Everyone at Sparrow is a strong communicator.
Not only is communicating critical to succeed at Sparrow, but it is required for our business to succeed as a whole. As a remote-first team, we focus a lot of attention on giving and receiving feedback. In fact, our onboarding process includes dedicated training on feedback. Nearly 75% of our ~30-person team has joined remotely since the start of COVID-19, which makes open and transparent communication fundamental to our culture.
Engineers are constantly collaborating with our Customer Operations team to create the best solutions for our end users. For this reason, we look for folks who are good at seeing other people’s points of view and are extremely self-aware. It’s important for anyone who joins our team to be able to confidently share what they know, what they don’t know, and what they need help with. This is in part why our onboarding process includes training on giving and receiving feedback. We know this one training won’t make you a pro, but we’ve found this gives everyone on our team a solid foundation and shared vocabulary. It helps us see where common problems might arise and acts as a starting point for effective communication. Continuous feedback requires constant effort, so we look for naturally strong communicators to join us at Sparrow. It makes us stronger as a team, but it also just makes life at Sparrow better!
If you want to write the playbook, good – we want you to!
As a small team, every engineer has a lot of opportunity to run with an idea and see it out to fruition. As one example, Sebastian built our payroll calculator, which helps estimate the appropriate cost by state that employers need to match. He’s also responsible for maintaining this calculator, updating it every time a state rolls out a new guideline or regulation impacting paid leave. Engineers can steer projects that aren’t engineering-specific, too. Before becoming a software engineer, Priya studied law. When she noticed how much time we were spending updating employers’ leave policies, she decided to work with compliance to develop a template and start automating that process. With Priya’s help, we can now provide a company that employs people in Washington, New York, and California with a policy that is compliant in all of the relevant states. This is a crucial tool for companies as more and more employers transition to remote work.
At the end of the day, engineers have a large say in the product development process. Things typically start with our Sales or Customer Operations teams because they’re interfacing directly with our customers all day every day, but issues are then shared with engineers. We then get to ideate around fixes or new features to address those issues. Engineers will write a spec, which will go to Deborah (CEO), and then based on the time estimate and priority level, it will be prioritized into the product roadmap accordingly. We’re looking for people who are leaders in their field and can really write the playbook from start to finish, while still making sure to include others and ask for feedback.
Our customers are talking to us all the time.
Unlike in many B2C companies where you don’t know exactly what consumers are thinking, our customers are talking to us all the time. When they’re giving us the same feedback and pointing out the same things they’d like to see change, it’s obvious what we need to fix. We take customer data seriously when it comes to product development, because we are creating a tool that people interface with directly. By nature, a lot of those interactions are manual, so we aim to make them as accessible and efficient as possible. To do that, our customer operations team tracks their time. For example, we gather data on how much time is being spent on emails or how much time is spent on personalized payroll plans. We share the time-tracking data results in our monthly all-hands meeting. This allows us to make sure we’re prioritizing major feature developments to be as efficient as possible.
Customer Comes First
We have zero customer churn to date!
We save companies $20,000 and 20-40 hours of time per leave. While our customers range in size (we currently work with companies such as CircleCI, Figma, ClassPass, PopSugar, and Pilot), every single company that has joined Sparrow thus far has remained with us. 🙌
We’ve also been able to grow the business largely via word of mouth, which underscores the loyalty of our customers. Almost everyone has personally struggled with paid leave paperwork, or has had a friend or family member who has. Whether it’s paid family or medical leave, the process is torturous for both the individual and their employer. We set up an hour-long call with every new customer who signs with us in order to understand their current leave policies and process. We work to make sure their policies are inclusive and clear, and help them make changes if necessary. After the call, our customers have all of the tools they need to begin using the Sparrow dashboard right away.
When the pandemic hit in 2020, there was an uptick in both medical leaves and mental health leaves. Our customers looked to us to provide guidance during this time, and we’re proud to have been able to step up. We created a webinar to support our customers navigate these difficult times and helped many more people take necessary leave to take care of themselves. Ultimately, our customers (and really, their employees) are our first priority and we work hard every day to support them.
Bonded by Love for Product
We’re committed to our mission to transform the employee leave experience.
