As you know by now, Rich and Paul were itching to get back to the office. They craved those IRL moments that spark conversation, build relationships, and foster innovation. This week, Senior Director and Head of Product Management, Vicky Volvovski, argues that all of that can be done remotely (and done well!). After working from home for a decade, Vicky shares her favorite tools to set up a deliberate remote working environment, build team relationships, and conceive great products.
Paul Ford The anxiety radiating off of you as footsteps go behind you is just fantastic.
Vicky Volvovski Yeah, it’s just so much more distracting for me.
PF People are right there. And they’re radiating their body heat four feet away from you. You don’t like that?
VV No, no. And every room is a different temperature too. That’s… that’s been wild. [music ramps up, plays alone, fades out]
Rich Ziade Good morning.
PF So here we are at one on 101 5th Avenue, the offices of Postlight in New York City.
RZ That’s right.
PF Good place to be in my opinion.
RZ Lovely place to be.
PF I walked in this morning. And you know what wa delightful is our Head of Product Vicky Volvovski is here.
RZ Oh, cool!
PF But you know what? She is not a big office fan.
RZ Let’s let her describe where she stands.
PF Okay, Vicky. Hello.
RZ We should give a background here as to why we’re all in the room right now.
PF Why don’t you do that?
RZ So we have our check-ins on occasion with leadership at Postlight.
PF Even though you and I are no longer the President and CEO.
RZ True. But you can connect with people. You know, sometime they’ll want to talk to us.
RZ And how are things? How’s it going? It’s more casual conversation. Now it’s less punch list driven.
PF You know one thing that sometimes works in this circumstances is… that’s the sort of thing you say. You don’t say do this. You say, one way to look at it is…
RZ Right, unsolicited advice, whichever everybody loves. Everybody loves it.
PF Everybody wants a good coach mentorship relationship. That’s fine.
RZ And she’s like ‘can I share a teeny bit of feedback?’ She started kind of wriggling in her chair. There was clear discomfort because she was about to call us out on something. And she said, you’re pushing a little too hard about coming back to work.
PF Which frankly, as feedback goes not bad. Because usually, because I get feedback sometimes. Like you’re absolutely exhausting. Where I don’t understand anything you’re saying and I don’t like talking to you. So this was a lot nicer.
RZ Yes. It was one of the nicest pieces of feedback I’ve heard in a while. Worth clarifying. Vicky works remotely. She is based in Wisconsin. She is our–
PF Can you name the city?
RZ No, I can’t. [Paul laughs]
VV Oh, come on!
PF You just have to remember not Milwaukee. That’s all you have to remember.
VV That’s true.
RZ Madison, Wisconsin. And she is our Director of Product Management. So she oversees the Product Management Group at Postlight. So she is by all measures, a success story around remote leadership, not just remote work. And so she has some thoughts about remote work and about work.
PF Here you have the co-founder saying work work work office office office, so good to be back, need to be in an office to get real work done. What are you thinking and feeling Vicky?
VV Mostly when you were saying that, I was like cool, cool. I’m just gonna ignore that. [Paul laughs] But then you did convince me to come out here for a week. And so now I’m here. And wow. It’s been a decade since I’ve been in the office. And I’m very, very bad at it. It’s so unnatural. [Rich laughs]
PF Okay, so what is unnatural and wrong about being in an office?
VV Oh my god, I think I’ve been an eighth as productive as I normally am this week. But what’s unnatural? Eye contact. Very weird.
RZ When you say eye contact, you don’t mean planned eye contact? Like I’ll see you at the 930 meeting. You mean like you’re walking to get a cup of water. Someone else is walking with a doughnut in their hands in the opposite direction. And then holy hell–
PF Yeah, what do I do here? [Rich laughs]
VV Yeah, I think it’s both I think. So, I’ve worked remote for 10 years and I feel very, very in control of my schedule and my time and how I do things. I’ve optimized my environment. I have everything set up.
PF And for people at home, the Vicky work at home, there’s like one plant and one work of art behind you, like it’s very structured.
VV There’s two plants. But, you know.
PF Oh, okay, sorry. But yeah, no, I mean like you have a setup, it does not change. You have your your thing.
