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The Remote Show







Show Notes:

Amy's Links:

LinkedIn

Twitter

Facebook

OfficeTogether Company Website

Tyler's Links:

Tsell.link


Transcript:

Tyler Sellhorn (00:02):
Hello everyone, my name is Tyler Sellhorn and welcome to another episode of The Remote Show, where we discuss everything to do with remote work with the people who know it best. Thanks so much for listening. The Remote Show is brought to you by We Work Remotely, the largest community of remote workers in the world. With over 220,000 unique users per month, We Work Remotely is the most effective way to hire.

Tyler Sellhorn (00:21):
Today, we are blessed to be learning out loud with Amy Yin. Amy founded OfficeTogether for companies who want to empower their employees with the flexibility to work how they are most productive, while also honoring the magic of in-person time. They help teams schedule and plan time in the office together, whether they're coming in daily, weekly or monthly.

Tyler Sellhorn (00:38):
Welcome, Amy. Welcome to The Remote Show. Tell us, what problems are you trying to solve with OfficeTogether?

Amy Yin (00:43):
Thanks, Tyler. I appreciate having you on here and I'm really excited to talk to this audience in particular because I think a lot of folks have realized that remote is pretty special. I know this community has known it longer than the rest of us. We're all behind on the times.

Amy Yin (00:58):
But, my goal with OfficeTogether is to help make hybrid be the same default. After a year and a half of being locked at home, a lot of folks are realizing that it's nice to have some focused, undistracted time working from anywhere. A lot of companies want to enable this because of market pressures from talent like yourself, so for them to not lose out on their top workers and top employees, they need to make sure that they can provide the best of remote and in-office experience, what we're calling hybrid.

Amy Yin (01:32):
We help teams who want to meet up part time, maybe it's once a week, once a month, and make sure that office space is being used efficiently. A lot of companies we're talking to, they've either doubled during the pandemic and now don't have enough desks for folks, or they've downsized because they realized that they just need less office space with the new way that people want to work. So having a centralized coordination system so that employees aren't frustrated about commuting all the way to the office and having no one there, or having managers struggle to bring the team together because they can't get enough desks together, we solve all those issues with a really simple, easy-to-use software platform.

Amy Yin (02:13):
On top of that, we also keep companies COVID safe because we do connect tracing. Keeping track of attendance, knowing whose in the office, that's all important especially with the rise of the Delta variant, a much more contagious version of COVID-19, on the up-and-up.

Tyler Sellhorn (02:28):
Very good. Well first of all, thank you for honoring those that have come before us, here in the remote space. I know for myself, I joined the remote work movement in 2019 and I'm very grateful to those that showed us how this way of working could happen, long before I ever showed up. Thank you as well, for honoring them.

Tyler Sellhorn (02:48):
One of the things that I heard you saying right there off the top was talking about the idea of focus and using the office, or using the workplace, or using where you're working as a tool for focus. Can you tell us some more about that?

Amy Yin (03:04):
I could talk about my personal experience and then what I'm seeing in the market.

Amy Yin (03:08):
When March 2020 happened, I was demanding to go back to the Coinbase offices. I was working at Coinbase, which recently went public, and I'd always been based out of the SF headquarters. I really wanted to be back in the office because I was working from my bed or my kitchen table, I had a horrible experience. And then, after I realized that this wasn't going to change, I really invested in an ergonomic setup, making my own space feel like a very personalized office. I realized that that was my aha moment, that I could have it all. I could workout in the middle of the day, cook my lunch, hang out with my cats and work really productively in more staggered schedules.

Amy Yin (03:52):
Before, I used to go to the office, work from 10 to six, 6:30 PM, and then I would go home and be done with the day. But now, I like to get my day started a little bit earlier, my ideal time is starting at 11 AM. I'll work for maybe six, seven hours. Take a workout, a lunch break in the middle of the day, cook my food. And then, I'll get back online around nine or 10 PM and have my dedicated focused time where I'm not getting Slack notifications or getting pings. That's some of my favorite times, is working really late at night, at 11 PM, midnight, that's really where I feel my zone of genius.

