Scaling and operating a globally-distributed company is difficult, but Zapier achieved its success while being 100% remote since day one.
Over the last decade, they scaled from 10 to nearly 1,000 employees across 17 time zones and 42 countries and are now ready to share just how they did it.
How did Zapier get through the pandemic and what’s next?
“Zapier started 11 years ago. Our three co-founders got together and created this company with no offices. Everyone has always worked from wherever they liked. What’s interesting is that in 2020, so many companies were figuring out how to navigate an involuntarily all-remote workforce, while at Zapier, we kept operating as usual.
During the pandemic, our business grew significantly. A lot of organizations were trying to figure out how to keep productivity and efficiency high with distributed teams – which is exactly what Zapier as a product is helpful for. It was really energizing and rewarding to play a role in supporting the community of teams that were adapting to this new model of work.
The Zapier team has grown from 3 people 11 years ago to over 800 today. This is largely due to our all-remote model. Our 800+ Zapierns, as we call them, live in 42 countries and counting, and are all fully remote. We plan to continue with this model for the future.”
What are the benefits of a remote-only company?
“The first benefit is talent attraction which is extraordinary. When Zapier launched 11 years ago, it was able to leap over many of its startup peers that were trying to make it in Silicon Valley or other big tech hubs. Our competitors were like tiny fish in a big ocean trying to attract top talent from more resourceful, more well-known, and much less risky companies. In contrast, our talent pool began with all of North America, quickly progressing into the entire world.
The second benefit relates to diversity, equity, and inclusion (DEI). Hiring remotely gives you a richer demographic workforce, which is harder to achieve when you’re hiring candidates from a specific country or city.
Another overlooked benefit is that remote work forces you to become better at documentation, sharing knowledge, automating tasks, and many other time-saving and productivity habits which you may not practice in regular office settings.”
What role do in-person connections play at Zapier?
“We highly value human connection and it’s a key ingredient in our all-remote recipe. A misunderstanding with the all-remote model is that we never meet in person, but the two are entirely compatible, and in Zapier’s case, really important.
I believe there are moments in a company’s trajectory where being in person can be a big accelerator of growth, connection, trust, and creativity. At Zapier, we have a couple of all-company retreats to come together in person. Because we like to give our employees flexibility and choice, and this also plays back to diversity, equity, and inclusion, we also offer a virtual option. Virtual attendees get custom swag, unique gifts, and activities designed for virtual attendees only. Everyone attends the retreat but based on what’s going on in people’s lives, employees have the option to connect in person or completely remotely.”
How does Zapier hire and train remotely?
“Our hiring process mirrors the experience of working at Zapier. For example, our process is entirely remote, even when we interview candidates for executive roles.
We never ask candidates to do an assignment for us. We believe that if you’re doing work that is directly benefiting Zapier, we should be paying you for that. Instead, we often ask folks to show examples of work that they’ve already done, are familiar with, and oftentimes, are very proud of, which then reflects the type of work that they’ll be doing at Zapier.
During interviews, we make sure to reflect one of our values, which is transparency. We give candidates detailed information about how we operate, where the company is going, what it’s like to work here, what you could expect in your first 90 days at Zapier, and so on.
Another thing we focus on is responsiveness. We understand that interviewing is stressful, so Zapier has a seven-day response commitment to applicants. No matter where you are in the interview process, you can expect to get an update from us in 7 days at most.”
Why is transparency an important core value?
“We try to make sure everyone has access to the information they need. For example, details on what we’re trying to do as a team and company, information about our customer experience, company performance details, as well how we are doing relative to our goals. We are also transparent about other fundamentals such as how your performance is evaluated, how pay and promotions work, and so on. These details are published and shared across the company.
The advantage of this transparency is that it improves productivity as we don’t have to re-explain things over and over again. Also, there is a different level of trust established when such details are posted publicly vs when you simply state them. It keeps us accountable, forces us to nail our procedures and values, and fosters a sense of trust across the company.”
Watch the full conversation on our YouTube channel
What does growth and learning in a remote culture look like?
“We start by teaching employees how to operate in fully remote or highly distributed settings. In the past year, we found that almost 95% of new hires were new to this method of working. We also found that many newcomers, especially junior members, like to work in groups as it’s easier to learn and absorb information. We have processes that replicate this onboarding experience virtually where members can group together, look over someone else’s shoulder, and ask questions in real time.”
What do you do when your employees are leaving?