RZ You have been at companies, it’s worth pointing out, that you’ve been at companies that have successfully set up pretty much virtual offices, virtual work environments where everyone’s distributed. We’ve had very nice man, the founder of Todoist and Doist, great product, very thoughtful leader and he is hyper distributed. We’re talking like you need a map of the world to see the whole team.
PF I mean, we had Matt Mullenweg on I mean, that is WordPress ethos. They’ve written books about it.
RZ This isn’t radical. Maybe we’re the cranky old men. We’re going to find that out in this podcast.
PF This is when we’re gonna find it out?
RZ Yeah, yeah, podcast number 437.
PF It’s not been apparent for the last four years? I’ll tell you another thing about Apple SDKs! Okay, so go ahead. Go ahead.
RZ Make your case.
PF Well, hold on let me frame this a little bit. Because A, the question of can a team ship a great product remotely, the answer is yes.
RZ I’m going to counter that.
PF Okay. But out in the world, good products have been shipped by remote teams.
RZ Yeah, good products have been shipped by remote teams. I don’t believe good products have been conceived by remote teams. I don’t believe the really hard part around invention and creation and iteration and collaboration, like the deep hard problems can happen remotely.
PF I think there’s a million people out there who will just prove what you say, yeah, point to like all this evidence otherwise. You’re presenting a preference. But this is where to me, it gets interesting because I have the same preference. And if I’m going to work with you, I’m going to be in a room with you. And I actually need other people to be in a room with me for that to be productive. And I’m pretty smart. And I get a lot done. So, I’m gonna stop my feet and say I want people to come into the room with me.
RZ Yeah, I’m not articulating it well, here.
RZ Obviously. I guess what I’m saying is, unless you’re alone, and you invented something alone, where you can be remote, you can be anywhere you want, you are alone, right? If something is coming together through a deep collaboration of like, beating up ideas and problems around it, I think to do that remote like–Todoist, maybe it was his invention. I don’t know the origin story of *Todoist, if it wasn’t, I doubt it was the invention of six people that were getting on zoom calls a few times a week.
VV So I think the piece that’s where I disagree with you is I absolutely think it’s possible. I think what’s not possible is to do that with a group of six people that you don’t have a relationship with, and you don’t have a working kind of style agreement with. Right. So if you get six strangers in a room, even if they’re the most skilled, you know, product managers, designers, engineers, whoever, yes, I agree, you’re not going to be able to come up with, you know, big new innovations effectively, remotely, where in a room, you might have a little bit more luck. But if you have that same group of people that has an established relationship, and that has a understanding of kind of what everybody’s working styles are, then I think you can use remote tools really effectively to get that work done.
RZ Is it work done or work invented?
VV It’s that collaboration piece, yeah. I mean, I think there’s more prep work that goes into it to do it well, remotely, but I think it’s absolutely positive.
PF Yeah, I’ll make a point here, which is that you and myself as well, do not like relationship building remotely. We think it’s artificial and fake. And I hate it.
VV But this is the first time you’re meeting me in person, I’d say we have a pretty good relationship. Like, it happened.
PF Yeah, those were good conversations. But the way that you accelerate this is like, you know, fun facts. And let’s do this and let’s do this. And let’s do that. All virtual that. And that drives me bananas.
RZ Yeah. I mean, we’re working on a top secret product right now. And we did a bit of a reboot through a series of workshops last week that were in-person. And I could say with confidence, and I think the other people in the room would agree, they would have been impossible if these were remote meetings.
PF Well, people have been continually coming up to us and think, wow, I forgot what it was like to something that they could do in person.
RZ Have a conversation about a thing. I’m being overly simplistic on purpose just to create friction. So the podcast is interesting for this person that is listening to it and jogging as we speak.
PF Back to Vicky, right. Here’s how you and I build relationships. Come on in, let’s build a relationship. Here in this room. Do you want lunch? Do you want Thai food? Okay. You use different tools and different frameworks. I’m going to throw you in a room of six people, here is your team, they’ve never met each other and they’re in different timezone so they’re in different places. Get me started then. Build these relationships for me your leader, what do you do?
