'How to Hybrid' with Thomas Forstner, Head of People & Talent at Juro By Jules Robertson

Thomas Forstner, Head of People & Talent at Juro, tells us all ‘How to Hybrid’:

Explain a little about your company, and the 'why' behind the company for those who aren't familiar with you guys.


In a nutshell, we're a company on a mission to empower companies to ditch MS Word. Businesses run on contracts. But it can take hundreds of steps across multiple tools just to get one contract safely agreed. This legacy way of working leads to bottlenecks in core business processes and makes Legal a blocker, rather than an enabler. That’s why we founded Juro. Juro is an all-in-one contract automation platform that helps visionary legal counsel and the teams they enable to agree and manage contracts in one unified workspace.

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What has been your role in shaping the hybrid policy of your team?


As Head of People and Talent, my mission is to create a highly engaged, high-performing company by empowering people. This includes maximising individual growth & development — i.e. helping people be their best self. Our approach to doing that has always been simple: Hire great people passionate about the product; judge people on results; and judge people on how they improve others. Everything else, we default to flexibility and choice. So while Jurors have always ownership over when they work and where they work from, we never formalised this into a policy. There was a distinct need for this especially as the road out of lockdown became clear, and it was my job to put this into place.

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What is your team's hybrid strategy?


First of all, we don't think making big long-term commitments in the middle of an ongoing global crisis is a good idea. So we approached the topic like we approach any problem in the People team — by working in iterations like a product function. That means that, instead of looking to what other companies in the space are doing, we work by starting from a problem that is relevant to us and designing a tailored strategy from there that's in line with our values and principles. Our guiding questions for this are, what are we seeing, why are we seeing it, how can we solve it, what will we do, how do we know it worked? This exercise is what got us to choice-first work, and it's an experiment that evolves as we measure how it impacts other business metrics: e.g. do we see an uptick in engagement? promotions? diversity of applicants? etc.


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What is the main challenge of having a hybrid team and how have you overcome it?


Not letting it dissolve into chaos. We actually made the hypothesis that giving choice unconditionally on all levels will decrease (1) feeling of belonging and (2) overall performance. We assume that, unless they consume lots of podcasts and articles on the topic, people don't think much about unintended consequences of hybrid on a company or team scale – until they see them. E.g. if you come into the office for the vibe but none of your teammates are there. Or you feel singled out when you're the only one on Zoom while everyone stares at you from the meeting room. Or you don't get that new inside joke that everyone else seems privy to. We are tackling this in a number of ways: (1) coaching managers on how to allow choice on an individual level while keeping the team aligned (e.g. if most people want to be in the office 3 days a week, fix the 3 days that most people prefer), (2) making people commit to their choice for min. 6 months, and (3) making remote-first work from another country a case-by-case decision (for now – it's expensive to maintain for a company of our stage).


What do you find are the best types of spaces for your team to come together and collaborate?


We're still figuring this out. We are moving office in July and created a list of requirements for the space we want to occupy next that enables a hybrid workstyle while maximising inclusion at the same time (again, starting from problems we want the space to solve). We assume that the optimal space will (1) be modular - i.e. we can rearrange fast are teams grow, change and work cross-functionally, (2) have lots of breakout spaces – meeting rooms, sound-isolated pods, etc and (3) support with technology - this includes rollable screens that replicate the size of a person as if they were in the room during a meeting.

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If you could share one piece of advice with others about moving to a hybrid model, what would it be?


Don't commit in a crisis. Right now it feels like every company is pressured to make a statement – many big-name brands like Deloitte and PwC introduce hybrid models while others face backlash for telling their staff to get back to the office. We think the sensible approach is to treat this like the experiment it is, work from first principles to make it work for you (don't just copy/paste), have some success metrics and reassess when you're not in the middle of a pandemic. And make sure your processes and ways of working as a business are ready to move to a mixed model before you do anything rash. (LifeLabs Learning offer great resources for this.) Sorry, that was like 5 pieces of advice.

Is there any company (apart from your own of course!) that you think is taking a great approach to hybrid?


Whereby are taking a similar product approach to running their People function, and anything that their team produce is excellent – including their flexible work approach.

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What does an ideal workday look like for you?


I'm most productive in the early mornings so starting at 8 and focusing on 1-2 deep work projects uninterrupted until noon is my optimum. Lunch break, then my brain power tends to decrease so I will be more productive on operational rather than strategic tasks. That's why I bulk meetings and candidate outreach in the afternoon. My day usually doesn't end before 7pm but I (and everyone else) make a habit of not disturbing others with Slack messages after 6.


What's one habit or ritual you need to start and finish your day and why is it non-negotiable for you?


I wish I had one – it would make me sound much cooler if I said "go for a run at 4am like Tim Cook does". I try to get 10min of Calm meditation or a 30min walk in every day – both of these help me get perspective on work. (Even in a startup, it's good to remind myself sometimes that we're not curing cancer and it's just a job. It helps me be better at it.)

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Who would you like to nominate and recognise as a successful leader?


Two people – my former manager Georgiana and my current leader Richard. Working with numerous leaders over the past years I realised how much we are defined by the people that trained us, and how having been managed badly or uninspiringly in the past is tough to unlearn. I've been extremely fortunate to have been shaped by two of the most extraordinary mentors, who not only drive results but who provide clarity and create energy – I always feel unstuck after talking through a problem with them and, what's more, motivated to do as they lead by example.

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