Simply identifying your organization’s values does not make them real. It’s easy to bandy about words like “trust” and “innovation” or “motivation.” But if they are not grounded in real actions and supported by congruent behaviors, such values can fall remarkably short. Making those values real can be very difficult, but many would agree with today’s guest that it is well worth the effort. She’s found a way to keep values real even in a remote, global organization.
Meet Nadia Vatalidis, Director of People at Remote.com.
Well, I always like to start the main portion of the interview with how you found yourself in HR in the first place.
I had my own small business for many years. I enjoyed it, but it was a small and saturated market. I got some great experience in international business, working with and consulting clients in the United States and a few other countries. When I decided to join in a junior role at a tech start-up, I got entrenched in people operations and people experience. Later on, I ran people engineering at GitLab which was incredible. I got to help scale the company from 75 people to 1,300, all spread across the globe. I joined as a recruiter and always thought I’d stay in that role. But when opportunities opened up for me at GitLab to develop the remote onboarding process and create a people journey, I became quite obsessed with it and wanted to continuously improve it, refine processes, and adapt them to the people and their specific needs.
I started my career here at Remote in December and am very excited about the company’s rapid growth. Remote is in HR tech, so it’s also slightly closer to my heart and I am passionate about the product and what we do. We are creating opportunities for companies to hire across many countries in the world, which brings nearly localized wealth to people who otherwise won’t necessarily be able to access a Silicon Valley company or other great international opportunities.
Let’s talk about virtual reality (VR) for a second. Does your company do VR, or is it that you guys use VR to do interviews?
We do use VR within our team, but not for interviews. It’s a great idea but it would be difficult to get an Oculus VR headset to the candidates and it might also create an inclusivity problem. We use the Oculus VR headset across the entire Remote company and it’s added this super fun social element that can often be harder to achieve in a remote setting. Companies tend to stick straight to the agenda in meetings and tools like VR can help build social connections, encourage people to get to know each other more, and serve as an icebreaker.
We’ve been using it for all kinds of awesome projects, leveraging the gamification side of it in a work setting, and even doing things like writing and brainstorming on a whiteboard in VR. We also have a weekly game session and are starting to think about ideas to make sure these types of team bonding events are time zone-inclusive to allow everyone to join, whether they’re in America or the Asia-Pacific region. Everyone loves playing Beat Saber together–I think you even get quite a workout from some of these games! It’s a great combination of gaming, working out and moving your body, and social connection. It’s been a ton of fun.
Beat Saber does look like a ton of fun. Do you guys actually conduct meetings in VR?
Yes, we’ve done quite a few meetings as well. For example, we had a sales kickoff earlier in February and conducted that in VR. With the pandemic causing shipping delays and borders to close, it’s been a bit slower to get the headsets delivered to everyone, especially as we always have new employees joining. But we have an amazing head of tech ops in the United Kingdom who is finding great ways to locally source Oculus so we don’t have to ship internationally.
Did people set up their own avatars and stuff?
Absolutely. There was a recent BBC interview and article in which someone was saying, “I can’t get my hair quite right to look the same as my hair in real life.” It’s funny because it’s so true–you’ve got to spend a little bit of time to set it up, and it’s very comical. But it’s great how you start recognizing people in VR and to see how they created themselves. It’s also cool to see that play out in our global culture. We’re already in 25 countries with over 150 people and it’s amazing to see how everyone shows up. That is actually quite special and touches on the inclusion side of VR.
One of the things I was thinking about briefly is that VR offers up some new ways for people to be mean to each other or even harass each other. I’m a little curious about how organizations would mitigate that. The usual way, I imagine?
From a company perspective, you’ve got to make sure that you have the right type of training in place for your leadership team and all employees. It also has to be globally aligned, so when you enter things like VR, those foundations and rules on how to communicate and behave have already been set and are crystal clear. I also think if you have specific values and you’re hiring according to that, it can prevent issues early on—for example, we have kindnesses as a core value, so I don’t really see people bashing each other or making fun of each other in this environment. It can truly hurt your culture if you don’t address these things. In certain countries, if you make fun of someone, even in a comical, joking way to do an icebreaker, that is seen as rude and unkind. If you get your foundations right and have proper training in place, you can avoid things like that.
How are you maintaining a uniform culture across all of your different workers?
I’m going to go back to values because we have so many different cultures from across the globe coming together at Remote. I like using values to set the boundaries and foundation for the environment and create that togetherness. We just did a monthly employee feedback survey where we align the questions with our values around transparency or ambition for example.
If you use that in the various things that you’re building in HR—whether that is in conversations, the way you communicate and engage, or giving 360 feedback—it sets the environment up for success. I really enjoy using values as the environment versus calling it culture, purely because we have so many amazing cultures at Remote.
When it comes to stated values, they can often be just words. How do you make them concrete and real in the lives of your employees?
Great question. When it comes to Slack, something I’ve seen work well, especially if your leadership team leans into that, is to use transparency by utilizing public channels over private DMs. Let’s say you’ve just onboarded and you want to ask me a question that’s not sensitive or private, and you’re like, “Hey, I don’t really know how this one thing works”. You can ask it in a public channel and when I answer you, it’s transparent, so other people are going to see it and might’ve had the same question.
So not only are you helping your colleagues and others, but if you do it in a public space, you could also start a different type of collaboration where other people could say, “Oh, Nadia, that’s a great answer, but I actually saw it in a different way. And there’s also this.” Then you start discovering that you may have two sources of truth, or maybe two people are not on the same page about a specific project or task. The more our leaders do this, the more we see teams organically doing so as well.
Now let’s look at the example of ownership. If you’re starting to see that your days are getting longer, take control of your calendar and make sure that it’s your calendar. You have the ability and flexibility in an environment like ours to schedule walking your dog, picking up a child from school, calling your mom, or going grocery shopping.
By taking control of your calendar and blocking enough time to actually have deep-focused work, you avoid having 20 meetings that day and then having to start the task-related work afterward. This also works really well if you’re inspired by your own executive leadership team. Our team members will see them truly embracing kindness and for example making a comment on an all-hands meeting about an achievement or an awesome, exciting new client we onboarded. Using it in a practical way daily works best–if you’re just doing it monthly or quarterly, it’s not going to stick.