Welcome to our second episode of #PiktoChat – a series of chats with leaders and entrepreneurs to inspire the future with their knowledge and experience. In this episode, we’re proud to feature the co-founder and CEO of Demio, David Abrams, and CEO of Tradedoubler, Matthias Stadelmeyer, to discuss workplace solutions for the remote and office environment in light of the pandemic.
David is the co-founder and CEO of Demio – a live communication platform built to help SaaS companies fuel growth through interactive onboarding, education, and marketing webinars. David has created, built, and consulted on multiple SaaS companies and is now solely focused on building the most powerful webinar platform designed for growth. He is an operations geek, team-builder, foodie, traveler, and philanthropist.
Matthias is the CEO of Tradedoubler since 2014 and has since then remodeled the business fundamentally. He is an experienced strategic leader with a strong background in sales and technology. Due to his expertise in blockchain and data technology and his visionary view on digital marketing trends, he is a sought-after keynote speaker and regularly shares the stage with other industry leaders. Matthias has held several leading positions within Tradedoubler since 2007, including Sales Director and Head of Technology in Germany, Regional Director for market unit DACH, and Vice President Sales.
Learn what works best from the experts themselves in this #PiktoChat series with Demio and Tradedoubler, as they share their experience in adapting work to the pandemic situation, managing employee engagement, and operating their business with their current landscape.
Watch the #PiktoChat below!
We’ve also prepared a transcript of this #PiktoChat, so feel free to read along.
1:53 – How does your work environment look, and how is your daily collaboration with your employees?
When we built this company (Demio) in 2016, we were remote since day one. It was quite honestly something I’ve believed in for many years, as I saw it as the future of the working environment. Being a visual communication platform built on webinars also made sense for our team to build into that. I have a big belief that things are going to be more worldwide, and obviously, we have seen a big transition this year.
From day to day basis, our team utilizes apps such as Slack, Notion, and video calling apps. I’m based in Florida and we have employees across the United States, Europe, India, Asia, and Thailand. Our team is built on asynchronous communication, especially working together through these different time zones to achieve our common goal.
We (Tradedoubler) is a little opposite from what David has described. Tradedoubler is an older company founded in 1999 and is a Swedish company listed in the Swedish stock exchange since 2005. We have 15 offices in eight different countries all across Europe, and it has been a corporate background for some time, in which employees work together in offices.
However, the set up has changed quite a bit since I took on Tradedoubler’s CEO’s role in 2014. I’m based in Munich, our CFO is based in Stockholm, our CTO is in the south of France, and we’ve become much more flexible in our working environment. Most of the people I work directly with are our country managers based in these different offices, so my day is usually on the phone communicating through video conferences.
In the office, the setup is rather normal or the “old normal” with the current situation. When the crisis started in March, that had quite a big change in our working environment.
05:49 – What changed in the workplace when Covid-19 hit in early 2020?
We basically packed our stuff and went home. We are a fully digital company, so everything is digital as we work with online marketing and performance marketing. Everything is cloud-based, so we’ve been working with that actively, but we didn’t fully anticipate the crisis.
I remember it quite well because I traveled a lot to the different offices every week to meet with the various teams. It was until I had to travel to Spain on a particular week, and there was a travel warning issued by the German government, and that was when the lockdown happened over Europe.
The next day, we packed our stuff from the office and went home. Since then, we have been working from home, and most people still do. The funny thing is that it (the new work environment) had no impact, and everything kept working. It was a very good experience of this crisis.
In some countries, the lockdown was somewhat harsh, and people were not allowed to leave their apartments and were locked in for six weeks without seeing anybody. However, the work processes continued as it was before. It was even better because we previously had a better collaboration in the different teams/markets, but not across the various teams/markets.
But now it became very natural and instead of writing an email, we would jump on a video call and have our cameras on so we can see each other in person. I feel that I’m much more in contact with my colleagues and closer with them than I have been before.
09:24 – What happens to the distribution of information in different working environments?
For us at Demio, asynchronous communication has been the key by building a team wiki or general information where knowledge can sit in one specific area. So regardless of what time or where we are at, we can access that information. We also have to layer that with team calls or employee training to get our employees to that level of knowledge and habit of looking for that information in the wiki or past Slack conversations.
It’s kind of similar to Demio and at Tradedoubler, we have all our information online and digital. We used Microsoft Teams and we use it much more now because in the past, people would interact in the office – which we are unable to enjoy now. Our online and digital information is better structured and used now.
The communication and sharing of information have definitely improved from my perspective. That might not necessarily be the experience of many at Tradedoubler because the people who have been working in their local teams have been in the office together all the while. They have interactions and conversations in person that is beyond just work, which is obviously now missing.