Amy Yin (04:28):
Being able to be so productive while making the schedule my own, I realized that other people could have this experience and that their schedule probably wasn't as crazy as mine. I'd say most people don't want to work until two or three AM. No problem. But, when we require people to be in the office on such a fixed schedule, it goes back to the days of factory work where you had to be in the factory to punch in, do your work and punch out.

Amy Yin (04:55):
But, that's not the reality of what a modern-day knowledge worker looks like. You're always connected to your phone, you're answering messages on the go, your days are much more dynamic. Especially with remote becoming more and more popular, the concept of timezones is getting more and more crazy. I tend to meet with people, sometimes at 11 PM at night or eight AM in the morning, it's because I'm doing global business. Information is flying faster than ever before. The confines of a nine-to-five or 10-to-six don't really make sense in today's more distributed environment.

Amy Yin (05:29):
Companies are making this exact same transition at the same time. This experiment has helped them realize ... I think I read a study recently, something like 50 or 60 percent of the companies have now started hiring remote during the pandemic, because they realized that they have access to a bigger talent pool. I know I'm talking to the right community, but I know that many of you probably don't live in San Francisco or New York, but there's such deep talent pools outside of those major metropolitan areas.

Amy Yin (06:00):
The other thing we're seeing is that those talent pools are growing even deeper because my peers from San Francisco, New York, these major metropolitan areas, are fleeing to the countryside, to the suburbs, to other states. So now, companies are losing their density of talent in these big cities so they're being forced to go look other places, too.

Amy Yin (06:21):
You have a combination of being able to do more jobs in the cloud or digitally, as well as shifting where talent is located.

Tyler Sellhorn (06:29):
That's awesome. I really love the way you drew out the idea of your own personal story of finding what worked for you, and your schedule and your personal best practices as it relates to when you're most productive.

Tyler Sellhorn (06:43):
Just to contrast your style of working with mine. I'm a 40-ish dad so being able to work 90 minutes before I even cook breakfast for them is the opposite of what you just described, but is perfect for me. I treasure those 90 minutes when I first get up, get some coffee and crush some documentation. Those are things that are part of working styles that are-

Amy Yin (07:08):
Crush that documentation.

Tyler Sellhorn (07:09):
Yeah, exactly. Exactly. It's really, really cool to hear you describe that in a very idiosyncratic, specific-to-you way. That's really cool.

Tyler Sellhorn (07:19):
Okay, so OfficeTogether is working in that space, that's serving those customers that are really in the middle of that spectrum of hybrid. I'm curious to hear you describe what you mean by when you say hybrid because we're working in this post pandemic, or at least the pandemic forced a bunch of thinking to happen on this piece. What do you think about when you say hybrid and you're describing that to customers?

Amy Yin (07:46):
Well, Tyler, that's a great question because 68% of companies haven't figured out what their hybrid strategy is. They're saying hybrid to be a catch-all because the answer is they don't know.

Amy Yin (07:58):
My definition of hybrid is you have an office and you don't have to be in it every day. That is encompassing a wide range. On the extreme, the last company I worked at, Coinbase, they had a remote first policy, similar to [inaudible 00:08:14], Square, Twitter. There is no requirement to be in the office ever and a manager is not allowed to require you to be in the office. That's on the more extreme end of remote friendly where the offices are there as a service to people who want to go in but they are not meant for in-person collaboration. You cannot require people to go and collaborate in person.

Amy Yin (08:36):
And then, on the other side, I'm working with finance companies, fintech companies, or even just some tech companies who really believe that in-person time matters and that some element of it has to be mandatory. One of the companies I'm working with, they are requiring three days of mandatory attendance in the office, but you can pick which day. They're a finance company. But then, Modern Health, one of our $1 billion unicorn companies we work with, they're centralizing on you have to come in Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday. Mondays and Fridays, go be work from wherever. You can work in the office, you don't have to. But Tuesday, Wednesday, Thursday, we expect butts in seats. That's what works for them because they want to make sure that people have some flexibility but that there is an in-person culture maintained. On top of that, they're allowing up to six or eight weeks of remote work per year. You still have the ability to be able to work remotely but you do need to make sure that you're co-located with the office. In a way, it's adding some rigidity, but it's so much more flexible than what it was before.

