Cheli Nolan on experimenting with making offices fun again [Video]

Relay is a Toronto based 'business banking and money platform' with international clients - many of whom are located in the United States.

As Relay's Head of People, Cheli joined us for the Gathering Podcast to share the company's experiences through the pandemic committing to a larger office space in downtown Toronto and experimenting with ways to encourage its use - through fun experiences aimed at engaging the team socially through the space.

    Spend time with this conversation - here's the full transcript

    A FinTech platform for SMBs with a focus on cash flow management

    Qasim Virjee 0:12
    All right, welcome back to the sixth episode of gathering a podcast by start well, where we kind of try to, you know, explore what it means for people who support teams in this new hybrid reality of work. And I'm really, really, really excited for this episode, because we've got a case study to talk about for return to Office, which is a weird phrase, and we'll dissect it a bit, but I'm sitting with Charlie Nolan from relay. So thank you for joining me in the studio today.

    Cheli Nolan 0:45
    Thanks for having me.

    Qasim Virjee 0:46
    And I also you did I surmise that you traveled to get here a little

    Cheli Nolan 0:50
    bit. Yeah, wherever. It wasn't too far. I guess any kind of travel seems far now that nowadays though? Yeah, cuz it's traffic. Well, there's the streetcar, though. The streetcar is traffic, as far as I'm concerned. So

    Qasim Virjee 1:03
    much construction in Toronto. Indeed. Well, thank you for making the journey down here. Happy to be here. And, yeah, let's start by a little bit of kind of like background, or you are the head of people at really I am. And what does head of people mean?

    Cheli Nolan 1:21
    I think it means different things to different people. But in my purview, I oversee everything from talent operations and talent, strategy to people operations, and then also HR as well.

    Qasim Virjee 1:32
    That's a lot of hats. This is how to be where it is at startup, though. So

    Cheli Nolan 1:36
    that comes with the territory. So

    Qasim Virjee 1:39
    let's actually yeah, let's just do that, as we'll come back to kind of what led you here, maybe, let's just talk about so what is really, so really

    Cheli Nolan 1:48
    basically is an online money management platform. So we target directly towards SMBs. We're sort of in a unique position, we're probably Canadian company, but we exist completely in the US market. And so it's, it's a way that it's a platform that's designed to help SMBs understand their cash flow so that they know how they spend, how they save, and mostly how they earn as well.

    Qasim Virjee 2:13
    super interesting. So you tie in your bank, your existing kind of like financial tools into the platform.

    Cheli Nolan 2:18
    Yeah, yeah, I mean, I think in time, we want to be like the all in one sort of financial control center. But I think most readily, we're sort of in the category of being a challenger bank, our goal is to get people onto the onto the platform, so that they have complete financial control over over how they're spending their money, how they're saving their money, and how they're earning their money. For SMBs. This is particularly useful because this is sort of a space where big banks don't don't really tread SMBs aren't considered particularly profitable, they're not, you know, they, they don't really kind of service the needs of, of the, of the smaller SMBs. So that's where something like really comes in. And it's a great opportunity for us to kind of service those needs, and then really create potential and be a growth enabler, essentially for SMBs. No,

    Growing a startup from 13 to 65 employees during the pandemic

    Qasim Virjee 3:06
    I'm, I think we'll talk offline offline after this about digging in for start well, as well, because we're always interested in like exploring new FinTech things that we can use as a company. And you're right, the big banks don't necessarily have tools or are not moving fast enough. They're doing a great job of innovating, here in Canada, but at the same time, yeah, it's not framed that innovation is typically not framed from the ground up. Yeah. And so that's kind of exciting. But being at a startup, and managing people has its own difficulties, especially wearing all those hats. Yeah, how many people are part of the company? So

    Cheli Nolan 3:45
    right now we're about 75, across full time, part time contract and interns. I think we're closer to about 65 As of today for full time headcount. So we've grown immensely over the course of the pandemic. So how old is the company? The company is about four years old. So I've been there for about a year and a half. When I joined there, were probably about 13. Full time people. Wow, the company.

    Qasim Virjee 4:09
    Okay, so you've you've been had a hand in growing your team? You know? Yeah, yeah. 8x 6x, whatever. By later. Yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 4:19
    we'll do the math offline. Yeah, I actually joined as head of talent. And then was in that role for maybe a little under a year and then transitioned to a head of people role. So we've grown really, really quickly. I mean, the pandemic has been, you know, a fortunate time for some companies to really continue to grow. So we started at 13. We grew to 38, then we grew to 55. And then we've been kind of steadily growing ever since. So Wow.

    Qasim Virjee 4:43
    So talent into people. I mean, obviously, because there's greater responsibilities as you grow the team. So you had to step in. Talent was just about initially, I guess the point is the team needed to grow. So how do you find those people? And was it mainly devs?

    Cheli Nolan 4:56
    No, actually, it's we grew in other ways. So I think we're Uh, I mean, we have a fairly large engineering team. I mean, we're about 20 people on the engineering team. I think we've grown in a lot of other ways, though. We're very, very customer centric. So we really needed to grow the customer experience team. So that's probably our second biggest team. Marketing has about like, 10 people on it. Well, yeah, we have a risk team as well. So yeah, we've grown in all areas, really. So the interesting thing is that we we didn't grow, like through an engineering focus, we grew through like an entire company focus.

