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S2E1: How it felt to work at Zoom in 2020

Charlotte Holloway, UK&I Government Relations Director at Zoom talks to Daisy about joining a company that is growing at an extraordinary pace, what happens when Prime Ministers use your product and the importance of agency support. Key takeaways include: 

  • Growing fast is hard but exciting and that communication is key to mitigating any growing pains – that puts an extra burden on us as reputation professionals but also gives us an exciting role to play

  • You can’t tell the positive stories unless you've got the core nailed on. For Zoom that core is trust and safety – what is it for your organisation?

  • And finally, what really stood out to me was a perennial lesson about communications: even if you are doing the right thing, you cannot assume that your stakeholders, or your customers will have noticed. You need to keep telling them – over and over again, until you are sick of mentioning it. Only then might you have got the message across. 

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S2E1 - How it felt to work at Zoom in 2020


Daisy Powell-Chandler 00:05

Welcome to Why Everybody Hates You, an audio support group for reputation professionals. If you have any responsibility for how people talk, think and feel about your organization, then you are in the right place. I'm your host, reputation coach Daisy, Powell-Chandler. Welcome back team. Thank you for joining me for season two of Why Everybody Hates You. 2020 was a pretty wild year for all of us. And for this series, I'll be interviewing communicators from organizations that had an especially weird time of it. And how could I start that lineup with anyone other than Zoom? For our launch episode, I spoke to Charlotte Holloway, Zoom's Director of Government Affairs for UK and Ireland. In an irony that did not escape us, we had some technical difficulties. I didn't blame Zoom, and Charlotte very politely didn't blame me. But it does mean that the sound isn't quite as pristine as usual. I'm sorry about that. And I hope it doesn't stop you from enjoying the show. I kicked off by asking Charlotte what it was like to start work at zoom in 2020?


Charlotte Holloway 01:26

Well, it's definitely a full on rollercoaster ride, when you join a company in the midst of a pandemic that's had to grow at scale. We've got 300 million users globally, which is staggering, staggering number. The company's really treated this time with real humility. And we've stepped up to the challenge, we have many new data centers around the globe to step up to the challenge, hiring at a rate of knots, we now have more members of staff that haven't met another person face to face than have, which I think is sort of symptomatic of the age in which we're living at the moment. Myself included as one of them. So, you know, from the inside, it's been a really fascinating journey of great people who are just really trying to step up to the challenges we face. Whether it's virtual Parliament that we have in the UK, and others around the globe, whether it's, you know, helping parish councils and the Jackie Weaver's of this world do do what they need to do, from big banks to the smallest SME that have gone online for the first time to keep their business alive, the personal trainer that's trying to keep their business alive in this age. So you know, from the inside, the challenges are many, and they pop up in ways that you don't always expect. But I think the overall attitude to how Zoom has changed people's lives, and the kind of pride that we have inside the company, to keep people connected, really sinks through right to the top of the company.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 03:04

Zoom has this incredible impact, certainly over the past year and is really inserted very intimately into people's lives, it's part of their work, it's part of their leisure, it's part of their family time. How is that different as a work challenge as a communicator, compared to other brands you've worked for in the past?


Charlotte Holloway 03:22

Zoom is a fantastic place to work. And there are lots of youthcases and lots of ways in which you can sort of illustrate how the product has been able to do remarkable things, which is a real pleasure to do. You know, my own background, I've worked for a number of politicians, I've worked for an industry body, representing the tech sector as a whole. And there's nothing quite like the sort of magic of working specifically on a product, on a platform, which has become a verb, which has become synonymous with things that have worked well, during this terrible past year. And as we're sort of in early 2021, and, touchwood, we're looking forward to seeing what the world might look like past the virus, it's also a coming of age of thinking about what can this new hybrid world look like? So from a communications perspective, and from my own experience of thinking about what does the future look like, how do we get there with the practical steps that businesses, small/large, whether it's in social settings, whether it's been people's leisure time...it's a real privilege to be able to speak to these organizations and think about what they're planning next. In a way the canvas is very, very large, on which to tell that story.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 04:51

That seems to me like it also has some risks inherent in it, I suppose. First of all, there's a possibility that you're kind of past the peak: have we reached 'peak zoom' as people start to integrate back into a person to person lifestyle? But also, that seems like a real high position from which to fall, when you do have that position of trust in people's lives, both in personal life and business life, how does defending that reputation compared to defending one that is perhaps a bit more checkered and more complex.


