Future of work: leaders tell all

Four CEOs at the helm of the remote work revolution share insights about the resounding impact of a transformational year

Cloud 100 Team

A cheeky viral tweet from 2020 asked, “Who led your digital transformation?” with the following options: “CEO,” “CTO,” and “COVID-19.” For many companies, the Covid-19 pandemic suddenly thrust them into a new era they’d previously only been inching towards.

As stressful as this period was for leaders, it also brought about positive transformation that would not have happened otherwise—at least, certainly not so rapidly. “Necessity is definitely the mother of invention,” says Anjali Sud, CEO of Vimeo, whose company developed many new features to meet the changing needs of customers. “We’re all experiencing it.”

We brought together Anjali and three other CEOs who lead technology companies that are the vanguard of the future of work: Wade Foster, Co-Founder and CEO of Zapier; Christal Bemont, CEO of Talend; and Johnny Boufarhat, CEO of Hopin.

They provide insights based on the thousands of companies they support, plus a peek inside their own companies—which are leading the way as remote and hybrid work go from trendy to table stakes.

Don’t fall into the trap of transactional working relationships

When Wade Foster co-founded Zapier in 2011, it was a totally distributed team from the get-go. But this early mover advantage did not protect them from the chaos of the pandemic. “You would think having run a remote company for a decade that we would have this remote culture thing solved,” he says. “But the truth is, we were still suffering without in-person activity.” To be sure, many of the company’s remote-first processes and best practices held up, and they were certainly better off than those who’d always been office-first.

But with new obstacles thrown into the mix—around-the-clock childcare, declining mental health, and lack of a normal rhythm to the day—the pandemic undeniably disrupted the harmony. Pre-pandemic, the team relied on dynamic, in-person retreats twice a year to build authentic human connection.

“When that disappeared, you really started to notice how transactional distributed work could feel,” recalls Wade. “It’s an email, a Slack conversation, a quick Zoom call—and it’s usually right down to business. When you do that for a prolonged period of time, you start to notice things just don’t click quite in the same way.”

Since online meetings are critical to the future of work, Wade was determined to rescue his organization from the monotony of work without camaraderie or trusting relationships. “One simple thing we’ve started doing in our executive meetings is regular check-ins to make sure we understand how people are doing. We also have these silly icebreaker questions. This week we asked our executive team, ‘What was the first concert you ever went to?’” The result was a lot of laughs, while meaningful relationships either started to take shape or were further nurtured.

“It’s just a quick reminder that we’re working with other people who have rich and full lives outside of work,” says Wade. “Then when you inevitably have to face difficult problems at work, those reminders help us treat each other as humans along the way.”

Embrace asynchronous communication to avoid burning out employees

Pre-pandemic, only 10% of Vimeo’s workforce was remote. This meant a steep learning curve for Anjali and the rest of her leadership team. “We went through a period where it was ‘meeting overload,’” she recalls. “Something needed to change.”

The team decided to drastically shift the norms around meetings. Instead of meetings being the default way to communicate, they instead embraced asynchronous communication much of the time. “We gave the team guidelines on when a meeting actually needs to happen versus when a screen recording to walk through a presentation would be preferable,” she says. The latter option allowed team members in different time zones or preoccupied intermittently by childcare to view on their own time, and send comments back.

The team has been using their own Vimeo Record tool to facilitate this asynchronous communication. “There was a real, tangible productivity benefit while also retaining the connectedness you get from seeing someone’s face as they talk through a complex or nuanced idea,” says Anjali.

Asynchronous communication is one of many new use cases for Vimeo. During the pandemic, the team saw a big spike in companies using video in ways they hadn’t before—for example, live streaming their town halls in Netflix-like quality, or HR teams sending video messages to welcome employees. “It’s almost like every employee is becoming a content creator,” remarks Anjali. “And we’ve been building tools to make that easier.”

Produce unforgettable hybrid and virtual events

As we look ahead to the end of the pandemic and beyond, the world of work will not revert to its former conventions. Something has changed forever—online events will remain a staple, and hybrid events will gain popularity. During the period of the pandemic when in-person events were unthinkable, the Hopin team took the opportunity to beef up interactive, almost ‘experiential’ capabilities online. Through integrations on the platform, you could play trivia or a game of poker inside a Hopin event.

“I don’t think virtual events are going to compete with experiential events where there’s fire-breathing or you’re learning yoga,” admits Johnny. “But for everything that’s content-based, I think virtual is a lot more engaging.” And that, he says, is here to stay.

