Jonathan Killeen

Podcast 15 min

Remote Talks with Jonathan Killeen - Events and the Head of Remote Role


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Welcome to Remote Talks!

Remote Talks is a series of video interviews with the brightest minds in remote work and global employment, hosted by Remote CEO Job van der Voort. Hopin’s new head of remote, Jonathan Killeen, joins us in this episode to talk about the future of events and what his top priorities are in building the remote infrastructure for Hopin’s global team.

To see the full interview, watch the video on this page or view the Remote Talks playlist on YouTube.

Who are you, and what do you do at Hopin?

Jonathan: My name is Jonathan. I recently joined Hopin as their head of remote. I joined just over two months ago. I'm from Dublin, Ireland.

Hopin is an online events platform where you can create engaging virtual events that connect people all across the world. Very similar to what we're trying to do as remote workers and then dealing with at work globally. We're just over a year old, and how the company came about was actually about our founder, Johnny. He battled with some illnesses in the past, and he was forced into isolation himself. So he had to figure out a way of connecting with people as he couldn't attend events in real life. He's basically come up with a platform that helps people get together, connect, and mirrors the experiences of an in-person event virtually.

Job: And Hopin is one of the fastest-growing companies of all time. Would you say it’s just over a year old? Had about six employees to start?

Jonathan: So as of today, we're at 451 employees. When I joined two months ago, we were 350. The growth is fast. It's scaling really quickly and we're going to continue growing at a crazy pace over the next year. So exciting times ahead.

Job: And you’ve always been remote?

Jonathan: It's always been remote. I don't think we have much choice, but no, we're very excited to be remote. And I think that kind of mirrors what we're trying to solve for us in our product. We're living that same reality, very happy to be remote. And as you know, lots of pros come with being remote, so we're celebrating those.

How did your role as head of remote come to be?

Jonathan: Hopin is very fast paced. Our leadership are really invested in making sure that we're supporting our employees. We're bringing in people crazy fast, and we want to make sure they're supported, that we're organized internally, that we're being thoughtful about time zones and all of those things that make remote work work.

My role is actually part of a greater team. We're known as the “vibe team,” and we report into our chief of staff. The team comprises three kind of main tiers. So we have internal comms, we have events, and we have remote operations, all with the goal of creating an incredible culture, something that will scale and just really supporting our employees.

I think it's actually quite unique, the approach we've taken. In the past, I've worked in similar kinds of roles and with similar people, but we've always been across different teams, and we're sitting in different team meetings, and we're not always on the same page. I really enjoyed the setup that we have at Hopin as part of the vibe team. And our goal is just to create good vibes. It's as simple as that.

What have some of your first priorities been as head of remote?

Jonathan: Literally in my first week, I had just joined and we were two weeks away from having our first ever company-wide offsite. It's essentially a quarterly business review/a quarterly kickoff that we were putting into one and using as a chance to unite everybody. I started January 25th, and the event was on February 11th and 12th. I had to get it across the line and get everything in motion and get things together, but it was amazing.

It was such a great event. It was my first time to plan an event like this on Hopin. We celebrated our previous wins. We looked ahead to the future. We heard from customers. We ran our first ever peer-nominated awards, which was lovely, to give people recognition and celebration, our great employees.

Events is something I've kind of hit the ground running with right from day one. That's part of the reason I was excited to work at Hopin.

Job: And you do all this using your own platform at Hopin?

Jonathan: We actually dog food. We do a lot of testing ourselves. So for example, we tested everyone in the company joining the all hands, and then we were able to see an issue somewhere and try and fix them before they go to the public.

Job: Is that a common use case for your customers, internal events?

Jonathan: Yeah, and I think initially a lot of the requests were coming in, but we weren't actually looking for business because the volume was so high. A lot of people were looking for these public facing events and these huge conferences and off-sites and things like that. I think the product works so well for all hands alone.

What makes for a good digital event?

