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Reflections from Zappos Employees

Leading a Remote Team

Maintaining Normalcy

In the early twentieth century, President Warren Harding popularized the word “normalcy” with his slogan, “return to normalcy”. It was all about getting Americans back to work after World War I. As we all sit here with uncertainty, frustration, and curiosity about COVID-19 and how it will change the world and business as we know it, the importance of doing as much as we can to feel normal is important for all of us, just like it was then. Thinking about normalcy as a whole can be overwhelming, but it’s the little things we can do to help us create and maintain feelings of normalcy - like taking a look at the three things we miss most about our in-office routine and taking a next action to mimic or redefine them; it’s those small, but very human moments, like grabbing coffee or a drink with a colleague, or having a walking/running meeting with a co-worker that we can still plan into our day-to-day. It’s knowing that just because it’s different now, doesn’t mean we can’t bring back the way these things made us feel, or creating new norms that make us feel a little more comfortability and serenity in this new world. It just takes a shift of mindset, a desire and a little work to accomplish it. 

In this time, it’s also important for us to be mindful of others. Working remotely often feeds into an “out of sight, out of mind” mentality. It requires all of us to be more attentive to the needs of others. In many cases, people are searching for normalcy and comfort just like you and me, and in other cases, people just want to get their sh*t done! Just like we did when we were in the office, it’s helpful to set perimeters with our teams around when we need to get some work done (like when we have those headphones on) and when it’s time to play and engage (4pm team punchy time). It just takes an open conversation with your team to bring this visibility (and new norms) to the surface.

We know the experts are saying that it’s bound to get worse before it gets better, but the things we do today to create “normalcy” will no doubt help us adapt to however the world changes in the future.

1:1 Check Ins

As leaders, it’s more important than ever that we realize our jobs require more than just checking the box, “Checked in with our peeps”. Checking in requires us to be more curious, to dive a bit deeper, to learn something more about what makes our people tick, but also realize what doesn’t and where they could use our support and direction. Part of this is understanding that our people won’t always come to us and explicitly say, “I’m struggling here!”. Heck, some of them won’t even know they are. It’s our role to realize when something is off, then ask the right questions to help discover the root causes of these challenges so we can help guide our people past them, one action at a time. Not only do we help our people and teams become better versions of themselves, but we build a whole lot of trust along the way and possibly find some all-stars on our teams that can help mentor others.

Transparency is Key

At this point, most of us have been working from home for a while now. By trial and error, it’s likely that many of us have improved on our WFH experiences. Whether it be establishing new strategies for productivity, following new personal routines, and/or proactively engaging with other people in a more meaningful (but digital) way, hopefully we’re all starting to feel just a little bit better about our new reality than when we started.

As Lead Links, part of our responsibility is to help our teams feel the same, meaning, we also need to intently think about how we can help our teammates flourish in this environment. Natasha brings up a great point about the importance of keeping both individual and collective communication top of mind. Ultimately, if we’re mindful about consistently delivering information to our teams and making people feel like they’re part of a team and not lost on a remote island somewhere, we make things a lot easier ourselves (and our teams). It doesn’t have to be all at once, but take just one next action to reflect on the information you received today and if someone (or everyone) on your team should know it as well, then share. Then commit to making it a more regular habit.

Beginner's Mindset

Embracing a beginner’s mindset (or a growth-mindset) seems pretty straight forward and easy to execute on. After all, every one of us has been a “beginner” of everything we’re currently good at, so we clearly have a lot of experience! But at times, taking on the new and truly embracing & driving change can be more frustrating than any of us cares to admit, especially when times get a bit complex or when reality throws a monkey wrench, like leading a work from home staff out of nowhere. Even when we know we have to take a step back in order to change what’s right in front of us, we can jump too far ahead of ourselves. Worse, we irrationally expect others (especially people on our teams) to be in the same place we’re at in our understanding of things. The tricky part here is that in order to effectually change ourselves, we need to change our practice, even if those practices bring up some discomfort, pitfalls, and risk (and frankly, very few of us actually like this kind of stuff). Being mindful of and understanding what’s holding us (and our teams) back starts with engaging our beginner’s mind. The faster we do, the faster we can move along in our own personal journeys, and help others in theirs.