However, from a pure business perspective, I think the communication and sharing have actually improved. We have become much more efficient and quicker, which is actually good and much more than I expected.
Those are the benefits of remote work, as we can be more focused on work and communication. Often, we are forced to do that to keep things moving in a fast-paced business environment.
I think the one challenge that Matthias pointed out that most remote companies and we face are keeping the culture when we are not together physically. That is the one downside to remote working.
We feel the same way at Demio as we see a lot of speed in communication and we get a lot done, but it can almost tip the other way with too much focus on work.
12:48 – Is there any habit of creating a more human side to building teams?
We have done team retreats, but right now, team retreats are scrapped off due to travel bans globally. I think this is a big winning initiative because people coming together will produce a unique feel.
Our retreats would have a day specific for non-work related to visiting a winery and a workday with brainstorming, annual review, and building pages together. It has to be balanced with the goal of team bonding.
We have to find some workarounds this year without our retreat, so we allow teams to have fun video calls and initiatives such as a pizza party, game nights, and walkthrough of people’s houses to get to know each other better outside of the working environment.
I think it’s the experiences that you usually share – that’s what is currently missing. Over at Tradedoubler, we have induction training for new employees. They will be brought to our office in Stockholm and will spend 2-3 days getting to know the necessary information and to get started at Tradedoubler.
There is also a team-building part to this, and everyone I ask still remembers their partners for the induction training. These partners are across different markets and can be reached easily if the new employees have any questions.
This experience is what’s currently missing as it brings people together.
16:40 – What do we do when people feel lonely, and how do we help them to feel connected?
For us, we always have team calls or all-hands calls. It’s a no-obligation call, but people can come and be social. I used to lead those with ice-breaker questions and leading unstructured questions, but after a while, it felt like a meeting because I was leading it, and people had to answer.
One winning thing I learned from this is that when I put other people in charge of these calls, the conversation became more open-ended and fun. People are more open to talk about all things like politics and deep conversations.
I think there is a lot of mental stress going on at the moment with all that’s going on. It’s a unique time to be a human. At Demio, we discuss it openly during meetings, and we put a lot of benefits and bonuses such as meditation, yoga, and resources about mental wellness. We also implemented a 4-day work week so our employees can have some time off to relax and be away from the computer.
19:55 – What worked and what didn’t work out with the change you had to adapt to?
It was different and very much dependent on the countries. In Germany, we didn’t have a full lockdown, and people are allowed to go out to meet with one other person. In other countries such as Spain, this wouldn’t be possible.
On a company level, we did two group calls to get everybody together in which we gave an update about the company. Some others get together physically by meeting once a week in a public park, which worked out quite well.
We try to support our people as best as possible. I know there’s a country manager in the United Kingdom who’s even delivering computer monitors to employees who were afraid to come back to the office to get their stuff.
In general, I think it was okay and most of our employees are still working remotely. In certain countries, some people are allowed to return to the office at their convenience. We respect the conditions in the office by observing social distancing. People can currently work at home or from the office based on a schedule that they can set.
25:20 – How do you hire people for remote set up, and how do you train them?
To do anything well, we need to have a balance. When we first come into remote work, it’s easy to blend our out of work-life and work life. We need to start putting boundaries and compartmentalize work and life in the same house.
If we’re hiring someone who hasn’t worked remotely, it’ll take some coaching and talking through. I’ve personally helped employees to optimize their schedule to have a great balanced life.
The hiring process is so much about finding people you trust, and it’s a critical element of an interview process. In a remote workplace, we need to hire people who hold on to the same values as our company because it’s near impossible for any micro-management. We need to have that trust that they are going to show up and do their work.
Systems can be built around to support them, such as time tracking, specific scheduling, and hour sets to help set boundaries. It’s important to talk about expectations during the onboarding process to set the precedence on what they need to do when they come into the remote working environment.
28:53 – What did you have to unlearn over the weeks and months?
We always look for people with the right mindset, and Tradedoubler tries to create an entrepreneurial culture. This is the type of people we’re looking for – those who want to achieve something. Before the crisis, I wanted to introduce a flexible working scheme, but most country managers were against it because they were afraid of losing control.
When we have to do it due to the crisis, some managers suggest using some tools to monitor if their team members are working. However, I think people work much more and are much more committed. People understand how serious the pandemic is affecting the business.
Generally, the experience has been very good and trustworthy. We finally introduce a smart working policy, which means every employee can decide if they want to work from home or in the office. They should be online and working between 10am to 3pm because this is when we have internal meetings.
The rest of the hours are flexible and up for the employees to observe anytime throughout the day. We also had long discussions on how we can better measure time, but I think we can all only concentrate for a particular amount of time before needing a break. This is subjective because some people are quicker in completing tasks, while some would require more time. People must find their style and balance to be efficient.
