HotJar: Taking flexibility and transparency to the next level

A chat with Sara Bent, People Ops Specialist at Hotjar.

Group photo with people waving hands in the air

Sara is no stranger to remote work. She joined Hotjar four years ago (in fact when we sat down for this interview in December she was celebrating her 4th anniversary) as a recruitment coordinator and helped the team grow exponentially. Her own role grew and evolved to cover new responsibilities as a People Operations Specialist.

Sara joined Hotjar, a SaaS company whose product “helps websites, improve their own sites, and make them more user friendly,” because she was specifically in the market for a remote role. As we talked, Sara acknowledged many benefits of remote work such as more family time or a shorter commute; but for her it was about travel. As a ‘digital nomad’ for four years and counting, this also resonated with me. I could definitely relate to Sara who shared her passion for travel, as a reason she went remote.

“I wanted to have a steady job where I could grow my career, but also the freedom to move. So, remote was the only way for me.” —Sara on why she wanted a remote role
Hotjar Sara Bent People Ops Specialist

As we continued to chat, we discussed how the pandemic has shifted the perception of remote work, and its challenges. “Even for a remote company with a strong foundation, during the pandemic, it’s been a really different experience. We were actually just sitting at home all day, you know, usually a strong piece of advice for remote workers is to make sure you get out of the house and go and do stuff. And we couldn’t really advise that come March.” Despite these challenges, Hotjar continued to share their experiences on this new way of working offer advice in their company blog.

Sara wonders what this will look like for future companies, “I think sometimes there’s a danger of “so and so” isn’t in the office today, I have to ask them a question they’ll be in tomorrow, I’ll just wait till they get back rather than like, No, no, they’re just a phone call or email away, you can still ask them that question.” She has a more purposeful approach to remote success, and shared:

“The success stories I’ve seen are from people openly discussing the company culture and looking for ways to keep their team engaged…  It does take more intentionality, but I think it’s incredibly easy to achieve.” —Sara on taking a purposeful approach to remote success

Through our conversation, it was evident this passion for intentional working was something stemming from the core of Hotjar, being shared with team members and constantly adapting to the needs of the team. It is for this reason that Hotjar stands out as a “Well-Distributed” company. Read on for some examples on how Hotjar makes their workforce remote friendly.

Hotjar’s foundation

Hotjar’s values are more than just words in their public handbook. They have been developed from Day 1 when the company founders began laying the foundation for being a remote company, even though at the time all the founders were based in Malta.

“From the outset, the team were all living in Malta. It’s a tiny island, but they knew they wanted to work remotely. So even though they were just a few kilometers away from each other, they’d still collaborate online, just to make sure they started off with good remote processes in place.” —Sara on Hotjar’s remote beginnings

It was this commitment that has shaped the innovative ways of remote working that are core to the company culture at Hotjar, and while the values have been “redone and rehashed since then, with involvement from the full team.” The essence of working with respect and building trust and transparency show up everyday for the Hotjar team.

On flexibility

Hojar has a unique approach to flexibility, going beyond flexibility in just where people are working. While the company has core operating guidelines for each employee, such as specific time-zone requirements based on the role — currently there are three “core” hours a day, 2 to 5pm, Central European Time to maximize overlap — each team generally decides on expectations for each other based on the needs of the group.

The two biggest areas that exemplify this team flexibility are meetings and tool selection:

For meetings, “Every team will have a slightly different expectation to meet. For example, my team, we have an alignment call every Monday whereby the entire operations department is on the call. And we have the Kanban system.” Others meet asynchronously, doing stand-ups on Slack and some choose to do a daily morning touchpoint on a video call with their team.

As it relates to tools, this choice is also up to the team lead. Operations tends to use Trello, while the Marketing team advocates for Asana and JIRA tickets are used for technical work. Cross-functional collaboration therefore is determined by whichever team is driving the operations of a particular project. “Depending on the area of the company, this is another way in which Hotjar offers a lot of flexibility. And as long as we are communicating what particular tool we’re communicating from, you know, make that work for your team or your department.”

Socializing at work

Sara describes Hotjar as one of the most sociable companies she has worked with, more of a supportive community than a corporate machine. This is evident in the variety of ways Hotjar facilitates employees getting to know each other.

The company has a series of frameworks that create rituals  for the team while still encouraging spontaneity. Examples include their Friday afternoon “Chill Jar” time used for a sense of bonding, this time has included bringing in an online magician to Lightening Learning sessions, where anyone in the company can present on something for five minutes. All-hands at Hotjar also goes beyond company updates with a strong focus on celebration, “we have shoutouts to different team members, we celebrate birthdays and anniversaries and things like promotions.”

The company also provides allowances for people to work together, and while in the past that meant spending time in a physical location this year the budget has shifted to groups of employees taking online classes together on things like cross-stitch for example.

Day-to-day communication is a key component of how they continue to support this social environment, from encouraging “tea breaks” for those needing a bit of chat ad-hoc to more formal ‘User-manuals’ which are written by each team member explaining communication preferences, how they like to receive feedback, and anything else that may facilitate positive working relationships.

With such a strong foundation and inspiring culture it is no wonder that Hotjar continues to hire remotely, something Sara finds beneficial for everyone involved. When it comes to recruiting she shares how this approach opens up the world for more of a diverse range of candidates, and saves time for everyone involved — No one has to travel anywhere, candidates do not have to take time off to commute to an interview, and there are ways to make Zoom personable. Something we agree on especially after such a fun and personable interview!

Want to join a remote team like Hot Jar? You need 3 things according to Sara:

  1. Self-motivation
  2. Self-efficiency
  3. Self-organization

To learn more about Hotjar, check out:

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