This series profiles innovative companies and how they are adapting to the challenges of Bay Area Shelter-In-Place orders in the wake of COVID-19.
InsideView is an AI-based B2B data and intelligence platform designed to help its clients discover new markets, target and engage the right buyers, and manage customer data quality. Founded in 2005, the company now boasts some of the industry’s most relevant and reliable data and best-in-class customer support. InsideView’s 27,017-square-foot Headquarters is located at 444 De Haro St. in San Francisco’s popular Potrero Hill neighborhood.
With additional offices in Austin, TX and Hyderabad, India, Vice President of Human Resources, Loree Farrar, describes the need for a pandemic response that addresses the differing circumstances of all employees across the globe, and well as what traits successful employees share and what this experience has demonstrated about a productive office environment.
Seymour. InsideView’s staff are split between Hyderabad, India, San Francisco and Austin. In the context of the Covid-19 pandemic, what have been some of the greatest HR-related challenges that you and your team have faced when it comes to managing those different offices in such diverse economic, cultural and geo-political climates?
Farrar. Dealing with San Francisco and Austin, Texas has been relatively similar. We get roughly the same news, and everyone understands things in roughly the same way.
Hyderabad’s been quite different. Their news cycle is different. Their experience of the virus is quite different. Their government instituted a very hard shutdown. People are not allowed to leave their apartment for any reason at all. That’s been quite harsh. One of our employees was almost arrested when he tried to deliver a laptop to a new employee. He talked his way out of it, but then we had to figure out a new way to get people their laptops. It’s quite different in Hyderabad.
Also, their home infrastructure – their electricity, their internet – is not nearly as dependable as in the U.S. Very few of our employees in India have a spare bedroom or the like to use as a home office. Technically, it’s been much more difficult in Hyderabad.
With regards to communication, what we’ve been doing in general is issuing broad company-wide messages, but often we’ll have one released in Hyderabad and a different one in the U.S. For transparency, employees can see each other’s messages, but they’re tuned to the specific audiences.
Burch. What efforts have been made to maintain the strong company culture?
Farrar. We have made a conscious decision to greatly increase communication, both at the executive level and the manager level. Our employees hear from executives once or twice a week right now, which is a lot for us. We’ve greatly increased the transparency of what’s going on in the business and how we’re making choices. There’s so much chaos in the greater environment, we need to keep clarity throughout our small portion. That’s been very important.
We’ve also done a lot with helping managers grow from being “just” a manager to becoming a leader. They need to be not just as good as they were before, but better. Throughout the organization, I’m seeing our young managers who have only been in charge of a group for a year or so really stepping up and being there for their employees. They have had to lead the whole employee: the emotional part that may be afraid of what’s going to happen to their families, as well as the part that needs to be productive and get something done. They’re doing an amazing job.
Seymour. How has employee efficiency and productivity been affected by the SIP mandate?
Farrar. We’ve found that a significant number of our employees have been far more productive working from home than in the office, which shocked us. We expected everybody to be distracted. In fact, they just totally focused in. Our engineers have delivered more and better code than we’ve ever seen before. We did a beta release and it was flawless. You know that never happens with beta releases, but it did this time.
Our sales development reps (SDRs) have delivered over double the number of leads that they usually deliver, and it’s not because people are easy to find. Our SDRs are focused and making stuff happen. We’re trying to figure out what’s going on that they’re so productive at home, and how can we bring that back post-SIP mandate.
Burch. What are your thoughts on the long-term sustainability of this increased efficiency you’re experiencing?
Farrar. I wonder how much of what we’re seeing is a Hawthorne effect, where any time a change happens, productivity goes up. If the lights get brighter, the productivity goes up, the lights get dimmer, productivity goes up – a very famous old experiment. I wonder if it’s like that, or if there are some things that we can capture and keep ahold of. Another question it raises is how we are assessing productivity. Some metrics are easy. For example, with SDRs it’s pipeline. We know exactly how productive they are. At the moment, we’re still working on the ideas set in motion pre-Covid. What I wonder about is what happens when it’s time for us to think of our next product? The higher-level functions of productivity such as creativity, problem solving and critical thinking haven’t been tested as much yet. Will we be able to do that from our homes using some automated whiteboard feature?
Seymour. With an uncertain economic climate ahead, how will your hiring change? For example, will the types of roles, the location, the candidate profile still be the same?