All of us want to make paid leave a seamless experience for both companies and employees. It is the unifying thread that ties all of us together and why so many people choose to join our team. The company started when our CEO and founder, Deborah, had six of her close friends have children at the same time. She saw all of them struggle with the paperwork and some made mistakes, didn’t get paid properly, and had to file appeals. She realized if her friends (highly-skilled Harvard and MIT grads with great jobs in tech) were struggling this much with the leave process, chances were so many other people would, too. Thus, Sparrow was born.
No matter the size of the company, employee leave is a complicated process and there’s a clear market fit. The COVID-19 pandemic has only further highlighted the need for Sparrow’s modernized platform, as Deborah shares in this podcast. With so many companies moving to remote work, employees are now living in multiple different cities and states. This makes things even more complicated for companies to manage employee leave because they have to look at multiple regulations in different locations. What’s more, companies have seen a rise in medical leave and mental health leave during the pandemic. With HR teams spread thin, there’s never been a more important time to make real world change and improve people’s lives, and everyone at Sparrow is driven by this mission. (We also receive thank you notes and baby pictures daily – how awesome is that?!)
Pairing is a core part of our culture and an investment in everyone’s growth.
We’ve always done regular pair programming on a weekly basis where front and backend engineers work on something together. However, we’ve actually found that upping the frequency of pairing will benefit us even more. In the future, engineers who join Sparrow can expect to pair 2 or 3 days a week – and it won’t always be with the same person. We plan to rotate pairing partners, so you’ll spend a half or full day with someone new each time. This ensures we create an inclusive environment and get to know one another better. It could be that one person starts the feature and the other person finishes it so we can avoid situations where only one person fully understands what’s happening. We believe this makes us more efficient and a stronger, more cohesive team. Ultimately, we view it as an investment in everyone’s growth.
Pairing is so important to us that we screen for it in interviews. We recognize there are times when engineers prefer to have uninterrupted clear working time, so we strive to have a healthy balance. That said, if you're a lone wolf who never wants to pair, this probably isn’t the place for you. On the other hand, if you’ve never paired before but are open to it, that’s not a disqualifier at all, and we’d love to hear from you!
Committed to Personal Growth
Grow with us.
Despite being a small team, we invest heavily in a thorough 30-60-90 review process for new hires. We want everyone who joins our team to set goals and have a clear plan for how their first three months at Sparrow will go. We also do regular 360 reviews on Lattice. They’re not tied to compensation, but do focus on areas of growth and how you can level up. We take our onboarding and training very seriously! As a remote-first company, we rely heavily on written documentation and make sure to provide new hires with written training material around feedback (i.e. learning to identify switch tracking in difficult conversations) and opportunities to discuss with others in their onboarding cohort.
We also have book clubs that tend to focus on skills we’re all interested in learning more about. Most recently, we’ve been reading books about management. We provide materials and create time for us to discuss what we’ve read altogether. But professional growth is just one half of it. We also learn a lot from working with one another. Once a week, we have Weekly Tea(m) Time on Wednesdays. We invite five people together, have three questions (as prompts), and get to know one another through conversation. Our team members come from a wide variety of backgrounds (ranging from massage therapy to environmental law) and we get to learn a lot from one another, too. You can also learn about our favorite TV shows, weekend activities, and what inspired us to join Sparrow on our blog, where we spotlight a different person each Tuesday.
Finally, we encourage folks to have work/life balance while also maximizing overlapping hours with team members. As a distributed team spread across nearly a dozen different states in the United States, we all tend to work ~9:30am to 5:30pm in our respective time zones. This way, everyone can spend time with their families, friends, or doing whatever else they want to do outside of work!
We’re regularly thinking about how to roll out the smallest version.
Truthfully, we’re still working on cleaning up mistakes from the past and transitioning to a new dashboard with good libraries, but we have clear goals toward continuous delivery. It’s far better to constantly iterate with small changes than it is to build something new. We always do code reviews (typically from someone furthest from the code), and try to release bug fixes and deploy new features into production safely and quickly.
We work hard to ship quickly as we (unsurprisingly) have so much to get to in our product roadmap! We invest in our processes, but also in our people. If any of the above interests you, we encourage you to reach out and apply!