March 30, 2020

Nurturing Culture from a Distance — Covid-19

Nurturing Culture from a Distance — Covid-19

Almost overnight, a large portion of our nation’s workforce went remote in response to Covid-19 and efforts to flatten the curve. For some companies, the shift to working from home (WFH) was relatively seamless and required some minor adjustments. For others, it was (and continues to be) a big change.

The majority of our portfolio companies fall somewhere in the middle. By now, most organizations have figured out a functional system with Slack, Zoom, but how we work with our employees over the next six months may be more important than anything else right now. At a time when all of us are feeling instability in all parts of our lives — at home, at work, at play — instilling confidence and teaming in your employees could really drive outsized loyalty in the long run. You may be the most important source of stability your team members have. So we wanted to focus on the big picture: how do companies nurture their culture and employees while ensuring productivity in this new paradigm?

In our second topic in our series of flash webinars, we explored how companies are nurturing culture from a distance. We asked three panelists, each with varying experiences in remote work, to share their experiences (both good and bad) and best practices about how to promote employee satisfaction while also driving productivity during so much change. Our panelists included:

  • Chris Lubkert, who ran Corp Dev and Strategy at Automattic, one of the most well known remote tech companies. He now runs his own startup… remotely.
  • Sue Joyce, the VP of Employee Success at later stage HPVP portfolio company Terminus, which has three offices and, of course, now is all remote.
  • Bradley Davis, the co-founder of Podchaser, an early stage HPVP portfolio company that has been remote from the beginning. In fact, Bradley has yet to meet two of his co-founders in-person!
You can view and/or listen to the full webinar here. (34 minutes)

While remote culture is hardly a one-size-fits-all approach, several unique themes emerged in the discussion:

Remote work right now is a lot harder than normal.

People everywhere are worried about the state of the world, which is a big outside distraction, and a normal cadence of monthly or quarterly in-persons isn’t possible. People are having to make a workstyle shift rapidly at the same time they are making a lifestyle shift, managing a number of priorities throughout the day (example: kids at home on e-learning tracks) in addition to normal work expectations. Therefore more flexibility and empathy are required of employers than normal.

Craft well thought out written conversations to make decisions asynchronously.

This allows people to be more thoughtful about how they make decisions — rather than forcing a quick one on slack or juggling schedules to find time for a team Zoom. It also creates an environment of transparency. Slack works well for synchronous conversations, but tends to demand real-time decisions and can be difficult to look back on later. One panelist recommended leveraging a blogging platform, a tool like Confluence, or even Google Docs or Asana for this strategy.

Encourage empathy across your organization.

When in a typical office environment, it’s easier to separate work from home. Now, it’s all blurred together. People are taking care of children, taking care of parents, fighting for table space in their new shared office space…the list of challenges goes on and on. Over-communicate with your team that now is the time for grace, understanding, and being empathetic with co-workers as everyone adjusts. For HR leaders, this could mean doing more frequent 1:1 check-ins with employees than before to get a temperature check on what’s working, what’s not, and how they’re coping.

Support your teams’ technical and physical wellness needs (if feasible).

With such a rapid shift, many employees are without their normal office equipment. If financially feasible, offering your team a stipend for office supplies like headphones and a microphone will go a long way in making virtual meetings more efficient. Similarly, physical and mental health is difficult to maintain when cities are on a mandated shutdown, so consider a fitness stipend to support at-home workouts.

As a reminder, check out our Startup Resource Guide | Covid-19. We’ve been aggregating the resources organizations are sharing that we find to be most useful for VC-backed startups there. You can also find our first flash webinar “Modeling COVID-19’s Impact and Making Hard Decisions” here. We’ll be back soon with more relevant webinar content.

Our team is here to help, don’t hesitate to reach out. Hang in there, and stay healthy.