Melissa Sauceda isn’t at all worried about robots coming for her job.
“I tell my team that all the time,” says the Manager of Customer Implementation and Enablement at knowledge sharing platform Stack Overflow. “Stack could easily bring on robots to onboard customers, but we know that it’s our consultative presence in the customer partnership that is one of the biggest value-adds, and why folks choose us.”
That’s because working productively with others is as much of an art as it is a science, explains Melissa, who knows something about the mix of both. A former sociology student, Melissa is fascinated by looking into human behavior with an analytical approach.
In a way, her career has been all about using technology to facilitate human experience and learning, first as an administrator in higher education, and now as a manager in tech. Within Stack’s collaborative, non-hierarchical structure, Melissa has found that true productivity comes from empowering individuals through communication, iteration, and open-mindedness.
And those are three qualities that she and her (very human) teammates have in spades.
“Stack Overflow is easily the most collaborative environment in which I’ve ever worked, including in institutions of higher learning,” she says. “I’m learning a lot about operationalizing and making work more efficient, but still delivering best-in-class customer service.”
We sat down with Melissa to talk about some of those learnings, including what advice she’d give to other managers and leaders looking to unlock their team’s productivity.
The Human Side of Tech
Melissa got into tech after using an AI tool to help predict upcoming enrollment numbers at her employer, the University of San Francisco. The predictive insight was so helpful, and she was so convinced by it, that she ended up getting a job offer from the company that made the tool — and accepted it.
The timing was right. Melissa comes from a family of educators, but she was beginning to have trouble reconciling her belief in the importance of education with the life-changing debt that many students had to take on. And after working through the pandemic at a job that was stable yet stagnant, the chance to move to Stack Overflow was one Melissa was ready to jump on.
“I had been on autopilot for a few years, and the lack of stimulation was becoming unhealthy and really unsatisfying,” she says. “I knew I was going to have an opportunity to build, create, and iterate at Stack Overflow, and that’s definitely been true for the nearly 18 months I’ve worked here.”
Since her role is all about setting customers up to be successful, it’s almost like Melissa has come full circle.
“Our team’s job is to teach users and customers to use Stack Overflow for Teams. We get to play around with different learning modalities and pedagogies,” she says.
And this time, she fully believes in the product that goes with it.
“We tell a very compelling story: when knowledge is moderated to ensure that there's no misinformation, and objective in nature, it can be a very, very powerful utility. It’s not lost on me that I’m proud to work at Stack Overflow because of its products.”
Embracing Learning for All
At the end of last year, Melissa’s team had four dedicated implementation managers.
Now they have 12.
Every hire shares at least one piece of criteria: Melissa knows she’ll be able to learn something from them.
“We don’t extend offers to folks that we don’t think are going to be able to teach us stuff,” she says. “We’re very earnest learners, and it’s really inspiring to get to learn from these folks every day.”
Melissa individually, and Stack as a company, support and enable that learning. A standard agenda item on Melissa’s 1:1s with her team is their own personal development goals and how she can support them. “Part of my responsibility is to make you successful for whatever comes next for you,” she says.
And company-wide, Stack fosters a culture of curiosity, learning, and growth in part through supporting employees in their academic and career aspirations. One of Melissa’s team members is pursuing an MBA, for instance, while another is active in several professional associations.
And Melissa sees that the focus on learning and teaching isn’t just aligned with Stack’s source code and product — it also actively contributes to a sense of shared and sustainable productivity.
5 Ways to Support Your Team’s Productivity
As her team has grown, Melissa has leaned on things both high-level (like the principles of change management) and tactical (like meeting maintenance) to streamline productivity while supporting her team. Here are her top tips for doing the same:
- Avoid meeting fatigue. Melissa and her team spend 90 minutes a week together: 30 minutes in a team meeting, focused on process changes or announcements, and 60 minutes in an account review to share “war stories and challenges.” She separately meets with each 1:1, and occasionally in different small groups depending on project needs. “We have that time together each week, but we’re also great async communicators,” explains Melissa.
- Stay open to new ideas. When it comes to how to support customers, “we have a formula and a recipe,” says Melissa. “But we pressure-test that and adjust as needed. Nothing is set in stone, which is another reason why it’s important for us to bring in folks who we can learn from, because their experiences help make our shop more efficient.”
