Working from home is a challenge, I think we can all agree. For me as a momager – someone who works as marketing manager for Woodpecker and is also a full-time mom of two wonderful children (those wonderful children are a handful) – this past year proved to be a rollercoaster ride. I have been reminiscing about past times that I have spent at the office.
I miss my team, and maybe that’s one of the reasons why I developed this idea of a new content series.
This week I would like you to take a moment and meet one of Woodpecker’s greatest – Head of people, Kamila.
Kamila – or Kama, as most of us call her – has agreed to answer a couple of my questions. We talked about how 2020 was, how Covid changed our daily office life and of course, we dove deep into Kama’s role at Woodpecker and how she started her adventure with our company in the first place.
Anna-Paula Cederholm: Let’s go back to the very beginning. What was your first role at Woodpecker?
Kama Wyrwas: It’s actually quite a funny story.
I was working as a half-time English teacher then, finishing my second year of extramural English studies and was looking for something, also half-time, to fill in the rest of my day.
I found the offer for the Office Assistant position on one of the most popular job boards, which included sorting out paperwork and taking care of basic administrative tasks. The job required good knowledge of English and organizational skills and seemed like an easy and pleasant position to take.
On my first day we (our CEO and I) got to the point of realization that there is a lot more to do than just that. So eventually, I got employed as an Office Manager, a month later resigned from my job as an English teacher and engaged full-time with Woodpecker.
At the time we were a team of about 10 people working in a small office quite far from the city center, so you can imagine that we were at a different point back then.
To this day, I am very happy with the decision I’ve made and consider myself very lucky to have found Woodpecker.
Did you learn a lot while working here?
So much! I started working here when I was 22, finishing my second year of studies and was previously mostly working in places with, let’s say, semi-pleasant atmosphere.
Here, I was immediately trusted by Matt (CEO) and Maciej (CTO) enough to learn, understand and manage the whole area of expertise which was new for me. I found it very challenging and motivating at the same time, it made me feel like someone believed in me and I knew I needed to keep their trust, to not let them down.
What makes it really special is being around people who also are happy to learn and share their knowledge with each other.
So to answer your question, apart from a whole bunch of things I learned that helped me fulfil my professional duties and understand our business, I learned what it means to create and develop a product company and what company culture is. I learned that you can create a respectful, motivating and driven place and that it is really worth the hard work.
How about your current role? When did you start working as Head of People and what does this position entail?
I had obtained the role of Head of People in April and it has varied ever since.
Firstly, the main focus was to help our team get used to remote work (as it was very new for us back then).
Starting from figuring out the tools for conducting remote meetings and figuring out universal and easy rules for everyone, through learning what is the most difficult for each team member, to implementing small changes to quickly make the situation better.
Then, when we were able to open our office again, I was working with our Administration to prepare the office (sanitation stations, space between desks, etc), work out rules which would be safe and pretty easy to get used to.
In the meantime, I was helping in conducting remote recruitment processes (also new for us) and making sure that I know how our team is doing generally and also individually by staying in touch with people.
Next year, we plan to introduce a couple of employee benefits, training programmes and also, again, employ a couple new people. We also want to go back to the office so I imagine my role will continue to have different priorities regarding the situation.
Would you mind telling me with what plans Woodpecker started off the year 2020? And what are the plans for 2021?
Sure. In January 2020 we kicked off our year with our annual Woodpecker Meeting. Each team had the opportunity to share their plans for 2020.
We were all focused on growth – growth of our company in meaning of how many people we hire and also growth connected to our key KPI’s. It’s nice to see that we were able to expand our customer base and now over 3000 companies from 70 different countries use Woodpecker.
We also planned to introduce more use cases, to shed some light on the different usage of our app and introduce new groups of clients to our business.
For 2021 we of course – plan to grow more, but we would also like to come back to the office.
How did Covid-19 influence the company and your day-to-day work?
Well, Covid did not change how we manage the company or how we communicate with our clients. We mostly contact our clients via email, so we were lucky that in that matter nothing needed to be changed.
Switching to remote work last March speeded up the decision of changing my role from Head of Administration to Head of People.
The original plan was to prepare a plan and challenges for the first couple of months in the new role, however, when Covid came, we decided that this change should take place as soon as possible. Thus, I got a new role in the new reality (as I mentioned, we never worked remotely before) and was responsible for guiding the team smoothly through the ‘new reality’.