Beyond attendee experience, online events unlock unprecedented visibility into event performance. “The sort of data and analytics you’re getting from online events is unlike anything you could get from a physical event,” he says. “You can see with stunning clarity how engaged people actually are with the content they’re watching and who specifically they’re networking with.”

Another trend Johnny has observed is that Hopin customers are hosting more internal events than ever, whereas previously external events were the dominant use case. The Hopin team is no exception. They’ve been using StreamYard, a platform they acquired in January 2021, to entertain employees while educating them. “We basically produce our all-hands meetings the way you would produce a TV show,” he says. “Our employees love it.” It’s one of many factors that contribute to Hopin’s impressive internal NPS of 90.

In June 2021, Hopin acquired Boomset, a software company focused on onsite and hybrid events. By catering to both in-person and online audiences, Johnny says that “organizers get to attract 10 times as many people, wherever they are in the world.”

Constraints breed creativity—but don’t wait for the next constraint to think big

Christal stepped in as CEO of Talend mere weeks before the pandemic hit. It was also her first time in the CEO seat. But that didn’t stop her from pursuing ambitions that were previously unimaginable. “The pandemic was a forcing function,” she says. “It’s a wake-up call for something long overdue. I think the world’s pace of innovation was behind quite frankly.”

While Christal acknowledges that you would never want a devastating pandemic to be the catalyst for change, she celebrates the expanded possibilities it brings. Nobody illustrates this more beautifully than Talend customer Vyaire Medical, a company that has played an important role in mitigating the repercussions of COVID. Previously, they were able to produce 60 ventilators a week. “Their operations guy said to me, ‘Christal, maybe we could get it to 61.’” But as circumstances worsened, he was forced to radically rethink their automation and data strategy. “They now produce 600 a day,” says Christal.

This tenfold increase became possible with careful attention to data operations, which will become increasingly important in a remote-first world. “Maintaining strong data quality helps people see trouble coming,” says Christal. “When data is carefully managed, you can spot a lot of anomalies. If you can get in front of those, imagine not only the risks you could avoid, but also the opportunities you could uncover.”

“This is a wake-up call and I’ll tell you right now—I don’t need to wait for the next one,” says Christal.

Full Transcript

Anjali Sud:

Hi, I'm Anjali Sud. I'm the CEO of Vimeo.

Wade Foster:

Hi, I'm Wade Foster, co-founder and CEO at Zapier.

Johnny Boufarhat:

Hello, I'm Johnny Boufarhat, founder and CEO of Hopin.

Christal Bemont:

Hi, I'm Christal Bemont. I'm the CEO of Talend.

Anjali Sud:

Welcome to Cloud100. All right. Hi everyone. It is great to be here at The Cloud100. I'm really looking forward to this conversation. We have four CEOs and leaders here who are building the companies of the future and the software of the future. And so we're just going to dive right in. Obviously all of us in the tech world have had to adjust pretty dramatically in the last year with the pandemic and this immediate shift to remote work. But actually I think Johnny and Wade, you both were already embracing remote work before the pandemic. So I'm just curious, how, if at all, did you have to change? How you and your teams worked? And did you learn anything from this last year and a half that's shifted, how you think about remote work? Johnny, maybe you could start.

Johnny Boufarhat:

Well, I was hoping Wade would start because I mean, before the pandemic, our company wasn't that big. So most of the way that we operate, we were a fully remote company, but we didn't change much a lot of what we learned about how to operate remotely was from Wade at Zapier and other great companies, like GitLab, et cetera. So, I'll pass that on to Wade because I think he'll give a better answer than me.

Wade Foster:

Well, you're too kind, Johnny. We started Zapier in 2011, fully distributed from the Gecko. In terms of how the pandemic changed our operating model, we're fortunate in that a lot of the rituals and routines that we'd set up continued to work through the pandemic, but that wasn't universally true. Remote work in sort of a, I guess "normal time", it is different than when you're going through a pandemic. And the key things, were the things that changed around us. In particular, I think about things like caretakers, losing access to the normal things that they have access to, schools being shut down, daycares being shut down, if you're taking care of an older parent, all of those things now fell to the burden of all of us. And if you're trying to juggle a day job, while watching a child at the same time, you know how difficult that is.

Wade Foster:

And so for many of us, 40 hour work weeks that were sort of the norm became quite challenging and we didn't have the sort of normal rhythm of the day to get that work done. And so, I can't say that we were unimpacted by the pandemic because of that, just because we were remote to Gecko. All the other stuff in the world definitely had an effect. There were things that we were able to do to sort of mitigate some of those hurdles. I think one big thing that we continue to strive to do is be asynchronous and a lot of our work that bakes and a lot of flexibility in terms of how you approach things. If you can handle things in the morning, or in the evening, or whenever is best for you, that allows, that frees people up to do things like take care of their kids, help them with homework, help them with Zoom school, what have you, and then you can sort of get to work when makes sense for you.

