AMA: Nicole Miller from Buffer

Hey, this is Nicole Miller and I’m the People Ops Manager at Buffer.

I’ve been a part of the Buffer team for nearly 7 of our 10 years as a company and have seen us grow from 25 to nearly 90 teammates. I have a background in journalism, community management and now human resources. I live in Southwest Washington state with a ton of animals, my husband and two little kids.

Buffer is a remote team and fully distributed across the globe - and as a values-focused company, we have shared a lot of our culture experiments (the good and less successful) throughout the years! (open.buffer.com for all the blogs!) Our cornerstone value is transparency, so we have transparent salaries, revenue and more! See all that here: https://www.notion.so/buffer/Transparency-83e61b60e17c484583bb472b703e0126

I’m here until 11:30 a.m. Pacific to take your questions – Ask me Anything!

2 Likes

Hey @nicolemillerbuffer, thank you for being here! I’m a fan of Buffer - both as the product and remote company :blush: Congrats on the company’s 10 year anniversary! :birthday:

I’m super curious. How has the 4-day work week been going?

1 Like

Hi Nicole,

How can you make yourself appealing after a career transition, and wanting to get back into an old career? Is it a big deal? Ex: I previously worked in HR and have been teaching English for the 6 years and want to get back in HR/People Ops.

2 Likes

Thank you so much, Justine!

Great one – our 4-day workweek has been a hallmark for us in 2020 - it started as a way to provide some space for teammates and an emphasis on mental health in response to all that 2020 threw at us! :sweat_smile:

After one month of 4-day workweeks, we decided to give it a 6-month pilot and as we’re wrapping up those six months, we’ve found overall that our productivity is staying pretty stable, even with the loss of one work day. We’re going to continue to experiment with this and challenge the idea that we “need” to be in the office for 40 hours exactly.

This does look different for customer-facing roles and we’re going to keep adjusting to ensure that our customers do have a good experience and are getting the support they need.

But for project-based roles especially, it is a great thing and we’re finding people are a lot more efficient and find a better work-life balance with the 4-day workweek.

1 Like

Hi there Dayna!

That’s a great one – in short, I don’t think it’s a big deal to jump careers. In our hiring we tend to look at what skills will apply to the role we want to fill. So in my opinion, I think you can emphasize what teaching English has taught you about people management and team experience. I imagine there are a lot of overlaps there when it comes to communicating, structuring lessons and organizing curriculum.

I think in the remote space especially, it’s about proving what you can accomplish and how independently you function, so as long as those aspects are clear, you can move into whatever space matches your skills.

We hire people from a variety of backgrounds and put more value on what we see in their actions or in the hiring exercises we run.

A specific tip for you – I think you could brush up and add an HR certification or something to your resume to tie back into the HR/people ops community to catch up on anything that might have evolved in the years you were teaching, but the foundations will definitely be the same. :slight_smile:

1 Like

Hey Nicole! Thanks so much for being here! I’ve learned a lot from buffer, and I’m really happy that you’ve decided to be as transparent as possible in your practices.

What would you say is the most important part of your role? I’d imagine people ops is as much to do with setting cultural standards and best practices at Buffer, as it is to do with traditional HR practices. Said another way, how do you define your own success in your role at Buffer?

Thanks!

2 Likes

Hi there Matt!

Thank you so much for your kind words about Buffer!

Ohh, really good question. Your assessment feels spot-on to me. Buffer is a truly unique place for People Ops compared to traditional HR environments. There’s definitely a need for us to have policies and structures in place (and a lot of these have evolved drastically over the years from being a small company with no HR team to now having a much better handle on compliance and hiring best practices.)

So overall I do feel the biggest piece of our role is distilling information and striking the right balance between empathy and action. A lot of my role in particular is team engagement through surveys, events, and communications. I hear a lot of feedback and it takes a lot of energy to evaluate what is actionable, what is a particular data point or a larger trend.

We also have a very transparent culture and thus encourage a TON of feedback, which sometimes means we get a lot more information than we can necessarily act on. It’s a wonderful thing within the company and keeps us pushing forward on the bigger initiatives and smaller things that truly matter.

For me, this always ties back to our values and making sure our values are still being exemplified and reiterated in the best ways. We ask if our policies are in line with our values and vice versa.

Not sure if that made much sense! :smiley: There are a lot of things at play all at once in this role, especially at Buffer.

2 Likes

What is your favourite remote work advice to give?

And, another one! :smiley: What was it like to help grow a company from 25 to 90? Did you come across any cultural shifts that were challenging? Did being remote help with any of that?

