All posts by Natalie Cook

Building a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace: Our Learnings and Goals

Post Syndicated from Natalie Cook original

Backblaze started in a one-bedroom apartment in Palo Alto, California. Today, our products serve customers in more than 175 countries and are available in 11 languages. This would not have been possible without the diversity in culture, perspectives, and experiences within our team. Diversity has helped us understand the needs and expectations of the different markets we’re selling to. As a result of our diversity, we’ve come up with new features, solved interesting problems in an innovative way, and connected with our customers all around the world.

Today, we are sharing some stories of how diversity has helped our business throughout the years as well as our efforts to make our workplace more diverse and inclusive. We know we still have a lot to learn. Our initiatives are always evolving and changing as we strive to foster a diverse environment, and we hope that by sharing these stories we can do our part to promote diversity and inclusion more broadly.

How Diversity Helped Our Business

Building the Storage Pod Was an International Effort

Every true Backblaze fan knows that we built our own Storage Pods. After all, our blog post about how to build cheap cloud storage is one of our most popular posts. What fans may not know is that our staff’s bilingual skills are what helped us make our own Storage Pods. When the founders opened up the disk port multipliers they had just bought, they noticed there was a board inside with the name of the manufacturer: Chyang Fun Industry (CFI Group). This was a Taiwanese company, and they only spoke Mandarin. One of our founders, Billy Ng, spoke to them in Mandarin and explained that we needed 150 boards. These boards were essential pieces to building our Storage Pods.

Not only was Billy able to speak to the manufacturer in their native language, but he also knew the cultural standards so he was aware of what was culturally appropriate. After that initial sale, Backblaze continued to have a great relationship with CFI Group. Over the years, they continued to sell us boards which we used to make our Storage Pods. Brian Wilson, our chief technology officer, said, “Without Billy’s bilingual skills, the company would not have survived because we could not have survived without the Storage Pods.” As a result of Billy’s bilingual skills and bicultural understanding, we were able to build our own Storage Pods and store data from customers all around the world.

Translating the Product Into 11 Languages

Since we are an international company, our products and website are available in 11 languages. When the language features were initially created, our developers internationalized the product/website using Google Translate. However, they quickly realized these translations were not completely accurate. Backblaze then hired an external localization firm, but they were a bit pricey for us at the time—we were still a small, bootstrapped startup. We then looked internally and realized there were employees who were bilingual and even multilingual. These employees began reviewing the translations and fixing any errors. They even roped in friends and family to help with the translations. As a result of our diverse staff, we were able to fix the translations internally rather than spend tens of thousands of dollars on hiring an external localization firm.

Creating a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace

Photo by fauxels from Pexels.

Diversity and inclusion have always been valued at Backblaze. More than half of our founders were born in a country outside the U.S. (Fun fact: some of those countries don’t even exist anymore!) They collectively practice five different religions and speak various languages. Their diverse backgrounds have helped them build the company that Backblaze is today.

In the past year and a half, we’ve made a conscious effort to reinforce and further our commitment to diversity through a number of initiatives. We established a Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) Committee made up of staff members from many different teams across the organization who are passionate about creating a safe and diverse workplace for their peers. Of their many initiatives, two we’re highlighting today include our hiring efforts and our inclusivity efforts.

Building Diversity in Hiring

The DEI Committee approached diversity in hiring by building out an internship program, which allowed us to bring on interns at various levels who come from different ethnicities, genders, socioeconomic statuses, etc. As a result of the program, we brought on some of the interns full-time, and we are excited to see them grow their careers at Backblaze!

In addition to the internship program, we’ve also worked with a variety of organizations that help bridge the gap between tech companies and underrepresented talent. These organizations have also provided internal training sessions which contributed to creating a safe and welcoming environment and continuing our positive retention rate.

Fostering a Safe and Inclusive Environment

We realize that it’s not only important to hire diverse employees, but to also create an inclusive and safe environment that supports these team members. The DEI Committee often hosts training sessions such as implicit bias training and gender inclusion training for employees, managers, Human Resources, and executive staff. The DEI Committee also hosts events like virtual panel discussions and movie nights to elevate social justice issues. These events lead to conversations afterward where employees engage in thoughtful discussions about the event, diversity, and social justice.

How Diversity and Inclusion Support a Strong Company Culture

Photo by fauxels from Pexels.

By creating a diverse and inclusive environment, we are enhancing our company culture and reducing employee turnover. According to Gallup, U.S. businesses lose around $3 trillion every year due to employee turnover. As a result of our company culture where we value diversity and employees treat one another with respect, we have a very low attrition rate. Check out our Glassdoor reviews to get a glimpse into our culture!

We’re Always Learning

We understand that as an organization, we still have more to learn. We’re continuously looking for more opportunities to educate our employees and leadership team, whether that be through diversity training sessions or having more open conversations about difficult topics. We’re also listening to our employees and looking into how we can continue to build a workforce that encourages and strengthens our diversity.