Charlotte Holloway 05:24

We had a product, a platform that we believe was, you know, good and helped a lot of businesses when it was predominantly a business to business platform. So our growth as a company, we're actually coming up to 10 years old, later this year. So for a lot of people, they think zoom is this kind of new player on the block, right. But we've actually been around in different ways working with all different parts of the economy for quite some time. And, you know, your point on trust - we take trust and safety as our absolute number one priority. And I think it's fair to say, at the start of the pandemic last year, you know, the company faced some transitional issues as we moved to having users using us in a totally different way. Moving to that scale of interactions going from millions to hundreds of millions is a big, big step. And we worked really hard as a company to try and make sure that that trust is maintained, that there were no negative headlines around meeting interruptions and so forth, we made sure that we put in place very rigorous safety and security steps to make sure those kind of issues, could be very quickly resolved. And the company did that in a very humble, open and transparent way. We put in place a 90 day security plan where we basically put a freeze on any other product development unless it was focused on trust and security features. We've launched a new trust and security center on our website, and the teams that are working on this stuff, where there could be, you know, the constant cyber security threats that that any tech company face, we've really grown at scale to make sure that we're we're combating those as best we can and really punching above our weight.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 07:09

And how do you go about scanning for new and emerging risks within the business?


Charlotte Holloway 07:14

Great question. I mean, where things are moving at a really fast pace, you have to be constantly vigilant. And you know, I sit within the government relations team, but worked very closely with the public relations team and work very closely with kind of compliance and ethics with different parts of the business that are all having that unique perspective, but you have to be able to track, I guess, both horizontally across particular things that are popping up that may have different risks, but also in kind of vertical market segments as well. So if you're thinking about how Zoom is being used in an education context, 10s of 1000s of schools in the UK are using Zoom in some way, we want to make sure teachers are equipped with everything that they have to be able to use that use the product safely and securely with teachers who are under incredible pressure at the moment. So you know, when we're scanning for risks, it's also things can very, very quickly change. So typically in different countries having different lockdown experiences and the rest of it. So, you know, we have a team of people who work very closely with our customers and our clients to make sure we're adapting that we have solutions engineers on hand that can see potential problems for them as they arise and solve them quickly. So you know, you have to be constantly vigilant, you have in a way, you have to maintain that kind of startup attitude, that is still very much hardwired into the company. And I think that incredible growth experience last year, we've been able to maintain that kind of ability to move quickly and solve problems, but also keeping focused on the bigger picture as well.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 08:56

I think that's really interesting. Because particularly when you're dealing with multiple markets, multiple business sectors, you obviously get emerging risks coming from lots of different places. And some of those you can deal with, as you've said, with great engineers who are available on call to deal with problems right then and there. Others are perhaps more systemic, or perhaps a slower burn. How do you go about prioritizing those different risks as a team to work out which ones you need to concentrate on right now, which ones you need to put in place a solution that is perhaps a longer term?


Charlotte Holloway 09:28

The list of potential things to look at, as with many technology companies that act as platforms, it's potentially quite sizable and you have to focus in on the things that if you don't get those right, all the other things, all the nice to have as opposed to the essentials to have, they can go out the window. Trust and safety of the platform, cybersecurity, the things that make the DNA of the product, you have to put those first and then kind of public reputational terms. A lot of the work we do in the press in the media will be about those themes. Because it's absolutely critical that that we tell our story about how we've adapted, that we don't leave a vacuum of information about what people think about zoom vis a vis competitors, and so forth. So, when I'm speaking to government stakeholders and political stakeholders, that has to be a key theme to what we do. Because if you don't get that right, it becomes much harder to tell all the other positive parts of the story, how we've kept the economy connected, how it is almost a part of the economic infrastructure in the way that many, many businesses are operating at the moment, what role we have to play in public services in the NHS, in education and local government. You can't tell those kind of stories, you can't unless you've got the kind of the core of trust and safety absolutely nailed on.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 10:50

A lot has moved very fast this year. And we were talking about the swift move to scale and how you've got all these new team members, that's obviously a major internal communications challenge in itself. On top of having many markets, many sectors, how do you manage that internal communications challenge?


