Despite leaders’ best efforts, worldwide burnout and disruptions in Organizational Health persists. In this episode we reveal why—and how to help employees begin to thrive again.
Remote.com simplifies how companies employ global talent. We’re on a mission to open up the world of work for every person, business, and country.
Bryan Smith, founder at LEON and the host of the Organizational Health Podcast, sat down with Remote VP of People Nadia Vatalidis to get the inside scoop about how Remote has scaled from 70 employees not even two years ago to a current headcount of almost 1000 employees.
Key insights include:
[00:00:00] Bryan: All right. Hey, what's going on everybody? Welcome to the very special Thanksgiving episode of the Organizational Health Podcast. It is the show where we get down and dirty for 15 minutes with people, leaders, executives, and founders on the playbooks that they use to improve organizational health. In today's podcast, we have Nadia Va.
[00:00:19] I think I got that right. VP of people of remote, which simplifies how companies employ global talent. They're on a mission to open up the world for of work for every person, business and country. Nadia, are you ready to kick this off?
[00:00:33] Nadia Vatalidis: I am happy Thanksgiving, Brian, and thanks for telling me before the podcast about your amazing pineapple pudding.
[00:00:39] I wish I was in the US to experience
[00:00:41] Bryan: that. Fantastic. All right, cool. So tell us about your background and your experience in HR and leading people. These. Yeah,
[00:00:48] Nadia Vatalidis: currently VP of People at Remote. I feel like we are helping to redefine the way of work and ultimately opening opportunities both for companies, but I think what I'm excited about is opening opportunities [00:01:00] for all these amazing, talented individuals around the world to work for tech companies through a tool like ours.
[00:01:06] And so that accessibility it creates really excites me. Euro at remote, we did a ton of scaling over the last two years since I've joined, I joined at 70 people. We're 950 people now in roughly 75 countries in the world. Prior I come from GI Lab, which was a really nice opportunity to step into the world of.
[00:01:25] Silicon Valley tech startups that eventually successfully iPod. I spent about four years at GI Lab also in the people space mostly hitting up ops and year at remote heading up the entire
[00:01:37] Bryan: function of people. Fantastic. So 950 people right now. 75 countries for remote. What are the goals over the next year for.
[00:01:46] Nadia Vatalidis: Great question. We, this year we moved into a sustainable year like I think many companies did. We definitely did it quite early on. So looked at sustainability, efficiency, how do we enter this sort of next stage of the [00:02:00] economy? As a series C tech startup we are really focused next year on, I would say, Ruthless prioritization, right?
[00:02:09] Really zoning into the areas of our product. We want to develop the core aspects of what we are going after as a company. Our North stars remain the same. We absolutely want to create those opportunities for individuals and companies to be able to hire anywhere in the world, no matter how rural or distributed.
[00:02:25] And we do all the hard. For companies based on that, we care so much about the human experience. So it's not just the employer UX that matters, it's absolutely those employees that work for them as well. And then we work in a very modern, very forward, very redefining way. So I get to have a lot of fun with innovation.
[00:02:44] And also, very challenging situations to manage all these amazing cultures, all these amazing people around all these countries in the world.
[00:02:52] Bryan: I'm assuming right now, so you guys are at, did series C is there a plan to race sometime soon? And also where do you see a head?
[00:02:57] Where do you see your head count within the, that year?
[00:02:59] Nadia Vatalidis: think [00:03:00] account will probably stay around the same. Okay. I would be surprised if we grow with more than a hundred people. We had a year last year, which was pretty much get on the bus. We need to build products. This year is about, we have goals, we have priorities.
[00:03:13] Now we know what we want. We have great people working for us, and so now it's more about critical roles than we just simply haven't felt in. Two to three years. We're only three years old now. In January we'll celebrate our third birthday. And so it's really about just making sure that we have the critical talent that we need going into the future.
[00:03:31] Those critical skills. We hire for competencies and skills. We absolutely don't hire for degrees and experience. We really focus on folks that have specific competencies and that aligns with our. Values and the culture that we've created at
[00:03:46] Bryan: Vermont. Okay. Perfect. Regarding that, it's really interesting to see when companies move from.
[00:03:51] Grow fast and break things to a point where processes actually matter, right? And it matters to the longevity of the company and how successful they are, and ultimately the [00:04:00] resilience of the company. So that's a good sort of segue into sort of that topic of this podcast, which is about organizational health.
[00:04:06] So it's a two part question for you. So one, how do you define organizational health at a company your size, and then what is the organizational health strategy at remote?
