Podcast, Remote Working

How to Nurture a Healthy Working Environment – Leah Knobler – Help Scout

In this episode of The Human Behind the Screen, we got the chance to speak with Leah Knobler, a former high school teacher from New York, who found her passion for helping people as the director of talent acquisition for Help Scout.

Leah has been creating inclusive environments since 2005, when she started her career as an NYC public school teacher. After years of educating the youths and working in higher education, she discovered her true love of People Operations when she heard about Help Scout, a remote-first tech company building helpful, human customer messaging tools. She took a chance, changed her career path, and for the past 4.5 years, she's grown the team from 20 to 110 people. Leah loves talking about recruiting like a human, diversifying tech, and Beyoncé.

An innovative Hiring Process

The processes that gave rise to the foundations of the company evolved as the company grew, adjusting the things that were flawed or that were not as effective as expected and among them, the company hiring process.  The model they currently use is quite innovative and easily allows the applicant to understand and integrate with the company's methodologies, ranges, work teams, and values. This Hiring process begins with an interview that is quite similar between the roles within the company, which is carried out by video chat and the applicant talks to his hiring manager, the person they'd be reporting to "we think that's important to have that right out of the gate because who gonna be the best Representative that the team in the company and also, it's great to be able to meet your potential boss right away and see, is this gonna work for either of us?" Leah Expressed.  
Then they have a chat with a member of the team they could belong to, a conversation that becomes in a more technical one dive into skills assessments and talking about previous experience and values and whether that aligns with the company one. After that, another video chat is held with someone from people operations, on salary, benefits and the rest of the process.
To finish, they assign a home project, which must be relevant and have a maximum duration of six hours which is remunerated"we know people have jobs and looking for a job feels like a job and we don't want to bog someone down with some projects that take days on end " When it comes to the remuneration part, Leah said that "it isn't just to compensate and it's more just a gesture that we're appreciating that you're giving time and effort to us and we're not just taking that for granted."

Create Empathy through Creativity

Even though Help Scout is practically a completely remote company, they do have a small physical space where local interviews take place and where Leah's recording studio is located.
Leah started creating content using the resources she had, her creativity and iPhone, motivated by her desire to establish a connection, empathy and eliminate a bit of the isolation feeling that working remotely can generate, but now she has a recording studio which she uses to create content she describes as "infotainment" the mix between informative and entertaining, which she shares on Mondays with her peers "We want this to feel special and unique, and I wanted it to be like, this is a thing people look forward to not just something that's an interruption, so luckily, everyone in Help Scout, still to this day, you know, seems to appreciate me just being kind of weird and doing the things that come to mind and keeping everybody, as I call it, infotainment" Leah said.
She continues explaining "Every week, I announced birthdays and company anniversaries and then new hires, as well as just company info, and then I'm just always trying to make it fun or silly, so there have been little things that have evolved like when we have new folks in the office for on-boarding, I try to interview them and then there's a segment called four questions with Leah... no tricky questions, just interesting things for the company to get to know them better because again, we're remote, you're not going to meet each other over the lunch table, so you just have to always be thinking, how do I people get to know each other in a way that's not tied to an office and I think it's Kind of forces you to be more creative and hopefully that's sort of helped be my inspiration and motivation for these" .

Defining the Values and Culture of the Company

When establishing or creating the company's work culture and values, Becca Van Nederynen, Head of People Operations, led an exercise with the company's team, which was small back then; resulting in the three main values of the company: Helpfulness, Excellence and Ownership which have been so infused into the team, that they have profoundly influenced the communication model and how they relate to each other "we are 100 people who all first and foremost want to help each other, a lot of cross-team collaboration absolutely does happen here, and if you just ask someone for some random favour, they're very eager to do it, and then everyone wants the product and the company to be successful and to do their best work, so you're surrounded by all these people who are very working hard and are very talented" Leah said.

This type of interactions and values have generated a cycle, in which the competition between team members is very healthy, where they motivate and support each other to be better and to do a better job since they always have in mind that when working as a team, success is easier to achieve. But Help Scout's goal as a company is not just to be successful and Leah lets us know "our leadership team and Nick, especially, always wanted help scout to be more than just a successful business, it's always been clear that we want this to be a place where people want to work long term, we're not trying to just rocket ship, IPO or sell and be gone, like Help Scout is nine years old, we've been around for a while, and that's the plan to stick around and continue making a great product and a great company that people love to work at".

 Scaling Quickly is Relative

When it comes to adding new members to the team, Help Scout tries to do it in a reasonable, deliberate and intentional way, since they have learned that what could work for a team of forty or fifty members, maybe doesn't do it with one of seventy or eighty members, that sometimes the guidelines don't work properly and efficiently and that when they add personnel as the company or the workflows required, not only to say " we have 100 employees"; this allows you to be aware of the development of the team and listen to your peers and your company who are giving you feedback and to know what you should write down "for a remote company that's already writing and documenting, so many things you're like, how can there be more things that we need to make a policy about or a guideline about? But just the more people you have working there, the more questions people have or they want to have thoughts about how you go about doing this, and you're like, we should probably write that down and have something in practice for people to find their company wiki" Leah said.
All this allows you to see when it is necessary to add other ranges or layers of management or when a person no longer connects or feels comfortable with the new structure of the company "I think a lot of those early folks are like I don't I didn't come here because I wanted a manager or this mid-layer separating me and the VP, and I think we could have done more storytelling early on about like, hey, these are regrowing things, the organization needs different structure and we 're not just adding managers to, like micromanage you."

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