    Qasim Virjee 5:27
    And so before this little bit, now, let's, let's, let's peel back the onion on your career. As a people person, yeah. How did your career come to be? And lead you to this interesting, you know, point of like, rapid scale in all directions?

    Recruitment and talent acquisition in the tech industry

    Cheli Nolan 5:46
    Yeah. Well, I've been in the startup space for a while now. So prior to this, I was at a company called Wattpad, which maybe, you know, I was there for about five

    Qasim Virjee 5:55
    years, like everyone in tech in Canada knows what Pat, but they don't even know what it does.

    Cheli Nolan 6:01
    You are not wrong. explaining it to people is challenging. But it's an I'd say it's kind of like one of the darlings of you know, the Canadian tech scene. It's been around for 15 years, and you know, has had this success story of being acquired in the last two years. But I was there in the very early days. So I joined in 2016. There were a series B there were under 100 people. And then by the time I left, it was over 300. Wow. So yeah, so lots of growth. 3x. Yeah. Got them off that time. Yeah. Yeah, man.

    Qasim Virjee 6:32
    Yeah. No, that is an interesting, that was such a great experience. Yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 6:36
    it was. Yeah. I mean, startups, amazing. No, two days are ever the same. Right? Whatever. Next is what I always say about startups. So it's great. So I've, you know, had the fortune of being in the startup space. Prior to that I worked in a recruitment agency. And we always worked with like a lot of different startups. Wattpad was actually a client that I sort of, like endeavor to make mine, and then moved into an internal role there. And yeah, have worked with startups have been in the startup space for a while. And I mean, that's the great thing about Toronto. So we

    Qasim Virjee 7:02
    why recruiting in the beginning? Why recruiting.

    Cheli Nolan 7:04
    Um, so I've always had some sort of like aspect to like hiring people pulling people together, getting people together to do things. In a previous life, I actually had my own business, where I did like, almost like an artistic management company. So kind of a type of recruiting. It's basically like managing creatives. Sure. And I worked in like marketing and advertising agencies for a short period of time. And and I was actually living overseas, and then I came back to Canada. I'm Canadian. Yeah, I had been away for a number of years. Where was overseas for you? A couple different stops. I've been in England for about four years. And then prior to that I was in Asia, and then I was just a world traveler whilst a bum. So yeah. So then I but I'm originally from Toronto. So I came back here. And yeah, I mean, it was kind of like getting to know this city again, even though I knew where all the streets and where everything was, the city was completely changed. But so I'd worked in marketing and advertising agencies and sort of I got on the roster of like a recruitment agency. And then they just approached me about joining internally, was with the Division of Robert Half. It's called the creative group. So they really like to hire people who come from the creative industries so that they can sort of speak the language of their clients. Sure. So yeah, so I went there, I was there for about five years. And that's sort of like how I made my mark in recruitment, recruited for everything from like, film, to illustration to packaging, design, production, design, loads of things like that. And then yeah, so did that for five years, and then transition to Wattpad. And then now I'm at relay and had been there for about a year and a half. So it's been, you know, nearly a dozen years. So

    Qasim Virjee 8:41
    yeah. And so much has changed in terms of recruitment and talent acquisition. Sure. As sure as the world is completely different. Yeah. Compared to when you started. Yeah.

    Cheli Nolan 8:50
    Yeah. I mean, we're hiring for a talent lead right now. And like, you know, talking to move them up at the tools that they have at their disposal. And it's just, it's, it's wild, right? Because when I was doing it, like when I started doing it, it was like a Rolodex, right. Yeah.

    Qasim Virjee 9:03
    Like everybody would carry call somebody and be like, Hey, do you have any people? Do you know anyone?

    Cheli Nolan 9:06
    Well, exactly. Who do you know, that was the first thing that you always

    Qasim Virjee 9:09
    and now it's like, oh, hold the phone. Let me log into Facebook. Oh, wait, not Facebook. Let me log into Instagram, not Instagram. Let me log into LinkedIn. I haven't updated my profile. I know 1000s of people, but I don't really Yeah, exactly. And so that ends all over the place. Yeah. Yeah, turn and attrition being a problem in the last few years is changed

    Cheli Nolan 9:28
    layoffs. Yeah. The layoffs. It's, it's a wild world we're living in. So

    Qasim Virjee 9:33
    yeah, when we talk on this podcast, or we have so far talked to any technical recruiters. I mean, we had a chat with the technical recruiter named Sean recently. You know, one of the stories was in hiring Canadian talent for essentially, foreign entities. He deals mainly with American companies. They came out that like there's a huge appetite for Canadian talent for sure. And hiring in Canada. Yeah. And That's a great thing, but at the same time, I mean, it always feels like we don't have enough talent in the country. Yeah. I actually had a chat with someone. Just recently, there was an amalgam of privately owned hospitals in somewhere in the northwestern us that called us up to use some space for a hiring junket. They wanted to hire 9000 nurses in the next two years. And I'm like, leave our nurses alone.

