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This article is part of the Rise of Remote Work LinkedIn Newsletter covering stories and insights from remote work leaders, experts, and advocates around the world. Click here to learn more and download your free remote work policy checklist.

As part of my LinkedIn Newsletter series about the Rise of Remote Work, I had the pleasure of interviewing Carly Moulton, Sr Communications Specialist at Zapier.

About Carly Moulton

Carly Moulton is a Senior Communications Specialist at Zapier, where she leads the team’s PR efforts. She began her career in tech six years ago and has been working remotely for 1.5 years. In her spare time, you can find her working on her graphic design/illustration skills, reading, or hanging out with her dog, Lucy.

Thank you so much for your time, Carly! Can you tell us a bit about your ‘backstory’ and how you got into remote work?

I’ve worked on the Communications team at Zapier for a little over a year now. Zapier has always been an entirely remote company and now has 300+ employees in 28 countries around the world.

Prior to working at Zapier, I worked at a tech company that didn’t encourage flexible work. I do a lot of writing for my job, and I found the open office to be incredibly distracting. It was often next to impossible to do deep-focused or creative work. So, I did this type of work at home during my spare time or on the weekends.

Zapier had always been on my list of ‘dream companies to work for’. I had used their product for years and loved it, so remote work was the cherry on top.

Why did you make the switch from a traditional 9-to-5 office job to working remotely?

Remote work was a byproduct of Zapier. I was excited to work for the company and be part of a growing team, but in the beginning, I didn’t have a ton of strong feelings about remote work. I was also excited about the possibility of traveling while working and about controlling the environment I worked from.

Now, after working remotely for over a year, I love it and have no desire to go back to an office environment anytime soon.

Now, after working remotely for over a year, I love it and have no desire to go back to an office environment anytime soon

Could you share the biggest lessons or 'key takeaways' that you have learned along the way?​

Here are some of the key lessons I’ve learned from working remotely for over a year:

  1. Make sure you unplug When you work from home, it can be difficult to separate work and life. There’s always going to be “just one more thing” that you can do. Don’t give in to this temptation. Set a time that you’re going to log off each day and stick to it. 
  2. Document everything We’re a distributed team across more than a dozen time zones. Remote can’t function unless you make your work, processes, and systems available to everyone. We work in public, we have discussions in open Slack channels and document all major decisions. On Friday, everyone at Zapier posts a Friday update about what they shipped, launched, or accomplished that week, and what they’re working on next week. This ensures anyone, anywhere at any time has access to the information they need.
  3. Save yourself busy work Zapier is without a doubt the most efficient company I’ve ever worked for. One reason is that we use Zapier to keep processes running smoothly. For example, a couple of days before our team meeting, an agenda is automatically sent to our Slack channel to complete. This gives us time to review everyone’s updates before the meeting even starts, so we can focus on high priority agenda items. Then, right before the meeting starts, the agenda is sent to the channel again so we can quickly open it, followed by a Zoom link for the meeting. Removing these tiny bits of friction from our workflow allows us to accomplish more as a small distributed team.

Please tell us a bit more about Zapier. How is remote work encouraged within your team or organization?

At Zapier it’s pretty straightforward. We’ve been 100% remote since the company was founded in 2011. We’ve never had offices or an HQ, and today we have over 300 employees in 28 countries and 35 U.S. states. Employees can live and work wherever they like.

We’ve never had offices or an HQ, and today we have over 300 employees in 28 countries and 35 U.S. states. Employees can live and work wherever they like.

Could you share a few of the biggest remote work challenges you or your team have experienced, and, what have you done to address those challenges?​

At first, being really transparent and having conversations in public channels felt unnatural and vulnerable. But everyone does it, and I quickly came to realize the value of doing so.

One of the biggest challenges now is that I really like my coworkers, and wish I could see them more than a couple of times a year at company retreats. On the bright side, it’s fun to visit your friends all over the world. Last year I took a trip to L.A. and got to spend some time with one of my co-workers who has now become a close friend.

