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An Interview with Andrew Gobran Regarding Organizational Turnover in a Remote Setting

Transcription of interview with Andrew Gobran, People Operations Generalist - Doist, USA.

Research and Development Department

Mariana Guerra, Project Coordinator

Priyanka Seevaparsaid, Research and Development Coordinator

Renzo Vidaurre, Research and Development Coordinator

(November 16th, 2022)

00:00 Mariana Guerra: Before we start the interview, we'd like to thank you for

taking the time to join us here. Well, I am Mariana Guerra, the Project Coordinator

here in AnnexBox. Then we have Priyanka, who is the Research and Development


00:32 Priyanka Seevaparsaid: Hi Andrew. Nice to meet you.

00:34 Andrew Gobran: Okay, very nice to meet you too, Priyanka.

00:36 Mariana Guerra: And finally, we have Renzo, who is our Research and

Development Coordinator too.

00:40 Renzo Vidaurre: Hi, Andrew. It's a pleasure to have you with us today.

00:50 Andrew Gobran: Good to meet you.

00:55 Mariana Guerra: And well, before we start, we would like to make a short

introduction of ourselves. So, we are AnnexBox. We are in this business to craft and

implement technology that will make our clients work days easier, better, and

more enjoyable. Also, I would like to explain the purpose of this meeting.

So, the purpose of this interview is to gather information, gain valuable

knowledge, and hopefully create new knowledge on organizational turnover in a

remote setting. So before we start, please be sure your insight is of great value for

us. All information obtained here is studied, analyzed, and is used to create further

knowledge, based on your experience, and this will support organizations to retain

IT employees in a remote setting.

01:54 Andrew Gobran: Awesome. Happy to help. Thank you for the opportunity.

02:14 Mariana Guerra: Okay, awesome. So having said that, let's start with the first

question, and as I mentioned, we are AnnexBox and we are also a remote team

and global company. And as such, we have experienced firsthand what are the

challenges to retain high-caliber IT employees in a remote setting. But we would

like to ask you, based on your research and knowledge, what have you identified

to be the main or biggest challenges to retain high-caliber IT employees in a

remote setting?

02:48 Andrew Gobran: Great question. I'd say the biggest thing is employee

engagement, which seems like a very textbook answer, but it's something that

applies in any company, whether it's remote or not. But it's interesting when you

look at employee engagement in a remote context because, I think it becomes

even more challenging than in a traditional organization to nurture that

engagement in your team and to make sure, you know, you're really like drawing

those connections for the team since everyone is distributed. Especially when you

know you're not seeing people every day, and depending on what that remote

setup looks like for the company in particular, then, definitely like making sure

that employees feel connected to the company and understand their role and the

people they work with. And all of those day to day details can kind of make or

break that experience for an employee. And, ultimately either lead them to want

to continue being there and continuing to be part of that mission or to look

elsewhere to find that sort of connection.

04:24 Renzo Vidaurre: I have an extra question for you. So, you talk about

employee engagement, so how can businesses improve in this employment


04:49 Andrew Gobran: So, I think that the foundational elements of that are of

course having a clear mission, clear values, and communicating those very clearly

with the teams, so there's alignment around that. And I think that's something

that a lot of companies either don't invest enough time and energy into, or, you

know, they maybe think that, okay, our mission is written down or our values are

on our website so everyone knows where they are, but they may be present in the

day to day decision making communication, like the way people actually interact,

and so that can create a lot of disconnect. So, I think that, you know, the first thing

is, really making sure that there's alignment around like, why are we all here in this

company? What are we trying to do? How do we do it? And, kind of, what are the

values that are driving all of that work and those interactions on a day to day basis.

From there, really empowering managers after that to, like, to be aware of that

high level. The goal and the high level connection, but then, taking that to the

team level and then, being able to see those values manifested in the day to day

from, you know, how people talk to one another, how they treat one another, how

they make decisions, how decisions are made not to move forward with

something. Like, all of those things really tie into really engaging employees and

allowing them, and enabling them to kind of see how they fit into that bigger

picture, and what role they're playing, and what impact they're having.

06:42 Mariana Guerra: Thanks, Andrew, for that answer, and yeah, definitely.