    Cheli Nolan 10:26
    We already have enough of a problem. Yeah, yeah. We need more good people. Yeah. Well, you don't pay them well enough. Right,

    Qasim Virjee 10:34
    real problem across the board. So what are some major differences that you see, you know, in your in that role of talent acquisition now versus then when you started out in this in the job? And one was, yeah, so Sourcing Lead sourcing people finding people? Yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 10:50
    yeah. I think I mean, the big things are like, from a tactical standpoint, it's like, nobody has to have a resume anymore. They just like, have it on LinkedIn. You know, they don't have to put the work the graft into it. So there's that. I think, you know, the salary stuff is just like, completely changed is earning tons of money. Yeah. And asking for tons of money. Right. Right. I mean, like, speaking of like, you know, developers and engineers, you know, obviously, they spend a lot of time at school, they spend a lot of money to learn at school, but, you know, coming out, some of them are like asking for like, six figures. And it's like, yeah,

    Qasim Virjee 11:26
    how can I pay you that? Yeah. Help me, help me pay you that helped me pay you that. Okay. Yeah, we'll give you ESOP. We'll give you stocks. No, you don't want stocks. You want to buy a Ferrari? It's not gonna work? Yeah.

    Cheli Nolan 11:38
    Well, this is it all the incentives that you have to give? Right? So it's, yeah, I mean, that's changed. And even just, you know, and there's upsides to that as well. Right? Like, it's, I believe in people having a fair wage, I believe in people having like, an equitable way to live, especially in a city. That's expensive. But, you know, I think the the biggest learning has been like the push for change, right. And the pandemic has been a big part of that, too. Right. So asking for more accommodations at home asking for different hours. And, you know, that's, you know, that's, that's at the heart of young people asking for that, and we wouldn't have changed, right. I think my generation and impossibly yours if you're the same vintage as me, but probably,

    Qasim Virjee 12:19
    I guess, yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I went to university in 1998.

    Cheli Nolan 12:27
    Yeah, we're the same vintage.

    Qasim Virjee 12:29
    That's a good way to give away my age. But if you've been to university, you know what that means. In

    Hiring and managing remote workers in Canada

    Cheli Nolan 12:34
    this rain. Yeah, yeah. Yeah,

    Qasim Virjee 12:37
    man, a lot has changed. A lot has changed. You know, I was part of the early internet, in many ways, like, I got online in 95. And I used to connect, you know, businesses and people and teach them what the internet was when I was a teenager in Kenya. Yeah, I was a Canadian teenager with a bag of modems. Yeah. And so I've definitely seen some things since then, in that that have been wonderful. And also kind of like disheartening in terms of, yeah, how it, you know, how I think the the fluidity with which people now can access opportunity online, if they are technical workers, especially, has kind of challenged the expectations of employers, as well as the staff themselves, the employees themselves on, on what a career means. And like, is a career that patchwork of, you know, your LinkedIn saying that you worked six months from here to a Sunday? Or is it something that says, hey, I built this thing? And that thing had legs? Yeah. And that might have been six months that it took or might have been six years or six years? I don't know. But like, so where are you seeing from the talent that you're talking to? In terms of a commitment? I guess, two things. Are you for really hiring or looking abroad for local people to move here and to be here? Not

    Cheli Nolan 13:59
    so much. For us? We've really focused on hiring in Canada. I think we've looked in other markets in Canada, like definitely looking outside Toronto. Like we've hired a couple of people in Halifax, Ottawa, like, quite a few in Calgary and in Vancouver as well. But, but yeah, we haven't supported like Visa processes and things like that only, only because the weight is just so long. Yeah, now, I can imagine Yeah, I did a lot of that at Wattpad. And we were like waiting 16 months for people to come sometimes. Wow. You know, it's challenging because those people are sort of like in this like standstill kind of stay. Yeah, you

    Qasim Virjee 14:37
    don't want your people anticipating. Like it's something I just reading very briefly that Mark Zuckerberg letter yesterday, where he laid off all these people and he's like, very cavalier about how difficult it is. He assumes for the people on visas to like, still figure out how to get out of the country. Oh, we'll give you a few weeks. Don't worry, and then you can get the hell out of the country. Yeah. Yeah, no, these are difficult things. You know, managing people's lifestyles as a lawyer, for sure. or facilitating them, enabling them. So this is really interesting, because I think it brings us to this return, you know, to Office question, but like, let's say, you've got across Canada, you population, and it's growing. Yeah. Toronto has the bulk of the people. Yeah, I

    Cheli Nolan 15:21
    would say like the GTA. Yeah. Let's

    Qasim Virjee 15:24
    start by describing your office. What is what is the really office like?

    Office space and remote work in Toronto

    Cheli Nolan 15:28
    Well, now it's great. When I first started, I describe it as a unremarkable suite at Yonge and Bloor that have closed about 20 of us. Usually not at any given time, because it was quite tiny. But we sort of spread our wings a bit about a year ago. So we've been in this office space at 60. Adelaide, East so it's right at Adelaide in church.