Travel is now restricted, so I’ll see my coworkers even less this year, but we talk in Slack daily, have weekly video calls, and sometimes do things like games nights. At Zapier we have dedicated #fun Slack channels for specific topics. There are more #fun channels than there are employees at Zapier. My favourite one is #fun-bachelorfranchise.

While I don’t get to see them in person often, I adore my team and feel a very close connection with them.

There are more #fun channels than there are employees at Zapier. […] While I don’t get to see them in person often, I adore my team and feel a very close connection with them.

That's amazing! Do you have any tips to make sure remote employees are both happy AND productive while working remotely?

I think the key to both is to clearly communicate goals, give people autonomy to reach those goals, and then hold them accountable for the work.

One of Zapier’s values is default to action. This allows us to move quickly and with intention. We don’t need to go through layers of bureaucracy to get approval on decisions. When people feel ownership over their work, they’re often happy and productive. At the end of the week, we document these decisions in our Friday updates.

Additionally, every manager has weekly recurring meetings with their direct reports. These meetings give employees regular opportunities to discuss how work is going. If for some reason someone isn’t happy, these meetings are a chance to talk that through with their manager and come up with solutions.

We don’t need to go through layers of bureaucracy to get approval on decisions. When people feel ownership over their work, they’re often happy and productive.

What, do you think, are some of the most common reasons companies hesitate to allow remote work?

A big hurdle for managers and individual contributors alike is how to build alignment and demonstrate accountability. Managers want to be sure their reports are getting things done, and employees want to prove to their managers that they’re being productive. When you work remotely, you have to measure contributions by output and outcomes rather than butts in seats.

Most leaders will suggest default to transparency. That’s one of our core values at Zapier, and it’s necessary for anyone working remotely. Like I mentioned above, we have nearly all conversations in public channels. This allows everyone to contribute to conversations they may otherwise miss in an office, or to find information about something that happened when they weren’t around.

I couldn't agree more. Any thoughts about how the COVID pandemic might change the way we work?

This was an incredibly rapid switch […] With no plan in place or policies to help employees work remotely, it’s likely some people had a poor experience adjusting to remote work.

The past few months have been a crash course in remote work, but I think it’s proved that remote work can be successful for many companies. We’ve seen big tech companies like Twitter, Shopify, and Facebook announce new flexible/remote work policies. Even some massive corporations that are normally resistant to change (like banks) have announced employees will have more flexibility moving forward.

That being said, there are a couple of things to keep in mind:

  1. This was an incredibly rapid switch, one many companies and employees weren’t prepared for. With no plan in place or policies to help employees work remotely, it’s likely some people had a poor experience adjusting to remote work.
  2. It’s important to remember the pandemic has disrupted everyone’s routines. Those with kids at home know it is incredibly difficult to parent and work at the same time. Even something as simple as working from a coffee shop because you need a change of scenery is impossible. 

However, overall, I think we’ll continue to see more companies offer flexible/remote work policies. 

What's your #1 remote work tip for those looking to transition into remote work post-COVID-19?

The two most important pillars in remote work are trust and communication. Trust each other and assume the best intentions when communicating.

The two most important pillars in remote work are trust and communication. Trust each other and assume the best intentions when communicating.

Thank you so much for sharing these valuable insights! How can we further follow your work?​

Zapier literally wrote the book on remote work, and our blog is regularly updated with insightful and actionable content on the topic. If you have any questions about remote work, chances are we’ve answered it there!

This article is part of the Rise of Remote Work LinkedIn Newsletter covering stories and insights from remote work leaders, experts, and advocates around the world. Click here to learn more and download your free remote work policy checklist.

About Mandy Fransz

Mandy Fransz is the owner & founder of Make the Leap Digital, a boutique consulting firm helping businesses digitally transform the way they work. She manages the fast-growing Remote Workers on LinkedIn group (+50K members) and she has been featured in Thrive Global, VIVA400, & LINDA amongst others. Follow her on LinkedIn (Mandy Fransz) and Instagram (@maketheleap_).