Farrar. Right now, the first thing that is likely to change is we will no longer be enamored with, “Oh, this position has to be in San Francisco, this position has to be in Austin.” That’s out the window. We’ve now proven that no position has to be in any specific location. I suspect that will be a change that stays.
That gets interesting when suddenly your candidate pool includes Bend, Oregon, or Lake Tahoe or Boise, Idaho. It makes me wonder if candidates are going to move to these smaller, more affordable cities because there’ll be a lot of people like me that don’t care if you’re remote all the time, because we’ve shown that we can operate that way.
Burch. In your opinion, what types of personality traits will employers be looking for in a shift towards a remote work force?
Farrar. When people are hired, they rarely fail because of technical gaps. When there’s a failure, it’s much more often these cultural gaps. We will need to get very good at Identifying certain characteristics.
Oddly, a stronger-than-usual sense of team is one. You’d think, “Oh, well, we need a bunch of introverts so that they’ll be happy sitting in their spare bedroom,” but really you need a bunch of connectors, so they’ll make an effort to connect with their team on a genuine level.
This gets back at what you were talking about a bit earlier. But we really need to make sure that people can feel the InsideView culture no matter where they are sitting. They need to be able to feel that InsideView culture, and that will come through in the transparency of executive communications because that’s a key part of our culture.
Some of the fun things we do may have to be modified. Our Friday happy hour that has been running 15 years has moved over to Zoom. They’re quite different in character, but we have to figure out how to do those things so that employees can feel like part of a team.
Seymour. When InsideView heads back to the office, do you foresee a change in workspace design or policy as a direct result of this WFH experiment and the potential changes in hiring?
Farrar. One of the things that this has shown us is that creative space, having a lot of people trying to code and concentrate in an open space, doesn’t work that well. They’re distracted. It makes me think that I need to go back to more square feet per engineer, and I need to put engineers in more contained spaces where there’s just a few of them in a small room. On the one hand I may have more square feet per engineer, but I may also have fewer engineers because I’ll have some of them working at home.
I think that the time has finally come to do what we were talking about back in the ’90s with hoteling, where you don’t have your own desk with the picture of your wife waiting for you. There’s just a bunch of desks, and when you go in you choose an open one. As a result, I could see a positive impact on cross-functional collaboration taking place. The office will become “The mothership” and will be where you build those relationships across organizations.
These are not brand-new ideas. I don’t think this is going to be the new normal – where we’re at right now, that is. However, the old normal is gone. There’ll be some distinct changes that will stick from this period, especially since I’m expecting that tech workers will be asked to stay home for a longer period than others.
Jack Seymour is a leasing associate at Transwestern’s San Francisco office, Jack’s primary role is to serve as a real estate advisor on major projects working alongside the established office leasing team of Jeff Moeller, Peter Conte and Zac Monsees. He is also responsible for developing relationships with and serving the needs of local and/or national prospective clients as well as providing diverse marketing support for leasing services.
Jason Burch is currently serving as Managing Director with Transwestern’s San Francisco office. With 10+ years of experience in brokerage throughout the San Francisco Bay Area, Jason maintains relationships with decision makers at some of the world’s top corporations, working locally, nationally and internationally to align comprehensive commercial real estate services with their business goals. Over the course of his career, Jason has been involved in leasing and disposition transactions totaling more than 2.5 million square feet and valued at more than $1 billion. Notable clients with recent transactions include Wish, Inc., SFMTA, NerdWallet and Historic Pier 70.
ABOUT TRANSWESTERN REAL ESTATE SERVICES
Transwestern Real Estate Services (TRE) adds value for investors, owners and occupiers of all commercial property types through a comprehensive perspective and by providing solutions grounded in sound market intelligence. Part of the Transwestern companies, the firm applies a consultative approach to Agency Leasing, Asset Services, Occupier Solutions, Capital Markets, and Research & Investment Analytics.
InsideView helps businesses drive rapid revenue growth by empowering business leaders to discover new markets, target and engage the right buyers, and manage customer data quality. Our AI-based B2B data and intelligence platform delivers the industry’s most relevant and reliable buyer signals and, combined with InsideView’s data expertise and best-in-class customer support, is trusted by the world’s best performing companies. For more information, visit InsideView at www.InsideView.com, twitter, or read the InsideView blog.