Communication is one of the biggest challenges here, that human

communication, it's very difficult and sometimes that makes people feel alone at

work. So they prefer not to work remotely. Okay, now let's go with the next question. So,

what have you identified to be the main solutions to retain high-caliber IT

employees in a remote setting?

07:14 Andrew Gobran: I'd say developing a rich organizational culture, and that

kind of ties back to what we just talked about with, you know, the clarity around

values and mission and vision and all of that. I think when all of that is translated

into the culture itself and, people feel that they're part of something really unique

and something really rich that's not just like I show up to work every day and, you

know, I do whatever I'm asked to do and then, I check out at the end of the day,

and that's that. Really feeling like you're connected to something bigger than

yourself, I think is a really special feeling that can drive so much more

engagement beyond, just like people showing them to get a job done, like they

will really go like above and beyond what is being asked of them and proactively

see how they can add value to the team. And so as you’re thinking about that, of

course, like it's not just about the work and about the culture, but identifying ways

to continue rewarding the team, along that path of doing that work together. You

know of course compensation is kind of, always, a taboo subject because there’s

so many ways to look at it, but obviously to the degree that any company can, like,

really thinking about their compensation structure, how they're rewarding people

for the work that they do for the growth that they have on the team, and also

providing those opportunities to grow within the company. All of those things

kind of create that environment where people feel like they're not going to

stagnate and, essentially the company is evolving as they evolve. So, as they grow,

they have opportunities to apply those skills that they have to take on leadership

roles if that's something they aspire towards or to become leads in, in their areas of

expertise. Finally, creating space for connection beyond just the work, obviously,

that everyone can connect over. But creating space for distributed remote

interaction that's just purely for the sake of people getting to know one another

and to connect on things that interest them. But also in person opportunities,

which, you know, when you're thinking about remote work and can be like, okay,

well, why would you do that if we're remote? But, I'd say even for Doist for

example, like my organization, we invest a lot of effort into creating opportunities

for people to connect beyond work and that includes like remote opportunities

where it could be simple coffee chats or different remote games, or discussions or

it could be like company retreats for example where a couple of times a year we’ll

try to get everyone together, you know, meet up somewhere in the world because

we’re distributed all over the world and you know, just have that opportunity to at

least spend that time together both for work and just for connection.

11:04 Mariana Guerra: Yes, definitely compensation and also motivation. It's very

important in remote work. And as you mentioned, the advantage of remote work

is that you can work with people all over the world, but it's important that, for

example, let's say a company, actually we do this here at AnnexBox. We have

people from all over the world. Priyanka is from South Africa, Renzo, and I are from

Peru, from Lima. So once a month, people from Peru and Lima we meet, and we

have happy hours and we go to a coffee shop or to a bar or just to have a

barbecue. So that makes us feel a little bit closer to our teammates.

11:46 Andrew Gobran: That's so cool. Yeah. So you meet once a month?

11:49 Mariana Guerra: Yeah, once a month. We do that and well, for people that are

in different countries, like Priyanka, we have virtual happy hours and we use that

space, for example, to have a TED Talk to talk about something different, about

work for getting to know us a little bit more.

11:46 Andrew Gobran: That's awesome.

12:11 Mariana Guerra: Yea, and the third question, please, Renzo. Awesome.

And what have you identified to be the main triggers of organizational turnover in

a remote setting?

12:21 Andrew Gobran: That’s a fun question. So, these are in no specific order

because I feel like they all kind of have their own influence, but I'd say long

standing issues that are left unresolved within the team or maybe for a particular

individual. And that can both be due to a company not taking the time to really

dig in to see, like, what are the challenges that are happening on the team. What

is challenging the team's engagement and how can we fix those things? So, either

not asking at all or asking and not taking any action can both be very damaging.

Everytime you’re putting a team in position where they don’t feel heard or they

don’t feel like their challenges are acknowledged can be a very difficult position to

put them in because you know, if they don’t feel like they’re valued by the

company, then over time people lose faith that things can improve and the

company will continue to be at a place that they can thrive in, and of course when

someone gets to that point, then, you know, naturally they start to explore what

else is out there and where they might be able to thrive better. So that's one thing.

