Owl Labs (OL): Tell me about how you got to where you are in your career today.
Suneet Bhatt (SB): Early on, I chased great bosses. I was less concerned about the company, even the responsibility or the role. I was mostly just looking for good bosses and good mentors. After that, I focused on the function and responsibility of the roles I was taking on. I was eager to learn new skill sets, and this strategy got me to a place where I was able to focus in on the type of company and environment I knew I wanted to be in. I knew I didn't want to work at a very large company because I preferred the intimacy of small companies. I wanted to focus on growth, and I wanted to try my hand at running something. Now I'm at Crazy Egg, where I have great bosses and ultimate accountability and responsibility. It's the best of all worlds converging!
OL: Crazy Egg is fully remote, and it seems like you've had a lot of remote working experiences in your career. What have you learned about communicating effectively and working together productively when you're working with people around the world?
SB: We're always learning and iterating. Times change and expectations change, and as more people go remote and more environments are created for remote work, the bar keeps raising. There isn't just one model. It's a living and breathing approach that adapts to new technologies, new team members, and new expectations of the market.
With the ability to work remotely, one of the things you have to opt into is a handful of consistent ways of communicating. Streamlining channels and expectations around the channel is key. For example, everybody at Crazy Egg does a daily update in Slack that outlines what you worked on yesterday and what your priorities are for today. This allows everyone to clearly communicate in the same way and understand what's going on at the company. It's amazing how many people don't understand the importance of something that simple from a communications strategy. It's important for co-located companies, but it's even more important for remote companies. In our case, I made sure our Slack was hyper-organized to improve efficiency and visibility into what everyone is working on and what their schedules are:
Usually, distributed teams should do daily updates, weekly meetings, and an all-hands meeting every six weeks or twice a quarter. You need to get the entire company communicating asynchronously to give you a steady cadence for keeping up-to-date. That kind of a structure lets people know where to go when they have questions and what's expected of them for how to communicate with their team members, which is really important when you aren't seeing or otherwise talking to them every day.
When you're managing remote teams, you have to get to know your individual team members. Some people like scheduled meetings, others like impromptu check-ins, and some are OK shifting their time to adjust to my New Jersey schedule. For others, I have to make sure I'm available when they're in their local time zones, which might be 2 or 3 a.m. for me.
When you're not working together in an office, you can't walk around, and the casual conversations over coffee and lunch don't necessarily happen. So, how do you create an environment where that happens? I find a way to achieve a balance by pinging people – the tapping people on the shoulder equivalent – and creating rooms or channels where you can get people to buy into virtual rapport-building. As a remote team leader, you have to be more deliberate about that stuff, because serendipity is just not going to happen.
Everything takes a little bit longer to communicate, to evangelize, to share, and to get people to consume when you work remotely. As a leader, everything takes a little bit more work, and you have to be okay doing that work and asking questions to make sure everyone is on the same page. When I share a message company-wide, if my team members are co-located, I can look around the room and see who is nodding along, or who's nodding off. You can't do that in a remote setting. At Crazy Egg, we do emoji confirms. When we post something, we ask folks to give it a "thumbs up" emoji reaction to make sure we know who's read it and who hasn't. You have to be deliberate about asking for feedback and getting signals for closing the loop on things you're sharing.
The other key element is being open to feedback. Sometimes people dislike change – things work, things don't – so remote leaders should always be asking, is there something we can do better? Is there something you don't like? Is there something you're hearing you don't like? That way, leaders can iterate and respond quickly so issues aren't bottling up.
Times change and expectations change, and as more people go remote and more environments are created for remote work, the bar keeps raising. There isn't just one model. It's a living and breathing approach that adapts to new technologies, new team members, and new expectations of the market.
OL: How do you view in-person collaboration, whether that's at a yearly retreat or quarterly or monthly visits fitting into a remote company's ecosystem?
SB: It's super important. I do my best wherever I am to try to connect with people one-on-one or in a group in-person. We were a small company with lots of contractors a relatively short while ago, and we flipped that model and hired 20-25 people over the past 12 months, which was a lot of turnover and change all at once.
