Prezi’s journey to becoming a virtual-first organization

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“📣 Show and Tell 📣 in 9 minutes!”

Almost immediately, the “9” emoji reaction appears under this message in the #announcements Slack channel. Reactions continue to come in, counting down the minutes until it begins.

This happens every Tuesday when Prezi holds its all-hands meeting (aka “Show and Tell”) across nine different time zones. It’s a company ritual that has existed long before Prezi became a virtual-first organization — and has seen renewed energy since the shift.

Since Prezi was founded in 2009 in Hungary, the company has expanded into a global organization with employees who live in 12 countries, speak 19 different languages, and can work from three main hubs in Hungary, Latvia, and Germany, and a smaller hub in the United States.

Prior to the pandemic, Prezi had already established a system for working virtually with video conferencing tools to communicate with colleagues in Riga, Budapest, and San Francisco — and Prezi became even better at collaborating virtually with the launch of Prezi Video in November 2019. This familiar way of working made it an easy transition once the pandemic hit, as employees had already created schedules that started earlier or ended later depending on the teams they collaborated with most often.

“We had already been inching in the direction of virtual-first, and it was a natural fit trying to work across nine time zones,” Prezi CEO Jim Szafranski said. “So net net, I think it’s largely the requirements of working across different time zones that led us here; we didn’t have to buy new products, and then the pandemic just cemented for us that we might as well just provide the certainty to the employees.”

Since there was so much uncertainty with COVID-19, Prezi wanted to provide some stability for their employees, which is why they implemented the virtual-first policy in December 2020, according to Dániel Sárdi, the Senior Director of Operations for the Global Operations team. This team, formerly known as the Office Team, went through their own rebranding, and is now tasked with coaching Prezi toward better performance, hiring and retaining top talent, and curating a strong virtual-first employee experience.

“We felt that this virtual-first mindset would stay with our company for a long time and would change the whole market,” Sárdi said. “Even though it was the middle of Covid, we said we wanted to move on this shift earlier rather than later, which is why we implemented it.”

Results of the virtual-first policy

As a result of the virtual-first policy, Prezi shifted from having a biweekly one-hour all-hands meeting to a weekly 30-minute session. With this change, attendance has increased, with 70% of the company now joining. Prezi Video has also made Show and Tells more interactive because attendees can react to updates and news through on-screen responses, which is like “a free form, no-holds-barred chat,” Szafranski said, making the meetings more high-energy.

One team uses Prezi Video to share their guesses for a murder mystery team building activity.

Prezi also implemented No Meeting Wednesday (NMW) to give employees time to focus and do more deep work. Since incorporating NMW in February 2022, Prezi has seen a 25.8% decrease in the average number of meetings, and a 27.2% decrease in the average number of meeting minutes.

To implement NMW effectively, Prezi created a meeting guidebook based on internal learnings and best practices that outlines how to have the best meeting experience for your virtual or hybrid teams. Prezi’s Editorial Director and LinkedIn Learning Instructor Lorraine Lee led the creation of this guidebook.

“Meetings can either be a huge time-suck or amazing productivity and collaboration drivers, and I wanted to make sure we were embracing the latter,” Lee said.

She has already seen positive changes since the company made a push to transform its meeting culture.

Stay connected while you work remotely with Prezi Video

Lee added, “I’ve loved seeing teams add more agendas ahead of calls — and if there isn’t one, the meeting guidebook has normalized that it’s ok to push back to ask for one or to ask (politely, of course) what your role is in the meeting to understand if you really need to be there or if you can catch up async.”

Download your copy of the Prezi Meeting Guidebook here

And that positive sentiment is shared across the entire company. The People Team at Prezi sends out regular employee surveys via Peakon, and according to VP of People Mariele Weber, our surveys from this year have received a strong response rate and have indicated that employees are engaged and productive in our virtual-first workplace. In the past two months, employees (76% of the company answered) provided these rankings:

  • 9/10 in autonomy

  • 8/8 in peer relationships

  • 9/10 in appreciating flexibility

What’s next for Prezi

Another benefit of being a virtual-first company is that it can be more attractive to potential candidates, Weber said. In the next year, Prezi plans to hire 60-90 more employees in engineering, marketing, product management, and design roles.

“The good thing about working remotely is we can broaden the location for hiring and new hires can start earlier because we don’t need to relocate them,” Weber said.

Before the pandemic, almost 80% of all employees worked in the office, and now about 10-15% work from the hubs.

“Prezi had such a tremendous office culture, especially in Budapest, so some people were lost in the beginning,” Weber said. “But a lot of good things came from having the office culture transferred online. These in-person relationships made people disciplined, helpful, and considerate while working virtually.”

In particular, when employees were unable to work at the hubs, Prezi focused on helping our employees build their home office spaces. Prezi provided employee benefits like a one-time home office subsidy and a monthly contribution for home office costs. Now employees who are near hubs have the flexibility to work from home or at the office to collaborate with colleagues.

“Being fully remote was something we thought about and took off the table,” Sárdi said. “We thought people needed a space to go to and flexibility is at the core of the experience for empowering our employees.”

Additionally, Prezi has also made the Employee Assistance Plan (EAP), provided through ComPsych GuidanceResources, available to all employees. The EAP provides employees and their dependents with confidential support, resources and information for personal and work-life issues.

In addition to the perk of unlimited paid time off, Prezi also provides employees with two weeks where operations shut down for the entire company, one in mid Q3 and one in late Q4.

As part of the shift, Prezi plans to host offsites twice a year to give teams the chance to reconnect on their relationships in person. In April 2022, Prezi gathered at the Budapest office for the first in-person gathering since September 2019.

“Employee relationships are like a contract that need to be renewed from time to time,” Weber said.

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