- Don’t make everything a fire drill. “If everything is an urgent priority, then nothing is an urgent priority,” she says. “Going back to the humans over machines philosophy, being able to prioritize is a key skill. A lot of startups have the ‘move fast and break things’ mentality. But without judgment and discretion, that mentality isn’t a long-term strategy for what we’re trying to accomplish.”
- Surround yourself with people you can learn from. “It’s okay to be the smartest person in the room, but you should be recruiting and surrounding yourself with people from whom you can learn, whether that’s people you manage, your peers, or other teams,” says Melissa.
- Plan ahead for challenges. “Good leaders know that bad storms are going to come. If you’re prioritizing thoughtfully and being proactive when you’re not in those urgent moments, then you’re going to weather that storm.”
Katya Hott, currently the UX Research Manager at SeatGeek, was a committed researcher long before she officially moved into the world of UX.
That set her up for success in the field in more ways than one, including to learn more about UX itself: when she was first starting out, she combed LinkedIn to find people who were working on the same things that she was. She cold emailed a few—and ended up with her first-ever mentor.
It wasn’t a traditional mentor-mentee relationship: it wasn’t arranged by a program or company, and both Katya and her “mentor” were at about the same places in their career.
“We didn’t treat it as this formal mentor partnership, but we started meeting regularly,” says Katya. “We were growing our teams at the same time, and we’d share advice over email or coffee.”
Experiencing great mentorship from an industry peer made Katya wonder if she could pay it forward by mentoring someone else. Even if she was just a few years into her career, she had insight to share, right?
Thus kicked off Katya’s homegrown intern mentorship program—and a long history of learning by helping others.
We sat down with Katya to talk more about her experience, from how she got into UX research in the first place and how mentorship has influenced her approach to management.
Language and Learning, Together
Katya has a thing for languages. That includes learning them, making them up, and studying them.
“I knew from when I was little that I wanted to be a teacher,” says Katya. “I was just very interested in words and how language shapes reality, or the other way around.”
That led to studying linguistics, which introduced her to technology. “A lot of what we can do with language study is totally enhanced by technology,” she says.
Katya got hands-on experience working at the intersection of language and technology when she worked as a teacher in Boston and New York. “I was always the youngest teacher, the techie teacher,” she says, referencing the apps she built into her lesson plans. When her principal told her about a grad program at NYU that combined learning and digital media design, she looked into it—and ended up enrolling.
“I was researching what makes a good learning game and how people learn through game play,” she says. “So much of that tied back to what I had learned about how people learn through language and communication.”
She got an internship writing content for an educational games start-up. When she realized no one on the team was doing formal user testing, she offered to bring the game to her teacher friends to get their feedback.
“They were like, ‘Sure, we're a 10 person startup, do whatever you want,’” remembers Katya, smiling. She went out into the field to get feedback, then developed a simple framework to convey the different types of feedback she was getting. The design team was immediately impressed, and Katya realized she’d found her next career pivot. “I loved being the bridge between people who use technology and people who design it,” she says.
Katya then spent a year in edtech doing “playtesting,” the games word for user research, along with some project management.
Along the way, she realized that all the learning she’d done throughout her career, from being in the classroom to writing game content to researching how users used it, was something she could pay forward.
Embracing Mentorship: 3 Key Lessons
When Katya joined that edtech startup full-time after her internship, she knew she had limited experience. “I had training from grad school, and that was about it,” she says. Thus the LinkedIn research and the informal mentorship.
When the next class of interns joined her company, Katya realized she could be a really helpful resource to them.
“I knew exactly what classes they were in. I knew who their professors were. I knew what things they were studying. It became very clear that for each intern that came after me, that I should be involved,” she says.
So she set up weekly meetings to coach them. She did the same thing when she moved to a different company, this time helping to set up their internship pipeline to her grad program and again making the space to help them. Along the way, she was continuing to build her own pool of mentors.
“I was reaching out to people who are more junior than me and to people who are more experienced than me, and realized they must be doing the same thing. There's this whole chain of people who are just learning from each other without being direct managers or teammates,” she reflects.
In mentoring others, Katya learned a few key lessons:
- How to give feedback. As a mentor, Katya found herself in a great environment in which to practice giving feedback. Since she wasn’t the person making the final decisions on whether the interns would get offers back or not, giving them feedback was lower stakes. “It can be a little rattling to give feedback to a direct report, because it feels like it’s so tied to eventual performance reviews. With a mentee, there’s no agenda behind it,” she says.
- How to break complicated ideas down. “I found myself explaining things that I knew inside and out in a way that I didn’t have to do on a regular basis with [my peers],” she says.
