At Ace Metrix, Hybrid Work Takes on Different Meanings
For millions of professionals who call Los Angeles home, the pandemic had one common silver lining: the ability to avoid sitting in traffic.
Connie To was one such individual who benefited from last year’s work-from-home mandate. Prior to the pandemic, To would sometimes spend nearly two hours commuting to the office, which she considered less than ideal.
As a QA automation engineer at Ace Metrix, To needs all the time she can get. She supports the functionality of the company’s products, which help brands measure the effectiveness of video advertising.
Like many companies, the organization had to make a number of adjustments over the past year. Ace Metrix informally embraced a hybrid working model as a result of the pandemic. For To, this transition felt like an extension of life before Covid-19 took hold.
“Mostly everything about this hybrid model hasn’t seemed much different from how we were working in the past,” To said.
To isn’t alone in this regard. Data Scientist Colin Mitts said he’s also easily adjusted to this new way of working, due in part to the fact that the company has always supported remote workers. In his mind, this simple adaptation was made possible by the company’s leadership team.
“Quick operational decisions have been made over the course of the pandemic, but they’ve always made sure we agreed on when and how we wanted to go back to the office,” Mitts said. “It’s essentially fallen back to what everyone is most comfortable with, which has been really great to see.”
Full Stack Engineer Jordan Culver said he remembers when the company went fully remote last March. And while it took about two days for things to feel relatively normal, he said the transition was far from difficult, which he owes to both the type of work he does and Ace Metrix itself.
“It has been unexpectedly easy to transition into this mode of working, and I think that has a lot to do with the nature of our work and the company that we work for,” Culver said.
Despite the fact that Ace Metrix has long supported a distributed workforce, any adjustment will have its drawbacks. Below, To, Mitts and Culver discuss the pros and cons of working in a hybrid environment, how their teams have adjusted and what the company has done to maintain an inclusive, remote-friendly culture.
In your personal experience, what do you think have been the pros and cons of a hybrid working model?
Mitts: It’s been great for work-life balance and trying to be as efficient as possible with the time you have with team members. It’s been a good motivating force in that regard, but it hasn’t really changed all that much. Our research and development team is pretty consistent, and we come in two to three days per week. We coordinate remotely, work independently on research projects and avoid commuting every day, because it’s just not necessary. Yet, when you’re not in the office, you might miss out on certain conversations and you have to wait until that information diffuses through the rest of the corporation.
To: If you’re working remotely and there’s an internet problem or even a VPN issue, it’s hard to actually work. Since I live pretty far, I can’t get to the office when these issues occur. Also, it’s sometimes difficult to tell who is in or out of the office each day, so if I need to work with someone, I have to know their schedule in order to decide if we’ll be able to collaborate.
Culver: The flexibility of the time we have now is definitely better, not just traffic-wise. If you need to take care of car repairs, for instance, it’s easy enough to just get up and go and not have to worry about leaving the office and saying goodbye to everyone. The more difficult part has been for new-hire onboarding.
Tell me more about the remote onboarding process for new hires. How does the team make sure they get up to speed on processes and integrate themselves into the culture?
Culver: We’ve had two new hires join the team since we adopted the hybrid model. We learned a lot from the first virtual onboarding. It was pretty difficult, always hopping on calls to educate him on our technologies, his environment and laptop, and what the company does in general. That’s why I decided to write up a comprehensive outline for our new hire to follow for two weeks. His day-to-day stuff was planned out, so he didn’t have to keep calling me every 15 minutes. He just referred to this sheet and would add to it as he went along. Now we have a better process for the next new hire.
CODE FROM ANYWHERE
To: On my team, the hardest part of the remote onboarding process was figuring out how to do a virtual “in-person” interview. We did the interview through a Zoom call. It was a strange process, as we were used to having a whiteboard and asking the candidate to solve a problem. In this case, we asked him to share his screen and write on the screen while we watched. For the rest of the onboarding process, we had him refer to sheets from a previous QA engineer.