Oh, favorite remote work advice:

Working remotely is much harder than it might seem to be. It’s definitely beneficial in so many ways, but there must be a lot more intentionality behind things like communication, connection and collaboration. The traditional workplace has had centuries to evolve and craft these norms, and thus this “new” way of working is still taking true form. Even at Buffer, after ten years, we don’t have everything figured out.

We approach things from an experimental mindset and also encourage our teammates to test and figure out what works for them to accomplish their goals and projects. Workspaces, home boundaries, schedules, systems and communication all goes through various changes and evolutions.

I also like to add the caveat that remote work isn’t necessarily the best thing for every individual or every company. Though it has become a necessity in 2020, there are some personalities and some workplaces that do need the in-person collaboration and accountability that you just can’t get in a remote environment.

1 Like

Growing the company from 25 to 90 has been an incredible ride!

As you highlighted earlier, our 10-year anniversary blog covers a lot of the ups and downs - https://buffer.com/resources/10-years/ - and we’ve definitely gone through times of faster team growth, times of slower team growth, times of more emphasis on our company values and culture, times of less emphasis on values…

Being remote has certainly helped us find some of the best talent from all over the globe, and at the same time, it has created a few other challenges that are inherent with not being in the same physical space.

We have prioritized in-person retreats and department “onsites” in previous years and continue to know that these moments are priceless for bonding and company alignment. We’ve felt the absence of this in 2020 and are continuing to discuss how we can work toward solving this in an entirely remote space.

1 Like

Hi Nicole, I’m looking for remote work, likely in customer success or account management. I’m coming from a hybrid sales/account management role in the CPG sector where I was working remotely within a territory. What skills experiences are most valuable in such a role, and should I seek any additional training or certifications to be competitive?

1 Like

Yes, that makes a lot of sense, @nicolemillerbuffer! What kinds of virtual onsites are you folks currently brainstorming?

Hi there Phil!

Great question!

I think one thing that’s helpful when applying for remote work is showing that you have experience in remote environments and emphasizing the accomplishments or projects you’ve driven. We like to see independent ownership and proactiveness. So along those lines, training and certifications do add some element of personal growth and a mindset of continuing education.

We don’t tend to have certification or degree requirements for our roles but I think all the little pieces do add up into a more complete picture of your effectiveness online. I apologize - this sounds like a non-answer. :see_no_evil:

One other major skill we look for in hiring is written communication - especially because 90% of our communication is by text vs verbal. So if you’re showing us right away in the application that you’re a strong communicator, that will set you apart.

The other thing I’ll mention about remote hiring - a lot of it seems to be the right timing and right moment - we’ve had several teammates apply multiple times at Buffer before we extended an offer. Especially in remote jobs where there might be a lot of competition for one role, it can be tricky. Knowing the company you’re applying for also helps – speaking to their culture, values or why the role is something you’re suited for.

1 Like

We’ve gone back and forth a lot around virtual onsites because of the nature of timezones and a fully global team. It means someone is always a bit left out if we all try to gather at one time.

For our All Hands or other events, we offer multiple times and repeat the same content to ensure we’re making it as accessible as possible.

For a company-wide, all-attending-live event, that feels a bit more tricky. So my short answer is, we don’t have a great handle on this and haven’t experimented much beyond our All Hands at this point.

We’ve also scaled back a bit on some of our more casual hangout events given our 4-day workweek experiment so teammates can focus on getting their work done to have that true “Friday offline.”

1 Like

I’m happy to keep answering questions that come up! Feel free to connect on LinkedIn and follow us on our Open blog for all the latest!

Thank you so much for having me here and I’m sending you all the best vibes for your own remote work journey!

2 Likes

Thanks again for your time, Nicole, and for sharing your valuable insights with the WWR community :slightly_smiling_face:

1 Like

Thank you! I’m ok with non-answers, it shows there’s multiple paths to the goal.

1 Like

Thank you, Phil! I do strongly believe that is true - there are lots of entry points for remote work, now more than ever.

Best of luck to you and definitely lean into awesome communities like this!

Love this. Does this skill come in time or are there resources for getting better at this balance? Or it’s a trial and error learning approach.

1 Like

Great one @MattHollingsworth - I think it’s really dependent on the organization and organization’s goals. For example, hearing that people wanted more “time” in the early days of the pandemic led us to implement the 4-day workweek experiment (or original thought was providing more money or a stipend) and folks found this shift in schedule more helpful with handling the stress of the times, and for parents to handle at home-schooling, etc. This might not have worked for other companies.

For me, too it has come from a lot of personal growth and understanding we can’t solve every problem or make every teammate happy. We certainly try, but have to look at the wider perspective and wider impact of where we can reasonably put our effort and energy.

1 Like