- How to maximize productivity as a player-coach. “One-on-ones can be extremely productive,” explains Katya. “I just had a meeting with a more junior team member on our design team who was interested in helping out on a project I’m leading, and instead of giving them homework, I said, ‘We have 20 minutes left in our meeting—let’s do some work.’ If I had said that I didn’t have time for that kind of check in with someone who's not even on my team, that would've never happened.”
All of that experience set Katya up to be a great manager of people when it came time for her to do that. “Everything I needed to do to be a good manager, I’d been practicing for years,” she says. “Becoming a new manager became less scary immediately once I realized I could draw upon my years of experience mentoring.”
A New Challenge at SeatGeek
During the pandemic, Katya’s feelings about working in edtech changed. “The blurred lines of what it meant to be a parent and a teacher were fuzzier than ever,” she says. “It all felt too close to home. I saw the world was pivoting, and thought it was a good time for me to pivot as well.”
She started looking for a role where she could build out a research team (because she’d loved doing that in her past position) in a new, challenging setting. When she saw a UX research role at SeatGeek, she was immediately curious.
“I thought, ‘This is a live event ticketing company in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic—how is this job even posted?’ It piqued my interest,” she says. She reached out, and in her conversations with the SeatGeek team, Katya found herself impressed.
“They were so smart, so resilient, and so creative, steering a company through what could have easily been the end of the organization and figuring out ways to come out much stronger,” she says.
Katya was intrigued by working in a brand-new industry with a brand-new set of challenges, and when they offered her the role, she took it. She spent her first year embedding herself within the organization, learning about what she calls the “research appetite” on different teams, and showing the value that user research and data could add to different parts of the process.
This second year, she’s ready to start setting up her team. Katya is currently hiring for several roles—meaning she will have plenty of opportunities to apply the management approach she’s honed through mentorship.
Go Pay it Forward
Katya has found her mentees naturally, including via people who reach out to express interest in her work. If you’re looking for people to mentor, she recommends leveraging:
- Employee resource groups
- Internship programs
- MeetUp and Slack communities
If you think that you might have something to offer as a mentor, even if you’re earlier on in your career, Katya has one message for you: make the time and do it.
“Don’t be afraid to add more meetings,” she says. “I always make space for mentorship. Doing this work is one of the highlights of my job. Being that open door is so incredibly gratifying, and makes me feel like I’m still learning and growing soft skills. Make the time for it.”
Music isn't just a means of entertainment—it's also known to improve motivation and productivity at work.
Research has found that certain types of music can be beneficial to us while we work. Some genres seem to improve our ability to process information and focus on the task at hand. Some help block out distracting background noise. And others sync with our brain waves to keep the creativity flowing.
We took the guesswork out of selecting music for productivity by curating a playlist with over two hours of motivational tunes that will help you get in the zone. Don't worry,we won't bore you with too much Bach (no offense to classical music lovers!).
Whether you're at the office or working from home, check out our Music for Productivity Playlist here and keep your productivity flowing!
(Or read on to learn more about why our selections can help get your brain in focus mode!)
Music for Productivity Playlist
Our Top 5 Songs for Productivity
Sunset Lover by Petit Biscuit
This lo-fi hit falls under the genre of house music. It has an upbeat, yet calming melody that keeps you engaged with whatever task you have in front of you. Because it doesn't have lyrics, this song is ideal for deep work and focus tasks.
Titanium/Payne- The Piano Guys
Keeping up with the theme of music sans lyrics, this classical twist on a modern tune feels familiar, but not overstimulating. The strings of the cello and the harmonies of the piano are great for problem solving and sparking creativity.
City of Light - Jessica Gallo, With Dogs, Little Symphony
This harp-led, whimsical number is sure to keep you focused during a tedious task. The subtle nature sounds in the background enhance cognitive function and concentration.
Nobody Else Instrumental- Summer Walker
Sometimes the type of music doesn't matter as much as the tempo of the music.
Studies have shown that songs with a bpm (beats per minute) around 80 can enhance and stimulate creativity and learning.
Skyfall Instrumental- Adele (Liquid Audio)
Cinematic music scores can be uplifting and empowering. This epic soundtrack will help make the most mundane tasks feel like you're changing the world, thus heightening your concentration and productivity. Don't believe us? Take a listen!
8 Ways to Crush Your Work When You're Working From Home
Did you know that 90% of workers say they get more done when they work remotely?