We encourage in-person meetings where it can happen. When people are traveling to different areas, we try and encourage them to meet with local team members, because it's critically important for collaboration. We tend to hire folks who are a little bit more senior or who have done remote work before, and they tend to be okay with not having those in-person meetings as frequently.
I did have an experience at a prior company where, when I joined, they had decided to suspend arranging in-person meetings, and we felt the pain. The team didn't feel as tight, and it felt like some of the company culture was simply entropy. The takeaway for the team was that we had to get back to full company retreats twice per year. As expensive as it can be, it's necessary to pull the team together so everyone is working in the right direction.
At Crazy Egg, we're starting to do that more and more, and I could see us pushing for getting the entire company together, either in squads or across the entire company. It's going to become really important within the next six months.
OL: If you were interviewing a candidate who had never worked remotely before, what would make you say ‘yes' to hiring them at Crazy Egg?
SB: Sometimes, you can get a feel for how people work in a short interview. You ask them what their priorities are, how they're motivated, and what projects they like working on, which can help you get a clear idea. Some people may never have worked fully remotely before, but they might have experiences in environments where it's slightly more distributed, like in sales functions or design functions, where you can operate independently.
If they're intrinsically or personally motivated to work remotely, that's a key predictor of how successful they'll be. For me, I have two young kids, and the ability to take them to school and pick them up every day is the most motivating factor for me to work successfully remotely. I don't know how my wife and I would do it without the ability to work remote, and we don't know how the rest of the world does it. We feel blessed and lucky, and for that reason, I make the most of my working time because I know how much flexibility my work affords me.
For folks who don't have children or who don't have a significant other or who like the environment and the social aspect of working with others, remote work can become tricky. I don't think I've been as good at filtering that out in the past. Remote work sounds fun and romantic, because you can travel and do more with your free time, but some people miss the personal side of work. Their unique personal motivation would be a huge factor in the hiring decision if they hadn't worked remotely before.
The flip side is when working remotely is the silver bullet for someone. We've got some folks on the team who have interesting personal and family dynamics at play and, as a result of that, they need to be flexible to travel and to be away from an office for extended periods of time in remote locations around the world. When you can give that power and equip somebody with that flexibility to live the life they want outside of work, they become hooked for life.
It's such an intrinsic motivator and, as we know, monetary compensation only goes so far. When you can intrinsically connect with somebody and their values, like remote work can let you do in some cases, it's magic. And so for someone new, having some personal motivation for reasons why they want to do remote work is critical.
Everything takes a little bit longer to communicate, to evangelize, to share, and to get people to consume when you work remotely. As a leader, everything takes a little bit more work, and you have to be okay doing that work and asking questions to make sure everyone is on the same page.
OL: You make a great point about compensation. How valuable is your money if you can't live your life the way you want to with it?
SB: You nailed it, and more and more people are learning that. We've seen in economic theory for such a long time how quickly a promotion or salary increase becomes the norm. It becomes expected after a certain level of career progression, after which people quickly go back to either loving their work or not. That salary increase is minor as a motivating tool or company loyalty-building tool. We're just seeing that more and more.
What I love about millennials and Gen Z is that we can't distract them with money anymore. We have to inspire people with good work and showing them the value and impact of their work. I love that they're calling us on this. Money's not enough anymore. That tide is turning for other generations, too, which is why we're seeing remote work grow into an undeniable trend.
OL: As family and personal dynamics change, at least in the U.S., more people are taking care of their parents and more people are living with their family units as people age. Simultaneously, it's become so expensive to buy or rent in a city, or pay for childcare, and I think socioeconomic dynamics like these will push remote and flexible work forward, too. Forces from within the remote work movement and from external forcing functions of the global economy will make it even bigger.
SB: There's a popular, romantic story of remote work that I've mentioned, where we read about people who've made use of the flexibility to travel, relocate to different countries, and take advantage of the independence the remote work lifestyle affords. But, to your point, more and more of it is about finding a work environment that's functional for your needs. My wife is a complete and total badass at Prudential, and one of the reasons she loves it is because they're great about acknowledging that she needs to work from home one day a week. She wants to be home because it helps her find balance and spend more time with the kids. Big, established companies are feeling this tension too as it becomes necessary for people's work and personal lives to function.
