People Heroes: April Hoffbauer, Senior Director of People at Maze
We are thrilled to announce this month’s People Hero, April Hoffbauer, Senior Director of People at Maze.
April is the driving force behind the People initiatives at Maze and is currently building the foundations to support the company’s next phase of growth and beyond. Having worked at remote companies for many years, April is no stranger to a distributed workforce and has a wealth of knowledge when it comes to successful remote work.
We sat down with April (virtually!) to chat about how she started her career in the People space, the challenges she has faced over the past year and some of the exciting projects she is working on.
Could you tell us about your role at Maze?
I have the honor of leading the People Team at Maze. I was the first People hire and since I started, we’ve more than doubled our headcount and show no signs of slowing down. It’s an exciting time to be at Maze and I’m so proud of the team!
What exciting projects are you currently working on?
We’re building the entire people function from scratch, so it’s all about laying a foundation to support this season of hyper-growth while also ensuring we’re building a solid foundation for long-term success.
What interested you to start a career in the People sector?
Haha, I’m not even sure I know! I find human nature fascinating and care deeply about those I am connected with - I want to see them reach their personal and professional goals and love to be a small part of that journey if I can. I’ve also always been an early adopter of tech so I thrive in tech startups.
Both Maze and your previous employer GitLab are fully remote companies. What would you say are the top 3 benefits of being fully remote, and what are some of the main challenges?
First, I think it’s important to note that Maze and my prior firm were both remote from the beginning. There is a major shift to remote work in the world right now but a lot of people have experienced forced work from home, not intentional remote cultures. In my opinion, what is necessary to build an amazing remote culture is asynchronous communication, measuring results not hours, and meaningful adaptation to new ways of operating. If you have those things, remote work is truly magical. Otherwise, if you are just trying to replicate the office experience and monitoring employee activity, it’s not a great experience.
For me, the top benefits are: the ability to be a digital nomad and travel the world, working when I feel most productive, never having to miss a family event, and the ability to spread opportunities around the globe.
In terms of the challenges, it’s easy to overwork—it’s easy to pick up the laptop and start working more often than you’d like. Especially with startups, there is never a lack of things to do. To help combat this, I don’t have anything work-related on my mobile other than my calendar. When I walk away from my laptop I am truly disconnected. I encourage my team to do the same and create a culture where it’s ok not to respond to my message right away.
You’ve experienced working at a fully remote company pre-covid. Since remote working was already established when the pandemic hit, how did the lockdown measures and social distancing impact the team at the time?
We actually saw people working more—there was nothing else to do but work. So you get creative by shutting the company down one day a month to ensure people take time off; you see that trend continuing with companies announcing week-long shutdowns to ensure people can rest. Other things you can try is blocking one day a week for work time with no meetings. You can also block a whole week to work async only—this can help to alleviate zoom fatigue. I also have a lot fewer meetings than you would think. My team doesn’t have any regularly scheduled meetings. We communicate mostly through text and only meet face-to-face for weekly 1-on-1s or fun activities which are optional.
The other thing I saw as a People manager was the toll this past year took on everyone’s mental health. Never before in our lifetimes has there been such a shared experience around the world. It has been next level stress and everyone reacted differently to this shared experience. That can be a lot to handle for People managers, so it’s important to ensure your company provides easy access to mental health support for individual contributors but also help, support, and training for people managers.
What is the biggest challenge you faced at work over the last 12 months?
It’s a challenge I was looking for when I accepted this role, but it’s a constant balance of knowing what is necessary to build an organization at scale. What is needed now doesn’t always line up with what will be needed in the future and I’ve seen an org scale before. I constantly ask myself “What do we need today?” and “What will we need 5 years from now?” so I can align those needs the best I can.
I don’t believe in using a playbook to replicate what you’ve done before. You take lessons learned from prior experiences, but you can’t apply a playbook in the People function like you can perhaps in the Sales function. The culture, values, people, and experiences are different. It’s what makes your company special and you want to capitalize on that magic.
Another major challenge is how do you support people around the world? We’re at 68 people, but we are already in 23 countries! That is part of why I love Ben—it allows us to provide benefits, but ensures that it’s something everyone can actually benefit from. The flexibility to pick and choose your rewards is powerful when working with a global team.
What professional achievement are you most proud of?
Honestly I’m most proud of the work I’m doing at Maze. From the product we are building, the issues we are trying to solve, the teams we are creating, to the company culture we are curating. It’s been an amazing journey so far and we’re only getting started!
What do you foresee as a major change in People Operations?
I hope we’ll see the use of the terms like ‘People Operations’ and ‘HR’ go away. It’s an old school way of thinking and not a term I identify with in my work. I also hope we see more organizations become transparent in their policies, procedures, and what actual steps they are taking to create inclusive working environments, diversify teams, and reduce gender disparity. More often than not it feels like lip service. Let’s have tough conversations in the open, let’s work to find common ground, and let’s celebrate the things that make us unique and different. Let’s see them as an advantage rather than a disadvantage.
I don’t think any of us can foresee the full effect this pandemic is going to have on the people of the world collectively. We’re already seeing studies coming out about the number of females leaving the workforce to the mass exodus of talent from companies that refuse to adapt. We’ll be monitoring trends as we continue to build what is right for Maze.
What are you looking forward to this year—both professionally and personally?
Professionally, I’m looking forward to building the muscle that is the People function for Maze, meeting more team members face-to-face as the world opens back up, and enabling people to collect actionable insights to create better user experiences.
Personally, I’m looking forward to more travel, growing my understanding of the world and the beautiful people who live here, and making deeper, more meaningful connections.
A big thank you to April for taking the time to speak with us and share her thoughts and perspectives. Exciting times ahead for the whole team at Maze!