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6 Simple WordPress Page Loading Speed Hacks that Work – ReadWrite

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Steps to Installing WP Fastest Cache


WordPress is the most widely used Content Management System (CMS) in the world. The open-source CMS written in PHP was introduced in 2003. It is a powerful and highly customizable platform that can help you build beautiful websites and blogs with ease.

Here are some WordPress facts you should know.

  • According to W3Tech, WordPress is used by 63.5% of all the websites whose content management system they know. This is 38.3% of all websites. To put things in perspective, WordPress powers a staggering one-third of the internet.
  • 81% of the WordPress websites worldwide use Version 5, which is the latest version released by WordPress.
  • Contrary to popular belief, WordPress isn’t used only for blogs and static websites—WooCommerce, which is a versatile WordPress e-commerce tool, powers over 28.19% of all online stores. Nearly 22% of the top one million ecommerce sites use WooCommerce.
  • Many leading brands use WordPress, ranging from The Walt Disney Company and Rolling Stone to Flickr and Georgia State University.

Though WordPress is extremely popular and comes with dozens of benefits, it can sometimes be slow. As a result, most WordPress users have a sluggish website, which can be a significant drawback in a world that wants instant gratification.

Why Your WordPress Site Needs to Speed Up?

Your WordPress site needs to load faster and perform better for various reasons, some of which may impact your business directly. The increasing use of smartphones, mobile data, and growing customer expectations are also demanding better website loading speed on phones.

  • In the digital world, where websites visitors are highly impatient, a slow-loading website often creates a negative brand impression. A quick-loading website, on the other hand, often makes a positive brand impression. In other words, people are more likely to revisit the latter.
  • Research shows that the average Time to Interactive (TTI), the time required for the content on your page to become ready for a user to interact with it, is 2.6 seconds in 2020. In other words, if your website takes longer to load, its incoming Web traffic and conversions are more likely to suffer.
  • According to Unbounce, nearly 70% of consumers admit that page speed impacts their willingness to buy from an online retailer. The same report also states that 81% of marketers know speed influences their conversions, but they’re not making it a priority.
  • According to the Milliseconds, make Millions study by Deloitte Digital, for every 0.1s site speed improvement, average order value increased by 9.2%, and conversions increased by 8.4% for retail consumers. Bounce rates on product listing pages in retail and travel improved by 5.7% and 5.4%, respectively.

Considering how your WordPress site’s speed is likely to affect your conversions and lead generation, it is necessary to make performance speed your top priority.

Here are six of the most effective WordPress page loading speed hacks.

1. Choose the Right Host

One of the first things you should do is choose the right hosting provider. For many people, sharing hosting often seems like the best and the most affordable option. In shared hosting, multiple websites reside on a server connected to the Web.

As there are multiple websites, the overall cost of server maintenance is shared by the users, bringing it down considerably. However, it comes at the cost of a sluggish website and, in some cases, even frequent downtime.

Furthermore, it isn’t easy to know how well these servers are optimized. As a result, things can get worse during peak traffic hours. In short, to save a few hundred dollars every year, you may be saying goodbye to potential leads worth a lot more.

Some of the best WordPress hosting providers are:

  • SiteGround
  • Bluehost
  • WPEngine
  • Kinsta
  • Flywheel
  • LiquidWeb

2. Use a Caching Plugin

Whether it is an online store or a company website, your website will also grow in size as your business grows. While e-commerce sites add new product pages over time, most company websites add new blog posts, service pages, and campaign-specific landing pages. You may also need to add new plugins.

As your website grows, it may start to slow down, especially during a Web traffic spike. If you use a caching plugin, you can easily overcome this issue.

Whenever you access any webpage on the internet, it leads to a flurry of activity in the backend. It often includes multiple database queries, code executions, and running applications. As your website grows, the amount of this activity also increases, resulting in slower loading speed.

However, a caching plugin helps you create a static version of your content. As it eliminates most of the backend activities, your website loads faster, providing your customers with a better user experience.

From WP Fastest Cache to W3 Total Cache, you can find plenty of caching plugins for WordPress. Most plugins offer both free and paid versions. For the best results, it’s better to go with a paid version. All you have to do is install and activate the plugin. You can find the installation instructions on the plugin page.

3. Optimize Images

The next obvious step is to reduce the size of images on your WordPress site. As they say, “A picture is worth a thousand words.” That’s why you need to add images, sometimes several of them, to make your content attractive and easy-to-understand.

However, larger images often took longer to load. Also, photos will be the bulk of your webpage size in most cases. As a result, optimizing them can make your WordPress site significantly faster.

Of course, you can optimize the images without a WordPress plugin. Several online tools, like TinyPNG, Kraken, and Compressor, can help you reduce the size of images without compromising the quality.

However, optimizing each image is painfully time-consuming. Fortunately, like everything else, you can find several plugins for image optimization too. Each plugin comes with varying degrees of optimization and other features.

