Kate Schroeder from Vimeo: Employees Have to Feel Safe to Ask Questions

Katy Mrvova
Kate Schroeder from Vimeo

Kate Schroeder is a Director of Recruiting & Talent Operations at Vimeo, the world’s largest ad-free open video platform, providing powerful tools to host, share and sell videos.

She’s been with the company for over four years and has seen it grow from 100 people to more than 500.

As you would expect, a growth this big comes with a handful of challenges and no small amount of learning.

Curious to know how this change affected Vimeo’s culture, we invited Kate for a friendly fireside chat during our recent customer meetup in New York.

She talked to our Head of Strategic Partnerships, Juraj Pal, about building trust with employees and steps they at Vimeo take to create a safe space for them to ask questions.

Read more in this inspiring interview.

Q: Kate, one of the reasons we are here today is to talk about transparency and open culture. Since Vimeo has grown rapidly as a company, how do you manage to maintain these values?

Building trust within a company is everything. And that goes hand in hand with openness in communication and a frequent feedback loop. Your employees must feel heard but also need to trust the decision-makers in the company.

Trust goes two ways. When the leadership trusts the employees enough to inform them about all the important stuff and ask for their feedback, the employees will trust the leaders to make good decisions. This is important because, as we know, decisions sometimes have to happen without checking in with everybody first.

Q: Speaking of keeping employees informed, I’ve heard you run regular all-hands meetings at Vimeo. Can you tell us what they look like?

Yes, we run quarterly all-hands that we call the ‘State of the Vimeo’. We invest a lot of time into it and it’s packed with content. It’s heavily product-focused, but we’re consistently tying the presentations back to our overall strategy, goals, and Vimeo’s mission. This makes us feel like it’s a continuous discussion from the previous all-hands.

Our CEO, Anjali Sud, is very clear in setting a strategy for us and outlining how we’re progressing towards the goals. That’s reflected in all of the conversations.

During the meeting, every department shares an update from the business side of things. We go through product updates and people updates. At the end of each meeting, we run a Q&A. That’s where we use Slido.

Q: Now that you’ve mentioned Q&A. How do you create a safe environment for your employees to ask questions?

We let our people post questions into Slido anonymously. Employees have to feel safe in asking questions, no matter what those are. Interestingly, even though we encourage our people to ask with their names, 90% of questions come in as anonymous.

Despite the hardships that can come with anonymous questions, I feel it’s important to maintain that opportunity for employees. If you’re forcing people to “walk up to a microphone”, you can miss out on more subtle things your employees deal with.

Q: How do you deal with reduced accountability when it comes to anonymous questions?

I always moderate the questions before they go live. I push through almost all the questions unless they are offensive, insensitive or unproductive. In that case, I’ll respond and say: “Please, rephrase your question.” Or: “I don’t think we are going to answer this today.”

We’ve had conversations with our team about professional demeanor and tone of voice. Because even with an anonymous question, it’s still a professional discourse. We always urge our people to think of their colleagues and ask their questions in the same way as they would if speaking with someone in person.

Related Story: 5 Ways to Handle Negative or Irrelevant Employee Questions During Q&As

Q: What do these conversations with your employees look like?

A face to face reminder is usually the most powerful. At the very beginning of the ‘State of the Vimeo’, we remind people that Slido is open and encourage them to send in their questions.

We also tell our colleagues to upvote/downvote the ones that are already in, to increase the chances the question they care about gets answered.

That’s when we gently appeal to them to be respectful of each other and keep the discourse professional.

Q: What do you do with questions that can’t be answered on the spot?

Sometimes we get questions we don’t know the answers to yet or ones that are too complex. When that happens, I think being honest is the key.

It’s okay to say: “I actually don’t know how to answer this question right now.” Or: “This question is really important but there’s a level of complexity that needs some time to ponder through.”

Again, it’s about building trust with your employees through an honest discussion. People can sense it if you’re trying to put a spin on a difficult question.

On top of that, we often get too many questions to be answered during a 20-minute Q&A slot. If that’s the case, we send out a Slido report to our leadership team with all the questions that were answered and all that were unanswered. We distribute them among the leaders and ask them to speak to their teams individually about the topics that have come up.

Interview with Kate Schroeder from Vimeo
Juraj Pal talks to Kate Schroeder during Slido’s customer meetup in New York.

Recently, we got so many questions that we’ve done a quick follow-up and broke down the questions into high-level topics and had our CEO, Anjali, address each one. That was very well received. In my opinion, employees need to be able to access the leaders and have their questions answered.

Q: In a company of 500, it’s probably not easy for employees to reach out to the leaders. How do you cope with it?

You certainly have very specific growing pains at 150, 250 and at 500 person point. If you were a small company that at one point everybody knew each other’s name and you could pop in the CEO’s office at any time and have a conversation with them, it can be very frustrating suddenly to feel like there are layers between the big decision-makers in the company.

For that reason, tools like Slido are so valuable. They allow for conversations between employees and leadership.

For the leaders, all-hands is an opportunity to reignite the excitement about the mission of the company, get the employees excited about the product and the progress that the company has made over the last quarter. But above all, an all-hands gives employees that face to face time with the executives and make people feel that their concerns matter.

Q: How do you measure the success of your all-hands meetings?

We send a feedback survey through Slido right after the ‘State of the Vimeo’. It’s a very simple, 5-question survey. We ask: Was this a valuable use of your time? What content resonated with you? What do you wish we’d talk about more? What do you wish we’d talk about less? Any other feedback?

Besides classic star-rating, we use an open text poll so that people can give more detailed feedback if they want to.

Mostly, employees say it’s a valuable use of their time. But there are still many question marks over whether we should focus on the product more, or culture more. It’s hard to please everyone when you’re 500 people.

For that reason, separate teams at Vimeo have their own kind of all-hands. For example, our engineering teams run their own, our sales teams as well. It’s important because there are internal cultures within a larger organization that you should nurture and pay attention to.

We also started to create smaller break out town halls specifically focused on some topics, such as recruiting and HR because we’re getting a lot of questions around this subject.

Q: This surely has to do with Vimeo’s acquisition of Livestream. It must have been a big cultural change to integrate a new company. What were some of your learnings and challenges?

One of the key takeaways we have learned from previous acquisitions is that it’s critical to integrate the new team members into Vimeo’s cultural practices as quickly as possible: to welcome them, get them accustomed to how we communicate and make sure they are included in the fun things we do.

With Livestream, we wanted to ensure the teams felt like they were a part of Vimeo right out of the gate. That in part meant creating a lot of face to face opportunities. We invested in a big welcoming party, and dedicated a full ‘State of the Vimeo’ meeting to introducing them, their history, their product, and, maybe most importantly, Anjali’s vision for the integration and how it tied into Vimeo’s larger strategic vision.

Q: I know that Vimeo also has offices in Israel, Ukraine, and India. What do you do to make sure those offices feel part of the Vimeo culture?

It’s important to empower those offices to create their own culture built on the foundations of the HQ culture.

Our leadership team has been traveling quite frequently to these offices. For instance, our VP of Talent recently traveled around all our offices, which I think is very important. It’s great for our remote people to know that this person is there for them if they had any questions.

Investing that face to face time, making sure that your HR representative builds a close relationship with the people in the regions is what creates a sense of belonging. You just need to be very thoughtful of including everyone across the globe. And I think questions coming through Slido help you identify whether you’re doing a good job in that.

Thank you, Kate, for your valuable thoughts and insight.

 

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