[00:04:16] Nadia Vatalidis: Great questions. I'll start with how I define it. To me, I think that the two core aspects of it is definitely psychological safety, which leads to trust, right?
[00:04:27] And belonging. Belonging is a very big topic at remote. And so if I need to unpack that and how all the other things net together, I think it's really based on what your diversity, equity, and inclusion strategy is, how that works. Whether you have a policy, a guideline, a strategy, it doesn't really matter, but how does that work to install an environment where you can feel that you belong to, especially in a distributed company where we've never met in person?
[00:04:54] Yes, I've met a bunch of remoters because I've traveled at time for events and talks, et cetera, but every [00:05:00] single remoter has not met every other remoter, and so it's really important that we build belonging intentionally in an environment like this. And then on the psychological safety topic, Startups goes through so much change.
[00:05:14] And so the resilience you need is important, but that resilience at a point also needs to stop, right? You need to have an end point of resilience where you go into a more sustainable sort of more environment where you can nearly expect what's coming next. And if there's a change that it can flow really well and pivot really well into that next change instead of constantly having these rigid changes.
[00:05:36] That does cause a lot of anxiety and confusion for many people. So I think that's really where, what's important to me. There's many other aspects of remote that plugs into organizational health. Absolutely. Mental health. We are very lucky that we have people that feel. And trusted enough to speak up.
[00:05:56] Public Slack channels about their mental health challenges. We [00:06:00] have a neurodiverse community at remote. We have an entire sort of culture connection around neurodiversity. We have that for all aspects of diversity. So if you can imagine having Some companies call it we call it remote culture connections, right?
[00:06:14] So various groups of people that have similar interests or identify in a similar way and can talk can create initiatives, can really build knowledge and can really help us to go into the future with our DEI and belonging plans. So I think at remote its various things. It's also a company that foundationally at its core was built on.
[00:06:35] These are not values we've written on a wall and never, never look at, we've operationalized those values. So to me it's really taking belonging, psychological safety, these values that we have at a core, and then built everything else around that. How does the company's strategy go back to values?
[00:06:53] How does the goals tie back to that? Does it create psychological safety? If does it mess with it, and if it messes with it, [00:07:00] what kind of risks are we willing to take yet? I also, I will. When you 70 people and you scale that. What the company was, what your organizational half was at 70 people is definitely gonna look very different at 950 people.
[00:07:16] The culture will change, it will evolve what your priorities were at 70 people and how you operated is. Also has to become more efficient at 950 people. Also combined with that customer growth, that employee growth, that we've gone through. So I think it's important to just recognize it's certainly different from where it was before.
[00:07:36] I love looking at difficult questions and engagement surveys. Early on, one of our board members said to me, whatever you do at. And this is obviously where we're seriously funded, right? So our board is also some of our VCs that has funded us. But one individual just gave me such great ideas around engagement surveys and he's please don't always go and ask the same questions.
[00:07:57] Don't go and use that. [00:08:00] 55 steps of engagement survey, ask really difficult questions, and we have some good questions around belonging, and I always like taking that and go based on this feedback, what are we doing at the executive team, middle management, IC level? What are we doing to listen with an empathetic ear to this feedback on belonging or on the aspects of psychological safety are remote.
[00:08:22] What goals are gonna link back to that? What changes do we need to make to improve not just that percentage, but the feedback that we're getting? That's been really great. It's also been, Very rewarding to work on an executive team that cares about that feedback and that's willing to go on this journey with me to ask these really difficult questions.
[00:08:40] That's not the run of the all engagement survey questions. So I think it's, that in itself has just been really great to be able to use all of those items and tie that back to organizational health, mental health in itself. At remote. We have had various programs. We have iterated on them as well.
[00:08:58] We absolutely offer [00:09:00] mental health support company-wide. To do that in 70, 75 countries is really difficult cuz you wanna create this equitable experience. But we have been able to provide that. I think a step up from that. Is about how you engage your leadership community to have discussions about what's really going on for someone day to day and listen to, one chat that you had with someone around sales.
[00:09:22] If someone isn't delivering on their target and they've always delivered, they've always been this like top, always making margins, et cetera, and something changes. The first thing you need to ask. How are you doing? How are things going for you? Is everything okay? I think it's about that check in first with the individual before you hit the agenda items and targets.