Imagify, Smush, and Short Pixel are some of the top-rated and popular image optimization plugins you can use. Make sure to check out all the features and pricing before downloading a plugin. Some of these plugins also allow you to convert JPG or PNG to next-generation file formats like WebP, JPEG 2000, or JPEG XR.

Smush Plugin

4. Use a Content Delivery Network (CDN)

Most leading brands with large WordPress sites almost always use a Content Delivery Network (CDN) to boost performance. To understand how this works, you need to know what a CDN is.

In simple words, a CDN is a geographically distributed group of servers that work together to provide your users with faster access to your website’s content. It allows the server closest to the user’s location to serve your website’s static files, including HTML pages, JavaScript files, images, video streams, and CSS stylesheets quickly.

Another significant advantage of a good-quality CDN is that it can protect your website against Distributed Denial of Service (DDOS) attacks. It can also help you reduce bandwidth costs.

In this case, however, using a plugin may not be the best option. While there are a few CDN plugins like BunnyCDN, they aren’t as popular as most CDN service providers.

MaxCDN, which is now StackPath, is one of the best and most recommended CDN service providers for WordPress. Other options include Cloudflare, KeyCDN, and Sucuri. Sucuri offers both CDN and WordPress firewall as well, providing your site with excellent security against cyberattacks. Depending on your budget and business requirements, make sure to choose an easy-to-configure, cost-competitive, secure, and agile CDN service provider.

5. Minifying JS and CSS Files Can Help

Minifying your WordPress CSS and JavaScript (JS) files is also an excellent way to boost WordPress performance and speed. By minifying JS and CSS files, you can get a higher score on Google Page Speed tool. While you can minify JS and CSS files manually, it is better to use a plugin for quicker and more reliable configuration.

With more than one million active installations, Autoptimize is one of the best and longest-running plugins for minifying JS and CSS files. Once you have downloaded and installed the plugin, go to the Settings menu to configure it. Select all three JavaScript, CSS, and HTML options to minify all these files.

Autoptimize Plugin - Minify JS & CSS files

When you check the “Optimize JavaScript Code” option, Autoptimize will minify your JavaScript files. You can enable all other options for JS minifying. However, turning on the “Force JavaScript in <head>” option is usually not recommended.

It can lead to render blocking elements that can slow down your site. You should exclude the scripts of files that you need to load in the <head> element of your site’s HTML. You should also uncheck the “minify excluded CSS and JS files” box in the “Misc Options” to prevent the excluded scripts from minifying.

In this section, you should keep the “Also Aggregate Inline CSS” box unchecked. When enabled, it will move inline CSS to a browser-cacheable CSS file, which may reduce the page size.

You should also see if enabling the “Generate Data: URIs for Images” option increases your loading speed. If the impact is substantial, you can check this box. Otherwise, you can leave it disabled.

Checking the “Optimize HTML Code” box will reduce the whitespace in your HTML code. However, make sure to optimize your HTML code thoroughly before turning this option on as it may cause glitches in some cases. If you want to keep HTML comments for your optimized pages, enable the “Keep HTML Comments” option.

In this option, you will need to add the CDN URL provided by your CDN provider such as StackPath. Kinsta, and KeyCDN. However, Cloudflare doesn’t provide an URL. If you are using it, you needn’t configure this section.

It comes with a few miscellaneous options that you may have to enable. It is often recommended to check all the boxes in this section to optimize the site’s performance.

Misc Options - WordPress Hacks

However,

  • If your server can’t handle file compression and expiry, disable “Save Aggregated Scripts/CSS as Static Files”
  • If there are minification-related issues, disable “Minify Excluded CSS and JS Files”

 

This section lists additional settings for speed optimization. You can test the last three options in this section to see which one results in a higher speed. You can use Google Page Speed tool to check the results.

You can enable “Remove Emojis” as it can reduce your page size by removing CSS and JS related to WordPress core emojis. You should also enable “Remove Query Strings from Static Resources” to improve the performance of WordPress core.

In the third option, you can add external domains you want your browser to connect to. These often include https://www.googletagmanager.com, https://www.google-analytics.com, and https://fonts.gstatic.com, among others.

Enabling “Preload Specific Requests” allows your browser to download an asset quickly, while with the “async JavaScript files” option, you can specify certain external JavaScript files to load using the <async> HTML flag asynchronously.

With these settings, you can make images load faster. Autoptimize can also generate and serve WEBP versions the images. While enabling lazy loading is a good idea for image-heavy pages, some users may find the constant image loading annoying. Google, however, recommends it.

This option is available with the premium version. When you enter your Critical CSS API Key into the “Critical CSS” option, the plugin will automatically create critical CSS rules. These rules make sure pages render before the full CSS is loaded, which in turn, boosts loading speed.

6. Optimize Your Database

Optimizing your WordPress database can also help you speed up and boost performance. You can delete spam comments, fake users, orphaned images, and old versions of your content using a plugin. WP-Optimize is one of the best plugins for this job.

