“Let’s talk and listen to each other more” — Interview with Jens Pape, CTO at XING
In early 2019, our CTO Jens spent six months in Barcelona, working from the office there and getting to know the culture and its people. We talked to him about his most memorable moments, eureka effects and key learnings during his time in Spain.
Jens, do you remember your first day in Barcelona?
JENS: Yes, it was really exciting! After eight years with the company I was a newbie all over again. There was a welcome package on my desk and I had to introduce myself at the Newbie Special.
What was your onboarding like?
Everyone was really helpful and made me feel at home right away. Thanks again to everyone in Barcelona for being so welcoming! This experience made me realise that no matter where you are, a warm welcome and a good onboarding process are key to the best-possible start for any new colleague! We should all do our part and support our new colleagues where we can. As for the technical and organisational onboarding: a recent survey we carried out showed we can do better in some areas. We’ll definitely tackle that going forward.
What other eureka moments did you have?
At one point during my stay, someone from the Lime BU asked me what OKRs were. It was at that moment I realised just how much information gets lost between Hamburg and our other offices. There is definitely room for improvement when it comes to the flow of information within the company. We’re working to improve this by fitting in personal visits whenever it makes sense to do so and of course by implementing new communication tools. If you don’t work in the Hamburg headquarters, you often don’t know as many people in the company and you miss a lot of the talks that go on in between. Since returning from Barcelona, we already rolled out Slack and JUST, which I think improves the situation a lot. Slack helps to communicate easily across multiple locations, teams and projects. And JUST has two really useful functions: the PEOPLE app is a great help when looking for the right person to contact about a certain topic. But it only works if everyone contributes, so I encourage you all to fill out your profiles and add your skills! The NEWS app, on the other hand, helps us not lose touch within our growing organisation. But this is a team effort as well! Everyone can participate by contributing and passing on information, or by simply asking if you get the feeling you missed out on something.
Do staff in Barcelona work differently to staff in Hamburg?
In some ways, yes. Our smaller offices are often faster and more flexible, and they don’t have long coordination processes. Did you know that the team in Spain has their own Twitter channel? It’s easy, authentic and very effective for local employer branding purposes. It does a great job of conveying the spirit and identity of the Barcelona office. See for yourself.
This is just one example of how we work differently in different locations. In a smaller office like Barcelona, colleagues don’t always need the same elaborate processes used in the larger offices in Germany. I believe that in some cases, offices outside of Hamburg should have the freedom to choose how they do things because it’s what works best for them. If the results are there, I don’t care how we achieved them. But we need to talk and listen to each other more to determine what works best.
Are there any other notable differences?
Yes, the kitchen sink! I couldn’t believe my eyes when I saw the kitchen in the Barcelona office! There were no dirty dishes, it was always clean. Smaller offices often really make it easier to establish a good working community: the smaller the office, the more people feel responsible for their environment. We should try and maintain some of that spirit for our growing company — let’s all show some accountability!
What was your biggest challenge?
That’s easy: working remotely! It was a challenge not just for me, but for everyone involved. All our board meetings took place via VC, so the entire board had to go through a learning curve and adjust, too. I once dialled in to a board meeting and during the call they totally forgot I was there! Some of you probably know that feeling. But luckily this improved over time, too.
Many colleagues work remotely. What are your main learnings and what would you do to improve the situation?
A lot of colleagues in Barcelona work from home due to the long commute many have because they live in the suburbs as a result of the high real estate prices in the city centre. That’s why some teams always do their meetings fully remotely, meaning that everyone, even the colleagues sitting at the same desk still dial in via their notebook. Having everyone using this setup increases the quality of the conversation as everyone is faced with the same challenges while talking and listening.
For this to work everywhere, like it does in Barcelona, it’s crucial to provide good technical equipment. Nothing is more frustrating than being excluded because of insufficient technology. Fortunately, we already have a great setup in most of our offices. What we need to improve on is the process of enabling colleagues to use our technology to its full potential. Moreover, it helps if we all increase our awareness and keep a few things in mind. The “Remote Ready Initiative” that started at XING Events has already collected some good tips on this and there a quite a few other people in the NEW WORK SE universe who are working on and talking about their experiences with working remotely. I’d like to get together at the beginning of next year so we can share our knowledge and discuss how we can make the different concepts work out best for everyone. If you’re interested in joining this or have anything you’d like to contribute, feel free to use the comments section or get in touch with me directly.
So, what’s your verdict? Would you do it again?
Definitely! One of the reasons I went to Barcelona was because I wanted to get a better understanding of our other offices and what it means to work remotely. It gave me a brief, but valuable insight and I got to know so many great people. When I left, the colleagues gave me a backpack full of suggestions and wishes for me to take home with me. There are quite a few things I want to tackle in the upcoming weeks. I’ll keep you posted!