“When attrition is high, the first thing we like to do is ask why this is happening. If a company is going through a period of intense transformation, where maybe the mission is changing, or how work gets done changes, then you might see high attrition.
Think of Twitter as an example. That attrition is part of the transformation and is expected. Folks can make their own choices about whether they want to sign up to be part of the future or leave. If that’s done in a planned, transparent, and respectful way, then the attrition is acceptable and fine.
If you’re not expecting high attrition — it’s time to ask why this is happening. Conducting exit surveys is a great way to understand why people are leaving and to pinpoint common themes. It may be due to change management, competing offers, or other reasons you’re not aware of. Once you have the feedback, go back to the drawing board and see what changes need to be made so you can lower your attrition.”
What are your predictions for the future of Twitter?
“Sometimes leaders have to make really difficult decisions to stay healthy as a company. In Twitter’s example, it could have been done in a way that is more transparent, more planful, and more respectful of the individuals who were being impacted. This is my personal opinion.
If I was an employee of Twitter today, I’d be asking a lot of questions about the company’s strategy. I need to be anchored on the future. Why is it worth staying? What are we aiming to accomplish and what is it going to take to get there? I think a call to action to be ‘hardcore’ or to work harder is not very helpful. What do you need from me? Maybe if the vision is really motivating and I’m going to be treated with respect and have an opportunity to be rewarded well, then it’s worth me staying. I need a lot of specifics to feel like I’m in the right place. If Twitter is to survive and turn around, I think these communications need to happen quickly.”
How can big teams bond remotely?
“We have a ritual at Zapier called ReadMe. Think of it as a personal manual where you detail your personal values, what gives you energy, what depletes your energy, your working hours, etc. This is something you create and then share with new teams or colleagues to facilitate one-to-one connections. We also make use of Zapier and other automations. Anyone can sign up to be automatically connected with different parts of the company for 15-minute virtual coffees. We’ve built other toolkits and processes to facilitate communication, but the magic is in their usability, repeatability, and scalability.”
What are the Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) innovations at Zapier?
“One of the core paradigms of DEI at Zapier is what we call ‘DEI as DNA’. The idea is that there are opportunities to weave inclusion and equity into every part of how Zapier operates. We talked earlier about transparency in our documentation and how that supports consistency, equity, and inclusion. Another example is when it comes to scheduling events. When we hold live events, we alternate the hours to make sure you can attend during business hours no matter where you are in the world. These are basic examples, but the underlying principle is that DEI can and should be weaved into everything you do.”
What are the benefits of async communication?
“What we’ve learned from a cognitive diversity point of view is that written async communication is truly powerful. In addition to that, sometimes people learn or experience information best through video format where you can see facial expressions. There’s a tool a lot of our execs have been using to record brief video messages, which people can then engage with and ask questions about. The feedback on that has been great. It is also helpful from a DEI perspective as that same tool generates captions and transcripts automatically. That tool is called Loom.”
How do you create balance in a hybrid team?
“Creating balance and similar experiences can be a challenge especially when some of your workforce is local but distributed, and others are fully remote, maybe even in different time zones. What I recommend is that you set a timer for 15-20 minutes and jot down what experience you would like employees to have no matter where they’re working from. This is also a great chance to align with your CEO or fellow execs to see if you’re all rowing in the same direction. I see teams slack or struggle when there is no alignment within the executive team.”
What is Zapier’s Ultimate Guide to remote work?
“Zapier released and shared its ultimate guide for remote work prior to COVID-19 and it’s still a good representation of how we work today. We received a lot of requests to externalize our remote work processes so other companies could benefit from them and give us feedback. This was very helpful for us as we’re always looking to iterate on and improve our processes.
Our guide includes details about how to onboard people remotely, how to run hybrid and virtual team-building events, and we also have a section on how to evaluate the performance of remote employees; that was a commonly asked question. These are just a few examples, but we have dozens of articles and examples in our guide. If there’s a practice you see that’s missing or that you have questions about, I would encourage you to share that with our team. We definitely appreciate any feedback you may have.”
What are your predictions for remote work 5 years from now?
“I don’t think remote work will be the prevailing model of work five years from now, but I think it’s going to make up a meaningfully bigger slice even than it does today. I think distributed and remote teams will be able to attract better, more diverse talent. Many companies will be challenged to change outdated processes and evolve quickly; we cannot just roll back to how things were done previously. Transparency, collaboration, and consistency will become even more important. I think it will bring many healthy changes to how we work.”
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