OL: You worked at Help Scout in the past, and one of the things I admire about Help Scout is their home office benefit. It's a remote-only company, and employees get a one time-benefit to outfit their home office. It's a great example of building a strong, remote culture from the ground, up. What other ways can leaders build and scale company culture if people aren't seeing each other very often?
SB: Help Scout is a great model for remote culture. It's hard to fake company culture, and the leadership team is very authentic to themselves and to the employees. One of the things that stood out about Help Scout is that the founding team tended to be more introverted. As a result, creating a natural and authentic culture that allowed remote work to thrive was a natural part of their personalities. They didn't need to be around people for the team to work, and they hired like-minded people with similar levels of intrinsic motivation and independence. They implemented policies that worked for them and their environment and they were able to do that successfully because, as you learn with any company, the culture is 80% the CEO.
Until you hit 200 or 300 employees, the culture of a company is going to be dictated by the CEO. Having a CEO and a founding team and an executive team that naturally and authentically buy into remote work is your recipe for building a great culture. I've seen other companies try it, and because the CEO isn't bought in or doesn't thrive in that dynamic, they don't succeed. Culturally, you need top-down buy-in and structure and leadership and empathy for people working in a remote environment.
In the early days of Help Scout, they concentrated executive leadership in Boston, and you could feel the impact of the rest of the company being distributed around the world, while there was a cluster of important people in Boston. To remedy that, they actively broke up that cluster, and people literally moved to make sure they could maintain empathy with the rest of the company and maintain that remote culture, instead of feeling that cohort forming in Boston.
InVision does some amazing things to build a strong remote culture too, and the CEO had a vision very early on to have a director of employee happiness. That person is there to delight employees, pay attention to their needs, and find out what these people need to make their lives happy. It wasn't just about the cultural dynamic across the remote company and the rapport between employees – it was about knowing somebody was paying attention and taking deliberate steps to improve the employee experience.
It's also important for remote team leaders to raise and push on the social contract. People need to be available and getting their work done, but they shouldn't use the flexibility of remote work to be on all the time. Leaders can model this behavior by saying, here's when I'm available and here's when I'm not; here's when you should wait for me for a decision and here's when you can move on without me. The benefit to that is everybody starts communicating their schedule, their time zone, and when they're out of the office so the team can work productively together.
When everyone starts contributing to the culture of knowing who's on, who's not, and how to make decisions in a timely manner, you can ensure that your company culture supports the work you need to get done. When you don't know who's online, who's offline, and who's vacationing, you can't plan for contingencies or maintain team cadence and momentum.
Back to my time at Help Scout, whenever the former Head of Product was out of the office, you'd see his Slack name and then next to it would say "out of office" for his offline dates. When you tagged him in a Slack thread, you would see that he was out of office in the conversation, which nudged everyone to move forward without waiting to hear from him.
Little things like this create a productive working environment and culture. Leadership authentically buying in and acknowledging when the remote environment may be creating clusters and cohorts that aren't necessarily working is critically important. All employees need to feel like they're on a level playing field, no matter where they're located. Finally, you need a social contract around how you communicate and work together.
Having a CEO and a founding team and an executive team that naturally and authentically buy into remote work is your recipe for building a great culture. Culturally, you need top-down buy-in and structure and leadership and empathy for people working in a remote environment.
OL: To your point, it's easy to be constantly online when you work remotely and you work in a different time zone than your team. I'd love if you could share any wisdom you have for preventing burnout and reducing stress when you're in these high-visibility leadership positions with direct reports reaching out to you 24/7.
SB: Leading by example is important. If you look at my calendar, you'll see a block from 6:45 a.m. to 9 a.m, which is when I'm waking up with my kids, getting them ready, and taking them to school. I'm not doing any work between those hours. You'll see a similar block from 5:30 p.m. to 6 p.m. because I can only take a phone call during that time, and then another from 6 p.m. to 8:15 p.m., when I pick up my kids, have dinner with them, ideally read a bit and hang out, and then get them ready for bed. Those are untouchable times, so they're blocked on my calendar.
