Jessica Rosch knows the secret to a successful distributed workforce.
It has nothing to do with productivity apps, perks, or flexible schedules — and everything to do with how engaged remote employees feel at work. And, she says, that engagement is driven by company culture sustained by management across remote teams.
“Engaged employees will do good work regardless of where they are. Disengaged employees will not. Location doesn’t matter; engagement does. That engagement is determined by company culture, which is very much in management’s control,” says the VP of Cloud Systems Engineering at Procore, who knows firsthand about crafting company culture that transcends the walls of the office.
We sat down with Jessica to hear more about how leaders can build a thriving company culture among a distributed workforce, as well as how her career path brought her to Procore and how she knew that Procore was the right fit for her.
From Musical Notation to Coding Languages
When she started college, Jessica planned on being a professional musician. But several years into a music performance major, she realized that she didn’t want to pursue music as a career.
She had liked taking computers apart and putting them back together as a kid, so she got a job in desktop support while in school. She liked it enough to change her degree to computer engineering, and went on to work full-time as an engineer after graduation.
“Many people actually pivot from music to some sort of STEM field,” reflects Jessica, mentioning their shared focus on structure and language.
Finding Cloud — and Procore
After working for several companies, from big-name multinationals to smaller startups, Jessica figured out what her computer science niche was: cloud computing.
“I'd always been attracted to internal customer-focused roles. That's where your infrastructure teams and your cloud-focused teams become relevant, because it’s more about building tools that other engineers can use than it is about building things for an external customer,” explains Jessica. “I like that internal feedback. I find it interesting, compelling, and satisfying to work on things that make a positive impact on productivity.”
When Procore reached out to Jessica, she was ready for a change. '"I wanted a balance between things that are interesting and push me to improve while having the opportunity to work with a great group of people based all over the globe” she says.'
“By the end of the interviews with Procore, I just wanted to keep talking with them because they were such a great group!” adds Jessica, smiling.
A year and a half into her tenure at Procore, Jessica is sure that she’s made a good decision.
“Procore is a human-focused company,” she explains. “Don’t get me wrong: the products we’re building for the construction industry are excellent, and the company cares deeply about the quality of the product; but not at the expense of the employees. The whole group, up through the top level of leadership, recognizes that it’s the humans that make the difference.”
Jessica wishes more fast-growing startups would recognize that.
“If you're asking, ‘How do I build an amazing product and make a huge impact on the industry?’, you have to start with a great team that wants to do good work. That's where innovation comes from. Unhappy people do not innovate,” she says.
7 Tips for Building a Strong Culture in a Distributed Team
Jessica has found that Procore’s human-first values of Openness, Optimism, and Ownership weren’t created (and aren’t maintained) by chance. And now, as a senior leader there herself, she’s able to contribute to their evolution, even in a world of long-term remote work.
Here’s what’s working for her:
- Recognize that culture doesn’t automatically translate to a remote environment. “Some companies fumble the ball a bit as they move to a remote environment, creating a gap between folks who are in the office and folks who are remote, where remote folks may feel undervalued and deprioritized,” she says. Examples of bridging this gap include being explicit about communication guidelines, like orienting towards written communications for people in different time zones, or adjusting how you’ll manage an annual hackathon to allow distributed teams the same socialization experiences as in-person teams.
- Don’t be in a rush to hire. “You have to make sure that you're hiring people who add to the culture, and that even when you're in a crunch to hire quickly, you don't enable the culture to become stagnant or stringent. It can’t be, ‘This is a red flag for this candidate, but we’ll let that go because we need to fill this spot.’ You need to prioritize culture add over culture fit as you lead and build your team.”
- Include people by making sure they feel heard. Jessica notes that inclusion is more than just making sure everyone feels welcome, it’s making sure everyone feels heard. “Inclusion is making sure that everybody feels that their voice has equal weight. That they can walk into a situation, have an opinion, be heard, and see change happen as a result of them being heard.” On a daily basis, says Jessica, that translates into management asking for feedback, being transparent about what they’re going to do with that feedback, and following through.
- Build trust by bringing people to you. It’s not just nice when your team trusts you — it’s vital, says Jessica. “If people don't feel comfortable talking to you about problems, you will find out about them once they are too big to resolve easily,” she adds. Building trust means going beyond offering open office hours, for instance, and instead scheduling a series of tailored skip-level meetings to make sure distributed team members have a chance to share what’s on their mind. “You have to not only open the door,” says Jessica. “Sometimes you have to go to the door (even if it’s a virtual one!), grab somebody, and bring them in.”
- Communicate often and with everyone. “Leadership that operates in a vacuum is never going to react quickly enough,” says Jessica. “Open your lines of communication in as many directions as you can keep up with. For leadership, if you're not regularly talking to the actual individual contributors on your teams, maybe three layers of management down, you’re missing out.” Jessica also suggests asking intentional questions that hold her as a leader accountable to better understand the experience of remote team members, such as: “Are there things I could be doing to make working as a remote employee at this company better?”
- Use travel primarily for team building. “When you can be physically in the same location, don’t use that time to drive out work details. Use that time to build the relationships that will enable you to drive out work details more effectively later,” she says.
- Don’t chase perfection, and publicly own your mistakes along the way. “Perfection is the enemy of progress. You are never going to get something perfect upon first delivery. And often if you try, you end up moving more slowly than you should,” says Jessica. “You have to be comfortable not only making mistakes, but also owning them publicly. That's part of how you build trust.”