TecHRseries Interview with Todd Greene, CEO and Co-founder at PubNub

A recent survey by PubNub indicated that most employees (over 60%!) would be happy with a long-term remote work policy because they feel that companies can thrive with a remote workforce. Catch more from this interview where Todd Greene, CEO and Co-founder at PubNub discusses the key highlights from the findings of the survey.


Tell us a little about yourself Todd!

I’m a company founder that’s always been excited about the unlimited ways we can use the Internet to improve the ways we live and work. I’ve always had a passion for applying new technologies to use cases that have broad appeal.  I started my first company, CascadeWorks, in 2000, one of the very first SaaS companies.  We were in the HR space, focused on managing contingent labor, and protecting companies from co-employment liabilities. That company eventually was acquired by UpWork. .Since then, I’ve focused my time on creating products that can offer better experiences for people online that want to work, play, and collaborate together. I founded Loyalize, a company acquired by the owners of American Idol, focused on realtime experiences for the TV viewing audience.  Since 2012, I’ve been focused full time on PubNub.

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We’d love to hear about the idea / inspiration behind PubNub!

By 2012, my co-founder Stephen Blum and I realized that while the Internet and Smartphones were becoming ubiquitous worldwide, most of the apps were still single-user and didn’t use that always-on connection to bring people together in realtime.  This was before the days of Uber, Snapchat, or Peloton, all great examples of using the Internet to connect people remotely, in realtime. And the early pioneers that were providing these experiences (like World of Warcraft, eTrade (live stock quotes), and Yahoo! Messenger) had all invested in building complex software infrastructure to make those experiences work with large audiences.  While these, and other early “remote interaction” software was successful, the bar was too high for most companies to invest in the technology and worldwide servers necessary to create other

With PubNub, we believed that we could create that global infrastructure (we call it a “Realtime Communication Platform”) and make it available to any software team so they could easily build new kinds of remote interaction experiences.  This has been a big success: we now power thousands of products, and provide the underlying technology for Chat (Yelp!, Docusign, Life360), Live Mapping and Dispatch (GoJek, Swiggy, Gett), Smarthome (Logitech, Vivint), and many other “remote interaction” apps worldwide.

Let’s dive into the key highlights from PubNub’s latest employee survey…can you share the top takeaways?

We surveyed 1000 remote workers to understand more about their experiences working from home to better understand how it’s going, and what will persist after the COVID crisis.  The most dramatic insight from the survey was that 64 percent of the respondents felt confident that their organizations can succeed long-term with a remote workforce, either using current technologies or by adding a few improvements.  If companies latch on to this sentiment and continue the trend post-COVID, it could signal a huge shift in the way a large part of our population will work in the future.

More tactically, while some of the responses were unsurprising (ex. nearly two-thirds identified instant messaging and email as working best), the survey also shined a light on much needed improvements if we are going to move forward as a remote workforce over the long term: 38 percent said they required more tools for collaboration or project management to remain successful from home than they currently had available.  Further,  42 percent were irritated by lags in video calls, while another 30 percent cited lack of security as a concern.

The survey also uncovered overall lifestyle impacts of this new work-from-home stance.  Remote workers celebrated the schedule flexibility and lack of commute as positives.  However, nearly two-thirds said that they were spending more time online while working from home than before the lockdown. 25 percent thought that having too many scheduled calls and video conferences was actually a distraction. 16 percent surveyed experienced their first telehealth visit and 14 percent with their first-time grocery or meal kit delivery since the COVID lockdown commenced.

Given the ongoing economic environment because of the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic: what would you say for teams / businesses to optimize their long-term remote work strategy and also, what tips would you share with teams who are planning a return back-to-office model at the moment?

The most important factor for driving a successful long-term remote work strategy is to make sure your employees have tools that are designed to be “Remote First.”  The software we used in an office environment may now be completely ineffectual with a remote workforce.  Remember when most websites barely worked on mobile phones? Just as most websites have evolved to be “Mobile First”, our work software (HR, Finance, Support, Operations, Sales, Marketing) is evolving to natively expect remote workers.  What does that mean specifically? Can you chat with your co-workers from within each app? Can you remotely “point” and mark-up sections of a screen? Can you see when multiple people are working on the same document? And how many people are online using the software at the same time? These are all features that most business software doesn’t have, but it’s clear that their product managers are now scrambling to make sure their products evolve this way, quickly.

What are the workplace trends that will remain long after the Covid-19 situation is dealt with, according to you?

For teams that are planning a return back-to-office model, it’s unlikely for a long time that companies will be able to mandate a “no working remotely” policy.  So these “Remote First” trends are universal, whether or not a company opens their door early, or gets rid of their offices permanently.  Either way, there will be a significant percentage of employees that will be remote and need to collaborate in realtime with everyone else.

While Covid-19 is still an ongoing threat, what are the top points/ cautionary tips you’d share with the global workforce and businesses in general?

COVID-19 has impacted all of us in a myriad of ways.  Employers need to keep in mind the added stresses that their team members are facing, from a child/elder care, health, and emotional perspective.  It’s often hard for companies to assess the effectiveness of “Work from Home” since the impact of these life stresses are so wide-ranging.  When the immediate crisis has subsided, it’s likely that teams will become considerably more productive and happy in a remote workforce environment, since many of the COVID-imposed stresses will have (hopefully) evaporated.

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A few general last minute wrapping up thoughts maybe on scaling team building during this time, improving collaboration, anything else…

First, organizations need to be understanding and flexible during this time.  The word “unprecedented” gets thrown around a lot, but in this case, it’s true.  Team members should feel comfortable asking (and receiving) time to manage the many curveballs that this crisis has pitched, affecting each of us separately.

Team building is simply harder, and as new employees come onboard, they have a much harder time creating meaningful bonds with their co-workers (no team lunches, bowling, ping pong, etc for small talk).  We haven’t figured out the best ways to replace those experiences yet, but we continue to try everything from off-topic Slack channels to social newsletters to keep everyone informed about non-work related things.  Ultimately, this is a brave new world and many of the long term impacts have yet to be understood.

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PubNub powers apps that bring people together in realtime for remote work, play, learning, and health. Thousands of companies use PubNub’s Realtime Communication Platform and its APIs as the foundation for online chat, live events, geolocation, remote control, and live updates, at massive global scale. Since 2010, PubNub has invested in the tools and global infrastructure required to serve customers like Atlassian, Hasbro, Peloton, and RingCentral, delivering SOC 2 Type 2 security and reliability while meeting regulatory needs like HIPAA and GDPR.

Todd Greene is the CEO and Co-founder of PubNub