VV Yeah, I mean, I think to build the relationship you need in person time whether and yes you know in person physically is easier for that no doubt. But I think if the pandemic has proven anything, you know, how many new people have we hired in Postlight–
PF Not my job anymore, Vicky. Couldn’t tell ya.
RZ A lot. 30 some odd people.
VV Yeah. And we’ve got really, you know, well established functioning teams, so it is possible, you probably have to work a little bit harder. I think those first conversations, you need some one on one time to just, you know, share backgrounds, make connections, find, you know, things that people have in common. Those are kind of baseline table stakes. Probably slightly more awkward than like over dinner and might feel a little bit more forced. But it’s certainly possible. Then I think you have to talk about working style, I think it’s more important to discuss. So like one of the things that I did with my one of my teams that I kicked off earlier this year was like, how do you like to communicate? Like, would you rather me Slack DM you a bunch of stuff? Do you want to hop on a call to talk things through? Do you want me to, you know, do you want to document and kind of think through things in written form?
PF So why do that? Why not just say we’re all going to DM or we’re all going to be in this channel? Because I’ve seen that work, like why give people optionality about that?
VV I think you have to understand people’s preferences. And then I think you have to, as a team come to a conclusion, I’m not saying you should accommodate, you know, like you, as a leader, or as a product manager need to accommodate everybody’s quirks. I think you discuss it as a team, and you say for this team, here’s kind of how we’re going to build our you know, working style working relationship. And I think in a remote setting, you have to be much more deliberate about it and talk about it more. Where if it’s not, this is not working for me, let’s adjust this. And let’s try this other way of, you know, communicating or working through stuff or workshopping problems. I think, maybe the difference is when you’re in person, there’s a lot more implicit kind of information that tells you how things are working versus not.
PF You just, you see the face. Alright. Let me let me make it more complicated. Let’s say that’s working. I’m going to add somebody to the team now. All this lore, this relationship, how do you bring them in?
VV Yeah, I think you have that same explicit conversation with them. You say, here’s kind of how the team has been working. How do you like to receive information? How do you like to get feedback? How do you like to give feedback? Let’s kind of like rope you in and and see what’s working. And then you check in with that person? Is this working for you? Do we need to adjust? Like, do you have questions? And kind of make them feel comfortable.
PF You know, what’s tricky is there’s no throwing somebody in the deep end, which sometimes is really good. Like, I don’t mean it’ll like, like, it’s really hard to do that remotely. It sounds like if you don’t build this, it feels like the people don’t connect. Whereas if they’re in this space, and you’re like, just hang out for a minute, we’ll figure it out. And then we’ll answer questions. You can do that more readily. If they’re coming into an environment.
VV Yeah. I don’t disagree with that.
RZ Yeah, what I’m hearing and what you’re saying is, you have to establish ground rules and protocol to work together because I don’t have access to you. I simply don’t. So we have to establish cadence and we have to establish the type of communication. Like, I don’t know your cell number. I haven’t never called you on your cell.
VV Paul has.
PF I texted you once yesterday. I didn’t call you. Just texted you. There was a little flare up. And we figured it out really quick.
RZ Yeah. I mean, that’s, those are those are moments. But that’s not one of the options. Let’s put it that way. I mean, yeah, there’s this explosion of tools out right now around, essentially, let’s call them shared workspaces, whether it be you know, Figma, or CODA or Notion, or all these tools are out there. And then there’s the communication tools like Slack and the like, which are effectively trying to establish simulated versions of being concurrently present with each other. Right? I think that’s what’s happening. And I’ve experienced it tested to its limits. And I’ve seen where its limits are, because we tried it. We tried to go into like a Figma board, and each of us taking 15 minutes to think through how we would approach a product and, and it was bad, it was not good. It was not good. And it was not good. Not because of anyone’s fault or anything like that. It was not good. Because we were wrestling with a tool as a mediator amongst us. Versus what we’re doing right now, which is talking to each other. And, you know–
VV A few things. One, I think I’m saying this for the third time, but I think no one is arguing that relationship comes first. Like I think that’s no matter what, that’s the baseline.
RZ But I’m not talking about relationship.
