This article was originally featured on The San Francisco Business Times.
At Qualified, a B2B marketing chatbot software company, the workplace changes brought about by the pandemic defined the company’s growth.
“When it really settled in, all of a sudden we were like, this is who we are. This is the future of our company,” said Kraig Swensrud, CEO and founder. “Thank God this all didn’t happen a decade earlier because we’re on Zoom right now. This technology for video conferencing didn’t work a decade ago and there was no Teams or Slack or these amazing collaboration tools.”
His enthusiasm for a remote-first workplace is evident: About 50 people work out of Qualified’s downtown San Francisco office, and the remainder, about 110 employees, work from home.
Swensrud, a Salesforce alum who’s founded three other companies with his business partner, has perfected the perks offered to employees of tech startups: a stipend for “wellness,” culture events featuring magicians and a night nanny service for new parents. During the pandemic, facing an ever-increasing distributed workforce, it implemented a “Get Together” allowance, allowing employees living in the same city outside of San Francisco to benefit from company culture.
But above all, Swensrud said employees value the company’s transparency, which owes part of its success to Salesforce. Qualified adopted something called V2MOM, a management process invented by Marc Benioff that stands for Vision, Values, Methods, Obstacles and Measures. Using this framework, Swensrud said, employees are able to follow along as the company changes.
“I think one of the things that everybody really wants to know is, are we all going in the samedirection or am I fighting against you? It’s a push-pull type thing. It’s like rowing a boat, right? If everybody is rowing in the same direction, then your boat actually goes faster than if you have some people trying to row in different directions.”
For Swensrud, the pandemic was an opportunity to find better talent across the United States and beyond, and they quickly expanded their team from a little over a dozen to 160 employees. Those employees needed an at-home set up, and Qualified quickly gave employees stipends for desks, chairs and whatever else they might need.
But nothing beats in-person.
“I started to hear a lot of our employees really become — depressed might be a good word — especially our younger employees,” he said. That was in the summer of 2021. That October, they put together an event, but canceled it after reports of the omicron variant. Finally, in February of this year, everyone gathered in-person.
“It was incredible. Because we built most of the company through the pandemic, we had probably 80 to 90 percent of people who had never met one another, even though they might have had a thousand Zoom calls.”