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Flexible work Podcast

FLEX Episode 7: Facilitating Employee Productivity & Engagement Among Today’s Global Workforce

FLEX Episode 7: Facilitating Employee Productivity & Engagement Among Today’s Global Workforce
 

 

Alex Campanelli:

Welcome to Flex, a podcast by Fuze. As a leader in the cloud communications space, we've been passionate about the future of work for over a decade. Join us as we discuss the future of flexible work with industry leaders and subject matter experts. Thanks for tuning in, and let's get started.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Hi everyone. Welcome to Flex, a podcast by Fuze. I'm your host, Alex Campanelli. Today, I'm talking with Dmitriy Peregudov, Founder and CEO of Giftsenda, about how companies can ensure that employee experience and engagement don't suffer in the wake of COVID-19, and how that ultimately ties to their productivity. Dmitriy, welcome.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Thanks for having me, Alex.

 

Alex Campanelli:

How has COVID been, for you both personally and at Giftsenda?

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Yeah, of course personally, it has been a difficult time, especially in the beginning where the whole thing started back in March last year. We had some scary warning signs in the business, we were getting ready for a lot worse, but then all of a sudden it actually went the opposite way, and we've seen a big uptick in the demand for our service and products.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

We feel lucky to be on the side, at least on the business side, where we do see some positivity there. Of course there's a lot of negativity in the world these days, it's nice to see all of the positives there.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, absolutely. And I want to touch on the fact that Giftsenda, I believe, has always been a remote and distributed workforce. Tell us about your inspiration for founding the company and how you got started.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Sure. It started a while back, initially was a very separate e-commerce project, which was focusing on delivering flowers and gifts online. It was an e-commerce play. It was focused on helping people connect worldwide personally, or business-wise as well, to help them build relationships. That was really the purpose all along.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

And we were doing it by helping people send something across the world quickly, easily. We're not shifting immediately to an international business where it was focusing on mostly Western world, but they later got on worldwide. We switched service to other countries worldwide. And that got us to where we are today. With Giftsenda, there were corporations using our platform to connect with the prospects, to build loyalty, to increase sales and drive engagement.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, I think that's a great mission. And so you have this permanently distributed global workforce. When you're onboarding new employees, how do you think about creating an optimal experience for them, where they can get to know their colleagues and understand the mission of the company that you founded?

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

That's an excellent question and quite a challenging one as well to answer. Well, first of all, we've always been distributed from the start and that of course sets us for a challenge. But also from the very beginning what we were doing, we were hiring people overseas, many different countries. Today, we have people from roughly 16 different countries, worldwide. Majority of them work from home and the setup that we have is really about making sure everyone feels home being at the company both in a literal way and an emotional way. Now back to your question with onboarding. The onboarding part is really about making sure from day one, they understand what it is that we value in our culture, our core values. There are few that really care about. And from very beginning, we want to make sure that the people we hire are the right ones to match those.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

And if that's the case, then it goes really easy from then on. As far as connecting with one another, when people are similar, have similar interests or they're different but still certain right direction they go to together then it's much easier for them to engage with one another and connect. And so we really pay close attention to who these people are, who we hire. And we're quite picky these days. In the beginning, we were perhaps not as picky and make our mistakes, but nowadays we no longer hiring on skill, we're hiring on fit, cultural fit. And that really helps to make sure our process of onboarding is way smooth. We do things around video meetings, movie nights, socials that we gather people from different countries, and we share about their life, share about their experience here, the first few days, and really try to get them feel home from way beginning. They actually are home. That's not that difficult.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, absolutely. And I think I know the answer to this next question, because it sounds like you're being really smart and thoughtful about the hires that you're making in terms of cultural fit, like you mentioned, but do you feel inherently the company culture has suffered at all at Giftsenda because you decided to be a remote first company?

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

I believe the culture... we never looked at the other way to do it. I worked in a number of companies in the US where head company office, where I never really spent a single day working from home. It wasn't really part of the culture, wasn't part of the setup and frankly, number of different size companies, medium or large companies, small, different sizes. But frankly speaking, I can’t recall culture being all that great in those places. And most of the places I worked in there was actually quite the opposite.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Perhaps, I wasn't fortunate enough to actually work at the place where I was physically in the office where the culture was all that great. So I really refocused the company per se, where I was part of. I've learned by doing and we've broken some prior to getting where we are today. Our culture wasn't great from day one, but over time we've learned, what makes the right fit, right culture for people and what we should focus on. And with that, I really don't know how to answer that because I don't think we know the other way.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Right. That's fair.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Yeah.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah. That's absolutely fair. Let's talk a little bit more in detail about the actual policies or structures that you've put in place to facilitate employee engagement and productivity. I know that you have global employee retreats, I believe, in person that you've facilitated. What other things are you putting in place to make sure that your employees are engaged?