Charlotte Holloway 11:09

It is a tough one. You've got a traditional email for predominately external facing stuff, but we actually use the the zoom products. We have a chat function built in if a lot of people are starting to use that more and more beyond the kind of zoom face to face interaction. We have a number of other products as well, but we actually use the tools of the product to keep ourselves connected. So you know, kind of chat threads, project based thoughts. And you know, yes, there is a lot of traffic, the code that goes through those. But you know, you're constantly being kind of vigilant to what matters, getting in the team, knowing who point people are. And also we've got some fabulous people that work for us. You know, we're one of the top rated companies on Glassdoor, and we've been able to attract some incredible caliber of people. So when you're, in the lucky position that I am, that you get to work with people at the kind of top of their game, like fast tracking to what matters becomes becomes really, really at the heart of what we have to do.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 12:13

So you get these great people in the door, yourself included, and then you manage them rigorously, with great tools. But it's hard to keep people motivated right now. You guys are having a really busy time, the pandemic just keeps going, how do you keep your team on track in terms of motivation and helping them to perform?


Charlotte Holloway 12:33

We are really lucky here that we have so many great, great people that come to work for the for the company, many of whom are exactly motivated by the fact that we have these big fast moving challenges and opportunities in front of the company. No one day is ever the same for me and my team. You know, as an MP accidentally shared details of that meeting online that they shouldn't have done and working to get that taken down,. You can be working to make sure that NHS providers are getting the support that they need, with colleagues in my public sector team to make sure what we're doing to deliver appointments and surgeries online and so forth. But that's happening as best it can be, you know, there is a real real range of stuff that comes in and then sometimes you have just like all of the alerts in your inbox will be about 'Jackie Weaver' or some Zoo event that's happened that week. But there's the kind of constant fascinating aspects that go on behind the scenes, you know that how do we maintain really good relationships or grow relationships. Whether that's wider organizations, whether it's in the third sector, or we do work with organizations like the internet watch Foundation, we protect on child online safety, those kind of issues. How do we kind of really make sure that we're where we need to be? And actually if you're in the reputation profession, whether it's corporate comms or government relations, you're naturally very motivated to to get involved in these kind of areas. Right? So I think we stay motivated, because it's a group of really can do people that want to make sure that we're equipping zoom with those tools to keep our reputation high.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 14:29

It sounds like in general, it has been a pretty positive year for zoom. What have the hardest bits been?


Charlotte Holloway 14:37

Yeah, but I think that there definitely were moments of 2020 that really challenged the company and the way that it would think about the new world in which it was finding itself. One moment really sticks in my mind. You might remember it Daisy, the Prime Minister tweeted his Zoom cabinet meeting. It had all members of the Cabinet...from a media perspective looking at what is each cabinet members surroundings and you know, what's their body language like. But it also raised the big issue because at the time, the top of the zoom meeting used to have the meeting ID number. So all of a sudden there was this incredible focus on should the meeting ID of a Cabinet meeting be seen in the public domain, what security challenges does that pose? And, out of nowhere, there's a huge, huge focus on the company in a political context and a wider security context that it hadn't really experienced in that way before. And, you know, sort of social media aspects of it, the media interest, and so forth. So, I've mentioned the security steps that have been taken. And for those listeners that are regular users, you will notice that the meeting ID is no longer at the top of the screen and that our password protocols and defaults have changed. And we've done a lot of work to update all our users on those steps. But you know, there are these sort of moments, this was before I joined, but there's this kind of moment in the company, in which all kinds of hell breaks loose. Because, you know, a head of state has has done something which people don't understand whether it's safe or not. And you've got to go in, tell that story, explain what's happened, and then change things as they're needed. So yeah, there are definitely moments like that where Zoom is just used in a very public public way.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 16:40

You work specifically on on government affairs, and how those political stakeholders view you. How do you see that as interacting with all the various other reputations that zoom has to maintain with consumers, with the public in general, with businesses? How does that all interlock in your mind?