Amy Yin (09:43):
I think that everyone is going to take a different approach. But at the core of it, for me as a business owner, is that you need some sort of centralized command and control center for creating transparency into schedules. We've helped companies that are struggling to know whose going to be in the office, whether that employees wants to commute or not because the people they work with might not be there. Or, they don't want to commute because they might not have a desk or a conference room to visit. Those are some of the problems that we're solving, that are brand new to the hybrid world.

Tyler Sellhorn (10:12):
Really cool. Thank you for drawing out the definition that you guys are working off of today, and even just describing the way that works for customers.

Tyler Sellhorn (10:21):
You mentioned right off the top, talking about coordination. As we were discussing the definition of hybrid, you were even doing the coordination dance of how those decisions get made about which version of hybrid is ours. When you think about coordination in-person time, what does that mean? What do we do to be able to coordinate moments together?

Amy Yin (10:47):
Well, it depends on what your office model is. We have an interesting blog post on the OfficeTogether site about the six different hybrid styles.

Amy Yin (10:55):
If you're a company like Coinbase, going remote first, everything is going to be grassroots. Maybe at the peer-to-peer level you could say, "Hey, why don't we meet up and go whiteboard in the San Francisco office on Thursday?" These are happening through DMs. Some of the companies we talk to, they have in-office Slack channels or they're calling each other. But people are doing this coordination, they're just not doing it in a centralized manner.

Amy Yin (11:22):
On the other hand, we're seeing some really good top down coordination happening. One of the companies I'm talking to is Figma, they're going to be on our Listening Tour happening on August 12th where we go and interview some folks about what hybrid means to them. On August 12th, the director of workplace experience will be talking about how Figma is going to be choosing two days that people have to be in the office and all the other days around that is flexible. They're taking a top down approach, to make sure that there isn't a sense of disadvantaging folks who are choosing not to be in the office. And then, it does actually reduce control.

Amy Yin (11:55):
There's this interesting trade off between flexibility and coordination. It's more work to coordinate flexible time. So people come up with these different rules and add rigidity because it's less chaos and less different permutations available. It means that, at the individual level, there's probably some [inaudible 00:12:15] inefficiencies, but for the admin folks controlling the schedules, it's less work for them.

Amy Yin (12:21):
I think that it remains to be seen what makes best. What we do know for sure is that there will not be a one-size-fits-all or even a gravitation to the norm. We think that there is going to be many, many different flavors of hybrid that we hope our software can support.

Tyler Sellhorn (12:35):
That's really cool. I can't imagine ... I'm putting myself in your shoes and trying to think about, "Okay, which customers are we building for," with all those different iterations of ways of choosing. You mentioned equity for the people who are not in the office, you mentioned the trade offs between flexibility and coordination. What is going to be our version and what makes sense for us?

Tyler Sellhorn (12:58):
You talked about office models. I'm wanting to invite you to zoom out, past this one moment in time, and think about the office models that might have existed back in 2019 versus the office models that are currently in our moment in time. We're speaking to one another on the 30th of July. I'm not confident that this episode is going to drop before Figma's Listening Tour is shown, but we'll be sure to include a link to whatever asynchronous content came from that meeting. But then, let's think about even the long distance future. Okay, so 2019 versus right now, versus way on down the line when we've moved past this moment in time where we're fearful to be together in the office. Not to put the words in the other order.

Tyler Sellhorn (13:51):
But when you think about office models, what do we think about those different moments in time? You already mentioned that you're not looking to describe normative things. But, even just the mental models that we're going to build around the office and workplaces. Can you draw out the things that are similar or the things that are different, across those different moments in time?

Amy Yin (14:12):
Yeah. I guess, maybe if we go back to the early 1900s, the office felt like a factory. The expectations of punching in, punching out, that's the only place you could get your job done because you had your raw materials there. And then, maybe fast forward 90 to 100 years, 1990s, 2000s, your servers, and your computer and data were on-prem. Even though we were working software, we had internet, you actually had to be onsite to get your job done because you needed access to a physical server. And then, fast forward again 10 more years, 2010, stuff is starting to go on the cloud and companies are starting to realize that building multiple offices makes sense. You see the advent of things like Dropbox, and Slack and Google Calendar, more and more stuff is moving on-prem.

