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At-Home Brain Therapy? Healium is Making it Possible – ReadWrite

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Deanna Ritchie


If you’re looking for the intersection of a medical marvel, productivity hack, and convenience — the street sign likely reads “Healium.”

At-Home Brain Therapy

Billed as a “mental fitness” tool, Healium is a clinically validated channel that helps users manage their mental health using augmented and virtual reality. In normal words: Healium uses cool tech to make people feel better and work smarter.

The primary piece of the puzzle, neurofeedback, is how Healium reads information from the brain and informs the user about what it sees.

With this technology, users can get live looks at factors such as stress levels and alertness. Translating this information into easily digestible feedback allows users to gain new insights about their mental states and exercise greater control over their moods and habits.

While the technology under the hood may be complicated, the practical applications are simple — and, in theory, almost limitless. Let’s take a look to see what neurofeedback can do and how its applications will shape the future of mental wellness.

How does neurofeedback work?

Healium doesn’t scan your brain with your smartphone’s camera (not yet, anyway). Instead, the app works through an EEG headband, a neat device that goes around the head of the user.

Healium and its BrainLink Lite headband can also hook up with iPhone, Android, Vive, Pico Goblin devices. The BrainLink headband can also be paired with Oculus devices, expanding potential uses to all-new realms.

The app starts off by measuring EEG data from the user to create a baseline.

If you’re looking at your phone, you’ll see a small firefly move around, representing your focused calm or flow state. Relaxing more makes the firefly on the screen go higher — as does being more focused. What about when you’re stressed?

You can see the reaction of your stress or distracted thinking by watching the little firefly on your phone screen — the firefly begins to fly downward.

What do you do when the firefly starts flying down?

With the little firefly blip on the screen going down — you can relax or change your thinking. Healium provides a variety of feedback forms to help users recognize when they’re leaving the desired state of mind.

In VR, for example, Healium may tint the landscape red or pause an experience to get the user back on track.

Can you see the jaguar now?

The jaguar helps you increase focus. You can even change the color of a jaguar’s fur by increasing your focused calm thoughts! The jaguar represents your “stress animal.”

You train your brain with exercises — made just for you

Over time, you’ll use many exercises to help you train your mind to operate in more desirable states for longer periods of time.

Measuring both alertness and relaxation as the same kind of positive result may sound confusing, but it’s actually quite simple.

Healium can differentiate between different types of relaxation (meditation versus scrolling aimlessly through social media, for example).

The app can do the same work for different types of active brain work (like writing in a flow state versus side thoughts, like stressing about your relationship woes). The mental state the user wants is treated as a positive state.

Mental fitness app and productivity tool

Healium helps with both personal betterment and self-awareness. Functions such as Healium’s alertness and engagement training, for instance, can help professionals master the flow state to focus more on what’s in front of them. At any moment you can see where you are mentally — and learn to retrain your focus with ease.

What’s your mental fitness level?

Medical applications cover a variety of areas. Studies show neurofeedback can help medical practitioners and their patients achieve a host of positive results, especially with issues of mental fitness.

What about depression and anxiety?

One recent study focused on neurofeedback as a self-management tool for depression and anxiety. Participants practiced meditation with Healium’s augmented reality app, then gauged their mood states before and after. Overall, participants demonstrated changeable EEG activity and self-reported mood improvements after use.

Use in trauma

Trauma therapist and researcher Heather Hargraves discovered both professional and personal benefits from neurofeedback using Healium’s tools. After a major car accident in 2000 and the death of her brother a few years later, Heather experienced major trauma, both physically and mentally. Symptoms including dissociation followed suit.

Eventually, through her academic career and personal experience, Heather found meditation combined with neurofeedback provided a level of comfort she had not experienced using other methods.

Now working as a clinical practitioner, Heather helps others identify and deal with their internal struggles. She recommends patients use Healium neurofeedback between sessions as a way to reinforce the improvements they make during their treatment sessions.

The future of neurofeedback in daily life

Applications in personal, professional, and medical circles reveal that there’s personal power to be gained using the tool of neurofeedback. As Healium and other technology-fueled mental wellness tools become more widespread — neurofeedback will be one of the most effective techniques to help people make the improvements they desire in their lives.

Helping business productivity

Healium for Business has already begun to help professionals improve their performance while reducing the job-related burnout that has become a crisis. People are growing more aware of the need to manage their mental health effectively, and neurofeedback tools provide a practical, accessible way to do so.

Relieve your personal pain points

Personal users experience a litany of issues neurofeedback can help alleviate. Who doesn’t experience stress from work, family, friends, and otherwise? Many people struggle to tear themselves away from distractions like Netflix or social media.

With neurofeedback, users can reclaim control over their attention spans to spend their energies in the places they choose.

Using neurofeedback in medicine

Neurofeedback in medicine will continue to grow as more practitioners recognize the benefits of real-time mental health training. Today, neurofeedback is more heavily involved in psychological care, but these tools can also help with issues such as the self-management of chronic pain.

Healium at-home use

Healium at home puts the powers of neurofeedback in the hands of everyday people. Anyone can take advantage of powerful science and easy-to-use tools to train for productivity or self-managing anxiety.

As neurofeedback becomes a more common form of self-managed care, more people will incorporate these treatments into their daily lives.

Image Credit: from the healium home blog page

Deanna Ritchie

Managing Editor at ReadWrite

Deanna is the Managing Editor at ReadWrite. Previously she worked as the Editor in Chief for Startup Grind and has over 20+ years of experience in content management and content development.

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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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