Although both free and paid versions are available, it is better to go for the paid version if you want to use advanced features. These include setting up automatic optimization, deleting unused and unwanted images, and greater flexibility and control than the free version.

Once you have installed and activated the plugin, go to the Database tab. Select the Optimizations menu, where you will see different optimization options. Under each option, you will also see the details of what WP-Optimize has found.

For example, in this screenshot, you can see “46 post revisions in your database” under the “Clean all post revisions” option. You can select appropriate options and run the optimization process.

However, when performing more intensive data cleanup operations, you have to be more careful. If the database server crashes or shuts down during the optimization, your data will get corrupted. That’s why you need to back up your database before each optimization.

Fortunately, WP-Optimize allows you to back up the database with UpdraftPlus. You need to select the checkbox next to “take a backup with UpdraftPlus before doing this.” Once your database is backed up successfully, a pop-up message like the following will appear. Click “Close” and proceed further.

Click the “Run all selected optimizations” button to optimize. You can also optimize your WordPress database tables regularly using this plugin. Click on the Tables menu to see if you need to optimize the table or not. Click the Optimize button next to the desired table to optimize.

 

Parting Words

As you can see, loading speed and performance play a critical role in your WordPress site’s success. The lack of either one can cost you leads and conversions worth a lot of money, making it necessary to improve WordPress performance. Hopefully, these six tried-and-tested tips will help you boost your WordPress site’s performance quickly and easily. Good luck with optimizing your website.

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10 Strategies to Retain Employees in a Workplace – ReadWrite

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Sajjad Ahmad


A top performer just resigned out of nowhere, and you are now at a loss. What might be the reason for it? And how will this impact the rest of the employees?

With that happening, you will have to lean on your other employees, making them take on more responsibility. In the meantime, you will look for a replacement for the employee that left. It’s a big ask, specifically if they are already stretched thin. Such actions will stoke stress and uncertainty in your employees.

Given the likelihood of cascading fallout, it’s natural to think that the departure of one employee could be the tipping point of other employees feeling to leave as well. At the very least, it can affect the morale of the employees, which can undermine their work performance.

So, this is the time to make sure that your business is taking the proper steps to drive job satisfaction and retain employees.

What Prompts Employees to Leave?

To find out the reason behind your top performer’s sudden departure, do an exit interview. Exit interviews will tell you whether your employee retention tactics need improvement or not. And what needs to be done to retain employees and employee productivity.

You most likely will hear one or more of the following reasons from the departing employee:

  • Inadequate benefits and salary
  • Feeling overburdened with work or lack of support from the team
  • Limited career advancement opportunities
  • Need to maintain a balance between work and life
  • Lack of appreciation and recognition
  • Boredom
  • Unhappy with the management team
  • Concerned about the company’s financial health and direction
  • Dissatisfied with the company culture
  • The desire to make changes

Strategies that will help you Retain Employees

If you feel that your company is at risk of losing talented employees, you need to develop strategies to retain employees. Here is how you can boost employees’ job satisfaction and increase your chances of holding on to top talent in your company.

1. Orientation and Onboarding

You need to help each new hire to settle in so they can find success from the beginning of their job. Your onboarding session should include what the job entails and inform your employees about the company culture. And how they can contribute and thrive in the new atmosphere, office and culture. Don’t skim through this initial step.

The support and training you give from Day 1, whether virtually or in-person, can set the tone of their entire tenure at your company.

For instance, you are a cellphone repair shop. Your onboarding session should not only include giving training on your cellphone repair store software. Instead, it should consist of a session on your repair store’s culture and how normally the day goes about while repairing devices.

2. Mentoring Programs

Pairing a new employee with a work buddy is an essential component of the onboarding process and helps retain employees. In addition, these work buddies can welcome new employees into the company and guide them.

New employees learn the ropes from experienced employees. In return, they give the experienced ones fresh viewpoints.

Consequently, mentorship should not be limited to new employees only. You can have mentorship opportunities for existing employees as well. It will give them a sense of understanding of where they stand and what they need to improve to succeed.

3. Compensation for Employees

Companies need to give their employees competitive compensation. However, it means that the company has to evaluate and adjust salaries frequently.

Even if you are unable to increase the pay, try to provide other compensation. Such compensations can be in the form of paid time off or bonuses.

In addition to this, retirement plans and health benefits are also necessary. These valued offerings can help increase job satisfaction and ultimately will help retain employees.

4. Perks

Offering perks to your employees can make your work stand out to new hires and re-engage current staff. All this will also boost the morale of your employees. Remote work options, parental leave, and flexible schedules are perks that many employees value the most.

To evaluate your business and see what you offer your employees.

5. Wellness Offerings

Keeping employees healthy – physically, financially, and mentally is just good business. Even the current pandemic has urged many companies to improve and expand their wellness offerings so that their employees’ well-being feels prioritized and supported.