Amy Yin (15:07):
2020 hits, pandemic happens and there is a laptop shortage. People can't even buy enough laptops because folks that used to only have a computer in the office, now these companies are rushing to ship them laptops so that they can work from home. There's a huge rush of moving stuff to the cloud. So now, even if you talk to finance companies who traditionally, for security reasons, had everything onsite, they've all just provisioned things in the cloud and now you can remote VPN into your instance that's based in your computer.

Amy Yin (15:42):
This has accelerated things. I went from a timescale of moving from 100 years, to the decade, to the week level. That's what that pandemic did for us, it just accelerated that trend of how we work because businesses realized that their bottom line would be hurt if they didn't catch up and move quickly.

Tyler Sellhorn (15:59):
Let me say that back to you really fast, because I love the way you drew it out. Back in the 1900s, it was onsite. And then in the '80s and '90s, it was on-prem. And then, it went on the cloud.

Amy Yin (16:13):
As we started get distributed offices.

Tyler Sellhorn (16:15):
Yeah. And then, now we're on our laptops, working. Okay, so what's next then, Amy?

Amy Yin (16:21):
What's next? I think that the laptop trend is going to continue. I do think that, with a lot of companies, they are having to make this very painful move off prem. There are still some big companies, they've been around for decades, that they still host their data, their servers onsite. So moving to the cloud is great, that's why businesses like AWS, productivity tools, things that move things to the cloud do super well.

Amy Yin (16:47):
What else is next is I think that people's attitudes about the office change. So before, the office is the place you go to get work done. And now, a lot of people I talk to, when they survey employees or think about the office, they're not going to the office to get work done, they're going there to socialize and get some face time in. In a way, the office is becoming a third space. The purpose of the office is to just have some time away from home. The way you used to think about Starbucks, a lot of people are even thinking about their own floor plans that way.

Amy Yin (17:25):
Some of the big trends in architecture I'm seeing is instead of having seas of desks, similar to the factory model, the trend before was fewer square foot per people because they're trying to cram more desks in so it can be more efficient, now we're seeing way more square footage per person because you see a lot more soft seating, places to sit on the couch, long kitchen tables people can huddle around. Whiteboards, chalkboards all over the place. The office is going to feel a little bit more like a lab or an innovation studio than a place with just a bunch of desks.

Amy Yin (17:59):
Another trend I'm seeing is that tech companies are now trying to entice people to come to the office. Rather than assuming that the office, you have to come to it, they're trying to be like, "Oh, what can we do to motivate folks?" One way to motivate folks is that the people you want to get in front of or talk to are going to be there. But, the other one is making sure that you have a quiet space. A lot of companies I'm talking to want to have a heads-down quiet space because that's a big complaint. People are like, "Well, when I'm at home, no one bothers me, just my kids. But, when I'm the office, people are tapping me on the shoulder. It's really, really loud. It's chaotic." They're investing in heads-down areas or quiet spaces, more conference rooms and more phone booths.

Tyler Sellhorn (18:41):
Really interesting. The things that I heard you saying there is that the office is becoming a third space.

Amy Yin (18:47):
Yes.

Tyler Sellhorn (18:47):
You even mentioned the progenitor of that idea, that Starbucks really wanted to be come that third space. And that now, the office are turning into that. Even when we think about offices, one of the things that is a consideration is coffee at the office. And, that businesses are trying to be more invitational and more motivational towards, "Hey, we value this time together. We want to provide spaces and places to do that very thing."

Amy Yin (19:14):
Tyler, it's crazy how much the attitude has shifted. Even big banks, companies like Morgan Stanley and Goldman Sachs, they realized that with some of their engineering teams or the more competitive roles, that they can't require those people to come to the office five days a week. You're really seeing labor and talent win the war on flexibility.

Tyler Sellhorn (19:35):
We're here for it. We've been out here in these internet streets, in full throat, for a long time about that and we're glad to see that attitude shifting. Well, you just said it in the post sense, so the attitude has shifted, thank goodness.

Tyler Sellhorn (19:50):
When you think about the statements that are coming out, we've heard some politicians recently, we've heard company leaders describing what has shifted or has not yet shifted for their municipalities, localities and companies. There has been some comment, obviously your business is in the office, and bringing people together and coordinating that time together. How do you respond to those that are saying, "Companies to get back in the office tomorrow." How do you hear that? As someone whose business is, in part, in coordination with those statements. But then, you're describing that attitudes have shifted and this is flexible, and we want to enable that.