RZ But I’m not talking about relationship.
VV No, no, I know. So relationship comes first, you have to be comfortable with the people. I think the tools are a support, like they’re a supporting role to the conversation. And so I think the difference between in person and remote is that you use the tools to kind of get things out of people’s heads, get things like structure, the conversation that in person might flow more naturally. And then you still have to make space for that conversation, right? I think you have to think through better frameworks and better uses of tools. The tools are not the solution. They are a tool to kind of have good conversations in a remote environment.
PF Take me out of day to day work for a sec. We’re an agency. So we’re not shipping a product, one product on a schedule with an overall roadmap. We’re shipping lots of products. And the way that that work comes to us is that we build a relationship. Yesterday. Rich and I got in a car when I had lunch, uptown. It was outside, it was very nice.
RZ Friend, ex-client.
PF You know, he’s got some new stuff he’s working on. Then I went out for drinks with clients. Rich came too and then abandoned me last night.
RZ I did do that.
PF Part of me, because I am actually surprisingly introverted for who I am. By the end of that night, I didn’t want to ever work again in any environment with anyone, I wanted to go home and just hide under the bed. But regardless, I have to do that.
RZ Those are client relations account–
PF Like I was happy to see them. I’m just like–
RZ What we’re backing into here is that if there is clear structure and process around you getting your workday done, for example, customer service person, you don’t need to be in a sea of cubicles, taking customer service calls.
PF Or even clear product roadmap.
RZ Or even clear product roadmap, if like, if I’m on version five of the enterprise product. You don’t need to be in the same place. Like there’s a backlog, there’s a clear distillation of customer feedback that’s going to drive the next set of priorities. It’s all queued up, right? Let me give you an example of where this doesn’t work. Litigation firm, a litigation firm that is not writing a contract, which is structured and often there’s terms and you could just, you know, put the legal language around them. A litigation firm has to essentially get in a room with a team of lawyers and strategists and think through a plan of attack. Like it’s days and days of like thinking through where the vulnerabilities are in the other side. What to emphasize or deemphasize.
PF Get that plastic tray of sandwiches from Potbelly.
RZ Terrible rap sandwiches are coming in. That is an environment that is, I would say, it’s not even collaborative, it is just like a literally, they’re in a state of shared brain.
VV So I mean, I can’t speak to the litigation firm, I don’t, I have no direct experience. But I still come back to I think you can build that shared understanding, I think you can work through really tough problems. If you have a team that has an established working relationship and has kind of gotten past the like, we know each other and we can read each others kind of like tells. To me that the room does not matter.
RZ I guess what I’m saying is this, I guess what I’m saying is some jobs–I think we’re mushing together, personal preference. Like I’m a social person, I view the workplace as a social environment, let’s park that stuff. Because some people like to do their gardening and then go do their work. And they like their space. And that’s totally reasonable. And I’m happy that Postlight makes that available as an option for people. So there are personal individual preferences, we put a survey out, it was all over the map, you had the extremes, and then you had a bunch of stuff in the middle. I can’t wait to come back. I don’t ever want to come back.
PF It didn’t provide a lot of clarity.
RZ It didn’t provide any clairty!
PF Okay, so wait, hold on. I want you each to describe the ideal scenario. A company like this, how should it work with an office and remote? What do you think Richard? And then Vicky?
RZ The agency?
PF Yeah. Postlight is an agency.
RZ Interestingly, for Postlight. I think the only Achilles heel are those client relations. I think Postlight the brand has reached sort of an exit velocity, where there’s continued interest in hiring us, there are relationships that trust us, and we deliver good work. Like we are very output driven, like the quality of our work is going to make or break us.
PF A lot of our clients are going through this too, right?
RZ Yeah, I’m working on a product right now. I’m fully convinced that this time right now as we gestate through the hard stuff–
PF You as a product or a product leader are more efficient in person?
RZ No, no, not just that. I just think that if this product actually makes it out, we validate some things and we’re now off to 1.0, 1.1, 1.2. I think it could shift at that time, because their structure, the guardrails are sort of coming together. And so you can plan and you can put structure to things.