They have stress management programs, reimbursement for virtual fitness classes, and retirement planning services. Taking their example, start implementing these strategies to show that your employees are essential to you.

6. Communication

The pandemic has also enabled us to underscore the need for good workplace communication. Employees reporting to you should feel that they can come to you if they have an idea, concern, or questions at any time.

Similarly, you should promote constructive, timely, and positive communication across all departments, including remote and onsite employees. Please make sure you actively connect with every staff member daily to get a sense of their job satisfaction and workload.

7. Constant Feedback on Performance

Most company owners are abandoning annual performance reviews in support of frequent meetings with every team member. In such one-on-one sessions, discuss the short and long-term career goals of your employees.

Such activities can help them visualize their future in your company. The key takeaway here is not to make promises that you can’t keep. Instead, take them through their potential career advancement journey together. And lay down a realistic plan that can help them achieve their goals.

8. Development and Training

You can retain employees by helping them figure out their key areas for professional growth as part of your continuous feedback on performance. It can include needing to learn new skills. Getting new skills is extremely important in the current era as technology alters our work.

Substantially, when people learn new skills, they learn new tricks to keep up with the evolving business requirements. So, make sure you invest in the professional development of your employees. Make them attend virtual conferences, pay for continuing education, and provide tuition reimbursement.

In addition to this, don’t forget succession planning. It can be highly effective for advancing professional development and can help in building leadership skills.

9. Rewards and Recognition

Each employee feels the need to be appreciated for the work they do. And in the current circumstances, if you understand your employees, it’s bound to leave a considerable impact.

So, make sure you thank your employees who have gone the extra mile. And do mention how their hard work has helped the employees. Some companies even have reward systems that they use to incentivize great innovation and ideas.

Also, having a small company doesn’t mean that you can’t have an effective recognition program. You can do it even if you have a small team and a limited budget. You’ll want to arrange your recognition program in such a way that you and your employees can benefit from it.

10. Work-life balance

What kind of message is your time management giving to your employees? Do you expect your employees to be available 24/7?

You need to realize that a healthy work-life balance is essential for job satisfaction. Employees need to know that their managers understand the fact that they have lives outside of their office. Encourage your employees to set boundaries and give them vacation time. And if late sit-ins are required to end tasks, give them extra time off to compensate for that.

The ten strategies to retain employees given above are just some ways you can increase your employees’ job satisfaction. For that, you need to stay updated with market standards of benefits and salaries. And try to use the best practices to develop an attractive workplace culture.

Sajjad Ahmad

Sajjad Ahmad is an enthusiast professional who loves to serve community with his amazing pieces of writing. His expertise lie in technology, SaaS businesses, growth hacking, and marketing.

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Jotform Rebrands to Focus on the Power of its Forms – ReadWrite

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Jotform Rebrands to Focus on the Power of its Forms - ReadWrite


When companies rebrand, they often do it with a renewed or revised focus. Sometimes the company pivots entirely, heading in a new direction to keep up with changing trends and demands from its audience.

In the case of Jotform, the company recently rebranded to better focus on what it’s done so well for 15 years: provide its audience with versatile, easy-to-create, powerful forms.

Since its launch, Jotform has undergone tremendous growth. More than 10 million users have shaped the form builder and its complementary services. The platform has grown to include payment processor integrations, state-of-the-art security measures, conditional logic, and more. It supports small businesses, large corporations, nonprofits, and everything in between.

And now, Jotform is focusing on further improving its powerful forms to continue to support its broad audience of users.

Here’s what you can expect from the newly rebranded Jotform.

A new logo and tagline

Jotform boasts a streamlined, simplified logo that honors the original. The “f” in “Jotform” is now lowercase for easier readability, and the logo features a new and refreshing color scheme.

The logo’s pencil has been updated with multiple colors to represent the multiple products and features the business has created. The colors represent form fields, table cells, graph bars, and even the lines on a document.

Similarly, Jotform’s new tagline honors the company’s vision: “Powerful forms get it done.” This tagline demonstrates that, even as the company has grown and evolved, it has always remained true to the powerful forms at the core of its business.

A revised website

The Jotform website has some aesthetic updates, but it remains easy to use and navigate. The homepage reflects the new tagline, color scheme, and logo, and the My Forms dashboard has been rebranded with a cleaner, clearer look.

The form builder navigation has also undergone a color change. The revised colors are high contrast, and the page was designed to keep your attention on what really matters — the form.

The same pricing

Jotform may have been rebranded, but its pricing plans have remained the same. Jotform offers five plan tiers, and those tiers make it a suitable option for nonprofits as well as the largest corporations.

The Starter tier is available for free, and it includes many essential features. It supports up to five forms and 100 monthly submissions. This plan also generously includes 100 MB of space and 1,000 form views.

The Bronze plan is just $24 per month when billed annually, while the Silver plan is $29 per month and includes up to 100 forms. For $79 per month, the Gold plan includes unlimited forms to support operations with significant form creation and management demands. 

