Exploring the Culture of Collaboration at Upworthy

Upworthy is a viral content sharing site that prides itself on bringing large-scale attention to the “things that matter.”Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 12.17.10 PMIt was started in 2012 by Eli Praiser, who was at one point the executive directly of MoveOn, and Peter Koechley, former managing editor of the onion.

The company once described its key employees as curators, saying every day these people are working tirelessly to find and disseminate “meaningful media,” which can include everything from graphics to videos and ideas.

The Upworthy site goes on to say it engages a total of about 50 million people per month and shares some of the society’s most important topics with its readers and viewers.

The site went on to make a recent announcement that it was moving away from click bait and instead would be focusing on not just curation but the creation of original stories “powered by the incredible combination of data science and storytelling arts.” Since making the change to their overall strategy the company reports they’ve grown their traffic and also have a more engaged audience, which they track using their Active Visits metric.

Active Visits is based on the number of people who not only land on a page but read it for at least 15 seconds.

As a result of this shift from clickbait curation, there was a pretty significant layoff of a large portion of the company’s employees, and a rehiring of people that would help facilitate the Upworthy move to original content.

By the way, you may have noticed the word “meaningful” is a big one at Upworthy. So how do they decide what is meaningful to their audience?

This is what they say:

So, what do we find meaningful? Well, a lot. Including: ensuring that women are seen as full human beings, poking holes in the belief that a small percentage of the world should own all the things, making sure the Earth is around to see the next century, and fighting attempts to make the Internet any less free and unfettered than it was built to be.

Along with this unique approach to viral internet stories, Upworthy is also recognized for its talent management strategy.

Screen Shot 2015-11-16 at 12.15.01 PMSo what are some of the essential elements that come with working at Upworthy?

Here are just a few:

  • Upworthy makes the promise to potential employees that they’ll have the opportunity to make an impact. Even though they say they’ve been called the fastest-growing media company of all time, they say that a small team approach to work allows you to remain impactful, even in the face of a growing workforce.
  • You’ll be part of an ultra-modern virtual workforce. Whether you’re working in New York City or from remote Montana, you can literally work in any place in the world and still be a part of the Upworthy team. The company doesn’t call it remote employees, however. They have a much more New Age-y title for the virtual office experience—they’re part of a “distributed team.”
  • Everyone at Upworthy has unlimited time off, and as part of this a minimum is enforced rather than a maximum of time that can be taken off. They provide employees with a $500 vacation stipend, and say that vacation time is real time off, and not constantly-required-to-check-in vacation time.
  • They follow the theory that when people are given freedom they’re going to make great decisions. There’s not a lot of supervision, but instead Upworthy says it gives employees the tools and resources they need to succeed, and the rest is up to them.
  • Flexible scheduling isn’t just a theory—it’s a reality at Upworthy. Since most work is done in a virtual office, employees have the opportunity to shift hours in any way necessary, whether it’s for school pick-ups or doctor’s appointments, and the company also keeps up that family-friendly image by providing paid parental leave to parents, both male and female.
  • Rather than looking at how much time is spent working, what’s more important is the quality of work completed.

New York Magazine recently covered the unique talent management strategy at Upworthy, by profiling some of the company’s key employees. One employee, Rebecca Eisenberg, who works as an editor, would spend her days working on her computer in her Jersey City apartment, and teleconferencing with employees around the country.

Whether or not you’re on board with the Upworthy talent management strategy, it does beg the question of how they really get employees to come together when they’re all working remotely.

The Harvard Business Review delved into this issue when they recently published a piece about bonding in the virtual workplace.

One of the ways Upworthy has brought employees together to build a shared vision was through hosting of watch parties that included the entire company. Everyone would get together for a teleconference where they watched videos and then gave their feedback and perspectives on what they watched.

One of the key executives of Upworthy said doing these watch parties was great for everyone, but particularly IT and tech employees who didn’t necessarily know much about the overall message and audience the company strives to reach.

Another bonding exercise happens in the form of week-long company retreats for everyone.

What about recognition in the Upworthy remote work environment? They make that happen as well.

Upworthy instituted weekly wins, which are email blasts that offer praise for feats large and small throughout all employees.

On the other hand, while Upworthy seems to be revolutionizing the workplace, it’s not without its issues.

One employee recently wrote on Glassdoor saying, “They hire contract workers to avoid paying benefits. How they think you’re performing is never clearly communicated, and the expectations change all the time. You could be doing well and above what you have been asked to do, and think you’re doing an amazing job then suddenly you’re let go because your role or the company structure has changed. This has happened to several Upworthy employees over the years…”

While this review may just be an upset employee airing frustrations, it doesn’t seem like it’s too far off the mark, at least in some ways, since as we mentioned at the start of this article, the company recently announced a move toward harder news that required them to lay off most of their existing staff and rehire new employees.

What do you think about the way Upworthy does business? The way of the future or an unsustainable talent management strategy?

November 16, 2015   Updated :November 16, 2016   collaboration, culture, upworthy   

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