Zapier’s Approach to Real Remote Communication

In this interview, we dive into how Zapier emphasizes clarity in writing as a fundamental skill, as well as how a fully remote company has found ways to deepen the connection among staff and partners despite almost never meeting them in person.

The Meetingnotes Team
November 19, 2020

Despite the growing availability of video and voice platforms, the foundation of business communication is written communication. Whether it’s email, discussion forums, text messages, or social media, written communication is fundamental.

In this interview, we dive into how Zapier emphasizes clarity in writing as a fundamental skill, as well as how a fully remote company has found ways to deepen the connection among staff and partners despite almost never meeting them in person. 

Zapier is a global remote company and the leader in easy automation for small businesses. The company is 100% distributed, employing a workforce of more than 350 employees located in 17 time zones and 30 countries. The company boasts more than 2000 integrations.

Nick Valluri is Zapier’s Strategic Alliances Manager, formerly having held similar positions at Google Cloud and Box. He noted that Zapier is one of the few companies where he is able to spend close to 80% of his time on the part of the job where he’s most valuable: speaking with partners. Zapier’s culture allows him to focus on his job rather than on internal meetings and procedures.

In this article you’ll learn:

  • How written communication promotes effective workflows
  • Training employees for better communication
  • Using remote meetings to deepen the connection

✍️ Taking longer to write shorter

Nick touched on the feedback that people give one another at Zapier, specifically about written communication. The emphasis is on being economical: Get directly to the point and be as clear as possible in communication.

In an environment where people come from different cultures, clarity is essential. In an environment with lots of Slack channels, being concise is highly valued.

📚  Related reading: How Communication Processes Evolve at Slack.

Early in his role at Zapier, Nick put together a 2-page email to send to a strategic partner. Feedback from a colleague stuck with him: Remove half of the content. Keep only the most essential information. In our chat, Nick suggested Writing Without Bullshit as a solid resource for improving in this department.

“A lot of companies put a lot of emphasis on flowery language and how much you write. They equate quantity with quality. He made it clear that at a remote company like Zapier, everyone needs to be very effective at written communication.”

At Zapier, the emphasis on written communication means that employees get regular feedback on their emails and texts. Reducing formalities and extraneous words helps everyone get the message faster. “Getting direct, applicable feedback like that is tremendously valuable. It’s something you can apply right away that really improves your job performance.”

🚀 6 practices for better writing on remote teams

Zapier has many practices that contribute to an environment where people can quickly access the information they need, reduce meeting times, and stay informed. If you’re looking for a similar environment at your company, these 6 practices are a good place to start:

  1. Prior to weekly meetings, everyone fills in a form with one thing they’re excited about, one thing they’re stuck on, and one area for feedback or discussion. The form takes no more than 5 minutes to fill out.
  2. At the start of every meeting, everyone reads through everyone else’s form before starting a discussion.
  3. On Fridays, everyone in the company fills in a short summary of their major accomplishments for the week.
  4. Slack threads are set up carefully such that it’s easy to know which channels are dedicated to working vs. fun
  5. People tag one another in a chat only if they need a response from that specific person; no generic tagging
  6. Slack is where work gets done, so there’s no confusion about the default place for communication. Larger decisions and evergreen content are documented in an internal platform called ASYNC as well.

🏡 Relating Remotely: Immediacy and Depth

As a fully remote company, Zapier knows how to use the remote working environment to its advantage when it comes to working with partners. Nick cited the ease of getting meetings, genuine caring, efficient use of time, and shared understanding of customers as connecting points for remote working.

🎙 Leveraging the ease of meetings

One of the features of remote working, even before the recent stay-at-home orders, is that getting an appointment for a call is simple compared to getting an in-person appointment.

“It's never been easier to get on someone's calendar than it is right now. When you have to structure this whole on-site visit, it becomes much harder. Now I just write to someone and say: Hey, can I get 30 minutes with you? People are generally open to that.”

💻 People’s lives on your screen

Another way that Nick leverages the remote working setup is by getting interested in people’s environments.

“Every time I talk to someone who is working remotely, it is such a cool experience to ask where they are working from. You see kids. You see dogs. You see different setups. In one case I was in touch with a partner manager who was in a different place every month doing nomad-style. From a relationship-building perspective, instead of putting so much pressure on that one in-person activity you might have per quarter, or meeting at a conference, you get to kind of go behind the scenes with people and show them behind the scenes into your own life.“

Sharing genuine experiences and making every remote meeting an opportunity to truly get to know the partners is the key to success when it comes to remote working. Similar to Jessica Webb at Trello, Zapier emphasizes genuine communication and listening to the human side of what co-workers and partners have to say.

⏰ Remote means more time

Using remote communications and meetings gives Zapier an advantage when it comes to managing the huge number of partners and integrations they service because they aren’t spending time traveling from office to office.

“The question for our team is how do we scale these in-person conversations across 2000 partners? I'm able to spend my time with the right partners that have a potential impact. It's sometimes difficult to get people to understand how Zapier can add value to their product, how we can supplement their product, or how we can extend their ecosystem. That needs a personal touch, not just an email, so having the option to do video calls provides an opportunity to talk to a lot more people in person than if I had to travel to each one onsite.”

🤝 Empathy with customers

Last but not least, Nick emphasized that the remote set up allows Zapier to help their customers deal with their own remote relationships. Online software companies don’t often get to meet with their customers in-person, so being remote allows the Zapier team to sympathize with the issues of usability that come from remote connections with customers. In today’s environment, that experience is worth sharing.


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