I'm available at most other times during the day, and I block off my personal time so people know it's okay for them to do. I tell people I have times when I'm not available and, as a result of that, hopefully people can decide for themselves to block off time to go to the gym, for example.
It's also important to pay attention. There are plenty of people I see working online on a Saturday night, so I'll ping them and ask them what they're working on. Other times, when I assign a task or send an email at night or over the weekend, I'll caveat it by explaining that folks don't have to respond until they're online the next day or the next week.
Leaders also need to be mindful of employees' vacation time and force them to take space and time away from work. Whatever your approach is to leadership, whoever is responsible for someone else should be pushing people to take vacations and take time off and disconnect from time to time.
I've had to force people offline for a day or two, and I've even threatened to disconnect their Slack and email to kick them off the system if they don't embrace their time away. Leading by example helps reinforce this. Leaders should be public and post in channels so employees know that you're taking time off so, hopefully, you create an environment where they feel okay doing it, too. If you're hiring the right people, you've got folks who are motivated, loyal, and doing incredible work The least you can do is look out for them and make sure they're finding space for themselves.
OL: How can hybrid teams work together successfully if there are some people together in a room and some people all around the world?
SB: Anything can work. It's about being honest about the weaknesses of your existing setup. Help Scout is a great example of this, because they identified that, because a cluster of some of the most important people in the company were working together in one room, many decisions were happening in that one room, or at least, it may have appeared to be so.
The leadership team was swift; they were so thoughtful about employee feedback, and they considered all of the factors and took direct steps to end that sentiment. That isn't always the case for everyone, but the principles are always the same: Who are those decision-makers around the table? Is it the four founders of the company? If that's the case, then realize you're going to have two classes of people, and you're not going to have decentralized decision-making.
There are some companies that are fine with that. The founders might still hold 100% of the equity and drive the success of the business, so it may fit the culture. But if you want to decentralize and democratize your organization, you have to realize that in the hybrid model, you're naturally going to create different dynamics and dimensions. There are practical ways to address that. Do some meetings take place with some people who can be co-located and some people remote and do you alternate? Are there some meetings where everybody has to dial in from a different office or a different room so everyone is on a level playing field?
If you're going to do the hybrid team model, the people who are in that co-located environment should be doing the extra work of reaching out and making sure remote team members feel like they are a part of the team. Every human-created problem is solvable. Leaders just need to acknowledge that the dynamics are different, and actively work to resolve it.
The people who say work has to be all remote or no remote are people who think all or nothing actually works -- with anything. The practical reality of the future of work is, most companies will do something in the middle, and simply try to be thoughtful. Leaders simply need to acknowledge that hybrid teams present a slightly different dynamic that you need to deliberately solve for. Anytime you can get people together, that's a good thing. We need more human interaction, not less. How you make it work for everyone on your team is the most important thing.
If you're going to do the hybrid team model, the people who are in that co-located environment should be doing the extra work of reaching out and making sure remote team members feel like they are a part of the team. Leaders just need to acknowledge that the dynamics are different, and actively work to resolve it.
OL: What needs to happen for remote work to advance to the next level, to the point where more people are working remotely part-time or full-time?
SB: It's a changing of the guard. Tech enables and equips all smart, strategic decisions, but at the end of the day, awareness needs to be improved. There's a lot of great tech to make remote work already, and the challenge isn't technological. We need a strategic and cultural shift, and there aren't many people who've grown up or managed in the remote working environment. As a result, there are a lot of myths about remote work that need to be broken, which technology can help do. It is a strategic consideration and problem, and when there's a changing of the guard, which is generational, it will happen at a larger scale.
This shift is already beginning with a new generation of people coming into the market. Millennials and Gen Z have different expectations and have grown up in houses where their parents weren't around for important events, and they don't want the same for their life and their family. The shift represents a reaction to the generation before us, in good and bad ways.
If there is a recession and a rise of the worker coming, we'll see these trends start happening faster. There's been a lot of power with the employer for a long time to hold wages steady and pull back on benefits as hiring people has become more competitive, and businesses have to lean in and create environments that work for the people who they're employing. All of those are the things that will drive the change and, when that happens, you need the best technology to equip it, and that's where collaboration and communication tools can help.
