December 21, 2022
December 21, 2022

Embracing Remote Work And Innovating Within Standards

Casey Saran
Co-Founder & CEO

For the past 3 months, I've received a similar Slack message every Monday morning from our marketing team: "EOY blog?". It's a friendly reminder that I promised to contribute to the Spaceback blog before the end of the year. I can usually justify my procrastinatory ways because I use the extra borrowed time to formulate my ideas.

So, in preparation for writing this, I really did spend a lot of time thinking about our industry and which trends I wanted to muse about. I believe that changes to identity management will still turn the industry upside down, and CTV is certainly one of the most exciting transformations in digital.

As an industry, we have some hard problems to solve, but if I'm being completely honest, these hard problems are also the things I'm most excited about. Solving hard problems is the fun part of my job, and it's why I love this industry. The hard part of my job is navigating uncertainty, particularly around team-building and innovation.

The Great Culture Divide in Tech

There is no blueprint for how to build teams in a (post) COVID world.

Back in 2009, I used to work at a place called Google: An enchanted kingdom where food was free and nobody had to do their own laundry (or pay for a gym membership, etc.). I'd get on the company's wifi-enabled shuttle near Alamo Square (where it was always cold and gloomy) and be transported to a magical land where it was always sunny and the lawns were always freshly mowed (by goats!).

Inspired by Google's success, many tech companies around the world followed suit. Tech bosses seemed to be completely aligned that it was good business to invest in their employees' happiness at the workplace.

When the pandemic hit, many of the in-office perks were put on hold–swapped out for the ultimate perk: WFH. Everyone in tech got to taste that honey, so when COVID restrictions started to loosen up, many weren't ready to go back to that soul sucking place. Quite simply, the perks lost a lot of their value, and employers are struggling to figure out the right way to navigate this tricky situation.

The scene is now set for the great culture divide in tech. On one side, we have the "hardcore" Elon Musk, publicly forcing Twitter's remaining workforce back into the office and into a "hardcore work culture". But what is on the other side? Elon gives us a clear example of what not to do, but unlike the wave of "googliness", there is no blueprint for how to build remote teams in a (post) COVID world.

Spaceback grew up in an interesting time. Originally headquartered out of San Francisco, there were 10 of us at the start of 2021 (mostly in California and New York). During the pandemic, we made the decision to give up our office space and eliminate any geo requirements for open roles. Fast forward to today, we are 25 people across 11 states and 5 countries, so it's pretty clear we're not going to have a strong "in-office" culture anytime soon.

I believe that the best teams share a lot of personal accountability, but this isn't something you can "teach" or put on a job description. Personal accountability is built out of consistent goodwill, mutual respect, reliable camaraderie, and shared goals/victories. Unfortunately, it is not possible to develop these traits without human interaction, so here are some of the things we are doing to try to invest in our people and a stronger remote culture:

Head of People Operations

Traditional wisdom says to hire an HR person when you're approaching 100 employees. We decided to hire a Head of People Operations as our 15th employee.

Oculus Headset

Every Spaceback employee gets an Oculus Meta Quest 2 as part of their new hire package. We don't have any mandatory Metaverse events or anything like that, but we do have a Walkabout Mini Golf League! This demonstrates our commitment to being part of the future of remote work and making sure everyone at Spaceback has the hardware required to participate.

Thnks

We use a platform called Thnks to digitally send gifts (things like lunches, cups of coffee, treats, etc.) that can be claimed locally by the recipient. We encourage everyone on the team to send Thnks every month to a colleague, and at the start of each All Hands, we make time for public recognition around these.

Book Club

One of our engineers started a Spaceback book club, and about half of Spaceback decided to join! I'm in the book club, and I'm stoked about it. But I think the main point here is that it is important to support employee-led initiatives as well.

Innovation in a Changing Economy?

Part of innovating is doing different stuff just to see what happens. It is the only way to truly understand a problem from every angle. It's how we challenge traditional wisdom and learn for ourselves. Many of the greatest inventions of history were invented by accident, but unfortunately, I don't think we are going to accidentally build the great creative automation platform of the future.

When the economy is good, marketing teams have an "innovation budget". These are funds that are designated for doing cool new things that probably wouldn't normally make it onto the core media plan.

The expectation is that brands with innovation budgets are able to stay ahead of the curve on emerging technologies. Not everything has to "work" or hit an ROI benchmark. Success means developing an opinion and building expertise with emerging technology. Obviously, big wins can come out of these kinds of initiatives, but that isn't the expectation. Unfortunately, a changing economy means more risk aversion and less budget for doing different stuff just to see what happens. As innovation budgets are abandoned in favor of tried and tested channels (like Google and Facebook), how do we motivate partners to continue to innovate?

This may sound like an oxymoron, but I strongly believe in the idea of innovation within standards. This can be a difficult concept for an entrepreneur to wrap their head around because innovation typically means throwing standards out the window.

Innovation actually becomes a lot harder when you put goofy, arbitrary confinements around it (otherwise known as standards). That said, it's a lot easier to get the market to adopt a solution if it fits into what they are already doing, thus, the concept of innovation within standards.

Here's an example: With the emergence of CTV, advertisers have sought to make television ads more interactive. Many of the streaming platforms have experimented with their own form of interactive television ads, but most advertisers have opted instead to use QR codes.

I'll be the first to say QR codes probably aren't a great solution for making television more interactive, but they are now everywhere! The reason is that advertisers could apply QR codes to standard MP4 files, thus having a way to make their ads slightly more interactive without having to revisit how they develop ads. I would like to stress that I'm not advocating for QR codes on television. This is just an example of mass adoption because of availability through standards.

Brands still want to innovate in a bear market! We just need to offer clients the opportunities to innovate in ways that minimize the risk of doing something new.

adtech
Company Culture
COVID-19
Industry Insights
Metaverse
Remote Work

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