The Enterprise plan is for the largest organizations, and it supports multiple users, SSO login integrations, and more.

Jotform may be changing, but its pricing hasn’t budged.

Easy online form builder

Jotform’s form builder is clean, concise, and user-friendly. It’s easy to build a form from scratch with the drag-and-drop interface or edit an existing form template. The builder features a wide variety of form field types, including signature, date picker, address, and fill-in-the-blank fields. In addition, you can make any form your own.

Jotform also offers more than 10,000 professional form templates to help you get started and save time. Choose from registration, feedback, request, membership, application, event registration forms, and more. These forms cover a wide variety of industries and needs.

When using the online form builder, you can create a form in just minutes. You can then share a link to that form, embed it on your website, include it in an email, and more.

Essential integrations

As Jotform has evolved, the company has continued to add form integrations for enhanced performance and convenience. Jotform has established integrations with some of the most essential and popular apps:

  • PayPal
  • Google Sheets
  • Zoom
  • Adobe Sign
  • HubSpot
  • Slack
  • Mailchimp
  • Dropbox
  • Google Calendar

These integrations enhance your form’s performance and save you and your respondents time.

An array of features for even more powerful forms

As the demand for powerful, versatile forms has increased, Jotform has developed new features that give you more control and flexibility:

  • HIPAA-compliant forms meet the healthcare industry’s need for forms that protect patient data.
  • Smart PDF Forms can convert a PDF into a fillable online form.
  • Jotform protects your privacy and security with encrypted forms, 256-bit SSL, and more.
  • You can collect payments and donations, and set up recurring subscriptions with your choice of more than 30 trusted payment gateway integrations.

Jotform Tables

Jotform may have started out as a form builder, but the company expanded to encompass Jotform Tables, which allows users to collect, organize, and manage the data that’s generated by its forms. It’s also possible to import CSV or Excel files into Jotform Tables, so you can use your existing data.

These tables require no coding and work as a centralized database. There are more than 300 table templates available to help you get started. As with its other products, Jotform has kept Jotform Tables accessible and affordable, making it a practical choice for all Jotform users.

Jotform: Powerful forms for the future

Jotform’s rebranding reflects the company’s evolution but also its dedication to its root cause: to provide users with quality, powerful forms. Jotform may have changed its logo and branding, but this is evidence of the company’s growth and success.

Rather than pivoting, Jotform continues to focus on the features and developments that will take its forms to the next level. From payment processing to enhanced security, its services and features are evidence of what business owners, nonprofits, entrepreneurs, teachers, bloggers, and more need as technology evolves and those users find new and unique ways to put forms to use.

In 15 years of growth, Jotform has stayed true to its roots but continues to make its forms even more powerful. Whatever your form and data needs, powerful forms get it done.

Image Credit: Photo by Mikhail Nilov; Pexels; Thank you!

John Boitnott

CEO, Boitnott Consulting LLC

A journalist and digital consultant, John Boitnott has worked at TV, print, radio and Internet companies for 25 years. He’s an advisor at StartupGrind and has written for BusinessInsider, Fortune, NBC, Fast Company, Inc., Entrepreneur and Venturebeat. You can see his latest work on his blog,
jboitnott.com

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Turing Distinguished Leader Series: Vishal Punwani

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Turing Distinguished Leader Series: Vishal Punwani


Hello, everyone! Thank you for the fantastic response to the Turing Distinguished Leader Series. For this episode, we have Vishal Punwani, CEO and co-founder of Sophya, the Harvard-founded startup where companies of all sizes go to establish their virtual HQs. Sophya was part of Harvard iLab’s inaugural Launch Lab X program in 2018-19. Now, Fortune 50 companies and startups alike enter Sophya’s metaverse to work, socialize, form communities, and throw incredible events.

Today’s Topic: Engineering leaders discuss employee engagement in virtual teams and share tips for engineering managers to enhance remote team management.

Jonathan Siddharth: 

Welcome to Turing Distinguished Leader Series. I’m Jonathan Siddharth, founder and CEO of Turing. Today I have a very special guest, Vishal Punwani, who shares a similar love for distributed teams and building the office of the future. Hi, Vishal, welcome! Could you tell us a little bit about your journey?

Vishal Punwani: 

Hey, Jon! Great to be here. So brief introduction: I’ve always been a technology lover since I was three years old. I started my first company when I was ten, and my brother was 11. I’ve always been a longtime gamer, so all of this has a through-line of video gaming underneath, which kind of leads into why we founded Sophya. I went to medical school, did part of my emergency medicine training, put that on hold to focus entirely on Sophya. And that is what is occupying all of my time and attention right now. But I make a little time to play video games, ideally every day, for about 20 minutes. 

Jonathan Siddharth: 

That’s awesome. You have such an interesting background. And for people listening, could you tell us a little bit about Sophya, what problem it solves, and why you should use it?

