champagne and cake, and every time something would blow up, the engine would blow up, something would break, whatever it was, they’d all get together, they’d all have a glass of champagne, they’d all have a slice of cake and then they’d go back to work and they celebrated failure and especially it’s counterintuitive too. We hide failure most of our lives but they celebrated because they didn’t have time to hide it, they had to. And I think hybrid, as you’ve talked about it being kind of a modern day kind of revolution in the way that we look at work, I think we’re going to have to think of failure as it relates to hybrid work in a different way.
Absolutely. And failure is one of those things that just comes with pushing the boundaries and if you’re not pushing the boundaries how can you expect a revolution, right? How can you expect things to be different. So yeah, that’s why you’d fairly celebrate it, it’s not necessarily because, oh, you failed, yay, it’s more like, okay, you are pushing the boundaries so of course you’re going to fail, you’re not trying to play it safe. What did we learn from this? And how can we apply it for the next one? And that’s why it’s so great to have that champagne and cake, right? Celebrate it because good things come out of it, don’t be so scared of it.
Yeah. And no one’s going to get it right the first 20 iterations, no one is going to get it right. They’re going to start with HR, we’ll start with some assumptions and they’ll roll out a plan, they’ll roll out communications, they’ll start with something and you know what? A month later, a quarter later, whatever that period is, they’re going to realize, okay yeah, for this type of employee or for this type of role or whatever job class or for this division, we’ve got to do something different because it’s just not working, it’s not. And I think some of the things to look at as you’re listening to the show is the retention numbers, our ability to retain our top talent is going to be telling if what we’re trying in a hybrid model, if it’s not working from a productivity perspective, okay, we can all look at the same dashboard, got it.
But if we’re starting to lose that talent out the back door and again, doing exit interviews, to stay interviews, we can find out why they’re leaving, one way or another we can find out and if it’s our hybrid model we’re going to have to adapt, right? So I want to get your take on growing teams, growing remote teams in particular. So kind of what’s your hack or your favorite kind of bit right now on growing remote teams?
There’s so many things in there but the biggest thing that I think I have learned in the pandemic around growing an organization is you have to be explicit about everything. And what I mean by this is that in the past when everybody was in the same office or at least most of us were in the same office, a lot of things just didn’t have to be explicitly told or explained because you were just seeing them, you were experiencing them, while when we’re remote you’re not having that shared experience in just a very different way. So you need to be explicit about your company culture, about your communication style, about the expectations, about the processes, just things just don’t happen as easily anymore. So that explicit nature on how you do work I think has become one of the most important things that we have learned as you grow in scaled teams.
I love that-
One other thing.
No, go ahead. Finish your thought.
No, I was going to say culture, right? You used to be able to go into the office as a candidate and be like, okay, look at the office, the real estate, you can see the energy, you don’t get that anymore. So one of the things that we do at MURAL for interview sometimes is we get people to experience a workshop during an interview setting so they get to play with the tool, they get to experience the method, they get to experience the people and that’s just a little explicit highlight on what the culture is like here at the company.
Oh, I like that. So it’s rendering so two things, I want to unpack both real quick, one is communication, the importance. I think we learned this February of last year, the importance of communication and over communication, at that point it was crisis communication. But communicating with candidates, we take people all the way through the process like communicating with candidates and once they become freshly admitted employees then the job is not done, now we’ve got to communicate more effectively than we would if we were all sitting in the same conference room. So I love your take on being explicit and there’s probably some personalization in there too in terms of some candidates are going to need and what kind of feedback and more communication and more slack conversations and more, and some employees, that’s not going to be their bit. I can just speak for myself, I flourish when I’m not communicating. I mean, I’ll check slack every once in a while but I actually flourish when I’m just doing my bit. And I think everybody is different, which I think is again, the serendipity and the flexibility that kind is baked into this.
I love the thinking about being explicit and really you’re also getting folks to think about purposeful, being purposeful in your communications both with candidates but also as people become employees, like finding out what they need when they need it and maybe even over-communicating to start with, I love all that. Culture, you rendered culture in a really cool way in that you brought them into the product, you brought them into an experience and you said, yeah, you’re not going to be in the office office but we want you to be a part of the team and see what happens, here’s what we do, can you see yourself doing what we do in the environment? And I love that. And I’m thinking about how we render culture differently post COVID, right? Or if there is ever a post COVID, how we render culture differently. Any other tips for practitioners on either or either of those, being explicit in communications or rendering culture?