VV But I think that that’s such a reflection of how you like to work. I don’t think that’s a reflection of the work that’s being done, right. Like I’ve been in that remote environment, with people with solid relationships. And we understand kind of, we share a common goal, we have a good shared understanding of what we’re trying to accomplish. And we’re able to use, again, the tools as supporting tools, but to recreate that environment, maybe not in the like, you know, eight hour workshop. Yeah, that’s exhausting. Nobody wants to sit on Zoom for eight hours. But it’s, you have to put more thought into how you’re going to have those conversations. But I guess what I’m saying is that the conversations can be just as productive in a remote environment. You’re not recreating them, you’re doing them differently, but the outcome can be very much the same.
PF That’s your ideal, your ideal is were truly remote first. Yeah, you can supplement in person if you really want to.
VV Sure, I think you need to go out and meet your co workers every once in a while you fall back on the like you know things you learn about people. I went out to dinner with a PM team, the New York PM team last night. And it was great. That will carry us through that like relationship building will carry us through and make us better as remote workers.
PF You’ve got like like 36 months in the tank now. You don’t have to come back. [Paul & Vicky laugh]
RZ Yeah, we’ll see you in 2026 Vicky.
VV No, no. Six months. Every six months I think that stuff is really good because you’ve learned something. There’s like, yeah, some nuance that you discover or something really, you know, just thing you learn about people. But again, to do the work like I I’m just I’ve seen it done for 10 years, and I see how productive it can be. And for me personally, like, as I said, I think I’m an eighth as productive here as I am at home because I control my environment and my schedule and my time in a way that you just don’t do when you’re in an office.
PF Transitioning from closed or home office to open plan New York office is like…
RZ I want to ask you a question about tools. You’ve said tools a few times. What are the tools you like to use that replace deep human connection?
VV None. There’s none that replace deep human connection.
PF Ah man, this explains my marriage.
RZ Thanks for listening folks!
PF Oh, sorry, to my wife, this is terrible. [Rich laughs]
RZ What what are the tools that help you and a team succeed working together in a distributed way?
VV So I think there’s many and I have preferences for sure. But I feel like the tool–so you want mine–
RZ The killer tool.
VV The killer tool. I’m just gonna go *Coda. Coda, I think is–
RZ Oh my god!
PF Oh, god, no!
VV *Mural or Whimsical.
PF No, no. You stay with Coda. You defend this.
VV *Figma. No, I love Coda.
RZ So are you saying any one of these or are you saying an amalgamation?
VV Yeah, I mean, it depends on what you’re doing. Like, are you brainstorming? Or do you have a bunch of like–we just ran a value prop definition workshop for one of my clients, and Whimsical was a perfect tool for that, where, you know, we put some prompts out on the board, we had people drop cards in and we, you know, kind of synthesize–
RZ So you used *Whimsical for that.
PF What do you love about Coda besides the 36,000, menu options for everything?
VV So Coda, I think is a really solid way to build a hub of information for the team. So it’s a one stop shop for things like–
RZ Put all the stuff in there.
VV Put all this stuff. But it’s not just a dumping ground for all the stuff like Google Docs ends up being. Google Docs as an individual document, you know, to write something great, but as like a hub of information, to me, super messy. Could work. So yeah, so Coda, I think, allows you as a team to organize and make like a repository of information, whether that’s like product briefs, and things that are kind of work in progress documents around defining something, things like meeting notes, things like directories of resources and links. It’s all in one place. And it’s very accessible. And you can kind of–
RZ It’s an all in one place type of tool.
VV Yeah, absolutely.
RZ Which can look unwieldy at first, but it’s kind of the point. Whimsical for those that don’t know is this, like almost Lego pieces level of sketching, where it’s not trying to be too fine grained. And it’s just a good way to illustrate virtual ideas.
PF I love Whimsical. The thing I love for it is I can put an asset, like a diagram or an image on screen and share it and then I can annotate it in real time. And often what I’m doing is I’m taking notes as people are talking, but I’m illustrating as I go.
RZ I mean, this is a trend right? I mean, this is probably accelerated by the pandemic is a lot of these sort of shared view of the same screen tools like Miro, Figma, Whimsical. There’s so many.