    Qasim Virjee 15:51
    It's going well, I used to live right around the corner. It's a great area.

    Cheli Nolan 15:54
    It's a really great area. It's in like an older building that's been completely refurbished. So we've got an entire suite. We've got space for up to 100 people. So it's great. And the northeast corner. Northeast, yes. On the northeast corner.

    Qasim Virjee 16:07
    So I used to live so then you must go get coffee or Fahrenheit. Yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 16:11
    well, there's a couple places now there's one or the base for building. It's called xOP. Zoo. Little plug. Shameless plug here. I've ever heard of that are fantastic. Really great. Great people there. Cool. Yeah,

    Qasim Virjee 16:20
    that's a good one. Yeah. Fahrenheit. Samir, who owns and runs it went to the school I did in Kenya. Oh, okay. Wow. It's a little small rural connection. I used to live right on like, yeah, like on Adelaide and Jarvis. Okay, seeing the park. Right. Okay. So very close. Yeah, nice neighborhood that is gone through a lot of changes.

    Cheli Nolan 16:42
    Sure has.

    Qasim Virjee 16:42
    So that's an interesting thing that like, you know, the office has changed as it needs growing. You've got some extra capacity that's pre built out. What does it look like inside? And like, how has kind of the format change?

    Cheli Nolan 16:58
    When we first took it over? It looked like a murder site? Oh, no. But they completely did a lot of construction. That looks great. Now. Okay. So it's, you know, very modern, sort of like the Polish cement floors. You know, very modern colors. It's quite nice inside. Previously, like, I worked in a heritage building that had a lot of critters and rats and lots of cockroaches and whatnot in it. So that had its own charm. But being in something kind of fresh. spanking new is like a breath of fresh air after the after the pandemic for sure.

    Qasim Virjee 17:29
    In terms of features of the offices it just like desks and kind of, you know, rooms. Yeah, well, I mean, cool. Well, random,

    Cheli Nolan 17:37
    I think it's cool. But what can I tell you? That's cool. It's it's very, you know, it's got lots of glass doors, and like lots of sort of like fishbowl kind of type offices. So it's like, and we've got, like, 360, windows all around. So we have amazing views as well. So it's, yeah, it's quite nice. It's good.

    Qasim Virjee 17:58
    Okay, let's talk about what happens in the office, you know, and like this, this whole question of, kind of, if you want to, like engage, because also, this is interesting, a lot of our audience may not be in Toronto, and may not be in Canada, and specifically in Canada, you know, and a lot of people on the on the series so far been talking about this as we have this unique kind of disadvantage, in a way as organizers of people for business that return to work has become a thing. It's a phrase everyone knows and talks about, there's difficulties in promoting the idea of of people coming into office space, and sharing that space with each other. And that's not necessarily the case in so much of the world. Yeah. So some of those aspects are the reasons for that, in Toronto are are what I've assumed is to be distributed workforce already, like we already have had people that work in downtown Toronto from a regional basically the suburbs in this whole, like Greater Toronto Area, which is large. Yeah. So saving the commute seems like a great thing. Yeah. A liberator of time and resources. And so that alone enables people to kind of say, or has post pandemic to say, Well, I really like my life. And I'm kind of doing my work and kind of have both. So we're myths that, are you guys seeing a kind of a want for your people to be together in real life? Yeah. I'll leave it there for now. Yeah.

    Cheli Nolan 19:24
    So for us, I think it's more about the opportunity that's created when you get people in a room together, right? Like I think the learnings expand a lot quicker, you know, the personal relationships develop much faster. So for us, it's been more experiential than anything. I think one thing that we did is we we put we posted on the job descriptions that were like a hybrid setting, we're in office so that by doing that you're getting people to opt in to that. So you're automatically tapping into the people who want to return to work. I think, you know, it's not without its complications, right? We what we did is we we said we do Tuesdays and Thursdays two days a week. So you know, it is truly hybrid because 60% of the time you're at home, right? If you want to be if you want to be, yeah, but we did open up the office to other people. What we found was, especially after all the lock downs, like last winter, we found that there were so many people who were just so bored of staring at four walls. I mean, this is Toronto, and lots of people live in 500 square feet, right. So there were a lot of people wanting to come in. So there were people coming in on like the Monday, Wednesday, Friday. So but then, you know, there were others that I think once the lockdown had happened, it was like, I don't know if I want to go back. I don't know if I want to write the TTC or the GO train. Right. All this like, extra factors. Extra

    Remote work and socialization in a post-pandemic office

    Qasim Virjee 20:43
    factors. And yep. New patterns of behavior. Born of the pandemic,

    Cheli Nolan 20:48
    yeah, new risks, right. New things to think about. So, but yeah, I mean, for us, I'd say that, you know, there's been big learnings from doing it, for sure. I think, you know, we've had to kind of go the extra mile sometimes, like, what does that look like? catered lunches? Oh, snack and beverage program. In the summertime, we had like a summer series like an entire, like roster of events. Well, so popsicle stands, ice cream bars. We had like a meditation session. Like we just we did a ton of things. We tried everything, right? We played like shows at lunchtime on the big screen. Like we just did a host of things. Some of them worked. Some of them didn't. I think some of them were just alien to people as well, because nobody's had to do anything like that in two and a half years. And those things by virtue of doing them. They include socialization, which, you know, is a lot sometimes for people right now.