[00:09:42] So yeah. Long story short, I think those are the comp components that really matters at
[00:09:46] Bryan: remote. You hit a great point there, right? Because relating back to your conversation about sales. I think we forget to understand that most of the time when we're looking at data your data, regardless if it's qualitative or quantitative or based off conversations, it needs to be diagnostic in [00:10:00] nature, right?
[00:10:00] Like you have to be able to understand the correct action to be able to take or how to adjust your goals or OKRs or KPIs, whatever that is, to be able to support that team business, functional organization, right? We tend to look at or engagement surveys as. Trends, right? But what they are is signals, and it's up for you as VP of people or even a frontline manager, to dive deeper into those signals rather than reusing that data point as a reporting metric.
[00:10:29] Cause that's the worst thing that you could do, right? It's example of, know, coming back from my time in sports, it's like my ankle's. Or an athlete's ankles interest, what do you do about that? To be able to make sure that one, that athlete can still train right, and can still push forward.
[00:10:45] But how do you apply physical therapy or physiotherapy or whatever that is to be able to help that athlete recover to be able to perform at his or her or they's job? And that's what sometimes we miss when we look at. Engagement data and whatnot is we don't make it [00:11:00] actionable. It's just this is our trend, this is our kpi.
[00:11:04] Okay, we're moving in the right direction. But that's not true organizational health. That is not making an impact in the lives of our people. Would you agree?
[00:11:12] Nadia Vatalidis: I would agree. I think we focus. So much in people orgs on those trains and then year on year data Yeah. That we nearly like risk adverse to go and ask harder questions next time.
[00:11:24] Yeah. We got your feedback on this topic. We are diving deeper now. Yeah. Something else, we've made these changes. We got your feedback, we saw what was going on. We, we got all the signals that you shared with us. These are the changes we made. Now, next time we need to go deeper.
[00:11:39] , if we just keep doing those trends, analysis year on year, maybe it works at a company of 70,000 employees because it's very difficult to scale those things and listen to feedback and that. But when you're at this size, you absolutely should step out of your comfort zone and. Oh, my year on year trends might not match, but I'm asking difficult questions and people [00:12:00] are telling me what I need to know about the organization.
[00:12:03] Above and beyond that, go, yeah,
[00:12:05] Bryan: go for it. No, I was gonna say, when it comes down to the, to your point, a lot of times what we forget as well is that sometimes you have to quantify the impact of the decision you made. And I feel like what ends up happening is, to your point, we get the.
[00:12:17] We run strategies and whatever strategy that might be. It could be benefit offering, it could be reduction in hours, it could be multiple different things, but we don't understand the impact of that decision and if it actually worked, right? Cause, and what ends up happening is we don't take intelligence from that data.
[00:12:31] Cause you need to know when you implemented this benefit or when you did this strategy, did it actually change those numbers? So you know, this one, this strategy A works for our organization. Strategy B doesn't work for our organization. And when you're talking. Humans, which are so subjective and so diverse.
[00:12:49] A four day work week for a bunch of teams might not work. We've actually looked at this four day works week for sales teams. Actually calls didn't stress and caused, an increase in mental health issues. Because ultimately what [00:13:00] happened is the company didn't reduce hours. But they, I'm sorry, they didn't reduce goals, but they reduced hours.
[00:13:05] And on another point, Damn, where was I going with that? All right, you, go ahead. I'll circle back on this, but go ahead. What was your next point? Yeah.
[00:13:12] Nadia Vatalidis: I think it's about if you tell someone I can see that you're feeling burnout. Let's work on your efficiencies.
[00:13:17] Let's see if we can reduce your workload, right? I think if you're not there to enable that, then you're basically tone this, you're basically saying to them, You're not efficient. Sure. And I think it's about going that step further, and this is tough stuff. If you have a hundred managers in a company of our size, you need to make sure all those managers are taking ownership of that feedback in that engagement survey and how do you even do that?
[00:13:42] So I think it's important that there's such great alignment between your expectations of what a manager will need to do with that feedback. And not go straight into. Data, oh, this is the data. This is what I'm doing. This is the data. This is what I'm doing. And instead, start having conversations in teams about, [00:14:00] Hey, I saw a lot of feedback in the payroll org or the finance org about potentially long hours.
[00:14:05] What's going on? How can I help? What is your tools working? How can we take a three hour process and turn it into 30 minutes? What can I do to enable that for you? And to start helping to move the blockers that's causing. High workload. Do we need more head count? What method did we use to decide on this head count?