Vishal Punwani:

Sure, yeah. The funny thing is that there’s a lot of really fantastic examples of great collaboration in gaming. So you think about any of the big MMOs, whether it’s World of Warcraft or Everquest or Elder Scrolls Online, any of these big ones: one thing that is common among all of them is that you have to get into groups and guilds. You have to execute missions together. You have to form leadership layers. You also have to communicate context and information to your teammates. There’s a lot that you have to figure out, for example, the bylaws of your guild. And so, it may sound silly, but there’s a lot of analogous company pieces there. 

During the pandemic, we were like: “Oh my gosh. This is our team, and we feel like our culture is slipping. Our bonds with our teammates are getting frayed,” and that was scary to my co-founders and me because we’re such a culture-heavy team. 

We believe the best business strategies are people-first. So if you look after your people and have wonderful relationships with your teammates, that will transcend the social aspect and return those business results. And so we were like: “There’s a much better way to do this than Zoom and Slack.” And the reason we felt so strongly about that was that a bunch of my teammates—we met playing World Warcraft, and that was 17 years ago, and we became best friends, even though we lived on three different continents at the time. 

So we said: “What if we took a stab at transforming our work environment into something more like an MMO?” And so, we built this hacky MVP that completely transformed our team. And we’ve never felt closer as a distributed team; we’ve never felt more collaborative and more productive. It has changed the fabric of what our team is. 

And so, I don’t know if that specifically answered your question, but to get a little specific, Sophya is a world, a community, where you can get a private office inside that world. And you get all your video chat, text chat, DMS, file sharing, screen sharing, and all the different collaborative tools you might need for your team to be productive. 

Along with this, you also get all of those middle moments covered. So, you can see where all your teammates are if they’re in your office or maybe somewhere in the world. You can teleport to them and vice-versa, whatever the case may be. So you can have all the moments that you would miss if you didn’t have the physical office. You get to do that with people distributed all over the world.

Jonathan Siddharth: 

Sounds great. What have you learned from customers using Sophya, like anything interesting in terms of the way they use the product?

Vishal Punwani:

People need the ability to feel connected and engaged and belonging at all times of the day. That’s how you build and give humans the tools they need to be healthy, internally and externally. So if you don’t feel like you can’t build great relationships at work, then, first of all, you’re going to have not a great time. 

Wherever it is that you work, you’re always going to be looking for the next thing. From a business perspective, if you don’t focus on making sure that your team can form profound relationships with each other, guess who’s not going to be able to do their greatest work? Guess what organization will not be able to benefit from having aligned people who trust and care about each other? 

All of that is part of what we’re building. An environment that is 100x than what the physical office can give you. The physical office can provide you with space, but it cannot give you best practices built into the walls. And, a lot of what’s coming out of publications like HBR and a few others that we like to talk about is ‘best ways to build organizational health into your office walls in the virtual world in Sophya.’ So, we want to make that available to everybody so that their teams keep getting healthier.

Jonathan Siddharth:

Absolutely. Speaking of distributed teams, which is one of the things that Sophya makes possible and easy? What would be your number one piece of advice for founders, product leaders, and engineering leaders who are building and managing distributed teams?

Vishal Punwani:

That’s a great question. I’ve boiled this down to three things. 

One is relationships between your teammates. That’s something that you have to have figured out, right? If you want them to do their best work, you have to do that right. We do that through Sophya, obviously, but there’s a couple of other ways you can do that.

The second thing is context. You have to get good at providing fantastic context for your team to understand what problems they’re solving, the organization’s overarching goal, and the organizational mission and vision. All of that information has to be front and center. 

And then the third thing is accountability tools. I don’t mean accountability tools in a punitive sense or anything like that. What I mean is that people like the clarity of knowing what they’re driving, who they’re working with, what is the context around it, and when the task or activity is supposed to be completed. So that sounds very operational, and it kind of is. We use Asana, which I think is helpful for that because you can sketch out your quarter, your whole year, and then make sure that everybody’s in charge of a different piece of it. So all the communication happens there. 

Jonathan Siddharth:

That’s super interesting. So on the relationships front, how do you use Sophya and other tools to ensure you’re building the right relationships? And what is your advice for people to solve for relationships in a fully distributed or a hybrid team?

Vishal Punwani:

That is a great question. If you read the news nowadays, one of the biggest things you’ll notice is that company leaders embrace work from home and work from anywhere forever but are worried about the watercooler chats and the spontaneous interactions between teammates. And there’s a research paper that showed that the way you get true innovation is contrary to what one might think. It’s the mixing of very disparate verticals that’s important. Like, you’ve got someone with one skill set, and then someone with a completely other skill set comes along, and then they blend their two worlds and then come out with something. 