Charlotte Holloway 16:57

I think any government relations team needs to work really kind of hand in glove with the public relations team. So what is being projected out there, sort of passes the political smell test, is really, really important. So I'm very lucky that I know a lot of companies don't have this environment, but I'm very lucky. Government relations is actually bought in really early on through a lot of the discussions around product development, whether that's thinking about how stuff gets launched into public domain. For example, last week, we had an announcement about a lot of our return to office suite of tools that we've launched. And, you know, government relations is bought in as part of that discussion that equips me to be able to go and have conversations with different departments with the center about, you know, how the world can look different post-COVID, and what role we have to play as a part of the economic infrastructure of what the new normal could look like. So, I think being brought in early to discussions is really, really critical. And I'm very, very lucky that there is that culture. It's a, you know, we've seen the experiences of other tech companies where maybe, that this sort of product has led to some of the thinking about the the socio-political reality in which companies have to operate to kind of negative consequences. We've all sort of seen the awkward hearings of CEOs in front of congressional committees, nobody wants their firm to be in that place where it can get a bit tricky. So, being brought in early is really important. So that's definitely something I think most startups who go through an incredible growth trajectory should be really, really thinking about,


Daisy Powell-Chandler 18:44

Is that the number one thing to avoid then, for you, is to avoid as many select committees as possible?


Charlotte Holloway 18:50

No...I mean, I know people who absolutely love a select committee. And I think you've got to be honest, you've got to be humble, you've got to be straightforward. If you're doing this stuff right, you should be able to have the conversations that you're having, privately with politicians anyway, in a public context. And that obviously, it does come with risks. And you've got to be able to answer the questions head on, I think for a lot of firms that feel that they're somewhat evasive on a question, that's where you can get into real trouble. So having straightforward answers to questions, answering straight questions with straight answers is absolutely key. I don't know whether zoom will be in that kind of context, whether it's talking about the very positive aspects of what the company has done in terms of helping, the role that we've played in keeping economy and society connected, how we see the future of work as a result, we're always up for having those kind of discussions in any forum. And I think being open and straightforward has got to be the way to go.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 19:59

Hopefully some of the disruptions that we've experienced in 2020, and now into 2021, will prove to be relatively short term. They're obviously not as short term as we might have hoped at the start. How have they changed Zoom's plans?


Charlotte Holloway 20:16

We had a plan at zoom at the beginning of 2020. And you know, that plan got amended pretty pretty quickly. And, you know, I think we've just come to the end of our our financial year, which ended at the end of January. So, you know, there's been this sort of moment, actually, where we're able to take a bit of stuff, we're able to look forward to think what does the year ahead look like? How do we think about what's going on in different markets? How do we think about all the suite of products and solutions that we offer? How do they help countries that are going through different variations of what we have in terms of lockdown in the UK, countries which maybe have got a tougher time ahead of them. But for us, the product has always been about operating not just during a pandemic, but in regular times as well. So, you know, you can see lots of yougov polling on this, that's thinking about the number of companies who are really thinking that they won't return to work. And then with a hybrid, working that flexible working, but being more family friendly, is actually really, really good for the workforce. And there are a lot of perhaps efficiencies in the traditional workplace. And that can be thought about differently. So when we have our conversations, whether that's with our very large customers through to the smallest startups and SMEs, we're constantly thinking about how does our product help over the longer term, and, you know, create those productivity...you know, acting as a real, real kind of unified communications tool across all things a company wants to do? So, you know, I think it's a great question. I think you've got to be constantly understanding how the world is adapting. And for us, we believe that we are fully a company for all eventualities.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 22:20

If you were doomed to repeat 2020 over again, what would you do differently?


