Perspectives on Remote Work: Mikita Mikado, CEO of PandaDoc
Oct 25, 2021 · 9 MIN READ
Transitioning to a remote or hybrid remote workstyle can be met with many hesitations. Traditionally, most businesses have worked 40-hour weeks in an office, with very few opportunities to work from home. However, we’ve seen a rise in flexible work styles in recent years, most recently due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While many companies were forced to embrace remote work, many also quickly realized that working from home doesn’t decrease productivity as they previously thought. Now that many companies are returning to work, organizations are weighing their options of different work models—fully remote, hybrid, or back to the office full time.
One company that has always understood the benefit of having a hybrid work model is PandaDoc. In fact, PandaDoc has always been a hybrid company, mainly through circumstance. Eight years ago, Mikita Mikado, CEO of PandaDoc, moved from Belarus to Silicon Valley while his business partner remained in Belarus. As a result, Mikado and his co-founder had to navigate working remotely and collaborating across time zones, all while scaling PandaDoc from the ground up.
Now, many companies are voluntarily switching to a remote-first work structure, based on what we’ve all learned throughout the pandemic, and PandaDoc was eager to join in on that. As a result, PandaDoc was able to make the switch from a partially remote workplace to a fully remote workplace in early 2020.
Mikita Mikado sat down with Dan Schawbel, managing partner of Workplace Intelligence, to discuss how the PandaDoc team went from partially remote to fully remote—while prioritizing their employees’ physical and mental health.
How the pandemic impacted PandaDoc
The PandaDoc team was no stranger to remote work. Although many companies were initially hesitant to switch to remote work when the pandemic hit, Mikado and his team took a different approach.
Since Mikado and his co-founder were successfully navigating partial remote work for so long, when the pandemic hit in early 2020, they weren’t hesitant to switch to a fully remote work model. But first, they turned to their employees for feedback on remote work.
“Early on in the pandemic, we ran a survey among our employees to see how they felt about he switch to remote and found out that most supported going remote,” shared Mikado. They realized that it was the right time to pull the trigger and move to a fully remote work model.
Navigating the switch
Switching to a fully remote work model can sometimes be tough, but add a global pandemic on top of that, and you’ve got an entirely new obstacle to navigate.
Luckily, the switch to remote work didn’t largely impact the workflows of PandaDoc employees. Since the PandaDoc team was already working with multiple offices across the United States, as well as the office in Belarus, they were well equipped for remote workdays. They were leveraging tools such as Slack and Zoom to keep up efficiency and work collaboratively across their offices.
From the time the PandaDoc team originally asked employees about remote work to when they were asked during the pandemic, interest in remote work had shifted. “The first few surveys were showing that most people, 70-75%, were supportive of the move. Then, it started to slide down as people began to feel isolated”, said Mikado. “Loneliness is hard. We’re social animals.”
Since the team was set up for successful remote work, the biggest obstacle for the PandaDoc team wasn’t due to the work itself, but rather due to this new fully remote lifestyle and fighting the increased lack of social interaction.
Re-creating the water cooler conversation
Long gone are the days of the water cooler conversation when your whole team is working remote. Having casual conversations through chat is fun, but it’s not the same as physically pausing from work, walking away from your desk, and getting to know your coworkers. But, that doesn’t mean your company can’t re-create that experience with its own fun spin. That’s exactly what the PandaDoc team did.
Rather than simply encourage casual conversion, PandaDoc encouraged their employees to step away from the “office” by creating a competition.
Whether you’re going for a run, going surfing, or simply heading out for a hike—all you need to do is post a picture to Slack, and your team gets points. “There’s been a competition over Slack, where the team was divided into small groups, and we counted the number of exercises that each team posted within the Slack channel.”
The team that exercised the most won. Easy enough, right? Well, if your team lost, you had to run a 5K! So, the PandaDoc team got very competitive and had a lot of fun along the way.