    Qasim Virjee 21:42
    So that's pretty wicked. I think the way I look at it is that if you're doing activities together, and those activities aren't kind of performance based, yeah. Then you kind of can drop the garden like people can hang out together. Yeah. Yeah. And sure, some people do have stigma around, especially in nine to five Toronto, yeah, historically, around. Well, my time is my time and work is work. And I just want to come into the office and work with I think, also, this is prompting a reset with some of those people too. Yeah, this post pandemic thing of saying, Well, I don't know. Because if I'm at home and everything is everything, yeah, then I have to kind of live that way at the office too. So maybe there's opportunities to just socialize with the office? Yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 22:25
    for sure. And I think there's a lot of that, but I think that's, you know, similar to how, you know, MasterCard factors, like, you know, people absconding with money into their like business practice, you've got to sort of factor into like, the day to day that people are just going to want to socialize, people are just going to want to hang out. But there's a value in that as well. Right. That's where the relationships deepen, and the trust builds. And you know, and then I think the next time, maybe that won't be the case, maybe people are getting to something done a little bit faster or a little bit more effectively. So I think that's the rescue take, but there's, you know, there's an upside to that as well.

    Qasim Virjee 23:03
    For your organization. Are you feeling like this is a temporal learning curve? Or will will kind of like the weekly pattern stabilize in some way? For your for your team?

    Cheli Nolan 23:15
    I think we're there now. I think it's it's started to stabilize, like we pull the numbers on? Well, we do it based on Meals ordered, which

    Qasim Virjee 23:23
    is how much food are people eating? If they liked the food, they'll come back?

    Cheli Nolan 23:28
    Pretty much. It's it's anecdotal at best, but it does tell a bit of a story. But yeah, we've sort of stabilized I think, for us, you know, one of the things we did is we we asked for people to come back, like we said, you have to come on a Tuesday and Thursday, and we had like a plan for commutable distances. And, you know, there were learnings from that as well. Like if if that was, you know, really what people wanted. And I think, you know, the thing that people weren't saying was, you know, am I still trusted? If I work from home? Or if I'm a completely remote employee, you know, am I still as valued as the people who are in the office? Right, so those are the things you kind of have to deal with and get ahead of? And those are ongoing questions, right. Like, as people join the organization, it's new for everyone. So, but

    Workplace culture and growth in a Toronto-based startup

    Qasim Virjee 24:11
    have you soundboard some of this stuff? Or vocalize this with other folks in your space in different organizations?

    Cheli Nolan 24:18
    Yeah, for sure. Yeah, for sure. I mean, even talking to, you know, people that I used to work with, with at their places of work, it's like, you know, one of the managers at Wattpad hoots the office manager told me that they're lucky if they get 11 people in. I mean, that's a space that has like, you know, room for, like 165 people, right? So it's harder, right? And this is the thing because it's, you know, everybody's sort of self congratulatory, like we transitioned during the pandemic, we went home and it's like, you sat on the couch and you turned your laptop on, you know, like this is this is nothing, no great feat. Yeah. But you know, who knew that actually coming back to the office would be really hard to motivate people and galvanize them.

    Qasim Virjee 24:57
    Honestly, it's interesting because I think like, this is a great Hope, social hope is that, you know, fundamentally workplaces can evolve to enable people to do great things. Not only great work, yeah, be comfortable, more for sure. And shed some bias, like there's all this inherited bias from like, you know, Don Draper? Yeah. From the 50s. Like, there's there just is there's a lot of this like subconscious bias in North America of like, things have to be like this and like Sunday, Heebie Jeebies about Monday. You know, if you don't go in on Monday, Tuesday, do you have the heebie jeebies about Wednesday? Yeah. Did you just have an aversion to work? Are you doing the right job in your life? Oh,

    Cheli Nolan 25:39
    Don Draper could go to the movies to think about things. So that sounds like a good plan.

    Qasim Virjee 25:46
    So I think it's there's a reckoning, maybe locally. And the reckoning is not so much like the big fear factor that's expressed in media, which is that, you know, at least from the commercial real estate standpoint that like, Oh, we're in crisis, because REITs are losing money. I don't care about that. What I care more about is that teams have a means or a justification for kind of getting together more. Yeah. Like, it should be great. You should enjoy the company of the people that you work with. Yeah.

    Cheli Nolan 26:18
    We spend a lot of time with them.

    Qasim Virjee 26:21
    Yeah, more than your spouse or whatever. Normally, you know, more than at home. Yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 26:25
    indeed. Yeah, indeed. Yeah. Big learnings.

    Qasim Virjee 26:27
    So where do you see as you guys grow? Because I'm sure this is a continuing trend, or you'll double in the next year sort of thing? Where do you see the relevance of Toronto as now also, that you're looking to bring on team members from across Canada?