Instead of Excel tables and paperwork like before, my days were filled with remote meetings with different members of our team, during which I was asking a lot of questions about their wellbeing and challenges they were facing.
This made me remember how I felt at the beginning of my journey at Woodpecker, 4.5 years ago – I was again given an important challenge and a huge portion of trust to face the challenge and grow. This was definitely what I needed and honestly, it got me through 2020.
You implemented three big projects during that time. Could you tell us more about them?
Sure, let me dive right into that. Since working remotely was something that we were not used to before the pandemic, I decided to come up with good remote work practices for our team.
During the first 12 weeks of our remote work I tested those practises myself, and I sent around 3 good methods to all our departments once a week. I didn’t want them to have too much information at once, so they won’t feel too overwhelmed.
The main goal was to use those practises to make your day to day work at home easier and productive.
The methods I was sharing were mostly about time management, how to use your status on Slack, sending reports, synchronising your work with others. Some of them also involved recharging, like reminding them to take a break, to stand up, fill their bottle with water.
From the feedback I collected so far, I know that more or less half of the team uses those practises and it changed their work routine, so I am glad I could help.
The second project was called “Working Comfortably from Home”. During conference calls with our colleagues we learned that some of our team members struggle. They shared with us that they don’t own a comfortable chair or they don’t own a working camera.
So, once we learned that the pandemic is not going to go away so fast, we started this project that allowed every team member to purchase things they need for their own home offices. Every employee obtained a budget of 1000 Polish zloty and with that money they could purchase a chair or a monitor – in general, whatever they need to make their work from home more comfortable.
The last project is the video newsletter. Since 2019 I have been sending out weekly newsletters to all Woodpecker employees. The newsletter gives them information about everything happening at Woodpecker at the moment (product updates, recruitment updates, event updates).
While working remotely, I didn’t want them to lose the sense of being informed. Instead of just writing the email with the update, I would record a video of myself telling them about everything personally.
Did the new Covid reality somehow change teamwork at Woodpecker?
I would say that we got through different phases with that.
First, we were very eager to keep everyday contact and tried to recreate the events which were held in the office in the remote reality (e.g. cinema nights, cards against humanity).
However, it was not the same as before, and so most team members lost interest in those. I would say, at that point we were still hoping that we will be able to come back to the office soon and most of our team members were like: ‘It’s fine, I’ll just wait 3 months until we are able to see each other in the office’.
During that time, several teams were able to meet offline in small groups and the team was happier to participate in smaller meetings in real life than remote ones.
Then, about halfway through 2020, when we knew that the pandemic was here to stay for longer, our CEO and CTO decided to prolong remote work to December of 2020.
At that point we were not able to see each other live and many team members were focusing on maintaining (or even creating) work-life balance at home for themselves. Several people decided to resign from remote events to have as much offline time as possible and rest properly.
Now, I think we finally accepted the ‘unprecedented’ situation we are in and are more open to smaller numbers of remote events. After all, this is our new reality and we are still learning how to navigate it successfully.
Have you noticed any major changes connected to how people at Woodpecker work and communicate nowadays?
When it comes to the working style – I can’t say much about what I noticed, as we were apart. I can only say that from talking to our team, many people declared that, for example, they needed to push the breaks upon themselves.
When they didn’t have anyone beside them to just call them to lunch, it was easy to forget about breaks, so that was one of the main changes – planning breaks. Several of us even booked our break time in our calendars, so we get a constant reminder. 😉
Changes in communication were definitely more noticeable. You can probably imagine that when you spend 80% of your day talking to people face-to-face, it’s not easy to suddenly switch to 100% online communication.
At first, several members of our team were too shy to turn on the camera during remote meetings. Many people preferred to write longer messages on Slack and wait for response, now I think most of our team members got used to arranging quick calls to resolve some cases faster.
Speaking about communication, I have to stress the importance of talking to team members. When we were in the office it was easy to see someone’s sad face or worse mood, thus, our reactions were faster.
In remote reality not always team members come to talk about what’s bothering them, it is down to the Team Leader to maintain constant contact and create a space for their team to share anything that’s on their minds.
Thank you Kama for being part of this interview. I find it crucial that our readers get a glimpse of our company life and get to know people that stand behind our brand. In the future we will introduce even more team members to you. If you have time, share your stories with us. How did the pandemic treat your business? How was your 2020? Send your stories to firstname.lastname@example.org.
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