We don’t have all the answers yet, but as an organization that encourages learning and development, we are continually refining our approach to diversity and inclusion in the workplace. We look forward to sharing future learnings and using our platform to continue to promote these values to other organizations.

Join Our Team!

We are excited to continue our efforts to make Backblaze a diverse and inclusive environment! If you’d like to join our team, you can check out our careers here. If you don’t see a role you’re looking for, feel free to email We look forward to hearing from you!

The post Building a Diverse and Inclusive Workplace: Our Learnings and Goals appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.

How to Virtually Onboard New Hires

Post Syndicated from Natalie Cook original

Over the past few months, the world has been grappling with a pandemic which has unfortunately led to layoffs by some organizations and has resulted in others finding alternate ways to augment their team distribution, hiring, and onboarding. Both situations are challenging, logistically and emotionally.

At Backblaze, we feel incredibly fortunate that we’ve been able to continue employing our full staff and add some talented new employees to our roster. Thankfully, we’ve remotely onboarded employees in the past, which gives us a solid foundation to build out a process that can support a fully-distributed model.

We expect that there are a lot of companies out there who have never dealt with remote employees or onboarding before, but now have no other choice. With that in mind, we wanted to take a moment to share our experience with virtual onboarding processes to help those of you who now need to pivot in that direction.

Virtual Onboarding

Our Human Resources Generalist, Vanna Ngo, manages the onboarding processes at Backblaze and is a great resource to managers who may need ideas or advice. When someone accepts an offer to work with us, Vanna sends them a welcome email along with a “Getting to Know You” form that asks our new co-workers for some interesting facts. These range from their favorite foods and “Star”-related entertainment (like Wars, or Trek?), to their T-shirt size (so that we can give them swag when they come to the office, or ship it to them), and their favorite pastimes. Our Office Administrator, Judith Pimentel, uses this questionnaire to develop a personalized welcoming package of merchandise and goodies to help the new hire feel like a part of the team from day one.

Managers are informed of all required training and they build weekly plans for the new hire accordingly. The manager also determines an onboarding buddy, who is a resource for the new hire throughout the onboarding process and beyond. The buddy is chosen based on their role and their interest. They’re there for the new hire whether they have questions, need help with a project, or simply just want to have a casual conversation.

During the employee’s first weeks, managers are especially mindful of creating early social ties between new hires and a broad array of the Backblaze team. Normally, new hires have coffee with a few staffers from other teams. During our time working remotely, however, managers have vastly expanded this program by setting up a large number of virtual meet-and-greets. In addition, Vanna does 1:1 Slack calls with herself and the new hire for a few minutes during the first week or so of the new employee’s onboarding, simply to ensure they’re doing okay.

Tips and Tricks

Here’s some advice that we have compiled during our remote onboarding journey. We hope that your HR and IT departments will be able to carry them into your company’s onboarding processes.

      1. Welcome and introduce the new hire in an email and/or Slack channel. At Backblaze, when we have a new hire, the hiring manager emails the entire company and welcomes the new employee by describing who they are and how they will use their professional background to help at Backblaze. We also have Slack channels like #social and #virtualwatercooler where employees send welcome messages. These initiatives can help new hires feel more included.
      2. Turn on your video when doing an onboarding call. This is a best practice for any remote meeting, but especially true when onboarding a new hire. You want to reassure them that they still have co-workers even if they may not be sitting right next to them.
      3. If you are using Google Hangouts, take advantage of the presentation feature. This tool allows you to share your screen with the new hire, which can make training sessions a bit easier.
      4. Develop booklets to go along with virtual training sessions. At Backblaze, we created booklets and pre-recorded videos for our expense report training with accounting, security training with IT, and time card training with payroll. New hires can reference these booklets later, in the absence of being able to incidentally ask other staffers for help.
      5. Install necessary applications on the new hire’s computer before handing it off. Our IT department does this either by using system images or manually installing relevant software and configuration files. They also set up the new hire’s accounts with temporary passwords, so the employee can change their password later. This ensures that IT never knows the individual’s password.
      6. Implement and teach new hires about best security practices. Every computer that is given to our new hires uses Full Disk Encryption. Our IT team helps the new employee set up an account with a password manager so that they only have to remember one strong password rather than multiple vulnerable passwords. IT also teaches the new hire best security practices and they cover topics such as creating secure passwords, using a VPN, and keeping private information out of view during a video call.

Delivering Equipment

One initial roadblock to virtual onboarding during the COVID-19 epidemic was getting equipment shipped to new hires. Laptops were out of stock from our normal supplier, but our IT department worked quickly to procure a stock from elsewhere. If you have a certain hiring target, you may want to consider buying some amount of buffer stock even before new hires come on board. We likely haven’t seen the end of supply-chain disruptions for laptop manufacturing, which means out-of-stock situations could be a problem again.

Simran Kaur, our recently hired Product Manager—who began her role here after Backblaze had shifted to a primarily work-from-home status during the COVID crisis—explained, “I got my laptop, keyboard, and an extra monitor a day or two before my start date. I had everything I needed before I even started working.” Our IT department planfully pulled together instructions so that new hires could easily assemble their work stations on arrival.