    Cheli Nolan 26:44
    Yeah, so I think the ultimate goal would be that we'd have different hubs in different cities, so that we'd look into, you know, having something similar in Vancouver so that the Vancouver team can get together so that they can have like in office learnings, so that they can build their own culture, because the you know, that's the thing with growth, especially in startups, there's going to be a lot of like micro cultures developing across different teams. So I think that would be the hole for us that we start to have, like hubs. And then if people from our team are going to those hubs, then they get to experience that too. So

    Office leases, sublets, and employee preferences

    Qasim Virjee 27:14
    and I mean, this, it's an interesting point, but with this, when did you guys sorry, grow into the latest Office? What and when did you take on that lease?

    Cheli Nolan 27:22
    So October 5, last year, so

    Qasim Virjee 27:24
    we're just thinking during the pandemic? Yeah. Yeah. What was the process? Like to find that office? Were you exclusively looking for leases? Or were you looking at, you know, maybe some flexible solutions? We were working solutions as well,

    Cheli Nolan 27:38
    I think because we had had the small place that we knew we needed to grow really, really quickly. So we knew we needed something much bigger. And I think we really did want to do the, you know, hanging the shingle out, you know, brick and mortar, we did look for leases, big learnings on that, as well. Yeah.

    Qasim Virjee 27:56
    What did you learn

    Cheli Nolan 27:58
    how expensive real estate is per square footage in Toronto. But also just like really trying to find something that would be like a reasonable distance for people coming in from Union. If you are going to hire people from the GTA, it has to be like walking distance. So we did a lot of like pulse checks and surveys, like finding out what was important to people like how long they were comfortable traveling. So we had to sort of do a cross factor of all that, that data and then weigh that against what kind of place we chose. So we were lucky to get the place that we did, and we're very happy in that place. So yeah,

    Qasim Virjee 28:31
    yeah, you're right. Real estate is crazy expensive, even with the discount. So in the CRE world right now, there's so much hubbub, you know, and conversations that I'm privy to where, at least in our space, I mean, we're kind of doing different things with co working we're not we're moving into an on demand kind of vibe. We have anyway since 2019. But in that conventional like, you know, glass cubicle kind of office, we work whatever model it's interesting because like those core of co working operators in many cases are up against sublets. Right, of course, and then terms on sublets have become super favorable in the last six months. As landlords are now not quite freaking out but saying wow, it's been quite a while. Yeah, that the sublets are not the people trying to sublet Are they really want out of their lease? Yeah. So we have to be more agreeable with who comes in on the sublet and also how the sublet can get renewed. For sure, you know, and it was funny because I was just talking to someone a couple days ago about a 5000 square foot fully furnished and service sublet that they found for 24 bucks a square foot all inclusive $24 You know, which is like a third of what it should be. Yeah, that's without the furniture. Yeah. Because usual is like, what 55 To 85 bucks, depending on where you are. Yeah. So, so there are some very cheap deals out there. But then there's ambiguity about Yeah, how those can get renewed. And if you have to get out in a year or two years,

    Cheli Nolan 30:06
    we had to sublet the place that we left behind. And the furnishing was key, because lots of places were like that, because there was no furniture available. Right. So

    Qasim Virjee 30:15
    everyone got it for their houses. Yeah. Well, or supply chain issues from China, right?

    Cheli Nolan 30:22
    Yeah. Yeah,

    Qasim Virjee 30:24
    that's interesting. Yeah. So you had to Okay, so you guys were thinking of getting out of this lease? You realized after a couple showings that you needed to, like leave everything there?

    Cheli Nolan 30:33
    Yeah, well, we, we didn't want to take it with us, because we had brokered a really great deal that we were gonna get our new place furnished as part of the deal. So that was the kind of bargaining chips that were on the table. Right. So we couldn't take it with us. But then once we started, like listing for sublets, we found that loads of people wanted it furnished place. So yeah. And we only very recently parted ways with it, maybe only about three months ago. So and we had to get rid of all the furniture and we gave it on to the startup community. So nice. Yeah.

    Qasim Virjee 31:03
    And they'll circle Yeah, right. Startup life. Yeah. I think it's very, very interesting. So with the, I guess, with the extension of these hubs in different cities, the intention is to take on leases in those spaces as well. I think it depends on how growth Yeah, your talent acquisition goes. Yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 31:21
    exactly. Like I think it depends on how we scale. But I think realistically, we would be doing something like a WeWork or something something similar. Okay. Yeah.

    Qasim Virjee 31:30
    And what about the kind of as you bring on people, what are they looking for? Are there trends that you kind of in is a part of your onboarding discussion is like, lifestyle wise, what are people looking for?