OL: What do you think the future of work will look like ten years from now and how does remote work fit into that?
SB: Ten years from now, I think we'll see more and more flexible remote work, but it'll be done better. We will have gotten our heads around things like burnout and expectations by then.
We're in a transition period of remote working right now, which is why people don't quite know how to manage some of the minutiae of remote work. I do think the biggest change in ten years will be that the worker, the talent, and the producer of work is going to have more authority than the employer. It's happened so fast that we may not have realized it, but whether it's bringing your own device or setting up flexible hours, small changes like this will continue to accelerate the rise of the worker. The best employers will be prepared for that future and planning for it now.
OL: There are tons of great tech jobs out there and people will leave if they're not happy with leadership or policies or partnerships, and we've started seeing that with customers leaving companies they're unhappy with, too. I hope the future holds that rise of the worker because it ends up creating a more equitable world for the customer, too.
SB: The one thing I always tell everyone I work with, my family, and my friends is that too often, people stay in jobs they're not happy with and give too much power to the employer. Under the current model, if your boss isn't happy with your work, they put you on a 90-day performance improvement plan and terminate you if it doesn't work. This model needs to be flipped, or at least, move from a one-way road to a two-way street.
If you're not happy with the work your boss is giving you, you should put your company on a performance improvement plan, and if they don't fix it in 90 days, fire your company and go get another job. It's something that is controversial, but it's something I've done a lot of in my career. I've been transparent and very deliberate about moving on to the next job when it's right for me, and I want that movement to grow.
OL: It's great to see that with remote work and just the growth of the tech stage is spreading so much that people don't feel as trapped because there's more flexibility and options.
SB: Remote companies always talk about finding the best employees and, as a result, they have to go remote, and you make a good point that people can find the best companies to work for around the world, too.
OL: What do you love most about what you do?
SB: I was a user of Crazy Egg for ten years before I came here, and I love the fact that I implicitly get the product. This cuts both ways, because I can sometimes be wrong about my own biases, but I love that I get the product and that there's an important, new place for it in the market. I love the team that I work with. We have some fantastic, smart people who care, and when I see the passion of some of these people working in such ridiculous ways to do things that are great for the company, I feel excited about that.
I also have a great board and great bosses to learn from. The mentoring I get from Hiten Shah and from Neil Patel is outstanding. I joke that people would pay tens of thousands of dollars for their advice, and I get it whenever I want it. They're always thoughtful about talking to me about my life, my work schedule, my lifestyle, and how I need to rein it in and be more present with my family.
All of that, and the fact that I get to work remotely. My daughter comes in my room at 6:45 every morning, and we get to hang out and read before she goes to school every day. What my job enables for me in terms of time with my family is amazing. With all those things put together, it's the dream job.
1. Remote work doesn't follow one clear-cut model.
Suneet reminds us that the remote work culture is a living, breathing model that is constantly changing in our current environment. You have to be open to feedback and willing to adapt. Getting to know your team members on an individual basis is key, and constant and clear communication is crucial. Finding ways to deliberately take action and check-in with your team is another important factor when working remotely. Additionally, remote work doesn't have to be an 'all or nothing' scenario. Hybrid teams can succeed; employers just have to be deliberate about making it work.
2. With new generations entering the workforce, we're seeing a more deliberate rise of the worker.
Oftentimes, workers give their employers too much power. If you're unhappy with your job, your company's policies and/or procedures, it's okay to move on. Let your employer know if you have suggestions or recommendations – if they don't make changes, find a more fulfilling job to better suit your individual goals and needs. The best companies are those that acknowledge this change and put policies into place that keep up with the current working trends.
3. Creating time for yourself is critical, and managers need to be mindful of that.
Suneet says he has threatened to kick folks off Slack and email if they don't take time for themselves. Sectioning blocks of time on your calendar for personal matters is absolutely okay, and it all starts with cues from the leadership team. Sometimes pushing people to take vacations and to take time off to disconnect is the best thing you can do.
To learn more, read our interview with Ryan Bonnici, CMO of G2, next.