Jonathan: Personally, I've always worked in events, for the last number of years. My focus has always been in-person events. Shifting to the digital world, having interactive elements is one of the most important things. That's something that the platform does really well. When you've joined an event and you can see if you're at the main stage, you can see your presenters, you can see any presentations or decks, but there's also the chat window positioned just to the right.

Having interactive elements is one of the most important things.

It gets people comfortable with interacting. Interactive elements are so, so important. Things that can really help make the interaction work are taking part in polls that are relative to the content or relevance to the content. I think that's great. If there's a Q&A feature where people can be adding questions that can be asked live, and I'm potentially uploading the ones that they like, anything like that, that just means that audience members aren't literally joining a virtual event and leaving it in the background while they work elsewhere. I think the important thing is for sure there's some interaction and to keep people engaged.

Other things that I really believe in is varying the content. It can get quite monotonous if you're just hearing one person presenting after another.

If you can introduce panel discussions or live interviews or just mix it up, that's really great. Also, try and keep the presentations short. We try to limit everyone to a five-minute max for any presentation. We're always trying to edit ourselves down and be more concise, get to the point quicker, which is difficult for me. Lastly, I would say fun. You have to have fun at events, get creative, and just bring some joy.

Job: How does scale impact the success of an event?

Jonathan: When you get to a certain range in your audience numbers, it's important to give people the opportunities to interact. Whether it's that they take part in some networking one-on-one or whether you have breakout sessions where they can go into the sessions area. If you have like 200 types of people at an event, tasks can be very hard to keep up with. So yeah, having opportunities to break down into smaller groups is definitely something I would recommend to bring those kinds of nice breakout moments.

What is going to happen in the events world next?

Jonathan: It's exciting times that we're getting back into the real world. But I do think that long term, there's definitely going to be...excuse the buzzwords, but I think the future of events is going to be hybrid.

We actually hosted a public-facing event on Hopin two or three weeks ago...there was a really nice narrative that resonated with me. They were saying that smartphones once upon a time were called smartphones, but now everyone just refers to them as phones. Online shopping is no longer online shopping. People just say shopping, and similar with hybrid events. One day, we believe that they're just going to be called events.

Especially in the world of conferences, off-sites, trade fairs, expos, those types of events. I think they'll always be hybrid elements. Whereas we're not saying that concerts are going to be replaced or music festivals, where I don't think you can achieve that moment when the beat drops. We're not trying to get in on that territory.

Are there areas in which digital events are better than in-person ones?

Jonathan: I've actually seen so many examples of these. I think the first one is when I think of the stress of traveling to a city to attend a conference, you have to pack your bag to book your flights. You have to stay in a hotel, all of that travel. If you have kids at home, you have to figure out childcare. All of that combined is a lot of stress. In the future, we're going to have the technology that can actually support people having a choice when it comes to whether they want to travel to their house, and they can still have an amazing experience attending an event from home.

Having the choice would be great because it's not always 100% necessary to be there in person. Another thing we recently did, our first-ever peer-nominated awards of Hopin, called the Hopin Hero awards. It was really fun, but whenever I've done these award shows before in person, I've always wanted to achieve the moments of like the Oscars, where you have all of the people with the cameras in front of them.

But it's too costly to do that, to hire a different cameraman, if you're just running like a simple company event. But when you're doing it virtually, it's simple. The people just come up on camera and then we did a nice applause. That that was something that was really fun, to see everyone's faces, all applauding each other.

The future of events is going to be hybrid.

Does Hopin plan to gather in the real world in the future?

Jonathan: It's something we're discussing. It comes up all the time, and we're very openly saying yes, someday, hopefully we can make it happen, but we haven't agreed on what that looks like just yet, given Covid and everything else.

What we would be excited to do is...our product is going into this hybrid world. Maybe we'll be able to test our product and do a hybrid event ourselves. So it might not be that we all traveled to the same country, but we might be able to get together in our own countries and groups and join using the same technology and have the same experience and just see what that feels like. That's something that I'm very excited about doing. I think that will be our first attempt. And then following that, maybe next year, we might do something in person altogether.

