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Zapier’s 100% Remote Team: Decoding the Success Story 

By Preethi Jathanna

Senior Writer for HR and Remote Work

Zapier’s 100% Remote Team: Decoding the Success Story

True to a derivative of its name, Zapier has ‘zapped’ its way to success. The workflow automation leader, Zapier- 100% remote team has 300-odd employees located in as many as 28 countries. 

With a strong customer community of over 100K+ members, 3m people across the world benefit from Zapier integrations and make their workday productive. Between 2017 and 2020, their Customer Lifetime Value (LTV) has gone from $400 to $883, and their 50m revenue has grown 4X times. 

No mean feat. But not entirely surprising either given how Zapier has a history of knowing what it wants to achieve and going about to make it happen. Take, for example, how the company was remote by design --  even when co-founders Wade Foster, Bryan Helmig, and Mike Knoop were in the same city. They consciously chose to be distributed after the initial hustle took off -- noteworthy given how in 2012 remote work was a side perk and not a ‘business strategy’ in itself. To top it, productivity tools that support all-remote were not as mature. In fact, apart from the founders’ Y-combinator stint, they have hardly been in co-located spaces for long stretches of time. 

Zapier’s ride, much like those of its all-remote peers, goes on to prove that going 100% remote is a scalable model for anyone -- a small, mid-sized, or large team, as long as the team is ready to hack its own growth story. To have you energized to find your own mix, here is a thorough study of what works for Zapier- 100% remote team. 

1. The Ingredients -- Zapier 100% Remote Team Success Code

There’s no secret to how Zapier has built history, even as it is distributed across the world. Be it their ultimate guidebook on working remotely, or their different employee-generated content -- they all point to the fact that team, tools, and processes together form their backbone. 

1.1. Zapier 100% Remote Team - Hire a Clan of Doers

Can everyone be just as prolific and driven in the remote context? The world is presently finding its answers in the most unfortunate scenario. But if you do it Zapier’s way -- their work from home or anywhere mantra depends on choosing the right talent.

1.1.1. Hire the doers

They bet on doers (those who take ownership of action), hustlers(those who find solutions and answers to seemingly hard roadblocks) -- those who can make it happen -- in an office, or in a remote island off the Pacific Coast. The ability to ‘prioritize’ is especially important if you are managing a remote start-up.

1.1.2. Trust is the bread and butter

Their belief rests firmly in trust --  hire people you can trust and then go on to trust your team. Losing sleep over poor hires (not uncommon in co-located offices) can sabotage remote productivity.  

1.1.3. Communication is the key

They also focus on people’s ability to communicate and write clearly -- away from each other, nobody wants to be busy with pesky clarifications.

1.1.4. Balancing work-life is critical

They look for fairly flexible people who can do without the chatty ‘socializing’ of a traditional office. Let’s face it. If a person’s only support system is work, they could really go off balance, being away from the team.

1.1.5. A strong company culture 

In addition to the attributes of the right hires, nurturing the team in a conducive culture, through best practices and company retreats are all areas that make the Zapier’s remote work formula the success story that it is.

They have a well-defined company culture that not only gives high-level behavioral guidance but also elaborates on what is acceptable.

Here are Zapier’s values at a glance -- 

  • Default to Action  
  • Default to Transparency 
  • Grow through Feedback 
  • Empathy, No Ego
  • Don’t be a Robot, Built a Robot 

1.1.6. Take action to solve the problem

They define values through actionable steps instead of subjective descriptions. For example, here is an example of how ‘Default to Action’ works  -- “When I see a problem, I take action.” vs. “When I see a problem, I ignore it because it's someone else's job.”

1.1.7. Efficient onboarding

For onboarding, Zapier recommends warm welcome notes, assigning a motivated buddy, encouraging off-work conversations, and regular check-ins that foster belonging.

1.1.8. Team empowerment

While a company-wide retreat may not be possible for everyone and at all stages, we highly recommended this to teams to really bond, and know each other as more than slack thumbnails that they work with.

To nurture and encourage the team to be at it, Zapier believes in evaluating its remote workforce on outcomes over input. It believes in paying people generously and offers full-stack benefits. 

1.2 Spend More Time Sharpening your Tools

As per its value statement - ‘Don't Be a Robot, Build the Robot,’ Zapier is heavily invested in tools. They believe that when equipped with the right tools the company can outperform similar-sized companies and can also make its distributed workforce feel connected. They are generous enough to share their (non-exhaustive) must-have tool stack with the whole world, that successfully made Zapier- 100% remote team- 

  • Slack -

    Zapier’s virtual office by the company’s own admission, with over 100 channels spread across departments, projects, and water-cooler stuff, being on Slack means being at work. The best part though is how one can utilize Zapier’s own integrations to turn slack banter into notes!

  • Async -

    If Slack is about the conversation, Zapier’s internal tool, Async is where the team shares work. They look at it as a combination of blogs and Reddit. Almost like an internal email thread, it helps employees keep work discussion archived and referenceable.

  • Trello or equivalent project manager -

    If you are a remote manager you know how hard it gets to put to-do lists together (yes ‘bring ‘em together is THE first thing on the list!). So Zapier uses Trello or an equivalent (as per the team’s liking) to build roadmaps -- across product, marketing, and support. What prevents them from being over-ambitious with cards -- having to give detailed descriptions with why what and how so no one gets to create and abandon cards. 

  • GitHub -

    Much like all other GitHub users, Zapier uses the solution to build its product. While requests and planning happen over project management tools, feature shipping, issue resolution happens over GitHub. 