Yeah. I think one thing that you were talking about is, you don’t bring them into the office. So one thing I’ve been talking about with my team is, it’s not the workplace anymore, it’s the workspace. Because if we’re hybrid, if we’re remote, the great equalizer is just this digital workspace where we all interact and hang out. So the same tender loving care that you would put into making sure the right layout, the right plans, the right bathroom setup was happening in the workplace, how can you think about it similarly for the workspace? What are the tools that you’re using? How are we using them? Do we all have a shared understanding of the workflow and how do we live in it? I think that piece needs to be paid a lot of attention to. You talk to companies and they have thousands of tools, everybody uses them differently, you don’t have norms, that is a huge piece of the culture nowadays because that’s the great equalizer for all of us. So I think paying extra attention to that bit will be very, very important to help scale teams nowadays.
I think candidates want that too. I think some of this is also driven by the candidates, right? So it’s driven by us and what we want to do but it’s also driven by, we’re still trying to attract talent so it’s got to fit, what do they want, their experiences, their desires, all of that stuff. Personal hack, how do you keep up with what they want, your candidates for your company? Just how do you keep your finger on the pulse of what you can do to innovate to kind of fit what their needs are?
Yeah. Everything is changing so quickly but I try to do a few things. One at a macro level, I try to read a lot, listen to podcasts like this one, and then also talk to a lot of heads of people around what they’re seeing and what they’re thinking. And then at the same time, we pay a lot of attention to candidates and we just ask them point blank, right? Like, what are you looking for? If somebody declines our offer just really trying to understand the reasons why. And if they say comp, that’s not good enough, I feel like, what else was in there? To just try to suss out things around the experience.
So at the macro level we try to investigate but then also asking candidates and asking employees what they’re seeing and what they’re wanting just to keep on top of it. Because one of the things we’ve noticed too is, sometimes people don’t know what they want, kind of going back to that example in Australia, but then you can try to listen a bit more and ask the five why’s question to try to get to the root of what it is that they’re trying to say, so that is important too.
I love that you mentioned your peer group because, again, this is one of these kind of underused kind of avenues. I know during at the beginning of COVID, HR and recruiting, all the practitioners, they were talking a lot just to find out, how are we going to navigate whatever the heck this is? And then it started to kind of wane a little bit because everyone got busy. But I love the fact that you mentioned it because it’s just an under leveraged resource, I mean, your own network, people that are going through kind of what you’re going through, I love that. As we go out, last tip or advice that you give folks for effectively growing remote teams, what would you say to them?
I think a big piece is, take the time to be human, and that sounds a little bit cliche but I think it’s very easy especially when you’re in back-to-back Zoom calls and there’s a lot of work to be done to kind of forget that there’s a human on the other side. One of the hacks that I have is, during every one-on-one the first five, 10 minutes, I literally spend them just talking to the person. Silly things like, what did you do this weekend? What color is your wall? And why did you choose that color? It sounds silly but it’s just so important to do that because then you connect at a completely different level. And it kind of brings me a little bit of anxiety sometimes because you’re not getting work done but it is so important to connect with people as human beings. So that’s a little hack that I have found, it’s small and it feels irrelevant but it makes a difference.
No. It’s definitely not irrelevant, it’s empathy and what’s great about it is again, you’re building the connection. My biggest fear is that post COVID we lose that, we go back to kind of business as it was pre COVID. I hope that we learned that this should be the way that we do business. So yeah, we talk about our dogs and kids and crazy stuff that’s going on in our lives instead of the walls between personal and professional. We kind of blur those just a little bit and we have empathy, find out what’s going on in people’s lives, I love that. Adriana, I could talk to you forever-
… I know you have a lot of stuff that you need to go do so thank you so much for coming on the RecruitingDaily Podcast.
Of course William, thanks for having me.
Absolutely. And thanks for everyone for listening to RecruitingDaily Podcast, until next time.
William is the President & Editor-at-Large of RecruitingDaily. At the intersection of HR and technology, he’s a writer, speaker, advisor, consultant, investor, storyteller & teacher. He's been writing about HR and Recruiting related issues for longer than he cares to disclose. William serves on the Board of Advisors / Board of Directors for 20+ HR technology startups. William is a graduate of the University of Alabama at Birmingham with a BA in Art History. He also earned an MA in American Indian Studies from the University of Arizona and an MBA from Case Western Reserve University.