As a remote-first company, we have to be deliberate about alignment.
Back when the company was small, we held weekly meetings over the phone. But by the time the team had grown to ~20 people, those weekly calls weren’t scaling. Teammates wanted to hear more about what was important to our leadership team and how they saw the company evolving. We replaced the weekly check-ins with video updates and decided to set aside time to share big-picture information with the whole team as well.
These virtual all-hands and town hall meetings have become another one of the ways we try to keep everyone updated on all aspects of the business, from financial health to culture to important initiatives. The team gets to ask questions about projects other teams are working on, the company’s strategic vision, or whatever is on our minds. It’s a chance for everyone to learn — at a 10,000-foot level — how we’re doing against our goals and where we’re headed.
Here’s how these.
Remote all-hands meetings
We held our first all-hands meeting in person, at our first company retreat in March 2015, but since we only get together a couple times a year, we also conduct a few virtual all-hands meetings per year.
An excerpt from the beginning of Help Scout’s 2017 Q1 remote All Hands meeting
We use the videoconference tool Zoom for all-hands meetings, which lets us record them for our far-flung teammates in other time zones. We also try to mitigate time zone issues by scheduling the meetings at 11 a.m. Eastern Time, so the majority of the team can make it during business hours.
The week before each all-hands meeting, our CEO Nick Francis asks the team leads to submit slides, which he then compiles into a presentation.
“When I create my slides for the all hands meeting, I try to present all of the technical content in a way anyone, even the newest employee on a non-tech team, can understand. I cover OKRs and other dev cycle priorities, major team accomplishments, new initiatives and future goals. I also try to give kudos where appropriate and own any failures personally, along with an explanation of what we’ll do differently next time.”
— Chris Brookins, Engineering
Nick kicks off the all-hands meeting with an update on the health of the business and any strategic shifts or goals we’re working toward. Each team lead has 5-15 minutes to present a high-level review on the work their team has done in the past quarter and share what their team will be working on in the next quarter.
During the meeting, Becca Van Nederynen, our head of People Ops, monitors chat in Zoom and Slack for any questions that arise, and we pause after each section to make sure people have time to submit questions.
The team leads sometimes worry that their all-hands updates are “boring” — when they’re elbow-deep in their work every day, it can feel like they’re repeating themselves. But for everyone listening, the information is new and exciting:
“It feels inspiring and motivating to have such transparent sharing of company information and updates all at once.”
— Leah Knobler, People Ops
“All-hands meetings encourage me to think about the areas where I can make the most amount of impact for the team and company.”
— Jon Q, Design
“These meetings energize me for the quarter and year ahead. They pack a lot in and feel thoughtful. I look forward to them and am never disappointed.”
— Devin Bramhall, Growth
Remote town hall meetings
Town hall meetings started when team members requested more supplemental and high-level updates from leadership — so in addition to the quarterly all-hands meetings, we now schedule town halls once per quarter after the board meetings.
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Town halls tend to be shorter and more informal. Becca solicits questions from the wider team ahead of time via Know Your Company. Team leads don’t submit and share individual updates — instead, Nick goes over highlights from the latest board meeting, how we’re doing on our goals, what we’re focused on, and announcements of any changes we’re making.
Nick shares some good news with the team during Help Scout’s remote Q2 town hall meeting
If anything with the business has changed since the last all-hands meeting, Nick shares it in the town hall. This way, there are fewer surprises and everyone feels like they have a finger on the pulse of the organization.
Staying aligned as a remote company
When it comes to keeping our whole remote company aligned, all-hands and town hall meetings are just one piece of the puzzle. We’ve written before about remote team initiatives that help us build and maintain a thriving remote culture. Our team leads post monthly updates in Slack. People Ops’ Leah Knobler creates delightful and informative weekly video updates. Everyone regularly checks in one-on-one with their team lead. Team members are randomly paired for “fika” over coffee and pastries. And there’s no substitute for getting the whole gang together at company retreats.
As a remote company, we can’t afford to be blasé about this stuff — when you can’t catch up at the water cooler, you have to be thoughtful and deliberate about getting everyone on the same page.