How Flexibility and Choice Set the Stage for Reverb’s Hybrid Working Model


As musicians around the world finally come together in studios, practice spaces and concert halls after making music alone for so long, the team at online musical instruments market Reverberation recently returned to work together in person. In March, much of the team gathered at its headquarters in the Lakeview neighborhood of Windy City to welcome members of its flexible and office team while people manager Ruba Al Badawi described as a “welcome week” of social gatherings and meetings.

For Reverb, a company that Al Badaoui estimated to be 90% based in Chicago before the pandemic, but is now much more distributed – it was a welcome opportunity to have colleagues under one space after the past few years of working remotely. Al Badawi, a five-year veteran of the company, said there are still plans to return to the office one day, and last year the company announced its hybrid plan – which includes fully remote mode , in the office, and the default flexible mode, with a minimum of four days in the office each month.

“We’ve heard this desire to be together again from employees, even if it’s not every day of every week. But we didn’t want to force people to make a decision on how they would work before they had a chance to test things out,” Al Badawi said.

And just because the physical office is a physical space doesn’t mean it’s static. In reality, Al Badawi noted that even before the Covid-19 pandemic, the company promoted flexible working, with “most people in the office at least four days a week”. Today, Reverb has reconfigured its office to become more of a collaboration hub, moving to shared desks, outfitting spaces with teamwork tools like Jamboards, and rearranging furniture as needed. .


Working in flexible mode, Colleen McClowry, Research Senior Product Manager, is a Chicago-based team member who splits her time between this physical space and her home. As a parent of two young children, McClowry said she appreciated the flexibility offered by the default arrangement. She typically chooses to come on Wednesdays so she can take advantage of meeting-free focus time, but noted that it’s not something set in stone and she can change “at the last minute” if necessary. .

“For me, the hybrid model is the best of both worlds. You get that in-person time that keeps you motivated and excited about things. But then I’m almost more productive now at home after two years, getting into my rhythm and being able to have time off,” McClowry said.

Offering three different arrangements – in-office, hybrid or remote – requires juggling different needs and situations. Arguably, when it comes to connecting to the larger whole, the last of these scenarios may be the toughest – but it’s something that Senior Cybersecurity Engineer Kevin Harris has managed to perform as a member of the Texas-based team entirely remotely, assigning forums like luncheons and engineering demos to make your job easier.

“I’ve never set foot in the office, ever. But I get people all the time on Slack for security issues, because they know my work for doing these lunch talks. And I reached out to people I saw talking about things because I had a question and I knew their name and their face,” Harris said.

Al Badawi’s recommendation to other leaders? “Listen to your people. Needs can sometimes be conflicting, so it’s important to listen to both sides and really try to find the balance. Below, the three pros shared how they stay engaged, balanced, and connected to others.

Colleen McClowry

Senior Product Manager // Reverb

Respecting boundaries, work practices such as asynchronous communication, and a focus on maintaining work-life balance all help make Reverb’s flexible model work for McClowry. “People’s lives outside of work have meaning, and as a working parent, Reverb’s flexibility and transparency has been quite transformative for me,” she said.

How has Reverb’s working model helped you?

McClowry: Having flexibility built into our DNA is very important to me. Having that flexibility to be there for my kids when they’re sick or when I have to be home, and not having to go to the office or work a prescribed set of hours, is key.

How does practicing asynchronous communication benefit your work-life balance equation?

McClowry: It allows me to work when I feel the most motivated or productive. Often I am more productive at night, after my children are in bed. I will write early in the morning even before anyone in my house is up. It’s good because in the old world of work, I felt like everything had to be done before five o’clock. Now I can sit with myself and do things as I please.

If you need to step away and focus on non-work related tasks, how do you feel supported or empowered to do so?

McClowry: As long as you block out your calendar to say, for example, “I have to step in for childcare” or “I have to do the preschool drop-off or pick-up,” that’s not even in question. People understand that you are doing what you need to do. At Reverb, we know that unplugging and stepping away helps your well-being, and therefore your work. Everyone in the company has transparent calendars. You will even see members of the management team taking care of childcare duties. It’s just the status quo across the company, which is really great.