Amy Yin (20:33):
Well, COVID's still helping a lot with this. Some of my closest friends, companies they've invested in, they really value in-person time. One of my friends was messaging me the other day being like, "Everyone at my company is vaccinated except for one guy. This guy had a friend die from getting a vaccine so he doesn't want to get a vaccine." To create an equitable experience, he can't disallow that person to be in the office because he's requiring everyone to be in the office. But, that person now is going to have to get tested every single week, and wear a mask every week. If we're really going to be in a state where we're constantly managing the next COVID, office work is going to become miserable. I definitely think that COVID is not on the side of mandatory office attendance. We'll see what the future state of infectious diseases look like, but the short term definitely looks like managing waves of outbreaks.

Amy Yin (21:29):
The other thing I wanted to point out is, actually, my own company is a hybrid company and I'm a remote worker as the CEO to my own company. I intentionally established our headquarters outside of San Francisco. I'm calling you today from New York where our headquarters is and I fly into New York every two months. But, I want to really set a really strong example from the top that you don't have to be in-person to be super successful at OfficeTogether because even the CEO's not in the office every day. I think that companies really take example from the top, so folks who are in the office every day, even if you say everyone can be flexible, those CEOs are setting the example that, "Hey, leadership and executive team need to be in the office." But as a CEO I'm saying, "Hey, you don't need to be anywhere. You just need to get your stuff done." That sends a really strong message to your employees.

Amy Yin (22:23):
Businesses that also are not investing in really great remote practices, I think that they're going to struggle with hiring in the longterm, especially as the density of talent flows out of these major metropolitan areas. We even see it in the housing prices. The price differential between big cities and small cities is starting to, not collapse, but those margins are tightening as housing prices in the suburbs, like in Austin, Texas and Portland, are skyrocketing while the rents in San Francisco have dropped 25 plus percent. I think that remote workers are probably actually going to see a nice boost to their earnings because the argument before was, "Well, lower cost of living." The cost of living is starting to normalize. It's not exactly on-par. And, talent is becoming more distributed so companies are going to spend more money trying to hire people who are based in a specific city.

Tyler Sellhorn (23:18):
Yeah. I just want to call out a couple ideas there, that maybe we can even go deeper on.

Tyler Sellhorn (23:22):
When you say executives set the example of what working flexibly or working in a hybrid environment is doing, tell us some more about how you think about ... Especially you described OfficeTogether as, "We are a hybrid company and I am the CEO, I am demonstrating what it's like to work at a hybrid company." Think about that out loud a little bit more with us, because I think very few of us have caught on to that idea.

Amy Yin (23:50):
It's a few things. About half the company is based in New York, and when they have meetings with me, they might all dial in to one computer. And then I realized, "Oh, as a remote person, I can't hear everyone, I can't see anyone. The audio experience is not good." This week, as a team I said, even though we're super scrappy, I was like, "Hey, we're going to invest in $150 microphone so that the remote people can hear. Everyone needs to dial in to their own laptop so everyone's face is on screen." It does make the experience of being in-person slightly worse, but it creates a more equitable meeting for everyone, which is one of the things I wouldn't notice if I was the person in the room rather than remote.

Amy Yin (24:32):
It's all these little cultural things. Another one that came up was okay, we don't offer food at the office because all the COVID stuff happening. But, I want to start offering sparkling water to my business, in particular I love this brand called Spindrift. I was like, "Okay, I want to have Spindrift at the New York office." But then I was like, "Well, only half the team is in New York. Is that really fair if they get sparkling water because they're in the office?" Okay, we need to roll this benefit to other people at the company so now, we want to introduce a sparkling water stipend to the folks that are remote so it's an equitable experience. I think about that because I'm not in the office. If I were in the office I'd be like, "Oh great, sparkling water," whatever.

Amy Yin (25:13):
I think it's about being really thoughtful and intentional of what the experience of being remote is. A lot of it comes from a place of deep empathy and a shared experience.