    Cheli Nolan 31:43
    Yeah, I think lots of like, pushy, I mean, the usual suspects that you sort of had before, like the, you know, the stock option programs, like the ESOP stuff, you know, the the benefits, like from day one, like those are table stakes now, right. But I think, you know, usually people are looking for, like, we get, you know, the extreme requests that it's like, I want like, hydraulic standing desk, you know, I want a chair that can also move up and down. It's like, it's very specific. But you know, otherwise, it's the usual stuff, just like the monitor and all the peripherals and that kind of stuff, which I think is reasonable. Right,

    Qasim Virjee 32:16
    totally. You want to workstation that can enable you to do work the way you're used

    Cheli Nolan 32:20
    to it. Yeah. And impact productivity. Right.

    Qasim Virjee 32:23
    Yeah. Capital P. That's interesting that the ESOP so but what about vesting periods? Like because this is something I keep hearing is that people are looking for great upside no matter what, because with the latest tech firings? Yeah, you know, talents, less trustful of being able to park themselves. And at the same time, they might even despite all the like Facebook firings and so on, not think that they would want to stay in the same place for too long, it's kind of like this, again, what that the technical recruiter was saying is that a lot of devs particularly are like, when the problems aren't hard anymore to solve, then they want to move on to other hard problems. So for sure, and that's where a lot of churn comes from. In the engineer community.

    Cheli Nolan 33:09
    Yeah, yeah. Yeah, I mean, it's the asks are numerous, I would say, like, I think on the stock options, like we usually use that as, like an opportunity for education, because I think a lot of people truly don't understand like that, that could be the biggest payday of your life. Right? And the longer you stay, the more you invest in that. Right. So we've really gotten through, like an education sort of process like with that with our, with our team members, and sort of making them owners in that journey has been really, really important. But yeah, I mean, the the asks are considerable, like vacation, vacations, a consistent one? And that's, that's another one. That's another one that's really interesting, like the, you know, the unlimited vacation versus like actually having a designated amount of vacation, you know, so that's a very controversial and if you want to pick into that one, yeah,

    Remote work trust and burnout

    Qasim Virjee 33:57
    I would like to, because I, as an employer, I've always taken it like, and we're, I'm a different kind of employer, in the sense maybe that we're a physical real estate business. So people have tangible things to do every day. So if they go on holiday that things don't get done, you know, and we're lean. But I've always taken it that like, Look, if we can socialize what your needs are, then and we can cover you then, of course, you know, go on holiday, and your pay won't be docked for the time that you're away. And I don't want to even deal with payroll like, I don't want to question how payroll works. Yeah, you know, yeah. Go to Montreal is a recent example for our producer in the booth. He went to Montreal last because I get it. He's got a budget. Oh, enjoy yourself. Yeah. So I've always taken that, that kind of thing that like, as long as nothing's being dropped. Yeah. You know, and it's also enabling people to like, have fun adventure in life, then that's great. But it's now butting against this like remote work. Question. Yeah. Yeah. And I had a conversation with someone I think it was yesterday. Talking about, you know, how you audit? Yeah, it was yesterday, I know exactly what I was talking about. It wasn't on camera. But But if someone here on campus, and they were saying, as an employer, they don't necessarily trust that remote work yields, efficacy and performance, right? Because they don't assess performances clocking in. Yeah. You know, it's more like, give me your all give me who you are, like, show me some cool stuff. And people, he's seeing our little disenfranchised from the work that they're doing when they're not like surrounded by their peeps.

    Cheli Nolan 35:36
    Yeah. Yeah. I think that comes back to what I was saying about, you know, people like at being asked to return feeling like that trust is lost, or that trust is broken, right. I think that's like a tough nut for people to swallow. Because I think a lot of people have proved that through the pandemic, you can work doubly hard, right? Like, I know, for me, it was more difficult to draw the line between work life and home life, you know, because they were just perpetually blurred, right.

    Qasim Virjee 35:58
    Part of it is like you're looking for fun stimulation, you know? Yeah. Because you don't want to read the news. You know, that's saying, yeah. And then you can't keep entertaining yourself. When Netflix is your eyes are just watering. Yeah. It's like your task. I think humans also are very task oriented, like people want to do stuff. Yeah. And so if work is particularly your outlet to do stuff, then it's kind of fun. Until you have to keep doing it until you realize that you're doing it a little too much or whatever. Yeah, but now that people have more lifestyle choices, yeah. Post pandemic. Yeah, it's interesting, because there is this legacy culture now of like, you know, possibly leaving a burnout or people being overworked. And now forcing themselves into a cultural paradigm that might be not the healthiest for themselves. Yeah,

    Remote work challenges and strategies for a distributed team

    Cheli Nolan 36:48
    for sure. Yeah. Yeah.

    Qasim Virjee 36:52
    So yeah, back to this thing of vacation. What did you want to add?

    Cheli Nolan 36:55
    Um, yeah, just picking into that. I mean, it's, it's interesting, because I had been in startup for a while, and, you know, the unlimited vacation, I think, you know, what we've really found, like, especially on the EHR, and people side, it's like, there's other people who use it all the time, or people who never use it. And it creates this discordance among teams, you know, because it's kind of like the person that you need to do something might not be there, but they can have unlimited vacation. And then there's the people who haven't taken vacation in three years. Right. Right. So it's really, really tough, you know, to kind of find the middle ground. So yeah, so that's been like an interesting one, because we sort of, you know, put a cap on it and said, like, we're going to do three weeks vacation for everybody. And then we're going to do like a one week shutdown for the entire company. So yeah, so that everybody just slows down. And that sort of like brought it back to table stakes of like, kind of the four weeks, which I think is pretty normal in the market. But the the company shut down is Yeah, it's nice, honestly. Yeah, we

    Qasim Virjee 37:48
    do that. Between like Christmas and New Year's, you know, yeah. And this year, it's a full week in between those weekends.

