Podcast, Remote Working

Scaling With remote Teams – Chathri Ali – Recharge

In this episode of The Human Behind the Screen, we are going to speak with Chathri Ali, who is the Chief Operating Officer for ReCharge, the leading subscription billing platform designed for physical subscription goods. She currently oversees the sales, marketing, customer success, and people operations, teams. ReCharge has achieved fast growth and currently powers over 10,000 e-commerce stores including Hubble Contacts, Native Deodorant, Dr Axe, and Billie. 

Updating the Tools used According to the Scaling

In a company that starts with a small number of employees, the tools that it uses to facilitate many of the internal processes may become obsolete when, as the work team expands, these processes require other forms of execution. This happened at Recharge, which began with a group of employees of between 10 to 19 people, all distributed in the North American territory, but over time it was necessary to add remote workers to the team. At this point, the tools used to generate payrolls like Gusto, which allowed those employees in North America to be paid; had to be replaced by one that allows starting to wire folks internationally, the calculation fees associated with that, and benefits for remote employees located in other parts of the world; and the one chosen for this was TriNet.

For communication between team members, the tools used have not changed, since the beginning, they have used Slack for day-to-day communication and Zoom for video conferences. But what had to be updated was the tool used for project management "we used to use Trello, which was great when you have a team of four people, everybody has their board, and it's very clear what everyone's working on, but now our engineering team is now over 45 people, we broke the system essentially on Trello, so we migrated to an Atlassian project-management, so it's called JIRA that's worked well for us" Chathri explained.

Accessibility to Information for Everyone

Another point that Chathri talks about is the evolution and improvement of the company as the work team grows and the way that information and processes are documented.

Within Recharge, they use another Atlassian tool, which is called Confluence where they document how they work within the company, things you must learn within your first week of work, what team does what, the time zones in which the members work remotes and many other things "GitHub and Gitlab, they're famous for having created this massive playbook that's all documented in Confluence. We very much took some tips from them in terms of how to document things[...]so that's kind of the tip sheet for a new hire, but even more importantly, it's how we do things, so for example, a sales team member our scripts for different sales calls, this is what you're supposed to be asking on a demo called" Chathri explained

Time Management from the Perspective of a Leader

If for a remote employee, it can be really easy to fall into unhealthy work habits, where we work at hours that do not allow us to sleep, run errands or have family time to be online and available all the time; For a leader, it is much easier to fall into these habits that not only stop you from leading a healthy life but can also affect your job performance.

Chathri shares some of her tricks to maintain this balance at work, she has already been doing time boxing on her calendar in Slack, which allows her team to know the right moment to contact her and at the same time, this will allow her time to fully dedicate herself to developing new processes or strategies. She also shares what she describes as one of the best strategies that her leadership coach taught her called Body Yes, which consists of asking yourself if your presence is completely required to make an important decision, in a meeting, videocall or anything you may be doing within the company out of habit when in reality you can be informed about the results or decisions made later with what you need to know or just be informed on that things are moving forward "So she took a look at my calendar and said, wow, you have a lot going on here, and then she almost did like an audit with myself and said, Okay, this particular call, where it's one team meeting, another team, that I essentially have roll up into myself as a leader, she's like, do you need to be on that call? [...] So I went through each call, and I said, this is a whole-body Yes call yes or no and if it's a no, then what I did was I transitioned off that call, I told the person running that call, you know what, for this one week, I'm just going to be an observer. You guys were on the call without me. I'll chime in if I need to, otherwise, I'm just going to be a fly on the wall, and then slowly transitioned off that call, and that so far has worked well" Chathri said.

The Importance of Face to Face in the Company Culture

ReCharge used to have this imperative step in theirs hiring process, which consisted of taking the applicants who managed to get to the last step of the process to visit the company's headquarters in Santa Monica, California with all the expenses paid, to have a face to face meeting with somebody of the team as the last step in the process. Even if this meant a huge investment for the company in something that could potentially go wrong, they kept doing this until their 50th employee, to compare and check if their work culture matched or could be moulded with the company's "We don't use that face to face time at the office to get to know the person because you go from what's on paper, the resume and a few calls[...] CEO Oisin O'Connor, he likes to dig into their the candidates' personal ethos, most candidates have their culture built into them as their own operating system, right? So we just need to unpack that, and the easiest way we found to do that is to truly have them fly to LA and for Oisin for example, He'll go on a 30-minute long walk with them around our area and just dig in a bit further" Chathri said.

But as they grew, that step of the process became something of a case by case type situation, since they have hired vice presidents who are now in charge of recruiting staff and who have their own cultures within their departments, which, of course, coincide with that of the company. ReCharge now has Hub Offices around North America, which makes this procedure easier and cheaper "I would say that yes, it's not sustainable as we continue to grow, but we still do it by on a case by case basis, and for everyone we've flown in, we've said no to people who have flown in, even though we take that sunk cost, because, at the end of the day, if we all collectively say that this is a pass for us, we're saving money down the line, because if you think about onboarding, the person who's not a fit" Chathri continued.

Effective Leadership through Empathy

Ownership, empathy, and simple solutions are core values in ReCharge. These values influence the processes within the company, from that of contracting to the relationship between clients and agency partners "our culture now is a culture focused on not only just being, you know, a good person, but also really focused on the fact that we're still a high growth company, and it's not comfortable. It's because as we've evolved, the opportunities evolved, and we're just we're not even close to being what I would call done yet. Therefore, we're not comfortable. And so going back to how we hire, you know, we look for those core values, but we look for that drive to make an impact, to be adaptable to also test drive velocity within the company" Chathri explained.

The value that has the greatest effect on the relationship between team members is empathy and this is the value that is most present in the interactions within Recharge, whether in being aware of the time differences, not to communicate with a teammate late at night or while sleeping; something that can be solved using tools like SlackBot, which allows you to leave a message with a configured time, which will reach that partner at the set time. Another form of empathy is to avoid creating distractions in common channels or the minds of employees, bombarding them with non-urgent questions that can be grouped and communicated at a one on one meeting at the end of the week.

But empathy is not cultivated and promoted only among the internal relationships of the company but is also promoted towards customers "we have empathy for our customers and our, agency partners that we work with and when it comes to customer support, for example, we're very crystal clear. And we have been about how we communicate as a company, for the last few years, we did not have phone support, we try to create empathy for us at not being able to scale that kind of team, when we tell people we're email first organization, what we do is try to help a merchant get the answer they wanted within a certain amount of hours. So we have essentially is what's called an SLA service level agreement, at this point, we'll try to get to your question within one business day" Chathri said.

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