Tyler Sellhorn (25:22):
I just am so pleased to be hearing you rhyming with so many of our other guests. Talking about equity, talking about empathy, talking about being intentional, talking about being considered and thinking about the experience of all the people in a team. Be they all remote, or be they partly in-office, partly not.

Tyler Sellhorn (25:42):
You also mentioned an idea about the normalizing of cost of living across geographies. I'm calling you here from Fort Wayne, Indiana today. We're a mid-sized city that is an education and healthcare hub of a large, rural area here in Northeast Indiana. There would never be an opportunity for me to work for a company like We Work Remotely or I've had the opportunity to work as an executive in multiple software companies, there are opportunities that never would have been available to me even in 2005. But today ... That's when I happened to graduate from college, that's why I say that number. I'm very grateful for those that have gone before and that story that we told earlier, of that transition from onsite, to on-prem, to on cloud, to on laptop.

Tyler Sellhorn (26:31):
Here we are, today, speaking to one another in late July 2021. But, your business is obviously deeply tied into that real estate market because there's going to be costs and unit economies that's related to all of that. What do you think is going to be the end state for so many of these offices that are becoming less and less used? What is going to happen to these major metros that used to be significant magnets of talented individuals? What do you think about the second, third, 20th order effects of this remote work movement?

Amy Yin (27:07):
Yeah. There's a few things.

Amy Yin (27:10):
One of the things that I did during the pandemic was that I was working from anywhere. I worked from Hawaii, I worked from Panama. One thing that was really difficult was having a really great ergonomic setup wherever I went. One thing that you've seen Airbnb add is business friendly or work from home friendly. I think you're going to see more and more locations have a desk setup and an ergonomic friendly setup, so that you can work from anywhere. That's going to become more and more the norm.

Amy Yin (27:40):
Similar to that is being able to get a desk from anywhere. Maybe WeWork might not be in a small town in Indiana, but as more and more folks like yourself, Tyler, cluster in these places, you're going to see more of these coworking spaces pop up in places that were traditionally less knowledge worker dense.

Amy Yin (27:57):
The other thing you're going to see is that a lot of real estate that is zoned for commercial is going to get rezoned for something else. We have a surplus of office space and before, the prices were just going in one direction and that was up. Lately, office vacancies are at an all time high, I think something like a quarter of buildings are just sitting empty and that doesn't even count the places that are leased and sitting empty. You're going to see a huge market correction. Places that used to be office spaces, maybe they're going to become yoga studios, maybe they're going to become art centers, maybe they're going to become daycares. But now, all these businesses that traditionally couldn't compete for those coveted downtown areas, the prices are going to drop and they're going to be moving in. I hope that means really good things for the arts, or better opportunities for housing, or maybe [inaudible 00:28:47] homeless shelters, et cetera.

Amy Yin (28:48):
But, dropping that price in these commercial zones is going to really affect what that downtown area feels like. Instead of just skyscrapers of buildings for workers to go in and sit in a room on a monitor, maybe they're going to become more community centers or more lively. I think that there's huge implications to what that means to real estate.

Tyler Sellhorn (29:09):
Well, Amy, thank you so much for learning out loud with us today. That's a great place to conclude, is to just be wondering out loud of what is to come.

Tyler Sellhorn (29:16):
Anything that you want to say to our audience here, as we say goodbye?

Amy Yin (29:20):
Yes. We are hiring for a customer experience person. We're looking for a founding CX member who wants to talk to customers, work with our product team, figure out what's working and not working, make their experience great as they charge forward to the future of work. We're also hiring some great marketing folks. If you want to work in our New York office or remote, we're hiring for both customer experience and marketing. And, engineers. We're always looking for engineers.

Tyler Sellhorn (29:47):
Well, fantastic. Thank you, Amy, for learning out loud with us today. Blessings.

Amy Yin (29:51):
Thanks a lot, Tyler.

Tyler Sellhorn (29:54):
Thanks so much again for listening to the show and be sure to check out weworkremotely.com for the latest remote jobs. If you're looking to hire a remote worker, We Work Remotely is the fastest and easiest way to do so. As always, if you have someone we should talk to, any advice you have, or if you'd like to advertise on the podcast, please reach out to us at podcast@weworkremotely.com. That's podcast@weworkremotely.com. Thanks so much for listening and we're talk to you next time.



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