Wade Foster:

So I think really leaning into the flexibility that remote work can afford through asynchronous work was one of the key habits that really made work better, not great, but still better through the pandemic. So I think that would be the one really important adjustment that we paid attention to.

Anjali Sud:

Yeah, that makes sense. And, I mean, Vimeo is an example of a company where we were about 10% of our workforce was remote. So it was a big adjustment for us. And if anything, I think we've become more distributed globally as a team. And it's actually been awesome because our user base is so global and we've really been able to kind of bring in talent from many more parts of the world, which I think has been a real benefit to the business. Christal, you had a really interesting experience. I believe you literally stepped in as CEO, like a few weeks before the pandemic hits, which was amazing.

Christal Bemont:

Amazing timing.

Anjali Sud:

Yeah, amazing timing. So how did you navigate that transition of literally like coming in and getting up to speed while also managing through this sort of crazy time?

Christal Bemont:

Well, it certainly was an interesting time and it was something that no matter how long you were in the chair, I think it was a challenge. It was really about the uncertainty of knowing how much you could continue to run fast when you had a lot of plans ahead of you and how much you needed to slow down just to see around the corner of what was next. And I think what it did, if you, if to put a positive spin on it was really required action and decisiveness, because there wasn't really a choice to just sit and wait. I didn't feel like that was the right thing to do. And so really it was about putting things into action, not just about what we were going to do from a strategy perspective, but how we were going to take care of our employees and what it meant to define wellbeing that went outside of physical health, but also mental health, which is a really big focus for me. And the way that I think about taking care of the people that run this business.

Anjali Sud:

Well, I think it's an incredible feat. I can't imagine having to do that, while becoming the CEO of a company for the first time. So let's talk about, each of us are leading companies that are trying to use technology to help people work better. I know Vimeo since the pandemic and we saw a big spike in large companies using video in ways they hadn't before, live streaming their town halls and Netflix like quality, HR, teams using sending video messages to welcome employees. Everyone, every employee is sort of becoming a content creator and we've been sort of building the tools to make that easier. I'd love to just kind of, for each of us to share sort of what are the things that you've seen the pandemic has actually changed behavior and opened up opportunities for your technology and what innovation are you most excited about bringing to your customers? Maybe Johnny, you could start us off.

Johnny Boufarhat:

Absolutely. So for us, obviously the past few months, we've seen a huge amount of adoption, not only of the typical type of events that you would expect Hopin to be powering like virtual conference like this, but more on the internal conferences that people are hosting inside their companies. So whether it's a company all hands, or a workshop, or a sales kickoff, or whatever it is across the company, that's where we're starting to see lots of usage because people are starting to adopt this, a more virtual and remote mindset. Even if you're going back into a hybrid workplace, you still need to talk to all your employees wherever they are in the world.

Johnny Boufarhat:

So, outside of the extended use cases, outside of company recruitment fair, and virtual conferences, we're seeing a lot of that. On top of that, we made some quite interesting changes to how our product works. And in terms of, we added Boomset, which is a physical event provider to our suite, so that we're able to power these hybrid events right in the middle where you have people attending on site, but also virtually. And so, innovating in that space, which really wasn't a thing. Hybrid events has been super exciting for us and also a huge opportunity for us to invent. And that's what we love doing as a company.

Anjali Sud:

I'm curious, do you think that you can create a world where, or technology and experience where the online experience is just as engaging and sort of effective as the offline experience?

Johnny Boufarhat:

I think there's two parts to it, when it comes to engaging and effective. I think when it comes to the effectiveness, I think 100%, I think organizers already who run events on Hopin see that they get to attract people 10 times as many people wherever they are in the world. And the sort of data and analytics that they're getting from these events are unlike anything you could get from a physical event, from how engaged they actually are with the content that they're watching, and who they're networking with, and who they're engaging with at the event. Now from a engagement piece, I think it really depends. I don't think the virtual component is going to compete with a fire-breathing sort of event where your kind of learning yoga, whatever it is, where it's really, we call them experiential events. But everything else that's content-based, I think virtual is a lot more engaging and I think it can be a lot more engaging and that's why we've implemented so many integrations as a platform where you're able to now implement trivia inside Hopin.