[00:14:25] Did we sack or did we have a plan? So I think essentially with growing startups, I think initially there's so much of. That, that get on the bus mentality, that it is important when you go into that next phase that you truly understand the dyna dynamic in every single one of your teams. Yo and Marcello, our two co-founders, love the walk the floor type opportunities where they literally have a walk the floor session, they try and do it quarterly.
[00:14:52] I don't think that's materialized this year. But they literally ask very difficult questions and open to very difficult feedback one on [00:15:00] one with anyone at remote. So they make time, they literally block an entire day or as much as time that they can availability across all time zones for people to come and talk to them.
[00:15:11] And what's nice is you do take. The engagement survey away, all of a sudden you take the safety net of just speaking to HR or that filter away, and all of a sudden someone, someone might give them a really good idea or some feedback where they simply didn't know about it and they can then come back to me and say, wow, we got such amazing feedback.
[00:15:32] This is not working. We should really check in with people on whether this particular initiative is actually working for our organization. I, for that reason, I don't always like signing vendor agreements that are multi-year and it must be frustrating from a vendor perspective. I'm sure it's even frustrating for us when we are trying to sell multi-year deals.
[00:15:52] But I actually. Making sure that the tools I have, all these amazing things that I've implemented are working for the people of remote. It [00:16:00] might work for all these other amazing companies, but it might not work for this particular audience and the stage that we are at cause we go through so many different stages during growing.
[00:16:10] Bryan: In startup. . Yeah. No I say this a lot, it's the teams that, that win are the teams that can repeat performance over and over again with minimal people cost, right? Yeah. And ultimately, that's what I, the way that I look at organizational health is what are the stress inputs that are influencing your team?
[00:16:25] And are they resilient enough to be able handle that? And when you're at a 70 person head count, burnout's going to. I mean that's gonna happen, right? And that's sometimes we even look at that as a positive signal. And what I mean by that might be a bad thing to say that burnout is a positive signal.
[00:16:41] A lot of times that means that work is getting done right? And as long as if you break down from a data perspective, it gets really interesting when you start looking at company data versus individual data. And if you're assessing both of those, right? And then you see what company data, where, alignment's really great cultures, really were great beliefs in manager is really great.
[00:16:58] All these, positive [00:17:00] signals. And then you start looking at individual signals and that, stress is a little high, alright? Or mental health is disrupted or sleep is disrupted. That might just be a signal that the work is actually getting done and that what you might need to do is just, implement micro strategies to be able to support your team in that individual aspect, right?
[00:17:17] To reduce that sort of stress input or that stress signal that's happening and allow them to recover. But when you get to your point where you're at 900, a thousand people, The impact of stress is so very large, right? Because it's organizational, it's a disruption in the market. It is global economics, all these other things that influence a 900 person company when layoffs have to happen and whatnot.
[00:17:38] And then you have this massive sort of stress response from your people, and it's so hard to be able to manage that. And to your point, that's where. Issues such as psychological safety and belonging and d and i and mental health and neurodiversity, all these true strategies that you guys are implementing versus talking points.
[00:17:58] And I said something about this other day, [00:18:00] mission and vision and values are very important, but if they don't relate back to the strategy of your organizational to organization to be able to grow, all they are is. They are as talking plants, and you can't lean on mission, vision, and values to be your culture or to be your organizational health.
[00:18:17] You have to have a direction of travel and you have to understand what you're trying to improve. And it's fantastic because at remote it seems like you guys are definitely doing that.
[00:18:26] Nadia Vatalidis: Yeah, and I think the are core components that make up culture and maybe that alignment to the vision and strategy is super important, especially if it's concise and clear.
[00:18:36] Some companies have a very vague. Efficient and mission. We don't, but I think it's all those core components. It's gonna make up culture and that is gonna start looking at your organizational health. Something else on the dni track is that, when I joined we were 50% female, and one of the things I chatted about with your early on was like, one of my goals.
[00:18:58] Be to keep that [00:19:00] percentage when we are a thousand people or 950 people. It's really difficult to do that when you're growing that quickly. But I'm proud to say that we are, and to me that's another signal on organizational health to be a tech company that scaled that quickly, to still be able to say, we're 51% identifies female today.
[00:19:19] That means a ton to someone like me, just because we started at. To get away from that number is absolutely so easy. And then you've gotta start going I've done that, right? But did I get the ethnicity diversity aspect right? In my leadership, what does that look like? Is the actual is the actual minority and taken my company?