PF I thought we’d all become video producers and we’re not. It’s much more about tools and sharing the space.
RZ Is that it? Is that the list?
VV I mean, I think Slack is invaluable and kind of just the the coordination pieces of it. Again, I don’t think the specific tool is actually that important. I think there’s a lot of really great tools out there. It’s how the team adopts it and how the team uses it and kind of the contract you have with your team members about how your work is more important than the actual tool.
RZ Hypothetical like you know, your employer’s headquarters moves a mile away. Well actually it’s downstairs, it turns out.
PF You only have to go 10 feet to get to the office. Everybody’s there they’re having a good time. There’s treats.
RZ Do you go?
VV I mean I’d visit, for sure. [Rich laughs]
VV Definitely visit.
PF Definitely visit more often.
VV Yeah, I’d visit more often! But, if I’m working, then no, I want to be in my work–like it’s not about–I mean the space is important to me but it’s more the I do much better work if I can get it out of my brain get in at a dock in a Whimsical and whatever in Slack, think through how people are–like what am I trying to communicate, what do I need from other people think through that stuff first, get it out there and then you know what like, is it a follow up conversation where we now everybody’s got my download. Now we’re in the like part that you need a conversation around which is like the debating–
RZ You value that headphone time where you’re gonna get to think thoughts about what should be happening.
VV Yes, I need that and then I need the conversation for the complex debate pieces. I don’t want to have the like kind of rote stuff that you can read in a five minute, you know, Doc. I don’t want to in person time for that. It feels really inefficient to me.
PF To be clear, Richard, you stay home I stay home and we’re working on certain things. I need a couple at home to his to finish the memo I’m working on, like that’s that’s just life.
RZ Yeah, I mean, look, I’m the minority. I think I’m a very particular kind of collaborator that actually uses the dialogue to solve the problem. And it’s happened and it’s a bug not a feature. I would say. Sometimes people think I’m like interrogating them. But it’s literally me using their brains to find my way out of my own.
PF That’s a classic executive mode. Right? And for it to be effective on the other side, you have to go like, he doesn’t know what he’s talking about. Okay. And then you go from there.
RZ Yeah. And also, we’re seeing this through the lenses of the roles that we have engineers, I mean, the engineering world, computer programmers have solidified the tools that is allowed incredible collaboration. I mean, I remember when, you know, VSS was around, and then and then SVN. And then GitHub. I mean, GitHub is a profound leap in terms of synchronizing work, right? I mean, that’s incredible. And also there is, you know, there’s the classic stereotype of the, you know, the engineer solving a hard problem, being left alone to solve it. Right. That’s, that’s not me. It’s not what I do.
PF Focused time is necessary for intense work.
RZ Focus time is necessary.
PF You do it when you’re, when you’re working on a proposal, you need focused time. When I’m writing.
RZ You put the headphones up. Yeah, that’s real.
PF I mean, there’s another thing going on here, which is key, and we’re not, we’re co-founders now, we don’t run the company anymore in that sort of day to day way. But when we did, the in person, communication was really big. And it was actually hard, the pandemic as hard for us, we scheduled just check in times.
RZ I want to throw out another wrench into this narrative, which is, I don’t know how we would have found and called like, we have done–I’m going to give myself and Paul credit here. We’ve done a really good job in a very short period of time cultivating the leaders that run the business. And I don’t know if we could have found, built relationships with, nurtured those leaders and by nurtured and elevated to leadership, I don’t mean collaborate on a project, without working with them in person. I don’t know if we would have been able to do it, I think it would have been really hard to do. Just because some of the most important discussions we had were not in a calendar. I think that speaks to the dynamic how dynamic an agency is, and how much on the ground thinking you have to do. But how do you cultivate leaders, you know, out of that setting, which maybe you can answer that. I mean, you were you’ve worked in that environment.
