Zoom's Derek Pando On The Future Of Remote Work
This year has been the world's largest ever impromptu remote work experiment. Most of us have done more than our fair share of remote working in 2020 and enjoyed the benefits, as well as some of the drawbacks, of turning our homes into our place of work.
To discuss this seismic shift in the way businesses operate, I talked with Derek Pando, head of international and partnership marketing at Zoom, at the Wild Digital conference. During the discussion, we discussed the future of remote work as well as the unique challenges faced by Zoom’s leadership this year as they work to keep the world connected. Here's a few highlights of that conversation.
We’re finally ready for the era of remote work. The pandemic saw to that.
“We've been learning how to collaborate in person since humans existed, but collaborating virtually is still relatively new to us. And because so many people still had the in-person collaboration option, remote work was never being adapted as quickly as everyone predicted. For years, they were saying, ‘This is the year.’ But what really changed is we had a forced worldwide experiment [in remote working] that meant that we had to learn and people didn't have a choice. I don't know if we've completely figured it out yet, but I do know that our ability as a global economy to innovate virtually is improving drastically day by day as we continue through this.”
Remote work enables more flexible schedules—and that benefits productivity.
“I think the main benefit is flexibility. If you're able to maintain productivity, people should be able to work whatever schedule works for them. One of the changes I've seen too is that people are more global now. As people are working more globally and across different time zones, that's a necessity anyways. Remote work is making that easier and it’s making it more natural—you don't have an advantage to being in the office anymore in those situations.”
We’ll come to learn how to communicate more authentically via video call. (And if not, the pirate hats will help.)
“We just introduced different kinds of filters on Zoom. We've got to find ways to replace the fun, the personal, the ‘Hey, let's chat at lunch’ or ‘Hey, let's take a minute and talk about something not work-related that builds bonds and helps us be more human at work.’ And so I think you're going to see more of that. We're going to find ways to help people connect and try to replicate some of the water cooler experiences that really brought people together in the office.”
On Zoom’s social mission and unprecedented growth in 2020
“[The pandemic] is a black swan event for the world, but also for us as a company. I work on our markets outside the US and [in the early days of the pandemic] I was tracking what was happening across Asia. I would literally wake up every day and just see explosions of usage country by country, and it would follow the lockdowns. In December of last year, the most daily meeting participants we had on any given day was 10 million. Fast forward to April of this year, and we were at 300 million daily meeting participants. So in a matter of weeks, we scaled more than 30 times. Even in the early days, we felt the enormous weight and responsibility of that. It was really interesting, because no one talked to me about my Zoom shirt at the grocery store until earlier this year!
“It became a mission, because when you go 30x you are not ready. You don't have the right people. We haven't been able to hire fast enough. But I think what's kept me going and many of us going at Zoom is that we feel like we're keeping the world going, and that motivates us beyond just, ‘Hey, great, we have new users.’ This is our moment to support the world, and we're doing our best to rise to the occasion.”
How to lead in a crisis
“From a leadership perspective, I think you have to start with empathy and understanding that there is a lot of other stuff going on in people's lives. And by starting there and trying to ask a real ‘How are you?’, I think has helped.
“We've tried to rally the company to our higher mission. It's easy to look at what's on your plate workwise and say, ‘Oh my gosh, this is overwhelming. We can never do all this.’ But then breaking it down to the stories of how people’s lives are changing because of our business [is really motivating]. We started a chat group called ‘Cool Inspiring Stories’ where if we saw something in the news about someone using Zoom that inspired us or was innovative or made us shed a tear, we put it in there. And that was kind of fuel for us to keep going when we were understaffed and working 24/7.”