Joel Tobecksen needed to get hundreds of computer monitors fast.
With COVID-19 spreading at alarming rates overseas, he was worried supply chains would dry up, and like so many tasks accomplished during the pandemic, it was something the director of end user computing wasn’t expecting to tackle at the beginning of 2020. Nevertheless, Tobecksen and his team successfully located and distributed monitors to employees at Paylocity before they began their transition to working from home.
On paper, switching to a fully-remote model wouldn’t be difficult for Paylocity. The company already had the tools and processes in place for staff to work together, whether on-site or virtually. Employees at the HR and payroll software company had long enjoyed the benefits of flexible remote work, and working from home is so ingrained in the company’s day to day that, according to Tobecksen, it’s a part of Paylocity’s culture.
But working from home during a pandemic is not that simple. Lack of childcare, increased levels of anxiety, unexpected business hurdles and changing workflows all contribute to a workplace scenario no business was fully prepared to deal with.
While a pandemic instruction manual would have come in handy, Senior Director of Product and Tech Development Christine Pellini said the whole company banded together to quickly adapt to the new landscape.
In some ways, she said, it felt like Paylocity’s early startup days.
“It forced us to solve problems so much faster than we’ve ever had to solve them,” Pellini said.
Paylocity’s leaders spoke to Built In Chicago to share how their teams have acclimated to an entirely remote workforce and how they’ve found success, stability and camaraderie in a turbulent time.
Tell us what Paylocity’s workforce looked like before the pandemic.
Director of End User Computing Joel Tobecksen: Pre-pandemic, about 44 percent of our employees were already working remotely, and a large group of employees was following a schedule of working remotely but also coming to the office a couple of days a week.
Remote work has always been part of our culture, and we are really flexible in meeting people’s schedules. Paylocity believes the best talent can be found anywhere, not just where our offices are located. And we support anyone wanting to work remotely. If they need a couple of days to work from home here and there, we are fully on board with that.
VP of Data Science and Chief Data Science Officer Adam McElhinney: Two to three times a year, Paylocity brings in everyone to our headquarters. There, we do on-site sessions that are a combination of work and team building.
We’re used to being remote, but one of the biggest changes we’ve seen during this pandemic is that we’re no longer able to do these on-sites. People really enjoyed those because they’re a good opportunity to bond and do activities that are harder to do while remote. Now, we’re finding new ways to unite the team.
I think being able to work remotely is part of our culture. We find the best talent anywhere.”
Speaking of events, tell us about TechCon, a convention usually done in person. What did it look like this year?
Senior Director of Product & Tech Development Christine Pellini: We have so many smart people working for us that we can learn from. About seven years ago, we decided that we should put on our own technical conference. We didn’t want to lose our TechCon to the pandemic, so we chose to have what we call a Gracious Day of Learning, a day of online sessions that are all held and run by individual contributors. We had almost 500 folks attend!
Tobecksen: The product and tech team was encouraged to clear their calendars. There were sessions on everything from containerization and its benefits to writing styles. Throughout that day of absorption and learning, there were staggered offerings and sessions that we could attend. It helped keep us connected with what the rest of the organization is doing.
What were some other pivots your team had to make while Paylocity transitioned into a fully remote workforce?
Tobecksen: Our culture is able to transition into a work-from-home model with very little disruption to our business. I think one of the most challenging things from an end-user computing standpoint was getting employees the equipment that they needed. As soon as we started to hear that there was going to be a stay-at-home order, we had to drop everything and focus on getting equipment.
We already caught wind that supply chains were drying up due to the plant closures in China, so we had to act very quickly to source hundreds of monitors and get those into the hands of employees who were going to work from home — all within a matter of days. I’m extremely proud of the way that my team was able to pivot and accommodate everyone.
We had to make it OK for our team members to have their lives happening all around them while they work.”
McElhinney: Our internship program had to really shift as well. Typically, it’s an on-site program with pretty large cohorts of interns, who do a lot of programming in addition to attending educational sessions with senior executives. We still wanted to support that internship program, but we had to make it remote. I was a little worried about early-career individuals being able to make the transition, but so far it’s gone well.
Pellini: While we were all used to working from home, most folks weren’t used to working from home with their family. We had to make it OK for our team members to have their lives happening all around them while they work. We’ve gotten more careful around when and how we schedule meetings. People don’t have the kind of childcare they used to, and we are understanding about background noise during sessions that previously were formal.
These shifts actually helped my teams get closer. One of them actually hosts a “happy hour” every other week with their kids, who get on the Zoom call and start talking to each other. It’s helped my teams stay sane through the stay-at-home orders.
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What does collaboration look like these days on your team?
McElhinney: Remote culture forces a little more discipline and process. We can no longer solve problems by getting into a room together for a couple of hours and whiteboarding. But sometimes there isn’t a high level of preparation going into a whiteboard session anyway. That’s not to say there aren’t good uses for whiteboarding sessions, but now people have to get creative about using flowcharts and software where people can collaborate. It does force a certain level of discipline, which can actually be very positive.
Pellini: One of my teams was in the process of scheduling a kickoff for a rather large project when the pandemic hit, and we had to move that entire whiteboarding session to be remote. We realized there’s plenty of tools out there to help, but to Adam’s point, we did have to schedule things pretty aggressively.
We would go into small breakout meetings and designate three people to work on one task for 15 minutes, and then they’d come back and we’d all iterate on it. We ended up holding an entire two-day session that way and got our objectives accomplished. Between utilizing new tools, effectively managing our time and using breakout sessions to minimize the crosstalk that happens on Zoom, it was pretty effective.
What has been one of your biggest takeaways from Paylocity’s response to the pandemic?
Pellini: When the pandemic hit, we had to deal with a lot of state legislative changes because of the business we’re in. It forced us to solve problems so much faster than we’ve ever had to solve them. As a result, we built new bonds and functions across the whole organization.
My team was building products to support the new legislation. At the same time, we were engaging with marketing, the learning and development team and our service center. We held weekly meetings with all the cross-functional groups. Now, we’re trying to take what we learned and apply that to other projects on an ongoing basis. It reminded me of some of our younger days at Paylocity when we weren’t so big and things just kind of happened.