Better Together

Over the last 7 years, our explicit efforts to shift away from the very old rules of running a business has always been a preemptive attempt to better adapt in a world of exponential change. Heraclitus’ old adage “the only constant in life is change” is certainly true. While the last month has been difficult, we can only assume that we’ll need to compete in a future reality where things will just get exponentially faster and harder. Today is the slowest in which change will happen; the companies that are most adaptive to change stand the greatest chance of survival.

There is no doubt that we need thoughtful priorities, strategies and execution to help us meet and exceed these exponential pressures of change. However, Zappos’ superpower has always been the power of the collective and our culture. Amazing things have always happened when every single one of us steps up when our company needed us most, when we each work from an authentic place of diversity and inclusion, and when we cut down our silos and imaginary lines of isolation and collectively work toward a common goal.

In our 2019 Q4 All-Hands meeting, we heard from Keith Ferrazzi, who talked about “co-elevation”, a concept that goes beyond traditional leadership and collaboration. It’s a simple idea that gives every person the utmost permission and authority to reach out to others and invite them to co-create solutions that overcome our biggest limitations. It's an obligation to a noble cause and higher mission to deliver WOW, but it’s also driven by a remarkable responsibility and commitment to each other.

Like Tracy says, we are in this together, and together we’re better. Together, we ALL have an opportunity to create something amazing – our future.

Culture is

Happiness

Great culture leads to employee happiness. The same way a toxic culture leads to unhappiness. Happy employees means higher engagement, profitability, and low turnover.

Culture is

People

Our culture would not be what is it today without the people, past and present. We are all protectors and cultivators of the Zappos Culture; it's what makes it unique and something that changes every day.

Culture is

Being Yourself

I love that I get to be me all day. The culture encourages you to be the same person you are at work as you are at home. I don't have to pretend to be something I'm not, which makes Zappos a comfortable place to be.

Culture is

Unique

Every company has a unique culture that's all their own. Just like every person has their own personality, every company has their own culture. Building a culture is a special process that can't be taken lightly. It's the responsibility of every employee to represent and foster culture.

Culture is

Fun

Work can be fun! We have 2 annual parties at Zappos. Our Vendor Party where we invite all of our brands to thank them and celebrate our partnership. And, our employee holiday party. Past epic party themes have ranged from Mardi Gras and old-school hip-hop to a Hawaiian luau at a waterpark. Each has had its own twists and tricks to surprise and delight partygoers. This year, we invited our vendors to run away with us to the “Untamed Circus."

Culture is

Perpetual

Your culture doesn't stay the same, it will continue to evolve. Having a defined set of values will serve as your guide to continue your culture's growth and evolution in a positive direction.

Culture is

Not Always Measured

A strong culture means lower employee burnout and therefore, lower turnover. It leads to higher employee engagement and higher profitability. But really, companies should focus on their culture because it matters. Because it's just the right thing to do. To quote Tony Hsieh, "Just because you can’t measure the ROI of something doesn’t mean you shouldn’t do it. What’s the ROI on hugging your mom?"

Culture is

Work-Life Integration

Companies and employees worry about work-life separation or work-life balance. But why? Wouldn't you rather be a company where your employees easily combine their full self into everything they do? Wouldn't you rather work for a company whose focus on culture allows your job to integrate with your life? It shouldn't be a struggle to find a balance between life and work where you are truly fulfilled and happy.

Culture is

Partnerships

Your vendors have the same objective as you: to sell their product, be successful in their work, and maybe have some fun while doing it. Something unique that Zappos does is allow brand representatives access to all the same sales and inventory information on their products that Zappos has. By working as a team, by partnering, you are setting the stage for success!

Culture is

Real

Your company has a culture. You may not have "planned" it. You may not like it. Or maybe you love it. But it's there. It is real. You can choose to be thoughtful about your company culture. You can set values and identify the behaviors that you want to be the core of your culture. That part is fairly easy. The hard part, is committing to the values once they are set. Living them.

Culture is

Core Values

Values are more than just words, they're a way of life. They are the foundation of your company culture. We know that companies with a strong culture and a higher purpose perform better in the long run. As we continue to grow, we strive to ensure that our culture remains alive and well.

Culture is

Your Brand

A company’s culture and a company’s brand are really just two sides of the same coin. The brand is just a lagging indicator of the culture.