So, for example, if you’re using calendar links and one form of video chat that doesn’t give you that spontaneous ability where you can see where your teammates are, you risk losing a lot of those serendipitous bump-ins. I call them the middle moments that happen in any working day. And to go back to make sure everybody’s following the through-line here: I was saying that there are two schools of people right now. One is the people thinking about going remote but saying: “Oh, we need to solve this problem to make sure that we’re retaining the creativity and the innovation that we feel we have in the office.” And then the second group is the people who are like: “We are going back to the office because we don’t have tools, and we want that social interaction to make sure that we engineer innovation in that way.”

And so for us, one of the great things is we feel that we have something where both needs can be met. If all you know is Zoom and Slack, then, of course, you’re going to want to go back to the office. But if you know that we’re entering the golden age of remote work and companies are building wonderful tools to solve that exact problem, then you’re going to think twice. That’s why we’re passionate about what we’re building. We love being close to our teammates.

The second part of your question was about how we use Sophya to build relationships. So we use a mix of calendaring inside the application, so for example, if we have team games a couple of times a week, people who are inside the world will get a notification that says: “Hey, games are starting, teleport to them!” and then you teleport to the games and all your teammates are there and they’re running around, and you see emojis flying around, and you can see who’s talking and all that stuff, even if you’re not in a conversation with them, you can see the liveliness of conversations happening outside of your video tiles which is interesting. And so there’s a bunch of different ways that we actively build relationships using Sophya, but there’s a bunch of ways that you passively build relationships in there as well. 

So one of those ways is just by seeing the activity around you. One of the drawbacks of using video only is that you can’t show that much personality. Let’s say there’s 20 of us on the screen, and there’s like a Brady Bunch-ish style of chat happening. The remaining 18 people who aren’t having a conversation are just going to be sitting there with their red lights on, and you can’t tell anything about them or attempt to build a relationship with them.

In Sophya, we’ve used an utterly gamified approach, and so everybody gets their avatar. You can customize it to look however you want. So we have like 24 million combinations of what you can look like, which is a lot of fun. And so, just by seeing what people are wearing and how people are presenting themselves, you kind of get to know them more. And so you can constantly be doing these little things that add up in terms of building a foundation of trust and relationship, and that’s just a small example. 

Jonathan Siddharth:

Sounds great! Do you have any advice for product engineering leaders building distributed teams in terms of things to do to make sure that people have the right relationships with each other?

Vishal Punwani: 

Totally, yeah. So we take culture very, very seriously, and we think good relationships are at the foundation of a great culture. I love that quote: “Your culture is what happens when the founder isn’t around.”

What that means is that not only do you have to have excellent standards, but you have to have clearly articulated principles or virtues. And so it starts from the selection and hiring process. We make sure that we’re upfront with all of our candidates and tell them this is who we are and what it will be like to work here. There are particular traits that we seek. Humility is one of the biggest ones. Being people-smart is another one. And the next hunger to succeed. We focus a lot on discipline in our company. And so we made sure that people that we bring in are very disciplined because if they’re very disciplined in their work, they’ll probably be disciplined in their approach to their friendships and relationships. So it starts in the selection.

We also do a series of these personality tests to get a sense of where a person may be best placed on the team. So we do three, which is probably overkill, but we think each of them serves a very different purpose. 

And so one helps us to understand it’s like the typical personality. So I’m an ENTJ (MBTI), right, and that allows me to know that I need to soften my edges, much of the time. 

We also do something called the Working Genius, which is Patrick Lencioni’s group’s test.

And then, we do another test called Predictive Index to understand how much flexibility people prefer. So there’s an intentional process of bringing people in and building and constructing the team. And then every other week, we have something called the Growth Club where we take a reading, and we break it down into lessons. Every teammate writes how the article made them reflect on problems that they’ve faced in their life. We always aim to have things be more personal because we think that if you break down communication barriers between people in a healthy way, they’re going to do their best work together because they’re developing this baseline of trust.

Jonathan Siddharth:

That’s super interesting. Do you conduct these tests to figure out how to best communicate with this person and put them in a position where they will be successful and happy?

Vishal Punwani:

Exactly. We don’t do this in a vacuum. All of these other considerations are thought about and discussed with the candidate. All the results are shared, all the thinking is open. We try not to be prescriptive and say: “Oh, you are super high detail-oriented. Therefore, you can only be our company counsel or like a data scientist.” But they’re like: “I’m an artist.” So we want to put people in their sweet spot. And generally, if you get people to sort of vibe on the same wavelength like that, people will feel understood. And that works well. 

And that changed my whole thinking about these things because it’s not really about forcing people into positions. It’s about saying: “How do we make sure that different types of people can succeed together when they don’t know each other?”

Jonathan Siddharth: 

Absolutely. That makes a lot of sense. So, switching topics a little bit. I know one thing that’s on top of everyone’s mind: fully remote vs. hybrid. How do you think about fully remote vs. hybrid? What is your advice to people thinking through that decision for their companies?