I think in general, lack of room for growth can be a very difficult thing for a lot of

people. Most people have some desire to grow professionally or just to be able to

take on new challenges and also to kind of be rewarded accordingly based on the

value they're adding. So, for companies that are growing, like, making sure that

they have clear, both an employee growth framework and also clear

communication around what performance looks like and what it means to grow

within the team and how to do that. It kind of creates that momentum for people

to feel like they're able to continue to learn and grow within the company. Another

thing would be burnout which, you know, is obviously like a big challenge,

especially in a remote setting. I see you all smiling so I know you’re like “yup!” And

that is a responsibility that is shared between each individual and the company as

well, like it should, responsibility and ownership to manage that.

So, on the company's side, making sure that they're creating realistic goals, a

healthy work environment, and making sure that they’re providing resources and

space for the team to rest, to not constantly be working, to take time off, all of that

stuff. And then also on the individual, when you're remote, that requires a lot of

personal responsibility and management. So, as individuals kind of taking

responsibility for self-care and for communicating your bandwidth and when

there’s too much going on and when you need to take time off and all that stuff

just to make sure that you're not getting to that point where, you're like kind of

reaching that point of desperation where you've gone past, ‘alright I can't recover

this’. Like the only way is to get out, which can obviously be very challenging, and

then I'd say the last thing would be creating a culture of transparency within the

company, which again, ties back to communication. And I think, when people feel

like they have a clear view and understanding of how decisions are made and can

even get insight into conversations that are happening among leadership and

that sort of thing. It can really help keep them connected to what's going on. But

there are companies where there’s a lot of secrecy, and decisions that happen

behind closed doors or that are decisions that are made without any clear

justification or connection to mission and values are very, in a way, isolating for

employees. They feel like they're not part of what's going on, like they're being

handed these decisions and also they're not able to kind of feel like there's a sense

of ownership there that's collected, and that again can alienate people from

feeling connected to the company. And ultimately like, want to explore leaving.

Yes, that was a mouthful. Do you have any questions or follows?

18:04 Mariana Guerra: No questions, but yeah, definitely I agree with the burnout

because like how it is remote. I think the main issue is that you are in your own

house, so it's difficult to separate work from your personal life because like you

turn around and it's your desk there, or you can be in your bed and you can start

working there and it's, like, no you have to take your time. So that's a big issue.

18:31 Andrew Gobran: Yeah. It can be hard to maintain those lines of separation

between work and life and other parts of your life. So, yeah, I've definitely, like, even

personally I have seen people leave just because they literally just had the urge to

constantly work and they couldn't get away from it. And they ultimately just found

the only ways to, you know, to get out of this and potentially explore a more

traditional setup where there is a physical separation.

19:08 Mariana Guerra: Yeah, absolutely. That happens to me. Like I already finished

working. I can do other stuff, but I receive an email, you know, I sit down at my

desk and I start working and then in a blink of an eye three hours have passed.

19:28 Andrew Gobran: Right, you’re like; “why did I do this to myself?”

19:34 Mariana Guerra: Yea, exactly. Now let's go with the next question, how do

you identify the right high-caliber IT candidate during a virtual job interview for a

remote setting position?

19:51 Andrew Gobran: I spend a lot of time in hiring, so this is a fun question. So I

think building a rich hiring process is such an important thing, especially in a

remote setting. Of course hiring is important in any company, but with remote

you have some unique challenges where you may be not meeting candidates in

person or like inviting them to an office to meet. So there's a lot more that can go

unseen or unidentified without that context. So, for us at Doist the biggest thing

is, designing a multi-stage process that really gives you a holistic view of the

candidate, and for us that is both, identifying their motivation, their role related

skills, they’re both hands on and knowledge based and kind of exploring their

values and then exploring those people skills or remote work skills that are going

to be important for them to thrive in a remote setting. And so you could have a

very technically skilled candidate, but they just don't have a skillset to operate in a

remote setting and that becomes really challenging because you are like, okay,

well this candidate would be great on a technical level, but they can't

communicate writing very effectively. So that will pose some challenges, kind of

creating a process that touches on all of those things, is really important because

it gives you insight into all of that before you know you're hiring someone and

bringing them on. And it also gives them a very hands-on understanding of how

the company functions. For my context, we are async first, so most of our

communication happens in writing, so of course written communication is super

critical, and so the very first thing is with the application is a set of questions that

people that we ask candidates to kind of provide written responses for. And so

that kind of gives them the insight into, okay, written communication is very

important, and then based on our assessment all of that we can tell, okay, this

person is able to communicate in a clear and succinct way that, you know, it

doesn't lack of clarity or anything versus a candidate where, you know, maybe they