[00:19:38] What does that look like? Have I considered that? I have all these amazing cultures around the world, but what do they, I. So that is really where you start cementing other things to check organizational health. And I think it, it starts going into every area that you consider that is part of making up your organizational health and you've nearly got a set.
[00:19:58] directly responsible [00:20:00] individuals or very clear ownership of who is gonna drive those initiatives. It can't just be recruiting the hiring managers and all your leaders that's involved with hiring has to be on board with that strategy as well. So I think there's so many components to organizational health.
[00:20:14] It's such an amazing topic and it's definitely underrated. And as you said right in the beginning, I don't think all. , all the amazing strategies that a company has is always tying back to that. So it's important actually to tie that back to organizational health and talk about that as a topic and then how it links up to it and how you measure that at the end of the day as a
[00:20:34] Bryan: whole.
[00:20:34] Okay, cool. So to sum it up, roughly about 950 people currently right now, remote series C. Organizational health for you guys revolves around psychological safety belongings, DNI. Mental health neurodiversity, making sure that you have data signals that are both actionable and impactful. And then using qualitative feedback either through founder sort of walk arounds or, having direct conversations with teams to of dive a little deeper to understand [00:21:00] where impacts and decisions need to be made, which maybe not be signaling through your, or through your engagement survey or whatever else.
[00:21:06] And then one last point, making sure that you're asking really. Hard questions regarding the health of your organization and regarding the direction of your company. Does that sound about right? Yeah. Sounds good. Last thing. Our top three at three. All right, so there's three questions. What books are you reading right now?
[00:21:22] What would you recommend? What CEOs or people, leaders do you follow or would you recommend? And what are your personal passions? And I'm hoping you're gonna say mountain biking. And what do you do in your spare time?
[00:21:33] Nadia Vatalidis: Awesome. I'm still reading the Culture Playbook. I'm basically just done, it's not a new book, it's from Daniel Coll.
[00:21:39] Really Loving it. You'll see all the little notes on a pages to go back to a book that I want to read. My local South African bookshops don't have it, so I'm gonna order it through Amazon or something and get it. Chip is conscious. Capitalism, really like to know a little bit more. About that thinking.
[00:21:54] I, I am quite frugal. I love cutting unnecessary costs and unnecessary [00:22:00] wastage of money and costs for a company without impacting head count. So first look at opex and then head count. Head counts your most expensive cost. But I think there's great other things you can do in an organization before you just always look at headcount.
[00:22:13] So keen on that. People that I follow in the HR space Lar Schmidt which wrote the book redefining hr. Also a really fun book. Follow, I do follow him. He talks about such amazing things in the world of people, but he also talks about such amazing things in the world of business, and he does such.
[00:22:29] Nice open source things where he goes and collates all the companies that are hiring. And so I feel like he often takes the time and effort to go and look at what is the trends in the world and address those and find actionable ways for folks to get unblocked to find opportunities to. To be able to access what's out there.
[00:22:46] He loves open source content, so I share that view of his world. There are so many amazing others. There is someone on LinkedIn and I always forget their name. I am gonna look for that so [00:23:00] I can. Read it while I'm looking for their name. I will say I do love mountain biking. I am very lucky that my entire family is into it.
[00:23:10] My husband started sucking with the gravel bikes. I'm really keen to switch to gravel now again and get a decent gravel bike. So slight obsess with specialized right now in their gravel range with others as well. I do all the things. I like a combination of sports, so I like having Pilates yoga as my conditioning days and then doing cycling and running on my hardcore days, but I also enjoy it.
[00:23:34] So I love a combination of sports. Never been a single sport type of person. And I have two French bulldogs, which is new to the family, so that's why they come up first. They are, they've both created utter cows, but utter love in this household. Two amazing kids. One going into the teen phase and one is a tween.
[00:23:52] Interesting phase, learning a lot about empathy and purine.
[00:23:56] Bryan: Yeah, I have two right around that same age. So under, I understand [00:24:00] exactly what you're feeling right now.
[00:24:01] Nadia Vatalidis: Yeah. And then I'm amazing. I'm married to an amazing Greek guy here in South Africa, so we travel to Greece often in European summit.
[00:24:08] We haven't done. Since the pandemic, but we're planning to do that
[00:24:11] Bryan: again. All right. Nadia, thank you so much for your time. You've been honestly fantastic, and enjoy your day.
[00:24:18] Nadia Vatalidis: Awesome. Have a great Thanksgiving, Brian. Enjoy.
[00:24:21] Bryan: Cheers. Bye.