Johnny Boufarhat:

You're able to really far third party projects, like if you wanted to play poker within a session during a Hopin event, you'd be able to have that sort of extreme setup and all of these things, add to that engagement piece. And you asked about what the most exciting thing for us, in the long-term is we're super excited. We think that similar to how Vimeo sees the world from the video being in the future. We also see, video being the future, like many other companies. And I think, we're going to be doubling down on not only the larger events that you see Hopin in, but also smaller to medium sized meetings and events. I think there's a next gen that's coming because of the pandemic where companies realize how much innovation is needed in order to take us to the next steps of hybrid and remote workplaces.

Anjali Sud:

Well, you're definitely speaking my language. Wade, what are you seeing at Zapier?

Wade Foster:

Yeah, I think Christal talked a little bit about the importance of speed, and agility, and decisiveness. And I think so many companies realized how important that was. And at Zapier, I think that's one of the things a lot of our customers benefited from was being able to build automation, building systems and processes in minutes and hours, rather than days and weeks. We had a customer that provided a bit building exercises at museums in New York city. And overnight, that business lost basically all of its business went from $3 million to nothing and had to lay everyone off, but they were able to pivot to teambuilding.com and start providing online experiences and part because they were able to build out the entire business through Zapier on a weekend. And that business now has more employees than it had before the pandemic. And so being able to build out these applications, websites, workflows, automations, whatever you want to call those in such a short amount of time is something I think all of us have learned is that ability to adjust, adapt on the spot and having technology that allows you to do that is so critical.

Christal Bemont:

I think that's a forcing function. I think it's a wake up call for something that's been long overdue. I look at it as, if you could take a positive out of it. And I always try to look at, the reality of the situation is it checks you to see if you're working at the level that you need to be working both on behalf of your company and your customers. And I completely agree with you. I think it's, we're behind quite frankly. I think if we take a look at how long it took us to get here, you would never want this to be the thing, but now that it is, it's what it's like, what's possible? How do we push ourselves beyond what's even thinkable right now? And it's the same for us, I mean, we look at customers like via medical, ventilators were a pretty, are have been a really important part of solving for at least the repercussions of COVID.

Christal Bemont:

And we have vier medical who are, they could at most create 60 ventilators a week. 60 and Ed would tell me they got the guy who runs all of their data, their processes, the operations of their organization. He's like, "Christal, maybe we could get it to 61." They do 600 a day. And they do that because they had to rethink the way and it's automation, exactly what you were saying. And it's though they had to force themselves outside, but if they didn't have a good foundation of data and some of the things that require you to run operations at a speed that you can, it for us was really about, showing up for our customers in a way that they had to stay in business. They had to reimagine the way that they met their customers online. And we have pharmaceutical companies that had to make sure more than anything that the data they were using were helping them instrument and make the decisions and operate their business.

Christal Bemont:

And you know what happens when you don't have good data, it's not necessarily the best outcome, but I just think this is a wake-up call and I don't need to wait for the next one. I'll tell you that right now.

Anjali Sud:

Yeah. I think necessity is definitely the mother of invention and I think we're all experiencing it. And if anything, what we observe is a lot of people were very reactive at the beginning of the pandemic because they had to be. And now, as we're sort of, re-emerging, people are becoming more intentional. Intentional about the way that they design their technology stack and workplace environments. I think it's a good segue to a topic that I'm sure you all have been dealing with a lot, which is culture. If anything, I know I've learned a lot about being more intentional about sort of supporting employees, ensuring people are informed, productive, engaged during this time. And I'm wondering, does anyone have any great hacks, or solutions, or things that have just worked incredibly well beyond what you imagined or you're definitely going to be continuing that you want to share other leaders. Anyone who has a good one.

Christal Bemont:

[crosstalk 00:14:53] You go, you go, go for it.

Wade Foster:

You would think having run a remote company for a decade that we would have this solved, but I still think this is even an area that we realized how important in-person activity is. We relied on in-person events twice, three times a year to really build that human connection. And when that disappears, I think you start to notice how transactional distributed work can seem. It's an email, a Slack conversation, a quick Zoom call, and it's usually down to business. And if you do that for a prolonged period of time, you start to notice things just don't click quite in the same way because those relationships aren't established. And so, one simple thing that we've started doing in our executive meetings at the beginning of the pandemic is our regular green check-ins, just to make sure we understand how are people doing? How are people showing up?

Wade Foster:

And then two, we have these silly icebreaker questions. This week we asked, what was the first concert you ever went to? And it just is a quick reminder that, "Hey, we're working with other people who have lives outside of work, who have things that we care about outside of work." And I think that when we get into the difficult problems that we face inside of work, those reminders just help us treat each other as humans along the way.