Once a quarter we have mental health wellness days, which are really great. As a working parent, that’s really good for me, because I still have child care for those days. I used these days to take care of myself, recharge my batteries and do something for myself, whether it was having lunch with a friend, taking a yoga class or simply taking my children to something special, like the zoo. or the arboretum. .

As part of the cybersecurity engineering team, Harris and his colleagues aim to protect Reverb from abuse. To succeed, Harris — entirely remote since joining the company — relies on a cohesive team culture that encompasses continuous learning as well as real-time, asynchronous communication.

What does Reverb do to make you feel connected to your team and the company as a fully remote worker?

Harris: There are a couple of things we do that I think are really great. One of them is virtual events like lunch and learn sessions and everyone’s get-togethers, which have given me the opportunity to connect with people across the company, ask questions, and answer questions. Questions. We also hold engineering demos every two weeks. It gives me the opportunity to really see what everyone is working on and then engage with them directly. Both have been really great for me to feel connected to the community.

How would you describe the camaraderie and cohesion of the cybersecurity engineering group?

Harris: My team has always had the convenience of being remote first. The security team broke away from our infrastructure team very recently, right before I was hired, actually. Reverb went through a unique growth phase, including when I joined the team, and as the team evolved, I had the opportunity to help shape my team’s culture.

Because the security team always had conversations about what we wanted from our culture, and having always been in a remote environment, we were able to foster that culture in any way we wanted. It also helps that in the security space you almost always end up with internet geeks, so we all spend most of our time on Slack or Discord anyway. So those are really natural communication channels for us – we really lean into that.

What are some of the current projects you are working on? How do they help Reverb grow and maintain security?

Harris: Security teams do not generate revenue; they compensate for the risk. But one of the killers of any market is fraud. Reverb helps people around the world find what they need to create all types of music, and as the security team grows, we should be able to help mitigate these risks to make it safer for people to make these high-value transactions. .

New security teams try to build the plane while they fly it, but they have to maintain security the entire time. Yet you also want to try to do better and develop new processes. A big part of my current focus is developing those processes, and then designing the solutions that will make them possible.

Room in Reverb's office with guitars on the wall and singing chairs

Ruba Al Badawi

Senior Director – People Manager // Reverb

It’s still relatively early in the newly rolled out arrangement, but Al Badawi said she was optimistic as she read the initial feedback from employees. “The reception has been positive. Leading with flexibility is what everyone is looking for,” Al Badawi said.

How does the current arrangement set team members up for success and meet their individual needs?

Al Badaoui: We definitely collaborate remotely. But we also think there’s a type of collaboration that benefits from being off-screen, in a room and talking together, using a whiteboard, and so on. So it’s really about allowing people to choose the type of collaboration that takes place in the office; we don’t dictate that. Bigger brainstorms, big launches, and annual planning meetings are the things that I think will benefit the most from this framework.

What kind of successes have you seen so far?

Al Badaoui: From people who have been in the office before, we got a lot of “It’s so good to be back. It’s so good to see that specific couch or guitar,” or even to go back to the restaurants around the office. We get a lot of that chatter, even in Slack.

The one that touched me the most was actually someone who is distant, who wasn’t at Reverb before the pandemic. They said they worried that collaboration and productivity would drop when the office opened. And then they noticed that it’s actually the same, if not better, because those who feel the need to be in power have come back more rejuvenated. This lets me know that we are on the right track.

What best practices would you share with people leaders for creating a hybrid work program?

Al Badaoui: Give yourself grace – this is unprecedented. You don’t need to have all the answers now. And you can always iterate. There isn’t a single email from me regarding something we’re testing that doesn’t say we’re open to feedback and iterations. And I anticipate that will continue, because we’re still in a pandemic and there’s still a lot that can change.


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