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Our Values In Action

Nikki Morello, Vice President of Human Resources
5 min read
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When news first broke about the COVID-19 pandemic spreading across the globe, I distinctly recall thinking about the disruption in terms of weeks. “We need to ensure our employees have the equipment to work remotely for a few weeks”; “We need to cancel work-related travel for a few weeks”; “I need to find childcare for a few weeks”.

But somewhere between March and June, the dialogue shifted. It became clear that we wouldn’t be going back to “normal” anytime soon, and that the “normal” of the future would look different than our memories of the past. We had to take control of this unforeseen world-altering event and create a new plan for long-term success

But where do you start when planning for the future in the midst of a pandemic? Where do you look when there’s no rule book, no recent history to research, and no best practices floating around on the internet? You look at your foundation, and for us, that meant our Core Values

Performance: “Solve the hard problem; do the hard work”

Without performance, nothing else exists. It’s that simple. So when the pandemic hit, we immediately dug in to ensure we could continue our growth and continue meeting our pre-COVID expectations while working from home. We re-evaluated critical projects; we maintained a focus on our customers; we doubled down on our metrics; we continued to perform.

What was quickly realized from this was that with our sustained growth, we needed to ensure we could hire and onboard new talent to meet our company’s growth trajectory. This needed to be done across multiple continents and without ever meeting candidates or new hires face to face, so we shifted our interview panels to Zoom, added questions to assess remote working capabilities, and overhauled our onboarding process completely. To automate and streamline the way we connect with new hires, we also tapped into a tool called Donut, enabling us to go virtual with our Pilot Program (our version of a peer onboarding partnership), and ensuring that new hires receive all the right information to set them up for success. 

But we didn’t just make things virtual, we also went global. We re-vamped “Flight School” - a weeklong virtual onboarding program - and expanded its scope to cover our international footprint. Knowing that COVID has changed the way we hire and onboard talent in permanent ways, we did this with a focus on long-term scalability and successful “flights” for years to come.  

✅ What we’ve learned

Going virtual enables you to go global. With our recent acquisition of the Paris-based company, Mailjet, we had a lot of elements of our onboarding that were unique to different geographies and legacy companies. Going remote provided us the opportunity to more easily align across geos and create consistency of experience for our new hires around the world.  

Authenticity: “Be genuine”

Prior to COVID, impromptu hallway conversations with our CEO was a norm. Our leadership team was present, in a literal way, for real-time conversations, questions, concerns, and high-fives. So how do you maintain this level of genuine connection without hallways to walk through?

Frequent and ongoing virtual interactions is where we decided to start. Launching our weekly Ask Me Anything (AMA) series with our CEO enabled us to give employees the interaction and connection they craved - some have even said these changes have made them feel more connected in our new virtual world. We’ve since expanded the program to include sessions with various leaders across the organization and we continue to strive to find the balance in offering time for both informal, genuine interactions as well as a space to provide meaningful content.

And just for fun we added a separate virtual series called “Coffee and Cocktails” to provide casual interactions across our time zones. We just ask that folks stick with the appropriate beverage for their time zone! ☕ 🍸

✅ What we’ve learned

Zoom burnout is real, but it doesn’t mean we should stop the virtual facetime. It takes more time to build relationships and trust one another without in-person connection, but repetitive and ongoing virtual interactions can help fill that void and keep us together. 

Human: “Be a good human”

Being a good human doesn’t mean that everyone always gets along or that there’s no room for a good debate. In fact, a good debate is often what pushes us to grow and develop. At Mailgun, being a good human means being hard on the problem, not on the person. It means taking work seriously, but not taking yourself too seriously. It means being kind in the face of hardships. 

This pandemic has created global hardship beyond what many of us have ever seen, and while we can’t offer the solution we want to offer - getting rid of COVID - we can offer support to our employees in a variety of meaningful ways. We compiled a list of global mental health resources, offered slack channels focussed on meditation and connection, and even sent some fun swag boxes to employees across the world. Knowing that comfort enhances productivity, we provided employees with ergonomic equipment and established a reimbursement process for other remote working expenses. And because we recognize that HR can’t have a pulse on every individual employee, we empowered our leaders with resources and recommendations to offer support based on their individual employees’ needs. 

This pandemic is far from over, and so we continue to ask and listen - in surveys and informal conversations - continuously evaluating where we can offer some relief and support in the midst of world-altering challenges. 

✅ What we’ve learned

There is no one-size fits all approach to providing support in the midst of a pandemic. Each employee has unique needs, and providing a variety of offerings is critical to supporting the organization as a whole. 

Evolution: “Adapt with intention”

Everything about COVID has required evolution. How we work, where we work, when we work; it’s all shifted. While no one could have ever prepared for the impacts of COVID, Mailgun is founded on the concept that it’s critical to not only react but also proactively adapt to upcoming changes. This is the value that prepared us best for COVID.

We’ve taken this moment of forced change to ask who we want to be in a post-pandemic world. Evaluating our remote-working culture with a long-term lens has given us the ability to balance desired changes with the elements of our pre-COVID culture we believe are critical to our ongoing success. Ultimately our goal is to find the right balance of in-person interactions (once it’s safe to do so) while also solidifying the philosophy of “it’s not where or when you work, but that you get the job done”.

It’s not an overnight change, but rather an ongoing evolution. We understand it’s critical that we approach this monumental shift with caution and we look forward to the culture of high performance and increased flexibility that is sure to result from this change. 

✅ What we’ve learned

There are not a lot of positive things to say about COVID, but the forceful unexpected push to evaluate remote working capabilities may just be one of them. Longterm, people will inevitably work in a world where there is more flexibility and empowerment to just get the job done on their own terms.

Ownership: “Care too much to see each other fail”

When Mailgun spun out from Rackspace in 2017, this core value, although not yet written, was what solidified Mailgun’s place in the future. Mailgun was founded on the belief that everyone is responsible for Mailgun’s success and “it’s not my job” is never an acceptable reason to not engage.

So as COVID approached, it was all hands on deck to ensure we would not only weather the storm but come through it with our values and standards intact. Our Support Team implemented COVID Relief Programs for our customers. Our CEO purchased thousands of masks to donate to nursing homes and other in-need facilities. Our employees came together to assist our communities in countless ways. We took action as an organization and as individuals, not shying away from the hard projects that no one really signed up for. We continue to lean in and work together to find the best solutions for today’s problems and those that are yet to come. 

✅ What we’ve learned

With a culture built on empowerment and ownership, the hard things feel more manageable. People understand there are no boundaries to the impact they can have and so the impact seen often exceeds expectations. 

So what does working at Mailgun look like now?

Utilizing our Core Values as the foundation for decision making through the pandemic and beyond has created stability in the chaos. It’s created a source of truth where no rule book existed. We know that the impacts of this pandemic will shift and re-shape the way the world works and the way we do business, and we look forward to tackling these challenges head-on, focussed on coming through this with a stronger culture and continued long-term success. 

And while we do hope to get people back into offices in the future, we are eager to maintain the flexibility that our expanded remote culture enables us. We realize this may mean less Topo Chico and fewer hallway conversations, but we like that these can be traded in for working in pajamas and commutes that only take 15 seconds. 🛏 And regardless of what does change, we know that we’ll continue to employ a team of great human beings focused on performance but getting the job done while having a whole lot of fun.

Last updated on August 28, 2020

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