Talk about Hopin’s growth and the unique experience of doing that fully remotely.

Job: There's been very few organizations that, one, are fully remote from the start, and two, scale up really fast and get to hundreds of employees. I know this from experience. We have the same kind of situation at the remote, but Hopin is growing so incredibly fast. What are challenges that you encountered that you didn't expect or surprises in general about a company of that size being fully remote?

Jonathan: One thing that I've actually loved about scaling so quickly, like you said, there's so many people joining, but I think we've taken a really thoughtful approach to onboarding and we actually use our product to run onboarding for the whole week. So there's loads of different sessions. They're in different places in the product, different ways to mingle and work together. It just works really well.

First, for a company that's only a year old, for the progress that we've made, I was really impressed. I have to say joining. I was like, this is incredible, but after a year we have this really robust onboarding schedule, these incredible product trainings, these demos, these tests, such great coverage. I will say that was one area in onboarding. I didn't have a presence and I wanted to get in there. So we now have a nice session on day one all around getting the most out of your remote life. And so that was an area that I did want to insert myself into somewhere. We're setting our employees up for success and making sure that they're getting the most out of the remote working experience.

What is the next big thing you’re looking to improve as head of remote?

Jonathan: There's obviously been quite a few. One thing that we're really looking at, and we've been working on this over the last kind of month or two, is our ways of working and essentially our operating principles. I know so many companies have gone public and share theirs, which has been great. We're hopefully going to do the same in the future.

We've recently launched ours internally, and we've flipped them into three main pillars. So we're looking at communication, the dos and don'ts. We're looking at collaboration, diversifying our mediums, working asynchronously, giving people time back, not defaulting to meetings all the time. And then when you have a meeting, running great meetings. Then the last part is health and wellbeing. So all around making remote work, work, creating your own routine that suits your needs. Using Google Calendar as your gatekeeper to ensure that people know your working hours, that you're getting your personal time in.

It's not necessarily that we have huge, huge problems in the way we're working, but we definitely want to be on top of that ahead of any problems arising. So yeah, that's definitely one that's on the cards.

Job: It is one of the things that we tend to recommend to organizations once they start working remotely is to have a handbook, write that down, establish, how do we communicate? How do we do basic things, but also how do you, as you mentioned earlier, how do you make sure you have a great balance, right? Between your work, but also the rest of your life, because work is so close when you're working remotely.

Jonathan: Absolutely. And it's some of the simplest things. It's just like, creating entries and rituals in your daily routine or scheduling that time. That gives you the flexibility to go and exercise two or three days a week. And we just want people to feel empowered to own their routines and make those decisions for themselves. When you're not in an office, you can't really force it upon people. People have to kind of take their own ownership and accountability, but that's the big thing that I want to achieve is that people really feel empowered.

What should an organization looking for a head of remote expect from that role?

Jonathan: I spent the first two to three weeks, every single person I met, I had to explain what I'd be doing. It's not a very clear role. And I think it can differ from company to company. That's something that's special about us.

Head of remote

If you were thinking about, how do we make sure we're getting the most out of our employees and ensuring we're supporting them long term, think about where the role would sit, what team will it report into. What level of seniority you'd want. I would think about the background of the person that you'd want to be. More people ops, or have they got an office manager background, or a bit of both?

It's really a range of finding someone with some real cross-functional experience that will be comfortable partnering with numerous different teams, getting involved in everything and putting the employees at the heart of every decision that we make. The unique thing is that you can tailor the role to suit your own company's needs. I manage our events as well, and the head of events reports into me, which is amazing, because I feel that events play such a large role in building community and culture. The fact that I'm coupled then with internal comms, all under this one umbrella, we're able to do great things really quickly because we have everyone on the same team singing off the same hymn sheet. So again, just think about what you want to get out of the role and what's the best way to structure the approach.

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