VV I think the the fundamental difference–well, there’s probably a few things. But to me, a lot of it is also around like writing, right, and things that live in your head things that you’re thinking about things that you’re worried about, about the business. If it only lives in your head, then yeah, you’re right. Like the only place that that can get disseminated as via conversation. I think need to be a really effective remote leader, you have to be able to disseminate that information in other ways. *So writing, I think, is a huge part of what I think about as leader like, what do I want my team to know, it doesn’t scale to have that conversation with every single person individually. So how can I disseminate the most important information to my team so that they can make the decisions that make them effective at their job? I think that’s a huge part of it. Get it in writing, get it in front of people, have them react to it, then have the conversation. But you can’t, if the only way to know the fundamentals of what you’re thinking about is one on one conversations. I think that’s pretty limiting to in person only.
RZ Yeah, I guess what I’m kind of saying here is I think part of the leap is not a checklist of capabilities for that person to become a leader. A, I have to feel a connection with the person. And I’m going to go ahead and say it, can somebody become a partner Postlight if Paul and myself don’t like them? Probably not. I mean, just to clarify, that shouldn’t be driving bias in an unfair way. But if we’re feeling like, if this person checks all the boxes, but I feel like they’re going to actually bring risk to the organization at that higher level.
RZ Like sniffing that out. I don’t know how you sniff that out through documents.
VV No, no, no. The document is an artifact, it doesn’t replace the conversation. I’m just saying that the–
RZ You went through it. I mean, you ended up pretty high up at Zapier.
VV Yeah, sure. I mean, it was 100% remote company that was very committed.
RZ Where did you start at? What was your first role when you joined?
VV Marketing freelancer, and then on the support team, and then I owned the platform, the developer platform, and then the core product and then all the product.
RZ Okay, so that I mean, that’s interesting, because that’s a counter argument in what I’m describing. How does that happen?
VV Lots of communication, lots of showing work. And I think the reason it worked is because it was a very transparent, open culture with lots of written documentation. So I could see–
RZ There also is no headquarters.
VV Yeah, so I can see kind of what is everybody thinking about? What is, you know, the founders, what are they thinking about? What are they worried about? connect the dots between that and what I feel like I can have an impact on show my work and you know, get it in front of them. So yeah, that’s absolutely the that like very open, transparent culture to everybody from on every level across all departments. You know, it allows people who are paying attention to her thinking and who care about the business to connect the dots in ways that they wouldn’t if they didn’t have that information, and you would never kind of reach out to them to connect the dots for them.
PF You know, I mean, to me, I hear that I’m like, okay, that makes sense to me, because the product is the company, and you’re all aligned, like that’s the office, right?
VV Yeah, but there’s an application of that here that doesn’t feel that different. Sure, you know, it’s not any one individual client, but in how we run client projects, and how we build teams, how we think about our disciplines, kind of the operations of the business and the goals of the business, like I’ve seen some of that come out of my team, the more information I share with them is that they brought in from thinking about their own kind of domain and their own project to thinking about Postlight as a business and where we’re going. And kind of tying it back to remote versus an office, I don’t think it matters. Like I think I’ve been successful with it remotely in both places.
PF Five years in the future. Okay, so we don’t have to worry about tomorrow. We’re not we’re not blowing up Chris and Gina’s world. Five years in the future. What does a company like Postlight look like in terms of remote or in person?
RZ Its a fleet of food trucks. [Paul laughs]
PF Let’s start with Vicky. I’ll conclude.
VV Yeah, I mean, I think the New York presence is important. I think the the office is important. I don’t want to diminish that in any way. I know it started off with very fleeting thoughts. But yeah, no, I think it’s important. But I think the it’s important for the relationship piece, it’s important for kind of team dynamics and bonding. I don’t think it’s important for productive work. So I don’t know what that looks like, from, like, what the exact model is, but I think we can continue to run really great projects and ship really great products. And as long as we have a venue for those other pieces, and we do that at the right cadence. I don’t know, I guess I don’t think it has to be that vastly different.
PF Five years forward, Richard?
RZ You know, I think agency is a very dynamic kind of business. And I think the way business comes into an agency is not the martini lunch anymore. It’s just not.
PF Even before the pandemic, we didn’t even fly that much. Like once or twice a year.
RZ We didn’t fly that much. I mean, we did go and visit offices and show our faces.
RZ That probably will still continue to be somewhat important.
PF We still do.
RZ I mean, we have prospects in Boston right now. We should probably go up to Boston.