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Certainly. Lately our workforce had grown quite a bit. We were initially family-style operation with less than 10 people a while back, migrated to 25, 30 people at a small group, and then went to the village size. And now we're maybe a large village if you will, or other people.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

It's a very different dynamic, of course. With COVID, we actually doubled in size respect to a number of team members. That obviously puts a lot of pressure on the way we operate in respect to culture and how we engage with one another. Also diversity of the people are just quite a bit. Those are all challenges. Now with solutions, we've started doing a lot of things, a lot more things connecting people to one another in a social way. For example, we do pizza parties where people get together on a monthly or bi-monthly basis, not necessarily with their groups, but with other group members across teams to learn about each other, about who we are.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

And so wine parties are where people basically get together and the company sponsors those. We buy wine, we buy food, and we basically get together, we talk. Not about work as much as just about life. We do movie nights nowadays, where we basically pick a movie or someone recommended and everyone else perhaps either watched or haven't and we watch it together. We discuss what we feel about it and really enjoy the conversation in an informal way. And it certainly goes during the work hours. We try to make time during the work time to really learn about each other as people. And those are really virtual events. But the flagship event that we've had for many years now is the one that really puts names to faces, right? Some people worked here for two or three years but they’ve never gone out of the cave, so to speak.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

And so those events where we actually get people out of the cave would go to one country, sometimes we go through a couple countries per year. We gather a group of around 20 to 30 people in one country and we basically socialize a lot. We play games, we listen to music, we learn from each other. We do some of the team building stuff. Maybe 28% we actually work during those trips, do some work meetings. But I would say a majority of time... It's a whole week event. It's basically the company pays for it. People go and travel to one picked country that we get to go to. Last year, we had to skip because the COVID and we were miserable because of that.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

And everyone was like, when is that happening again? And this year, we're actually doing three trips. We've done one in Russia. We've done one in Mexico and we're doing one in Ukraine. And a couple years ago, we did all the European places like Montenegro, Cyprus, Georgia, Armenia, and we did New Hampshire recently as well. All over the map really. And we just pick the place where most people haven't gone to yet. And we just send our jets there. And yeah.

 

Alex Campanelli:

I think that's great. It sounds like you guys are really intentional about using those week-long retreats in person to have that as interpersonal bonding time versus too much work the other direction. I think that's awesome. Given all that, given all the things you've put into place, the measures that you've put into place to make sure that your workforce stays engaged and they feel close to each other and they get to know each other. What's your advice for traditional companies who are still struggling with the journey towards either becoming permanently distributed or being distributed for right now and keeping their employees engaged?

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

I think I would suggest rewinding a bit and kind of going to the roots. Where companies are larger, of course, it's much more difficult because there a lot processes that are already established and built on, on top, but we sometimes we need to go back to the roots and the basis. Quite difficult to rebuild the house without do foundations properly. If there's a real crack, there's issue, we got to go back and move the top part aside and then redo the foundation and then we build that, right? That's easier said than done when there's a larger company and the culture is hurting, you got to go back and fix it and really work on it. We've seen a lot of great examples of companies and featured in books like “Delivering Happiness” by Tony Hseih, the Zappos guy, and [the book] “Good to Great” and the bigger companies where they've made the leap from being just decent or a good company to really being astonishingly amazing.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

And I think those examples were all real things and they were sustainable and they took a while, but they all started from a culture. And I think going back to the culture, figuring out what the values are, the values of the management team are, leadership team, and going to people and understanding what their values are. To be like who fits those values or who doesn't and really making hard choices. Keeping the people are great and then perhaps parting with people who aren't great and figuring out the whole culture thing and building on top of that. It is much more painful when the larger organization hasn’t taken that time and going back it does hurt. At some point we had lose some people and we were able be small still, perhaps 50 people or so when we realized what needed to be done. And I think today we are much more clearer on who we are, where we are going and the kind of people we want to be associated with and hire.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah. I think that's a great quote. You can't build the right kind of house unless you have the right foundation. I think it's true when it comes to company culture. Last question, one year from now, what do you think the employee experience at Giftsenda will look like? Do you imagine your employees will still be as productive as they are today and engaged as they are today?

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

We are genuinely challenged with the new size we are. We feel that we need to come up with more and more ways to keep engaged, keep everyone engaged in this. We haven't actually had any HR for a number of years, until maybe last year, when we finally made a conscious effort to actually have an HR department. Now the goal of these guys is to really make sure this engagement is more formalized. And so I'm way optimistic about where we are today. We're much more mindful of what we're doing as supposed to be reactive or going with the gut. We're actually much more purposeful. Now we understand our purpose. We understand our purpose of connecting people and building relationships is really in everyone's mind and I think that higher purpose of organization really translates into how people are engaging with the brand internally.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

And it means for them to work here, right? It's not just about money position or career growth. It's really more about why we exist and why they exist as part of it. They want to connect as being part of something bigger, and I think that that fact represents our core values is really what allows people to really feel being home as part of Giftsenda. Very optimistic. Yeah, despite the size and still growing I'm quite optimistic of where we are going and how it's going to unfold. I used to be very nervous about what if I don't hire people myself, what if I don't interview someone.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Today, I don't interview almost anybody and the clients we’re getting are amazing when people are just right, just because we finally figured out who it is we are looking for and every department and every... Doesn't matter where you join you got to be a certain kind of person to work here. And I think that already is not my job anymore and that's through the management team and below, and I think that's really working on their own. I think that's a huge accomplishment that the leadership team made so that everyone is sure that we know we are attracting and the right people coming in. I think that's really what matters most going forward.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Yeah, that's a huge testament to your leadership and your company culture being so strong that hiring process could be turned over to a select group of people. And you feel like you're still getting the right fit for the company. I think that's great. Exactly. I think that's about all the time we have for today's chat, Dmitriy. I want to thank you for talking with me and thank everyone else for listening.

 

Dmitriy Peregudov:

Of course. Thanks a lot for great questions and for the opportunity once again.

 

Alex Campanelli:

Thanks again for listening to Flex, a podcast by Fuze. Be sure to subscribe to the show on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Google Podcasts and rate and review us. For more information, visit fuze.com and follow us on social media at @fuze. See you next time.