How the ZipRecruiter Tech Team Overcomes the Challenges of Working Remotely

This article shares some insight into the challenges the ZipRecruiter Tech Team works on every day. If you’re interested in working on solutions to problems like these, please visit our Careers page to see open roles.

When the pandemic hit, most of us became remote workers, whether we liked it or not. There are some great things about working remotely. One example is flexibility. For example, I’m currently writing this article on a train speeding down the coast of Spain. Another obvious benefit: more time with our dogs.

Remote Work at ZipRecruiter Isn’t New

ZipRecruiter has been a remote-friendly company since its beginning. While we have large, beautiful tech offices in both Santa Monica and Tel Aviv, the company has always been willing to bring on senior-level candidates as remote employees. Now the opportunity to work remotely is open to candidates at all seniority levels. In fact, during the earliest days of the company, one of ZipRecruiter’s founders was a remote worker.

“We started hiring remote employees early in the company’s history, so we needed to build processes to accommodate remote workers long before we were forced to go full time remote,” says Ryan, an Engineering Manager.

I’ve had the privilege of working at ZipRecruiter for several years now, all of them remote. During that time I’ve lived in multiple cities, and travelled while working in several more. While I do often miss the in-person interactions that come with working from an office, there are many other reasons I absolutely adore being a remote worker. One of my favorites is commute time savings, leaving me with extra time for productive tasks. I can take my time cooking breakfast, sleep in (though, I suppose that part is not so productive), or go to the gym—which has become a fundamental part of my mental health routine.

Just because a company has a history of remote work, doesn’t mean that it’s easy or straightforward. Three of the biggest challenges I have come across revolve around Relationships, Communication, and Productivity. In this post I hope to share my viewpoint, as well as some of my coworkers, on these three areas and how we try to overcome them.

Challenge 1: Relationships

One of the most difficult parts of working remotely is maintaining the feeling of connection to our coworkers. We have found that teams with trusted relationships are more productive, and these relationships of trust can be a bit more difficult to build when we’re not located near one another. 

Victoria, Senior Project Manager

“I’ve felt disconnected from my own team and other teams, as we are no longer able to meet others in passing,” Senior Project Manager Victoria notes about her struggle since working from home due to the pandemic, “I’ve found that things which used to help us connect do not translate well to the virtual world, such as happy hour, team lunches, couch work sessions, etc. Many people get ‘zoom fatigue,’ which makes doing these things virtually even more tiring, and can even make these things feel like work.”

Fortunately, there are lots of different ways to maintain relationships when working separately from our coworkers.

Jeremy, Senior Engineer

Jeremy, a Senior Engineer, solves this by putting extra emphasis on chat use, “I spend a fair amount of time in Slack, mostly work-related but also some non-work discussions about hobbies, entertainment, and current events.” One of my favorite ZipRecruiter chat rooms, or “channels,” is #petpix, where we share pictures of our pets. Another favorite is #fridaysongs, where we have a weekly contest in which employees submit and vote on songs based on a new weekly theme.

Larger social meetings are also an excellent way to maintain relationships. At ZipRecruiter, we sometimes call these meetings “watercoolers.” While it is true that we should be cautious about too many meetings, having a timeslot that’s set aside to meet with coworkers and talk about anything but work has been a fantastic way to build and maintain relationships when spending time in person is not an option.

Challenge 2: Communication

Communication can also be very difficult when no one is together in an office. A huge percentage of communication for remote workers happens over text chatting, and we lose a lot in our communication when we don’t have body language or eye contact.

Peter, Senior Engineer

Worse yet, it can be very difficult to figure out who to talk to, or even if the person we need to speak with is available. “I can’t just walk down the hallway, tap somebody on the shoulder, and ask a question – I have to know who to reach out to,” says Peter, a Senior Engineer. “Plus, I can’t tell if they’re busy or not, so I have to send a message and wait. In person, it’s easier to see if somebody is heads down or in a meeting.”

Be it Slack or email, unless a lot of time and care is taken to craft the message, text communication is very lossy. Something I like to keep in mind is the Robustness Principle (RFC 1122), which says, “Be liberal in what you accept, and conservative in what you send.” While this was written to apply to computer behavior, I think it is also an excellent way for humans to communicate over text, when we can’t effectively convey emotion or intention.

When listening to others, make no assumption about the intention. When talking to others, make no assumptions about how the receiver will interpret what is said.

Challenge 3: Productivity

Finally, it can be difficult to remain productive as a remote employee. While it is true that some folks find it easier, employees who are used to working from an office may find it challenging. Having a flexible schedule is nice, but sometimes getting the laundry done or doing dishes can be a distraction.

Being alone makes it easy for me to flip browser tabs over to the news, social media, or something else non-work related, especially when I’m working on a task that is not particularly enjoyable.

Victoria, our Senior Project Manager, has found some useful ways to manage this challenge, “I create a to-do list each evening to put into place the following day, organized by priority. Priorities are typically based on business value and unblocking others, but may also be based on what I can achieve that day given my meetings schedule. I set time on my calendar to tackle each thing, even if it is a task for myself.”

Life After Covid

Angus (Photo credit: James, Senior Engineer/Angus’ owner)

We all hope that soon the pandemic will be a thing of the past. With more people getting vaccinated and increased ability to care for the sick, it looks like our normal way of life will be back eventually, including at least a partial return to in-office work. That said, work as we know it has changed forever and, whether it is us or our coworkers, working from a distance will become much more commonplace.

No matter how we feel about remote work, one thing is absolutely true: Our dogs are much happier.

This article shares some insight into the challenges the ZipRecruiter Tech Team works on every day. If you’re interested in working on solutions to problems like these, please visit our Careers page to see open roles.

Written by

Matt Finkel is a Senior Software Engineer on ZipRecruiter’s Core (SRE) team. Amongst many other things, his team is responsible for helping build and maintain the Kubernetes-on-AWS infrastructure that ZipRecruiter relies on for web apps, machine learning, and everything in between.

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