  • 1Password -

    Productivity as well as a security solution, utilize 1password to assign role-based accesses. New employees can get quick access without having to wait for credentials. Further, daily logins and accesses get far easier with 1password.

  • Google Docs and Quip -

    They use docs for documentation and quick analysis. We have all been on calls where taking notes together on docs or plugging in spreadsheets for quick metric analysis makes the most sense. The shared environment and the fact that you only need a company Google account makes this a go-to. As for Quip, they utilize it as a knowledge base since the organization is not  Google Docs’ strongest forte. Over Quip - everything from blog post guidelines to QA protocol is shared.

  • Zoom -

    Over the years, Zapier has used various conferencing solutions and now prefers Zoom when it wants an organization-wide video call. They like it for its clarity with larger groups and find that their weekly all-hands meeting is best experienced via Zoom.

  • Hello Sign -

    A virtual work environment relies on digital signatures --imagine printing, signing, and emailing papers halfway across the world, every time you have to furnish documentation! A remote team needs a signature solution and it is never too soon to invest in one.

  • Help Scout -

    Everyone at Zapier does a support shift! They use this week as a window to give non-support staff an understanding of the product, while customers get touches from people across the board. Zapier’s go-to for ticket-resolution, conversation, integration, and everything support is Help scout.

Apart from such essentials, accounting, compliance, and HR solutions are other musts. For example, Zapier relies on SkillSurvey for their reference checks -- automation and tools do not mean merely getting the right solutions. The right vendors and services are essentials too. Automate everything that is worth automating! Moreover, tools built exclusively for remote teams are definitely worth considering!

1.3. You are as Successful as Your Processes are

In co-located offices, processes are dynamic. They get aligned and scaled without too much fuss. Employees learn from each other and the management can lead by example. With a remote playbook through, processes require dedicated effort and consistency. Zapier’s logic is to look at them as the ‘how we work’ philosophy so they are not redundant. 

Apart from categorically emphasizing on ‘doing’ over everything else and making support mandatory across the board, here are process-centric tips Zapier swears by --

1.3.1. Weekly learning hangouts

Every Thursday there is a virtual hangout aimed at learning and sharing. Everyone shows up with demos, success stories, lessons learned, and even the leadership jumps in with workshops. These sessions, besides making up for the facetime that is lost, also foster discipline for employees to manage their time around it. You could already be busy with an all-hands but make sure that larger meetings are more about keeping spirits high instead of sticking with ‘shop talk.’

1.3.2. Feedback keeps the team going

Zapier’s leadership believes in a traditional hierarchy with a C-suite reporting to the founders, separated by divisions. They have weekly one-on-ones to discuss what’s right and what is not. They use Small Improvements to share feedback on 1:1 sessions. Even if this may sound like ‘over-communication’ to you, feedback is the needed ammunition to light your remote team’s fire. Remember your team does not have non-verbal cues of affirmations (such as your nods and little thumbs up smiles) that are generously shared in an actual office. Performance Management is crucial to nurture remote talent. If you are a new leader, consider an online course to put your A-game forward.

1.3.3. Accountability is a habit

Accountability only goes back to the hiring standards stated earlier. But what stands out is the fact that accountability is also born of habit--of constantly sharing updates on what is shipped, and what will be done. Zapier does that every Friday where each team member discloses their list. There is the dreaded line of micromanagement you do not want to cross. But there is also a structure you cannot miss. 

2. The Taste Boosters -- Bonus points for the eager Remote Entrepreneur

If you want to leave no stone unturned in nailing the remote work formula, we have got your back! So apart from the three standard ingredients that Zapier often recommends, we went through a lot of their literature to find you some interesting to-dos - 

2.1. Leverage different time zones

Zapier uses different time zones to their advantage. You could do that too! For example, when a member finishes building an asset, handover edits to someone else located at the opposite time zone to edit and improve. So, next day, you have your piece ready for feedback and further shipping -- no time spent waiting! 

2.2. Tree time to focus

Zapier has something called the ‘tree time’ that is dedicated focus hours for the team to catch up on work without distractions. If a member says that he or she is on ‘tree time’ teammates respect the focus time without questions.

2.3.Office environment

Burnouts are common when the living room is your office. So Zapier insists that employees set-up an office environment and that they work out of an ergonomic, business unit (they most often reimburse the set-up costs). Zapier encourages employees to plan their schedule around the time of the day that they are most productive at -- so they rest well. They also have a generous leave policy and encourage employees to take at least 2 weeks off every year.

2.4. Cultivate mutual respect

They restrict meetings to mandatory catch-ups and ensure that employees write to each other instead -- having to type makes conversations on-point and clear. Being respectful of time zones helps them from being overwhelmed with Slack noise while cultivating mutual respect.  

3. Zapier- 100% Remote Team: Final Insights

Going all-remote could be your best strategy between the savings, the talent pool, and the freedom. But doing it right is the winning differentiator. With a focus on the right team, equipped with the right tools, following the right protocol, you are quite likely to take complete advantage of a distributed company.

Wade Foster’s words ring true here - “One of the beauties of a remote team is that because remote work feels like an experiment, everything else feels like it can be more experimental too. So go ahead and experiment! The biggest wins aren't usually found in a post on the internet, but in what you discover on your own.” 

If you lead the remote efforts for your team, be sure to stay invested in going 100% remote, with transparency and clarity like Zapier- 100% remote team. You will see your team follow! 

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