write you like a 10 page novel to answer a question. You're like, okay, this might not

work in a normal working setting but providing all of those elements really helps

gain insight into the candidate and I think that the biggest thing beyond

technical skills, is getting a sense of whether the candidate is able to manage

themselves. Like do they have this kind of bias towards, I'm going to organize my

time and I'm going to, you know, I know how to prioritize my commitments and

also bias towards action, right? Because depending on the remote setup it's

possible that you know some of your colleagues are not working at the same time

as you were or maybe like you just aren’t constantly around each other to be able

to get guidance or to get answers, questions answered, or to collaborate on things

together so kind of seeing that someone has advice towards action where they're

comfortable either making a decision where they are able to do that to like, keep a

project moving forward, or that they kind of have that ability to say, okay, this is

something that I need more input on, so I'm going to set it aside once I've gone as

hard as I can go then I'm going to shift gears and work on this other thing that I

have, like a clear runway to work on whereas some people are maybe very

uncomfortable and not kind of having their hands out along any sort of task or

project. And that can be very problematic and a remote setup because you just

don't have that luxury. I guess to have someone alongside you all the time to

provide that and then again, communication is so important, it really makes or

breaks someone's ability to be successful in a remote setting. Both written, verbal,

all kinds of communication. I've definitely seen that be both a source of thriving

for a team and also a source of tension and misalignment when it’s clear that

when those foundational elements aren’t there.

25:47 Mariana Guerra: Yes, definitely. Nowadays soft skills play an important role in

the virtual job. And I have seen people with really, really good hard skills, but soft

skills and it's like, sorry. You cannot work here. Yes, Renzo, you have a question?

26:06 Renzo Vidaurre: So, I have a question for adding that. So, it's better to have

good communication skills rather than technical skills?

26:20 Andrew Gobran: So everything is definitely a balance. Like, I wouldn't say

that, okay, if you have someone that communicates really well, but you know,

they're technically far from what you're looking for, then, take a chance unless

that's something that you feel like you wanted to of course. But I would say, I

would treat those kinds of working skills or those people skills as prerequisites to

the technical skills. So even as I like to give you some insight into how our hiring

process works, the very first thing that I do when I'm screening applications is I

review the written responses to see that there's like a foundational value

alignment, and that there's a clear motivation there to join the company. And that

the written communication is clear and if any of those things isn’t there then we

decline the candidate before we even looked at their experience, at the skills, at

their technical skills and some people might see that as a very harsh approach but

for us, when we're thinking about that we actually to be able to have the technical

skills we're looking for, but also we need to be able to like, work together

effectively, and so like treating those things as kind of not either or but as like

prerequisites almost can help frame that process in a way that ensures that you're

not undervaluing the technical skills, but you're still making sure that, you know,

those skills are met with the correct working skills to help that person be

successful, because ultimately, it kind of comes down to the company can’t be

successful if that person can’t do all those things effectively, but also, the

individual will struggle a lot if they don’t know how to communicate effectively or

if they aren’t able to self-manage like they will just kind of find themselves in a

very difficult place where you know, they don’t thrive and that ultimately you know

it’s not a good setup for them And that’s kind of setting them up for failure unless

you have a process in which you kind of train people to kind of develop those skills

alongside their onboarding.

29:13 Renzo Vidaurre: Thank you for the answer.

29:20 Mariana Guerra: Thanks, Andrew and thanks Renzo for that question. Now

let's go to the next question, and how do you keep a possible high-caliber IT

candidate interested in the position while the hiring process is being done


29:33 Andrew Gobran: The biggest thing I'd say is transparency. Again, it's always

interesting how a lot of the internal strategies apply even when you're dealing

with people externally, so transparency on the process, like the timeline as much

as can be done, I think makes a big difference. Because a lot of times candidates

are left in the dark and they just kind of feel like they're waiting around and don't

know when they're going to hear back what the next step is going to be. Like any

of those things, it’s amazing how enhanced the process can feel, and you just

share all of that stuff up front with the candidate and they have an idea, they're

not left guessing or waiting, wondering what's going to happen. And so again

alongside that is communication, you've probably gotten sick of hearing about

communication but kind of like maintaining that line of communication with

candidates for our process. I'm usually kind of the red thread that always

maintains connection with each candidate as they're going through the process.

