In July 2019, we decided to bring the AMA sessions back to our Slack community. Every couple of weeks, we invite a member of our Slack community who is working remotely to chat at our #ama-session channel about their background, their work experience, and their current job.
Our first volunteer, on July 19th, 2019, was Jonathan Carpenter, Brand Manager for OwlLabs, who kindly agreed to give us half an hour of his time to answer our questions. Below, a slightly edited version of our session. Questions are asked by Vic Boano, in charge of Customer Success here at Remotive, unless specified.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself and your professional background?
Absolutely! I'm based in Cambridge, Massachusetts, USA, just outside of Boston. I studied biology as an undergraduate...and then promptly decided I didn't want to spend the rest of my career as an academic field biologist and started looking for new things to do! 🤣 My first job after college was working in the Development department at MIT. I spent several years after my time at MIT pursuing a passion for performing arts. I worked at American Conservatory Theater in San Francisco for almost 4 years as a producing & artistic associate, then moved back to Boston because I wanted to be closer to family & friends. I spent another 4-ish years working for a performing arts presenter here, and just jumped over to Owl Labs about 6 months ago!
Outside of work, I'm still very passionate about the performing arts. I sing with an 8-member a cappella group, and I occasionally direct & perform in musicals in friends' living rooms.
Any cool Spotify lists that you can share with us? Or an album or song you listen to recently?
What does a Brand Manager’s day look like?
That's a great question! No two days are the same. Here's a glimpse into the past week:
Monday - On set of a video shoot all day, directing & producing video content that will promote our upcoming Work From Home Week.
Tuesday - Working from home, mostly catching up on running our social media channels.
Wednesday - In the office for a series of meetings and brainstorms.
Thursday - Chatting with customers, working on editing the videos we shot on Monday.
Friday (today!) - Working from home, catching up on email and checking in with co-workers about a wide variety of projects. I tend to be very connected with my coworkers since we're a very collaborative organization. Except when I'm heads down scheduling social media posts, filming, or working on some crazy project like our April Fool's prank. My role gives me a lot of room for creativity, which I really appreciate.
What have been some of the challenges you faced in your role that you didn’t expect? What helped you overcome them?
Actually, one of my bigger challenges was not being super great at remote work at first! I had such a preference for going into the office. So through a combination of lucky timing and intentional work, I leaned into that and booked a few trips to visit family right after I started. That forced me to get better at being away from the office, and it helped a lot.
In a hybrid company, do you find that some roles work better in office rather than remote? I’ve noticed several companies, OwlLabs included, where according to job descriptions engineers and designers can be remote but product managers must be in the office. I would love to hear your thoughts! @Rachel Wynn
That's a great question, @Rachel Wynn! I think hybrid companies are by far the hardest to manage. You have to juggle in-office needs with remote needs. Often times, it comes down to the task at hand, and being part of a hybrid company means that you have to have the discipline and intuition to figure that out for yourself. Often times, it just comes down to equipment and materials.
For our April Fool's Day campaign, I had to ship 25 plush Owls all over the world. I couldn't have done that remotely because I needed our mail room's supplies and a UPS pick up spot! But almost everything else I do can be remote. In the case of Owl Labs, it's up to the hiring managers to decide whether a role can be remote or not. We try to err on the side of allowing remote work because it's almost always possible. I think it's totally fair for job applicants to push back and ask for remote opportunities when it seems like they really could be.
How do you create the right attitude if it is not there in (some) team members? Do you hire for it? @Katerina Bohle Carbonell
We absolutely hire for it. It comes from the top down. Our VP Marketing tells a great story about how she reported to one of our co-founders that she was struggling with remote work, because she hadn't done much of it previously. He turned to her and said, "Well, you're going to have to work on that."
'Leaders walking the talk'. In relation to this, how open do you consider your leadership for change from the bottom? @Katerina Bohle Carbonell
Empathy for remote employees is a core value for us. It helps that we're creating a product that is designed to improve the lives of remote employees. In terms of change from the bottom, our leadership is very open. Being small helps. I see our CEO and our co-founders all the time. It feels like they're accessible, and that's important. They also open the lines of communication in multiple ways. They've done anonymous surveys, which are a way that people who might not feel comfortable just walking up or Slacking and sharing an idea can be more comfortable to express ideas for change. In that instance, the co-founder didn't provide extra support. I think of it as a tough-love moment. She was saying "my bias is for in-office work, and I'm not sure how to change my bias." And his tough love was "well, work on that."
What aspects (if any) of your job are easier to do in person than remotely? How does your team handle them in a remote setting? @tedgoas
Hi @tedgoas! Definitely, anything where I need access to big machines or supplies that I wouldn't want to lug back to my home! The marketing team at Owl Labs is truly hybrid. We have full-time remote folks who live very far away from Boston, we have people near Boston who sometimes work from home and sometimes come into the office, and we have people who are always in the office.
Our VP Marketing is really dedicated to hybrid teams and making remote work possible. So I think we roll with the punches and figure out creative solutions. Sometimes that means finding and renting that special equipment in LA when, say, our Director of Design needs access to a full video rig. Sometimes that means flying people into HQ for a really important meeting. The answer, honestly, is always communication. As a team, we're on Slack all. day. long. And that constant, transparent communication helps us figure out the best solutions.
Aside from the occasional meetup, how does Owl Labs promote team building and camaraderie? How do employees get to know folks outside their immediate team @tedgoas
Another great question, @tedgoas! I think it's something we can continue to work on. Right now, we hang a lot on occasional meetups. At our most recent All Hands here in Boston, we went bowling, and the teams were very deliberately split up to introduce people to employees on other teams.
So I bowled with people from engineering, sales, etc. We're lucky in that we're still relatively small (~45 employees). And we make time for small talk in meetings, and we have a pretty active set of Slack channels. I think it's something we'll have to continue to work on as we grow. It's not easy. (Shout-out to Remotive's Donut pairings! I have pitched that idea to our team!)
Could you talk about the job search process that led you to land a job with OwlLabs? Dos and don’ts? What tools helped you, which didn’t?
Haha, it was a long road. I was actually searching for about a year and a half before I landed at Owl Labs. Everything worked out in the best possible way, but I definitely wish I had found communities like Remotive and the weekly Twitter #remotechat BEFORE considering a remote/hybrid position. I was applying to some fully remote companies, and I had never even had the ability to work from home at previous companies. In hindsight, it's a good thing that I didn't end up with any of those positions because I wouldn't have enjoyed them!
I needed to do more research and soul-searching to realize that I'm a textbook extrovert, and without access to an HQ-type office and face-time with coworkers, I'll wither away. One thing that Owl Labs did that I really appreciated was that they hired me to do a project as part of my interview process. I got to see what it would be like to work for them, they got to work with me more closely, they got real work done, and I got paid for it. It was a win-win all around. I'd actually encourage people to advocate for that in an interview process, if possible.
It was such a revelation. I also have to recommend the Built In network of job sites. Built In Boston was a great resource for me. I'm sure if I'd known about Remotive, I'd be saying the same thing about the Remotive job board! 🙂
Thank you, Jonathan! @channel We still have some time, do ask your questions if you have any!
Sounds great! I will have to hop off shortly for a meeting, but I'll be sure to check back in and answer any new questions later today! I also wanted to share an exclusive with all of you! I mentioned that I was working on a video shoot this week. Well, hot off the presses, here is the video I created, to promote our upcoming Work From Home Week!
If any of you are trying to help create a bit more empathy for remote workers at your company, I encourage you to challenge your team to work from home with you for a week! You can sign up here.