So what is it that leads them to be more productive, rather than just watching Netflix and taking naps all day, as so many (micro)managers fear?
We took a look at some of the techniques that help remote workers crush their work goals and stay disciplined, even when (or perhaps because) no one's watching.
Give some of these productivity tips for remote workers a try and see if you can't join that 90% that's blowing away productivity expectations while working from home!
Productivity Tips for Remote Workers
Make a Work Schedule and Follow It Without Any Questions
When you're at the office, you encounter plenty of distractions that take you away from your work… but you do at least have roughly set hours to hold you accountable.
When you work from home, chances are you'll have a lot more flexibility. This makes it more tempting to sleep in, take long lunches, or simply procrastinate until midnight.
You'll be a lot happier and enjoy remote work more if you build a routine and schedule that you can follow each day.
Block off time on your calendar so you're reminded of what you need to do when and protect your time.
Make these meetings with yourself and stick to them, just like you would if you were meeting another person. 9AM - emails, 12PM - lunch break, 3PM - stretch break, 6PM - shut down your computer.
You can build whatever schedule works best for you, but as humans, we are creatures of routine.
And if you don't have one, your routine may well become "doing nothing" or "doing whatever I'm asked, when I'm asked." Neither of these is good for productivity.
So protect your time and respect your time. You'll soon see you're getting a lot more done and having a lot more fun.
Set Your Goals
Set short-term, medium-term and long-term goals and break down how each of them factors into the work you need to do in the week ahead.
You can do this exercise weekly or bi-weekly, but make sure you're tracking your goals and your progress..
Create To-do Lists
Once you've set your goals, you can use your breakdown of work for the week to create daily to-do lists!
You can use any kind of list — electronic application or good old method of a pencil and paper.
At the end of each day, make a to-do list for tomorrow, and follow it. This will also help you stick to the schedule you've set for yourself.
Set a time for lunch and short breaks. It is considered optimal to make a 15-20-minute break after 90 minutes of work. You shouldn't take breaks longer than ~20 minutes because you don't want to lose your flow entirely. . Use this time to step away from your computer and give your eyes and mind a rest. If you want to hold yourself accountable to this flow, try using the Pomodoro Timer.
Equip Your Workplace
It's one thing to work on a stiff kitchen chair for a couple hours on the weekend. But if you're butt's going to be in the same chair for 8 hours a day, it better be comfortable!
Invest in the supplies you need to make your workplace more comfortable and conducive to productivity.
Get an extra monitor, buy a mouse, sit on a medicine ball… whatever it is that leaves your eyes, back, and head feeling good during and at the end of the day.
Create a Tight Time Frame
Nothing like the illusion of a deadline to get your butt in gear!
With no boss hovering over your shoulder, you need to be your own disciplinarian and coach, so push yourself not only to work harder – but faster! If something normally takes you an hour, set a timer and see if you can do it in 50.
These games will keep you motivated, and at the end of the day, you may well have saved yourself a full hour that you can use to get out of the house and have some fun!
Do Not Disturb Mode
Turn off your notifications!! And put your phone away while you're at it.
When you need to hunker down and get some work done, you don't need to be taking a 5 minute Facebook or Insta break that quickly turns into 15 or 20.
Same goes for company messages. If your company uses Slack or similar, set an away message and say what you're doing, and then go on DND.
You can't make a presentation or write a report when you've got 50 people pinging you constantly for small requests and questions.
Motivate Yourself — Pavlovian Style
If you're not forced to clock in at a certain time, it can be really hard to get going in the morning. Try creating a morning routine that will motivate you to start working.
Basically, do something you do like and feel inherently motivated to do, and tie it with the thing you don't want to do.
If you love drinking a cup of coffee first thing in the morning, give yourself that luxury, but make it mandatory that once it's finished, you'll review your to-do list for the day and tackle the first item. No more coffee until item one is done.
Or if you love to jog, you can do that and then begin work... Give yourself permission to do one thing you like, and then make it mandatory to follow it with the thing you don't. Eventually, your body will be conditioned to expect that after you finish that first cup of coffee, it's work time, and it won't feel like such a grind getting started.
Have other work-from-home productivity tips you'd like to share with our community? Email us at email@example.com or tweet us @PowerToFly!
And if you're ready to join the 90% of workers that say they're more productive when they work from home, check out our remote jobs here!
- Network with top executives even if you aren't looking for a new role
- First look at flexible, work-from-home, in-office roles
- Join live chats led by expert women in your field and beyond