A lot of our employees are very young, and they appreciate the flexibility of time. This resulted in a better digital and remote work environment and the quality of their work.
We talked about here at Demio is the “butt and sit” mentality, and it’s something that we try to throw away. It doesn’t matter how many hours we spend in front of our computers, but what matters more is the output. Hence, we’re also flexible on the hours because we focus more on our work’s impact.
Hiring people that fit our company values also play an essential role. When we offer trust, autonomy, belief, and authority to people to make their own decisions, we’ll be surprised by how they will step up and own their role. They will go above and beyond because they can now thrive with the freedom of flexibility.
33:03 – How can we measure the contribution of employees, and are there any tools for that?
Tradedoubler is 20 years old, and we try to cultivate our entrepreneurial culture. We used to have a metric system, but we’ve replaced that with direct responsibility. At the beginning of every year, we have company goals and targets, which we break down into countries and then to every employee.
Most of the people working for us have a portfolio of clients that generate revenue, and they have targets set for them. This is the main thing that we follow up on the performance of every country and the teams’ targets.
For areas such as sales, it goes a little deeper, and there is pipeline management to make it more granular. For this department, it’s mainly qualitative KPIs, and it’s quite clear for us to measure everyone’s contributions.
It’s very similar for Demio in which we start with the annual planning and goals for the year, and we break them down into individual quarters. We understand that things change so fast, and the change this year due to the crisis was unpredictable.
The key to getting our teams to work for their impact is about alignment and communication. We need to ensure that people are aligned with the company’s objectives and overarching goals. Each department will then have its own KPIs, and some might take a quarter to review the impact, while others might take a long time, such as the customer satisfaction rate.
38:13 – What can we do as leaders to encourage people to speak up and open up?
I think it’s hard, and there’s a lot of learned behaviors that we get from different and previous workplaces. Fostering transparency and positive reinforcement is essential in changing behaviors.
As a leader, I’m going to be as transparent as possible and hope that people will see and follow that. When we contact our people, we should also push further for that transparency and try to do that with my employees frequently. I approach this by being interested in learning about them and knowing how things are for them and how I can help.
Often, when people have problems, they are afraid to bring it up because they are afraid that it would lead them to trouble. Hence, having policies and flexibility for that understanding can help people to open up without security.
Expectations as an employer will be the same for everyone, but we need to understand that everyone is a human being, and there will always be issues outside of work.
I try to be as natural and personal as I can. I started my career at Tradedoubler as an account manager and have many different positions. For a long time, I got promoted again and again until I became CEO. There are a lot of people who were once in the team that worked alongside me.
Thankfully, we have a very natural, friendly, and personal way of dealing with each other. This is something I have a big focus on. I know everybody in the company, and I would say that all of us are very down-to-earth and natural.
Still, there will always be challenges when asking for feedback. It is not very often that we can have people to open up, so we need to dig further and make contact with the people. We encourage people to fail fast and learn from it as part of our entrepreneurial culture from a company level.
43:54 – What was the funniest thing that happened to you during a video call?
I always sit in my home office, so there isn’t anything too wild that has happened to me during a call. Well, I have my dogs and they often bark on calls.
Some of the most fun things we’ve done are team walkthroughs of houses, after hours like having a glass of wine together, which has fostered great conversations. It’s a good way to destress, and like any relationship, we learn to trust, motivate, and support each other better.
Our people make our company, so we need to learn and support them along the way.
I have kids running in during my video calls, but we’re a family-friendly company. Similarly, I don’t have anything that is out of the norm.
47:22 – How do we tailor the right workplace solution, and what are your final tips?
We discuss that with the team, and we’ve already had a pilot program with our Polish team for the smart working policy even before the pandemic. We try to get everything under one umbrella and define it in one document after discussing the leadership team and the country managers.
As a result, we’ve now fully introduced everyone to work from home or the office, and they can make the decision themselves. However, the different teams can define one or two fixed days a week where every member must be in the office for team meetings.
Our coworking time from 10am to 3pm allows people flexibility with their time for family and personal purposes. This is when they are expected to be online and reachable, but the rest of the time is up to their disposal. Additionally, we also started implementing KPIs, and going forward; we will track the results and its influence on our business.
For such decisions to be made, it’s essential to get the relevant people into a room for discussion on this.
We’re entirely remote, so we didn’t have the same kind of challenge. To Matthias’ point, I think it’s about sitting down with the core leadership and looking out on the company’s objective and pain points to figure out how to tailor a solution for the workplace.
I think the reality for most is that we’re going to have to be very flexible. If a solution doesn’t work, we have to adapt to make changes to policies as we go. We change and improve until we find the right solution. It will take patience, flexibility, and understanding.