PF And existing clients, like absolutely do the tour.
RZ People do that. You just go and you show your face. That’s just the business. And I think that’s testament to the way we’ve built the brand, which is frankly giving very generous advice, through the podcast. The brand is carrying itself, the brand is kind of propelling itself forward. Where we’ve closed some clients, they didn’t want to have a competitive process. They just like we want you guys. We saw one of your case studies, and you’re the ones we want to work with. That I’m very proud of reaching that place. And can you build on that over the next five years? Absolutely. You can build that. Do we need shiny suits out in New York City to grow Postlight? We don’t. Is there meaningful opportunity that comes out of connection? Of course! I mean, that is real. That is how you know businesses like ours, expand. They don’t just go to Chicago and open an office for shits they go to open an office in Chicago, so they can see people. That’s what they do. To Vicky’s point, do you need those engineers and designers in Chicago? No. But we also take pride in actually bringing the experts to the room in the conversation, like they’re in the conversation, right? We’re not going to plant sales teams in big cities, and then deliver software in a distributed way. That’s not all we’re gonna do. But today, you know, our head of engineering is in Texas, he can come on a call and give you good advice. And we do that. And so I think Postlight can thrive and grow without over indexing on in person presence.
PF Five years from now, there is a group of people who just like to work together. There are certain projects that are more focused on in person interaction or getting kicked off. And so people are in working on those. Employees are probably have very relatively flex time. And the office functions more as an event space and the organization does stuff like seminars, event, bringing clients in communicating with them and helping them more strategically. And at that point, employees are expected to really be there and participate in those kind of interactions as a group in a structured way.
RZ I think that’s a great point.
PF And then there is headphones on design time and engineering time and product management time. We don’t care. You can do that on the space station.
VV That’s the company I’d want to work for. That’s a much better answer than mine.
PF Well, I think that’s where everything is headed in this cohort in the economy. And it’s a we’re a privileged cohort. We have this flexibility. There’s a kind of orthodoxy that comes out of engineering culture where it’s just sort of like, oh it’s all remote, you never need to go to an office ever. It doesn’t matter. But I don’t think that that’s–I don’t I don’t think 90% of people actually are committed to that vision. I don’t think that more than like 10 or 15% of people are committed to that vision. I think the rest of everybody is like, yeah, sometimes you got to go in, and you got to be there. And most of the time, though, you just want to get your work done. And I think that’s where most people’s heads are, and then you’re negotiating with that post-pandemic.
RZ I think that’s right.
PF The forbearance I ask from the Postlight folks listening and everybody else is that this actually is a transition. Our clients have expectations, and they have an understanding of access and sort of who we are. I think it’s pretty clear if you read the tea leaves that we’re headed in that direction. But if you flip that switch all at once–
RZ It is not a switch to flip.
PF That’s right. And and I think what we’re doing is we’re waiting for other expectations to change that we can’t control right now. So there are expectations from our employees that we can’t control, there are expectations from our clients and expectations from the world about what an agency is, and what happens. [music fades in] Those are going to evolve. And I think they’re going to evolve in that direction. I’d be really surprised if they evolved into everyone back in the office all the time. Like I think it’s about the velocity of change. You and I expect it to go a little more slowly, because we’re working with big clients who are themselves just getting–we’re 10 years ahead of them. They’ve had a shock to their system with the pandemic that we were able to adapt it. So that’s what I believe.
RZ Vicky, thank you for coming on the podcast.
VV Thank you for having me.
RZ As always.
PF And safe travels back to… there. [Vicky laughs]
RZ Madison, Wisconsin.
VV I’ll see you guys in a decade.
PF Oh, you did so good. Because you didn’t want to be in this office this week. But you were just a soldier!
RZ You made it another day.
PF Like a solider, Vicky. And no one will be in tomorrow. Just you. [Paul & Vicky laugh]
RZ Check us out at postlight.com, reach out firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow us @Postlight on Twitter.
PF And yeah, no, if you want to work with us in any capacity, you know, get in touch because we’re hiring remotely and in New York City.
RZ Yes. Have a great week!
PF Bye! [music ramps up, plays alone, ends]