Simran’s experience of receiving everything she needed in a timely way is our ideal. But because we expect supplies of different work-from-home essentials to be constrained, Vanna has started asking new hires regarding what equipment they already have on hand. With this approach, we’re able to not only control our supply, but also accommodate limited spacing in employee’s homes. Some new hires already have a workstation at home, so sending them more equipment will only take up their space.

When onboarding employees remotely, it’s crucial that they have the backup tools they need. We set up each employee with a Backblaze Business Backup account on their laptop so that they can access their files from any location. The Business Backup product also allows for both IT-side and physical restores as well as groups-level file sharing. If you are interested in learning more about the advantages of implementing Backblaze Business Backup into your remote workflow, please read our blog post here.

Succeeding from Home with Backblaze Business Backup

Encouraging Productivity

Once an employee is effectively onboarded and their workstation is ready for daily use, the most important aspect of their orientation begins: ensuring that they’re able to be productive. To help with this, hiring managers create schedules for their new hires prior to their start date. This way, new hires know exactly what they need to do and when they need to do it each day.

Backblaze’s benefits package also includes an equipment stipend which employees can use on anything that would improve their productivity, whether in the office (eventually), or now at home. This includes home office furniture, an extra monitor, or any other tools that may help productivity.

Backblaze offers this perk because we understand that each employee has unique needs for doing their best work: for some it’s noise cancelling headphones, for others it’s a smartwatch to keep them active during the day. We strongly recommend providing your employees with some flexibility in customizing their workspace—especially as they work to make a place (their home) into something it likely wasn’t intended to be (their office).

Advice From One New Hire to Another

On the flip side, there are some things that new hires themselves can do to improve their remote onboarding experience. Shannon Gerard, our new Director of Marketing Operations, has worked remotely for the past five years. Her first piece of advice for new hires is to upgrade your internet connection. In an effort to assist with internet costs and upgrades, Backblaze has given employees (who were not remote prior to the shelter-in-place) a monthly stipend/allowance to cover that cost. Shannon said, “When it comes to your internet connection, you need to have a backup plan of some sort, whether that’s connecting to your mobile hotspot or just dialing into the call using your phone. You also need to be prepared to execute your plan quickly because there’s nothing worse than getting kicked off a meeting and taking a while to get back in.”

She also recommends scheduling brief meet-and-greets with people who you may not be formally meeting as part of your onboarding. “It doesn’t have to be anything super formal,” she explained. “Just a quick introduction so that you can actually meet the person before you start working with them.”

Virtual Socializing

Whether or not someone is a new hire, working remotely can take a toll on their social life. It can also be difficult to share the company culture with the new hire. To solve this challenge, Judith created various virtual social events throughout the week.

We suggest you create similar events that can help your employees socialize with their work friends and help new hires get a sense of the company culture. We have listed a few of the events that Judith initiated below. Feel free to use them as inspiration for your own virtual social events!

  • We start off every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday with “Brewtiful Mornings,” where employees gather on Google Hangouts to socialize over a cup of coffee or tea. During these 15-minute sessions (but they always go long), employees talk about everything from their coffee mugs to current events.
  • On Monday afternoon, we have an all-hands meeting where managers introduce their new hires to the rest of the company. We also have virtual yoga and meditation on Tuesday and Thursday afternoons, where employees can bond with their co-workers while resting their mind for a few moments. On Wednesday afternoon, employees enjoy a virtual lunch break together.
  • To end the week, we have a virtual happy hour on Friday evening. This is another chance for new hires to introduce themselves and to get to know their peers. Simran said that though these social events were virtual, she was still able to learn everything she needed to know about the Backblaze culture by participating.

    New Practices for Onsite Onboarding

    Remote onboarding may be a challenge, but there are some aspects of it that you can transfer to your onsite onboarding processes. We highly recommend you keep video training materials and have new hires watch them as part of their onboarding process even when everyone is back in the office. Training videos are more time efficient because the IT department will no longer have to conduct a training for every new hire.

    Another practice that can be carried into onsite onboarding processes is virtual meet-and-greets. This is especially useful if you have employees who work remotely full-time even when there is not a pandemic happening. Traditionally, new hires only meet those who work onsite and they don’t get a chance to meet remote employees or get much face time with them. Virtual meet-and-greets can help your new employees connect with your full-time remote staff. They can also help remote staff feel like they are still in the loop even if they may not be physically in the office.

    We’re Still Hiring!

    The pandemic is not something we can control, but what we can adjust is how we respond to it. By being proactive and thinking outside of the box, we were able to pivot to a fully remote onboarding experience for our new hires. We hope some of the tips above are helpful for other organizations in the same boat.

    If you are currently seeking a new role, we are hiring at Backblaze. All of our interviews are being done virtually for the time being, but we are still committed to hiring and expanding our team. If you are interested in working with us, please feel free to apply through our Career Center or send your resume to! We look forward to hearing from you.

The post How to Virtually Onboard New Hires appeared first on Backblaze Blog | Cloud Storage & Cloud Backup.