Christal Bemont:

Yeah. I'm just going to draft up for that. I think first of all, that's awesome because it's a, we're all humans, right? And we have obligations outside of work. And I always thought that it was interesting that people thought you walk in the front door and then you can shut everything else out. It really doesn't work that way. And I think that you look at the type of people that you really, if you want authentic, diverse culture, where people really bring their best selves, that means you have to support them in things inside and outside the company. And this again was a wake up call, I think, to say, "Hey, first of all, people can't turn things on and off so fluidity and flexibility is key." But also we have to really think about what it means to take care of our people. And they spend a lot of their time focused on the things that we do at work. So it's an eye-opener I think for a lot of people.

Johnny Boufarhat:

I think one thing for us, we implemented a Hopin vibe team. And I guess this is something a little bit different, like a share for us, it might be a honeymoon period type thing, but at the company we have a internal MPS of over 90. And I think the way we've done that is through this vibe team, as well as being obviously is probably a honeymoon period with how long we haven't been around for as long as a lot of the other companies. But, it's worked incredibly well for us as team basically runs events weekly for people from mental health events to trivia nights, to events now, city by city. So wherever we have more than 10 people, a city there, they have a community member that works with the vibe team to run whatever type of events this per city they want to run or per town.

Johnny Boufarhat:

So if anyone within to attend 10 people plus, so we're, that vibe team has been instrumental for us. And I got to say it is a little bit of a pitch, but I mean, we've been using StreamYard even before the acquisition of StreamYard to basically turn our all hands events into a show. And I think it's something that most of our employees talk about. Our all hands events are really fun because, we really produce it the same way we would a TV show and it's really enjoyable for everybody.

Anjali Sud:

Oh, that's awesome. I'll share two hacks. One, it's sort of related to the vibes thing, which we've definitely as we've scaled and gotten more distributed, just we need to be better at recognizing great work. It's really hard. It's one of the things I think a lot of us have lost with the pandemic. So we rolled out all these like [teameo and loveo 00:18:50] initiatives to basically make sure like at every corner of the company, no matter where you are working, we're kind of giving people shout outs. And then the other thing, and I'm sure everyone can empathize with this, but we went through a period, right? When the pandemic came, where it was like meeting overload. And one of the things, to the point that we made about asynchronous communication, doing things like asynchronous video messaging, we use our Vimeo record tool, but there's a bunch of others. We've really shifted the mix of when meetings actually need to happen versus recording your screen to walk through a presentation or a demo quickly sending that out and getting comments back.

Anjali Sud:

And I think there was a real, tangible productivity benefit while also retaining this sort of connectedness that you get of seeing somebody fit their face, talking through a complex nuanced idea. So I think those have been two that we will definitely be kind of leaning into as we look to the future. All right. So we're running out of time, but I want to ask one last question for the group. If you could wave a magic wand and make any future facing technology or capability, just be available in your palm today, what would it be? Christal, do you want to start?

Christal Bemont:

You bet. It would be the, what we're working on right now, what we're providing, which is data health. And what I mean by data health is the ability to actually have a confidence monitor if you will, for every person in the organization who interacts with data so that when talent is running your data operations, we actually can not only let you know that, there's, everything's on track in terms of the quality of data.

Christal Bemont:

So ironic to me that no one can measure quality data today or define it, but more importantly, help people see trouble coming. And there are a lot anomalies in operations and in instrumentation of a business that if you could get in front of those, imagine how much we could help companies really think about avoiding risk, but also looking for opportunities. And I just see it as a foundation too, and being core to everything that companies are looking to do. So, that's what we're working on and that's what I'd wave a magic wand to develop.

Anjali Sud:

Wade, what do you think?

Wade Foster:

Well, not necessarily directly related to our work at Zapier, for me, affordable, renewable energy for all to me has got to be the thing that I, if I could wave a magic wand, I would give that to all of us.

Anjali Sud:

Johnny.

Johnny Boufarhat:

Yeah. I'm going to go outside of the business as well. And I think for me, it's teleportation. I'm really into accessibility and what's more accessible than being able to be wherever you are, anywhere in the world. So that's something I would easily wave a magic wand and beg for.

Christal Bemont:

Johnny. You figured that out, buddy, I'm right there. I'm your partner, sign me up.

Wade Foster:

In virtual events, what is it? It doesn't matter where you are, right?

Anjali Sud:

I love that. Thank you all. It was a really great discussion and we appreciate it. Bye.

Christal Bemont:

Thank you so much. Bye.

Johnny Boufarhat:

Thank you so much.