    Cheli Nolan 37:52
    Yeah. That's brilliant. Right. Yeah. No, and

    Qasim Virjee 37:57
    that's whether it's that or another season. I think having that first break from work is pretty cool. Yeah. Obviously doing it at a time when the market slow is helpful. Yeah.

    Cheli Nolan 38:07
    Kind of helps. Well, that.

    Qasim Virjee 38:12
    But yeah, so then, tell me a little bit about this kind of as it's part of your role, but how do you deal with remote work? In terms of like trying to get everyone on board? And on the same page? are you deploying any particular tools? Is it a software issue? Or is it more like a curatorial thing where you're getting people, despite timezones on a call or otherwise, traveling to a city for an off site? How do you stitch the country of Canada that is so big together?

    Cheli Nolan 38:44
    Yeah. I mean, it's hard. It's just ongoing learnings, right? And I think what works at one point in time will work three weeks later, right? And it doesn't work for some people. One of the ones that's really challenging is like the welcome lunches that we do, and we do them remotely, so that everybody's like an equal citizen. But invariably, for the people in Vancouver, it's like, it's breakfast time for them, you know, and maybe they don't want breakfast, you know. So we've, we've had to play with a couple different things, whether it's like tooling, or just, you know, time of day when we do things like you just constantly have to kind of play with things a little bit more, because it's just there. There's no one solution, right? It's just, it's, it's tough, and people's needs change all the time, as well. So it's, that's a tough one, really.

    Qasim Virjee 39:27
    I've been hearing cool stories of like, teams kind of inverting it. So it's like giving reporting assignments to their their team members to come back and share. So I think this is a really cool technique. You know, it goes back to school, right? Like Shawntel. Yeah. Shawn tells a really cool thing because depending on how you use it, it is you're really drawing passions out of people. And like, what are you interested in? Yeah, what happened you let's not keep it on Mondays for the weekend. Because as you get older, you don't do as much interesting stuff on Last weekend, but yeah,

    Cheli Nolan 40:03
    or maybe you do, right? Maybe making super napping is interesting.

    Qasim Virjee 40:09
    I took a nap. No, no, I'm not done. Let me tell you about my dream in the nap. Yeah, exactly. People could dig into it. But ya know, I was just talking to someone about the, the assignment side of it, where, you know, they're kind of looking at content and marketing. And every person at an organization is a potential source of content for marketing, to try and more accurately market their brand, know, and empower all of the employees at the company to feel like they can speak on behalf of the company, right? By sharing their voice through publication, okay, which I think is a really interesting one, especially for remote teams. Because if if a company is across Canada, and it's labor force is across Canada, then hopefully they could speak better to the burgeoning market that they're trying to grow into. Yeah, yeah. Yeah. It's just one of the tips. But

    Cheli Nolan 41:06
    that's interesting. Maybe there's something in that. Yeah. Taking notes.

    Qasim Virjee 41:12
    So any things that that are coming up for your team for next year on this tip, like you mentioned, you know, some activities you planned for the summer? Yeah. Is it a summer thing? Or are you going to do some cool stuff in different seasons next year?

    Cheli Nolan 41:24
    Yeah, well, we do like, this is our second annual winter party coming up in a couple of weeks. So and that's, you know, deliberately geared towards people who are completely remote so that we can fly them in, they can experience the office, we do all our parties in the office so that people can feel like the office is home, even if they don't get to work there all the time. But yeah, we've done like a winter party summer party, we had a surprise guest come for the summer party, which was a drag queen. We have a very nose in books culture. So this was like really fun to sort of shake it up. And nobody knew that the drag queen was coming. So it was it was fantastic. Tons of fun. Yeah. Yeah. Nice. Yeah. Well,

    Qasim Virjee 42:00
    I look forward to hearing more stories, indeed, from the relay adventure as you guys continue to grow. Yeah. And yeah, especially this cross Canada thing, because we don't talk about it enough as Canadian companies that like our country is so big. It's huge. And there's Torontonians Yeah, we're a little insular. We're complaining about like, we're the center of the world raises. We all we talk about is like, you know, how difficult they're all the roads of traffic. It's so you know, yeah. But that's because we never like fly to Manitoulin Island for a meeting.

    Cheli Nolan 42:29
    No, no, not easy to get there. But ya know, it's a bridge market. I mean, there's so many different pockets, and so in different tech communities as well that are coming up all the time. Halifax, Victoria, it's great, right? Yeah, Rob wide opportunity for hiring for sure.

    Qasim Virjee 42:44
    All right. Thanks for joining me on the mic. Thanks for having me. Cheers. Cheers.

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