Charlotte Holloway 22:27

I don't think anyone wants to repeat 2020 - forget it. I think that one's definitely gonna go down in the history books, but for many different reasons. But if zoom was doomed to repeat 2020, I think, again, I've come back to this point around trust and safety. We worked really, really hard to put a lot of resources into deepening our our features around trust, security, safety. And I mentioned before we implemented a 90 day plan where that was all our engineers worked on was to make sure the products adapted for this incredible growth in consumer use to hundreds of millions that hadn't happened before. So we did those things - could we have done them quicker? I think we moved as fast as we could, the sort of scale that that was being thrown at us. But I think what we could have done more of was certainly how we communicated out those new features more quickly, so that users of zoom had that information as soon as possible at their fingertips of how to implement a lot of these new features. And, you know, it's it's a really interesting lesson for companies, because in the sort of vacuum of showing what we were doing, you know, rumors can take hold or misunderstanding can take hold. And we were so focused on the engineering side, that...I mean, obviously, we were doing a lot of communication, but I think we'd all agree we could have gone further to stop any misconceptions around the safety of the platform. But that's something now it's totally hardwired in our DNA. So you know, we will continue to put that at the forefront going forward.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 24:17

That seems like a great lesson to draw from, from a pretty crummy year. And actually, it has a lot of parallels in politics. When I worked in politics, you would always say, if you're not bored of saying it, then the public haven't heard it yet. You have to say it so many times that the entire office groans when you mention it, although I think we could all notice the politicians who have taken that too far. Thank you so much. All of this has been really fascinating. I'd love to end with just by asking you if you have any tips for our audience of listeners. Are there things that you have learned this year that you would recommend to other communicators?


Charlotte Holloway 24:58

Oh that's a great question. I mean, in terms of ways in which you can use zoom, the thing that makes my life just so...because communicators are just so time poor, right? Like we've just got constant...there's a constant flow of things we need to be looking at. The thing that I didn't realize existed before I joined zoom was the zoom add on to my Google calendar so that I can just instantly diarize a meeting with a zoom link without having to copy and paste and switch stuff across. But I mean, that was just..if you're time poor, that's a God send.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 25:32

I have it and i love it.


25:33



Charlotte Holloway 25:37

I think more broadly, in terms of the companies...I think when you've got to move at scale, I think picking the agency and support staff around you really wisely, knowing people that you can trust to access your extended team, moving really quickly is really key as well. If you've got to move at pace, having that trust and that responsiveness is really important. So we're very lucky that we work with a fabulous PR agency and a fabulous public affairs agency as well. So having people you trust when you have to essentially start...I started a government relations function from scratch in UK and Ireland. Being able to move at pace and picking a good team around you is absolutely key.


Daisy Powell-Chandler 26:25

That's everything from us. A big thank you to my guest, Charlotte Holloway, from Zoom.


My three biggest takeaways from this interview were:

  • First that growing fast is hard but exciting and that communication is key to mitigating any growing pains – that puts an extra burden on us as reputation professionals but also gives us an exciting role to play

  • Second, is something that Charlotte said about getting the basics right, that you can’t tell the positive stores unless you've got the core nailed on. For Zoom that core is trust and safety – what is it for your company?

  • And finally, what really stood out to me was a perennial lesson about communications: even if you are doing the right thing, you cannot assume that your stakeholders, or your customers will have noticed. You need to keep telling them – over and over again, until you are sick of mentioning it. Only then might you have got the message across.


If you've enjoyed this episode, I hope you'll join me in two weeks time when I'll be speaking to Chris Lowe from Asda about safeguarding the reputation of a supermarket during the pandemic. To make that easier, please do find us at whyeverybodyhatesyou.co.uk and click Subscribe on your favourite podcasting app. I would also be really grateful if you could leave us a review if you get the chance, as reviews help new listeners to find the show. Thank you for listening to Why Everybody Hates You. And remember, you are not alone.

Copyright Meyland Strategy Ltd 2021