“It’s a way to do something that’s not work, do something social, and to see each other as human beings outside of work,” shared Mikado.
For those who weren’t keen on getting competitive with their workouts, they came up with other creative ways to connect outside of work.
“Some teams organized whiskey nights during the pandemic where they had drinks over Zoom. Other teams organized gaming nights where they played some games with each other online; There were cooking classes! Basically, we were trying to organize different social events that were still remote and brought people together out of the context of work.”
While this started as an initiative to keep the team engaged throughout the pandemic, it’s still part of PandaDoc culture today.
Investing in employee mental health
Of course, encouraging employees to invest in their own physical health is a great initiative. But, the PandaDoc team took investing in employee health even further when they made moves to invest in the mental health of their employees. “We instrumented a mental health budget that allowed everyone to have a budget for things like therapy or coaching,” said Mikado. “It’s been very impactful, and we’ve heard a lot of good feedback on that.”
PandaDoc company values
As many successful companies do, PandaDoc has a core set of values that they strive to live up to and encourage all employees to embody.
The foundational value for PandaDoc is transparency. According to Mikado, it fosters trust. In addition, PandaDoc focuses on four core values, including learning, making a positive impact on the people around you, having fun, and being empathetic—to everyone, especially customers.
“When it comes to each of those, we try to build different programs and invest in ensuring that we live up to those values. I think that’s how we’re different. Because we’re very, very particular about what we want to invest in and how we want to do it.”
These core values haven’t shifted or become complicated with the shift to remote work. Thanks to the many tools available online, the PandaDoc team is still able to invest in their core values and incorporate them into their daily lives, both work and personal. “While you may not get the level of connection you get to with in-person meetings, events, and support, you can do a lot of different things that could be done remotely or over the internet.”
The future of work for PandaDoc
Although the PandaDoc team saw a decreased interest in working remote throughout the pandemic, the investment PandaDoc made in their employees’ physical and mental well-being positively impacted their employees’ views on remote work.
“Now, we’ve got a third of folks that want to be completely remote and remain remote indefinitely. We have about a third that do want to go back to the office. And about a third that advocate for the hybrid approach, where they want to go back to the office maybe once or twice a week, but not every day,” Mikado shares. Research from Workplace Intelligence supports these findings, too.
With the way all companies are doing work, it’s no surprise that the future of work for PandaDoc doesn’t look like it did two years ago. Remote work is on the rise more than ever before, so when PandaDoc does return to work in the office, it will likely be on an even smaller scale.
Now, offices aren’t needed for peak productivity. We’ve all experienced being productive working from home. Truly, the missing piece is the social element of connecting with your coworkers in real-time, in real life, which can be accomplished with flexible time in the office.
“I’m thinking our office strategy is going to be built around that. Around ensuring that people can get together, share their ideas, spend time together, and just become friends,” says Mikado. “Once that’s done, they can continue getting the work done over the internet.”
Parting advice from Mikita Mikado
Over the last few years, most companies, if not all, have transitioned to some sort of remote workstyle. For some companies, this transition has been painful and challenging, but the team at PandaDoc hasn’t experienced the same level of obstacles. They have set expectations, fostered community, and invested in their employees both at work and in their personal lives.
“I think the number one reason why this transition hasn’t been painful for our company is that we embraced transparency, and we tried our best.”
The PandaDoc team ensured that their employees were set up for success, having written plans for not only the current year but the future. They enforced their culture code and provided clarity on the progress made toward KPIs and goals.
“I believe that having all of that ready and internalized before you go remote creates this kind of safety net to fall back on once the in-person interaction is gone. It’s not unique to PandaDoc; I think it’s pretty universal across the board.”
Mikado believes remote work is positive not only for the PandaDoc team but for everyone.
“If you think about it, it helps humanity in general because it lowers our carbon footprint, and it increases some people’s happiness,” says Mikado. “I think that humanity is only going to win, and I hope that we’ll embrace it and continue to grow.”