Which tasks and activities do you think are best suited for in-person work, and which ones can be done easily while working remotely?
To: On the QA team, we don’t like to do too much collaboration or in-person work. Yet it’s good to meet in person to have discussions on how to test new features or functions. It makes it easier to help set up new hires when you’re physically beside them and you can see if there’s something wrong with their computer or tools. It’s also easier to show developers how to replicate bugs when you’re there in person. On the other hand, remote work is suitable for my team to do regression tests when we poke around our products and make sure they look good and work correctly.
Mitts: When there’s any sort of coordination between multiple teams, it’s best to be in-person. That way, we can quickly go to a whiteboard, draw some pictures and diagrams, and figure out the holes in a workflow pretty quickly, rather than take time to set up a Zoom call. Execution, creative problem-solving and other similar initiatives can be done remotely.
Culver: When it comes to setting devices and environment issues, it’s better to be in person. There’s also more resources at the office, such as extra monitors, cords and whiteboards. Otherwise, the work we do on my team is pretty heads-down by nature, so it makes it easy for us to get work done from anywhere.
What has the company done to cultivate an inclusive, remote-friendly culture?
Mitts: We do a few things to bring employees together. We held a pumpkin carving event in October, during which teams competed for the best design. We’ve done that in the past, and it could be somewhat of an onboarding experience for new hires as well. At our office bar, we’ve been hosting monthly tastings. In the past, we’ve “toured” the Scottish Isles through scotch samples. That draws a lot of people to come into the office.
To: We have a lot of Slack channels where we can share funny memes and have lighthearted chats with each other throughout the day. Everyone can join in on these conversations, whether they’re in-office or remote employees.
The company also offers several employee resource groups, such as one dedicated to women in tech, where women across the company are encouraged to discuss their achievements and share articles related to female empowerment and other similar topics. We even have a guild specifically for QA engineers like myself, which allows us to talk about technology and other industry fundamentals together.
How do your teams collaborate effectively in a hybrid setting?
To: The QA team doesn’t do too much internal collaboration. We usually communicate through Slack or Zoom calls when we’re not in the office. These communication methods allow us to easily discuss topics like upcoming changes, expectations and tests. When a team member needs help with automation, we can use Slack or a Zoom call so I can look at their code and help them fix it.
We also usually do a weekly sync to keep everyone posted on what needs to be tested and what’s finished. This keeps everyone on the same page, which is important when you have some people in the office and others working remotely.
Mitts: Our teamwork has been carried through pretty efficiently. We come into the office less frequently. There are only three of us on the R&D team, so we coordinate collaboration sessions ahead of time, and it may just be the day before or even the morning of the meeting. If it’s with other teams, we might plan a meeting a week in advance so we can figure out a time that overlaps with everyone’s schedules. We all come into the office when we can, and when we can’t, we make it work. It’s important for us to have regular check-ins when we have multiple projects in the works at the same time. We often reassess our priorities on a weekly or even daily basis. But overall, we’ve encountered few problems collaborating remotely.
The company makes you feel trusted and valued. It’s a positive environment to be in.”
In retrospect, what impressed you the most regarding how the company has acclimated to a hybrid model?
Culver: I probably come in the least amount of the three of us, and I haven’t felt any sort of pressure to come in. And the times that I have gone into the office, I’ve never felt unsafe because it’s a pretty spread-out environment.
To: It has made no difference if people come into the office or not, since we all communicate through Slack anyway. It feels really natural, and if you do go into the office, people are always very happy to see you.
Mitts: The flexibility on behalf of both the employees and the company itself has been really impressive to see. They’ve made it clear that they want to make everyone as comfortable as possible. Ultimately, it’s been everyone’s choice. There’s a certain level of trust whenever anyone comes into the office, and if people aren’t comfortable with that, then there’s no pressure to come in at all. The company makes you feel trusted and valued. It’s a positive environment to be in. This whole experience has generated a good sense of camaraderie.