And so getting them set up to meet with the next interviewer or touching base

with them after they've interviewed just to let them know that, hey here's what's

going to happen now, as a reminder and here’s when you should be hearing back

from me about the outcome of this round, and all of that just reinforces the value

that communication and transparency has within the company so candidates feel

like alright, this company isn’t just talking about these things being important but

they’re actually living them and practicing them and that does a lot to reinforce

those values. And then finally just taking a people-centric approach. I think hiring

is such a great opportunity to help candidates learn more about your company

and to help them. And it is in fact where onboarding actually starts, it's not on

someone's first day, it's actually during the hiring process because from the time

they submit their application, they're already learning about how the company

thinks, how they operate, what their values are, they're meeting people from

within the company. And so companies that kind of take that approach of like,

alright, we haven't identified who we're hiring yet, but assuming that the person

that we're going to hire is in this batch of candidates, we need to make sure that

they feel like they already feel connected, that they feel respected and that they

can already start to see themselves as being part of the company. And so, kind of

providing those personal touches whether it's taking five minutes at the

beginning of the interview just to break the ice with the candidate and get to

know where they’re from, how they’re doing, asking them about their week and

just adding those elements to the process can make a big difference. Of course in

any hiring process, most of the candidates don't get an offer, but what I've found

is, even like making sure that those individuals feel deeply respected and feel like

they aren't just treated as a number or, you know, just as a disposable resource.

I think what makes a big difference even when they don't get that offer in the end

is that they still feel like, all right, I would love to try this again in the future. You

know, maybe after I've developed my skills more, if that was the barrier. Or they

still feel like, I'm upset that I didn't get an offer, but I respect the company a lot for

treating me the way that they did and for carrying out the process the way they

did and so I would definitely do it again and it's cool to see in my experience, like

we hear that a lot from candidates and we have a lot of candidates that reapply,

even if they didn't get it the first time and those become future potential hires or

just evangelists that might attract other people to apply at the company, even if

they don't themselves, get the opportunity.

34:32 Mariana Guerra: Yes, well definitely communication needs to be the base of

everything, especially in a remote setting, it's very important. Okay, now let's go

with the last question. And the last question, do you perceive or have you

experienced that high-caliber IT employees from overseas are more likely to

remain longer in their positions?

34:58 Andrew Gobran: This is an interesting question and I thought about it a lot

and I didn't know exactly, I didn't have the right answer because, and maybe this is

due to the context that Doist works in, so we're a borderless company like we're

registered in the US but the company started in Europe and we really don't have

any, we have no restrictions on location. Currently we have people in 33 different

countries, which is really cool just to have that much cultural diversity. I can't say

that I've noticed any specific trends related to people in this region seem to stick

around longer versus people in this region. But I will say that in general it's

important as a company and, for me working in HR in people operations, keeping

a pulse on what's important to people and what their needs are and then kind of

providing that voice to the leadership and to say okay, here are the needs that we

should explore meeting or if we can't meet them, to at least, see what we can do to add, continue adding value to the team. And, and I think some of those needs

can definitely be influenced by cultural norms or just values from various regions.

So I think it's definitely possible to see trends that are related to the regions that

employees are coming from, but I think in general it's really good to approach the

kind of retention with a very exploratory lens of really trying to understand, what

does my team need? And even predicting what might they need in six months

that we don't know yet, that we should already start thinking about. So that when

we get to that point, we're not reacting to people's needs as they come, but we've

already anticipated and are kind of meeting them right at the time that they need

that thing or have that desire to make sure that they feel supported and engaged

in what the company's doing.

37:31 Mariana Guerra: Great! Well, we are at the end of this meeting. Thank you so

much, Andrew, for these answers. They're very valuable to us and we have learned

a lot. Thank you for taking the time to be here with us. We'll keep in touch and

well, that will be all from my end. Thank you so much, Andrew. Have a nice day.

37:56 Andrew Gobran: Thank you as well. And feel free, like I know you recorded

this so you can go back to it, but if you think of any other questions that come up

or like any clarification questions you have, feel free to email me or I'm also more

than happy to meet again. This was a great experience and I enjoyed chatting with

all of you. So thank you again.

—End of Interview—


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