Even Staff

2020-09-23

Our New Normal - Even’s Transition to a Distributed Work Environment

An HR Perspective:

 

If you would have told me a year ago, that I would be taking virtual team meetings from my small UWS apartment while scheduling team-wide online Yoga sessions, I would have laughed, said no way, and kept working away at my cozy desk in our open floor plan office. Boy, have the times changed.

 

I had only just started my career with Even in November of 2019. Being hired as their Director of Culture and Engagement was not only exciting personally from my career growth perspective, but because I was thrilled that a Series B start-up was already so focused on company culture that it invested in a resource completely dedicated to it. We were experiencing the typical start-up growth and onboarding large teams of new employees, what felt like weekly. It was exhilarating—I love building teams, programs, processes from the ground up, which is why I’ve always been drawn to start-ups. Here at Even, our constant challenge was always “where are we going to put people?” which is every start-up’s favorite problem to have. We added more desks, took over more space, and started to explore and visit new and larger office spaces to accommodate our booming growth. 

 

I’ve always been in favor of having a WFH policy as long as it was managed properly and that the manager and employee were committed to it succeeding. That being said, I must admit that I was also pretty “HR Old School” in my train of thought and felt that the majority of employees should be in an office. I bought into the data and research out there that showed in person collaboration was the key to a company’s success. I hadn’t seen anything to show me otherwise to be honest.

 

When we first made the decision to shut the office down and work from home due to the COVID-19 pandemic, I 100% thought that we'd be back in the office in a couple of weeks. Computer accessories and personal items were left in the office (I didn’t even take home my dog’s treats and bed from the office). We quickly transitioned from in-person meetings to Google Meets….err...meets, and set up a lot of touchpoints throughout the day and week to give employees the opportunity to stay connected. It was actually fun to see the makeshift set-ups that people had orchestrated, whether in their small Manhattan apartments or homes where they were now sharing space with spouses and children (or vice versa!). I can’t speak for all, but I know I speak for many when I say that the first few weeks were tough—fears of the virus itself and trying to stay safe, compounded with fears of the failing economy and dire 24/7 news being broadcasted from every media outlet out there, as well as the normal work from home challenge of being unable to separate work from home. 

 

Over the next few weeks our team worked quickly to ensure that people had the resources/materials they needed to work from home successfully, as well as made sure that mentally, everyone was taking time for themselves. We also had to make sure employees were physically taking care of themselves as we were in the beginning throes of the pandemic. My old apartment was on West End Ave in the UWS and I can close my eyes and still hear all the ambulances going by during those early months of March/April. It became a familiar sound in my neighborhood and a constant reminder of what was going on outside of my protected walls. Ensuring the safety and wellbeing of our employees became our number one priority. 

 

As the weeks turned into months it became clear to all, that we weren’t going back to the office any time soon. Our Chief People Officer, Kyle Roberts, had built a “Roadmap to Return” and we started putting plans together, but with no vaccine in sight and a city still shut down, we started pushing timelines out. I attended more webinars on how to “return to the office” than I care to count! During this time though, we did notice something significant— despite being 100% dispersed, our overall productivity was affected very little. In fact, we found that most (not all) employees enjoyed being remote and were more productive as a result. That being said, we needed to ensure that people were being mindful of separating work from home and not burning out at both ends. We implemented a mandatory once-a-month mental health day for our employees to select at their own discretion (in addition to our unlimited PTO), instituted Summer Fridays, and connected to a Yoga Instructor for free once-a-week virtual classes for employees. Our managers were encouraged to make sure employees were taking breaks and utilizing these new perks to ensure they had the tools to keep their physical and mental wellbeing maintained.  

 

With the timing of a vaccine still uncertain and a timeline for the lives of our employees (as was as the world) being opaque at best, we’re just working to ensure our teammates and friends have what they require to be successful during these turbulent times. External stress factors are high, and it’s important to understand that each person is now dealing with their own variation of what a “work day” looks like. The old school HR rulebook has been thrown to the wayside and replaced by agile solutions to a variety of new situations, with it becoming more important than ever to listen to our teammates regarding what they’re feeling and thinking during all of this. That listening is what has kept our teams collaborative despite the distance between us, and has helped our team perpetuate the programs and perks that have made it still feel like we’re only a couple desks away from each other. The puppy playdates still happen, they’ve just been relocated to digital dog parks until further notice.  

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