I work at Guru, a software company based in Philadelphia that is building a wiki for work, where answers find you before you even know you have the question.. Remote, cross-functional teams use Guru to make sure company knowledge is collected, organized, and shared to people wherever they’re working.
I’m the Principal Product Marketing Manager of Ecosystems, which is the partnerships and integrations element of product marketing. I learn about and communicate how Guru’s customers use our app alongside their existing tech stack to maximize the value of their software investments. That can be through our out-of-the-box integrations, our open API, or our new low-code automation platform capabilities.
How big is it?
Guru is a growing company, with about 180 employees today. There are around 35 people on the Marketing team, with 6 people on the Product Marketing team.
Where are your teammates located?
Guru is a hybrid workplace, which means that we have people who work out of our Philadelphia headquarters, our San Francisco office, and from their home offices across the country. I’m part of the remote team and work in Jersey City. It’s pretty typical to be on Zoom with five people in five different states! As to where work happens when we’re not in the room together, we rely on Slack and Zoom for daily communications.
What does your team do? What are you responsible for?
The Product Marketing team is the connective tissue between our Product Org (Product Management, Engineering, and Design), our Revenue Teams (Sales, Account Management, and Customer Support), and the people who evaluate, buy, and use our software. The job of Product Marketing is to make sure the work that’s being done to improve our product gets packaged and communicated in a way that makes the value of our software clear to customers and prospects.
Our work product can take a lot of different forms, depending on which of our audiences we’re looking to serve. The team is responsible for distilling the technical work of the Product Org into Feature Breakdowns so the whole company is in the loop on the work being done. We also conduct a lot of win/loss reviews to hear about how the messages that we’ve developed are resonating, so we can continue to improve our go-to-market efforts. In my role, I often collaborate with the marketing teams at our technology partners to help tell the story of how Guru works with our customers’ favorite apps.
One element of our team that’s a bit unique to Guru is that our Internal Communications function is part of Product Marketing. We’ve found that this structure makes sense for our company, since we are heavy users of our own software. Guru is designed to power cross-functional information-sharing in agile workplaces. Since the Internal Communications team at our company is leading “Guru Using Guru” work, connecting the function directly to Product Marketing means we have an amazing, built-in feedback loop about how our product works once it’s embedded in an organization.
The key components of a strong remote culture are the same as the key components of any company culture: alignment and understanding of the company vision, clear goals, shared values, and healthy communication. It’s just the way we put these elements into practice that looks different when your company isn’t in the same room together.
The number one element that makes a remote culture successful is that companies need to take a “digital by default” perspective when developing everyday business processes. This might sound really scary and seem like it’s going to be a lot of work, but the change is composed of relatively small behavior adjustments. The great thing is that these behavior adjustments really wind up benefitting every team member–not just the remote ones!
For example, at Guru we have committed to asynchronous communication as the default. We cultivate a writing culture: getting our thoughts down on paper, sharing them for feedback, and documenting the final versions in our app so everyone in the company is on the same page (literally!). Shifting to this asynchronous mindset means that Slack alerts are a lot less distracting, emails aren’t a red alert, and calendar alarms aren’t making deep work impossible. We all have permission to structure our workday in a way that provides periods of concentration as well as times for discussion and collaboration. As an added bonus, the meetings that we do have are a lot more engaging and intentional. It’s a win-win!
Strong remote cultures are built on strong connections.
Strong connections are built with Hailey.
It might sound counterintuitive, but giving each person the room to organize their workday in a way that feels most productive to them is the best way to make sure everybody is happy. Guru is committed to finding ways for people to create work-life harmony, no matter where they’re working and what team they’re working on. Across the company, leaders encourage people to block out work and break time, provide them with resources to optimize their workspaces, and even make sure they’re taking time off. Because let’s face it: if you’re not able to carve out time for what’s happening outside of work, you’re not going to be able to function well at work.
The number one element that makes a remote culture successful is that companies need to take a “digital by default” perspective when developing everyday business processes.
While I’m not a people manager at Guru, I led the marketing team at my last company, Feedback Loop, entirely remotely. I’ve always worked at companies that had presences in multiple cities across the world so I haven’t found the transition to remote work to be as jarring. When you’re used to juggling calendars across time zones as well as cultural differences between workplaces in different countries, you develop your empathy muscles pretty quickly. In some ways, today’s acknowledgement that work is, in fact, remote makes it easier to manage a team because you have more ability to hire the right people for the job without the constraints of geography!
It’s not all up-side, though. I do think it takes more effort to create a team that feels like a team when you’re not sharing a physical space regularly. Finding the right balance of human-to-human interactions when you can’t just pop out for a coffee chat is a challenge!
One of the things we’ve done at Guru to make human connections easier is to encourage each new team member to add their life story to our Guru collection during their first week at the company. It’s a fun ritual that helps folks get to know each other as people before diving into their first meetings.
Over the course of the pandemic, if you can name it, I’ve tried it! When it comes to team activities, it’s a good idea to rotate through different concepts so everyone can feel like they’re able to play to their strengths. Guru makes sure there’s a variety of remote and in-person activities that people can opt into, depending on their interests and comfort level. We’ve done candle-making, cooking, trivia, and movie nights since I’ve been here. We’re looking forward to having more in-person events this year, but since situations are changing rapidly our company kick-off is taking a hybrid approach. People will have the option to join an in-person retreat or a series of virtual team-building events.
Trivia is always a crowd-pleaser, but as a former art student I find myself enjoying Skribbl more than any adult woman should. The most elaborate team building exercise I’ve participated in was a pumpkin carving competition between members of the marketing team at Guru during the week of Halloween. I was extremely impressed with the creativity on display!
I love a good icebreaker! A favorite that we use on a company-wide level is to ask folks about their first concert. It’s a fun way to learn about different people’s perspectives and personalities (plus adding a little intergenerational fun)!
The best way to build culture and morale is to share information openly and transparently. We use our own software to do this, but as long as you’re giving people across the organization a way to easily learn what they need (and want!) to learn, you’re well on your way to creating a healthy culture.
As a Product Marketer, I’m always looking for ways to become a better communicator. One of the best ways I’ve found to improve my own communication is to read a lot. See how other people express themselves, take a little of what’s good, and learn from what’s not so good. And it’s not just business books I’m talking about! Even a guilty pleasure page-turner of a novel can teach you something about how to craft a compelling narrative.
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