Vishal Punwani: 

Yeah, I think my company used to believe a lot more in what hybrid could be, but I think our thinking has evolved a little bit. This view might sound contentious, but we think that hybrid is a delay tactic. It’s like: “I haven’t made up my mind yet.” I’m going to take the example to the extreme. You think about Facebook or Google, or Apple. They initially were like: “Oh, we’re going to be returning to the office. That’s what we’re gonna do.” But then their employees were like: “Well, I moved to the other side of the country, and I bought a house with my husband, and I have a kid and a dog. So, no thanks. You know what, I’m gonna work from here because by the way, over the last year and a half, we’ve launched some of the best things that our company has ever done. We had our most profitable quarter since we began as a company. So, no, thanks.”

And so, it’s a tough argument for companies to be making. Companies might even think of doing three days a week in the office or three days remotely. 

Well, that doesn’t work for the person who lives on the other side of the country. Meanwhile, all the people in the office are like: “Okay, so which teams go in on what days?” So there still has to be coordination. And then, given that the office will be 30 percent capacity on any given day do you need that much real estate in Palo Alto? What about the huge campus that costs millions of dollars a year? 

And while all that’s happening, you have other companies who have engaged fully remote, and what they’re doing is they’re saying: “Hey, come work with us, we’ll pay you a great salary, and you can live life on your terms,” and that’s going to be a competitive edge in hiring.

One of my friends said the other day: “Off-site is the new on-site.” So I think hybrid will not last for very long; instead, it will turn into companies that allow people to work from anywhere forever. And then the hybrid model will morph into just hangout spots. I think Basecamp has something like this, where they have a couple of little base camps in different parts of the US, and you could go in and co-work together for a day, but that’s not the norm by any means. And I think hybrid will not be a norm, either.

Jonathan Siddharth:

It’s super interesting. Why is it that you think we can sort of sense some top-down management push to get people in the office, at least some percentage of the time? Why do you think that is?

Vishal Punwani: 

Yeah, so, you know, I don’t think it’s all that complicated. If people who are accountable for really excellent teamwork and results don’t have systems, then they’re going to be worried, and they’re going to want to swim back to shore and grab the pier. But that’s all I think it is. If a team doesn’t know that they have options that will speak directly to their concerns, then they’re going to be worried, and they’re going to want to go back to in-person.

The managers and the upper sort of executive and leadership, they’re humans too. They want to spend time with their families. They don’t want to miss their kids’ first steps. They want to be able to walk their dogs. And so, I think any leadership person will derive the same benefits as the employees. It’s just a different set of pressures that are on each group. And they just don’t yet know that it doesn’t have to be Zoom and Slack, no offense, again, to those companies, but I’m just saying.

Jonathan Siddharth: 

I’ve genuinely enjoyed this chat, and I want to close with one question for you. Besides Sophya, what are some tools that you found to be supremely helpful in running a fully remote-first company that you would recommend for people, building the offices of the future?

Vishal Punwani:

Well, you know, I’m biased because I know you, but I do have to give Turing a nod here. We’ve found it to be super helpful. It’s easy. We can find precisely the skill sets we’re seeking. We can book consultations, and we get a breakdown of the Google-level staff equivalent of this person. So, it just makes it very easy for us and, it’s taken engineering recruitment to a different level. 

The other one that I think has been super helpful is Asana. And I say this because we’ve been trying to move the company entirely off of Slack because I think Slack does a lot of unhealthy things for people in some emotional state. Everything seems urgent, and things get lost and all that stuff. And I know that was probably the intent behind creating it, but for us, that’s not quite working, so we think we can manage communication through Sophya and Asana. 

And then we do a lot of our recruiting and searching through Turing. Our engineering team has their whole suite of tools.  But, from a perspective of a team-wide set of tools? That’s mostly Sophya and Asana. 

Jonathan Siddharth:

That sounds great. Thank you for joining me on Turing Distinguished Leader Series, Vishal. 

For more of Jonathan’s conversations with other Distinguished Engineering Leaders, go here.

Image Credit: Provided by the author; from www.freepik.com

Jonathan Siddharth

Jonathan is the CEO and Co-Founder of Turing.com. Turing is an automated platform that lets companies “push a button” to hire and manage remote developers. Turing uses data science to automatically source, vet, match, and manage remote developers from all over the world.
Turing has 160K developers on the platform from almost every country in the world. Turing’s mission is to help every remote-first tech company build boundaryless teams.
Turing is backed by Foundation Capital, Adam D’Angelo who was Facebook’s first CTO & CEO of Quora, Gokul Rajaram, Cyan Banister, Jeff Morris, and executives from Google and Facebook. The Information, Entrepreneur, and other major publications have profiled Turing.
Before starting Turing, Jonathan was an Entrepreneur in Residence at Foundation Capital. Following the successful sale of his first AI company, Rover, that he co-founded while still at Stanford. In his spare time, Jonathan likes helping early-stage entrepreneurs build and scale companies.
You can find him Jonathan @jonsidd on Twitter and [email protected] His LinkedIn is https://www.linkedin.com/in/jonsid/

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