Alley & Electric are excited to bring you the last part of this series “Reimagining the Workplace”. We’ve covered the return to the workplace, IT continuity, and collaboration using various mediums. You can catch the recaps on our blog.
In the last installment of our four-part series, join us for a conversation around HR & Company Culture. With companies constantly shifting operations to incorporate new restrictions and social distancing laws, how can those in leadership & HR roles support this transition?
We tackle what a new hiring and onboarding process may look like, how to manage expectations with existing employees, and how to build a strong company culture through it all.
- Justworks Resource Center - Justworks hub for all resources and best tips on running a business
- How Employee Resource Groups can Enhance Your Professional Development - ERG Blog, example of content found in our Resource Center
- Justworks Ask an Expert Series - Justworks series hosted by Moses discussing topics top-of-mind to small business employees and employers
- Requested Book List Black Lives Matter Reading List - from a Chicago bookstore
Janet Hefferan 0:00
We're excited for today's conversation around company culture and human resources. As we finished this, our last four-part series around reimagining the workplace, I'm Janet Hefferan, I head up the HR department at Electric as their People Operations Manager. For those of you who don't know us, we're an IT solutions company and we are redefining how organizations handle IT by exceeding the level of service that businesses have come to expect from all other aspects of their business and the technology that supports it. We'd like to thank our partner Alley today. Alley is a community agency and they unite exciting and diverse communities around the country with their corporate partners to provide the resources and the catalyst to drive positive change in technology and the broader world. A very special thank you to their corporate partner 5G labs for sponsoring this event today. As a reminder, you can always check out all of their upcoming events on their website at alley.com. Let's jump right into it, hand it off to our amazing panelists to introduce themselves. Courtney, let's start with you.
Courtney Burns 0:57
Hi, I'm Courtney Burns. I'm the VP of global recruiting at Huge. We're a product innovation and design firm based in New York but we've got 12 offices around the world and we are working remotely.
Janet Hefferan 1:11
Awesome. Jen Ruza.
Jennifer Ruza 1:15
Hi, I'm Jen Ruza. I am the SVP on the People and Experience Team at VaynerX, the global holding company for a number of subsidiaries, including VaynerMedia. We have about 800 employees around the globe.
Katie Sagan 1:31
Awesome. Moses Balian.
Moses Balian 1:32
Thanks. Thanks, Janet. Hi, Moses Balian, certified HR consultant at Justwork. Justworks is a PEO that provides payroll benefits, compliance, and HR support solutions so that you can grow your business with confidence. I'm part of that HR support team providing best practices guidance to my customers.
Janet Hefferan 1:50
Awesome. And then Katie Sagan.
Katie Sagan 1:52
Hi, Katie, VP on the People and Experience Team at VaynerX as well. Specifically, focus as an HR business partner for a couple different teams there at Vayner.
Janet Hefferan 2:06
Awesome. All right. Well, to kick us all off today, this question is going to be for everyone. But in a few words, can you explain what a strong company culture means to you? Who wants to go first? Courtney, you look ready.
Courtney Burns 2:22
Definitely. You know, I actually joined Huge because of the company culture. So it's a great question. And I think for a strong company culture that is bringing together a diverse group of people to do great work. And everything that we do at Huge is about making something people love. And our main focus is to make— we do a lot of product design, and it's often apps that you use every day. And to do that, I think that Huge has done an amazing job of not only bringing us together in a way where we're working together, and they have a lot of cross-discipline teams, but also through the events that we host, the affinity groups that we have at Huge, we have five main affinity groups. We have a women's group, a parents' group, a group focused on diverse employees, and I think, you know, that's tantamount to some of how we bring our culture together. We host a lot of events, we bring people in from the outside, and we also bring our, you know, our full selves to these panels and these events. And then I also think that just— they create an environment where we actually want to be a part of. It's a place that I absolutely, thoroughly enjoy working. Everything down to our office space, and how it's structured, to our open work plans, to the way that we collaborate in our team rooms, and then just a matter of bringing everyone together almost every Thursday we get together. We also do global work shares where we're coming together to see the work that every office is doing, so we always know what everybody is kind of working on. And I think that creates a sense of culture. It's great because I truly think that you know everyone in every office, whether you been to that office or not. And a lot of that is based because we are always on tech, we are always resourcing across each office, so everyone is really in this really amazing partnership that has been totally digital from the start. So I think that that has helped us transition this great culture from inside the workspace into a remote landscape. So that's Huge in a nutshell.
Jennifer Ruza 4:25
I can jump in. Similar to how Courtney explained why she joined Huge, similar reason to why I joined VaynerX. VaynerX actually has a Chief Heart Officer, and I really do believe that culture is really like the heartbeat and the DNA of any organization. And so when I, you know, discovered that I knew that in my 20-plus year career, I'd never seen that before and it was something that I really needed to be a part of. I do really believe that culture is something that you feel, not just from the inside, out, but also from the outside, in. There's something that's— although it can't be seen, there's something that's really tangible when there's a very strong culture. And it's really felt throughout the organization, at every level from a top-down approach to a bottoms-up approach. And I really believe that a very strong and clear culture really does provide an environment where you can bring together different perspectives so that everyone is working towards one common purpose and knows exactly how to behave and what they stand behind. And at Vayner we really have a lot of those things built-in, similar to Huge, we have— we call them community resource groups. And those are all built organically from the ground up. And we have just an amazing culture that you can really like, feel as you, under normal circumstances, walk through the hallway, but now over Google Hangouts and Zooms that we have.
Katie Sagan 5:58
I can piggyback off of that since Jen and I both have the experience of working at Vayner. And I'll just add, I also joined because of this culture, which to me are these values and these behaviors that make this unique environment. And at Vayner, it's about putting people first. So as Jen referred to, we have this— the chief heart officer, who is the right hand to our CEO. Sorry, did you say something, Jen? Oh, sorry. —who is the right hand, and the mandate is from the top, from our CEO, that it is people first. And that dictates how people treat each other, how they treat our clients. I think it's our competitive advantage, both as an employer and when we go out into the market and who wants to work with us. We treat each other with respect, with dignity, we care more about this over anything else, over the skillset that you bring. If you are not a good and kind person, you do not belong in this environment. You might be the best person at what you do, but if you don't treat others with kindness and respect, as I said, and putting people first, it doesn't work. So, you know, I can say I've never had an exit interview, and I say, why did you stay as long as you did, and they say it was because of the people.
Moses Balian 7:26
Thanks. I think a strong company culture is one that's clear. One that employees know what the values are, and then how they can live out those values. And part of that clarity is a balance between relevance and specificity or actionability. For example, your company might have a value that we want to protect the environment. That's great. That's actionable. You can recycle. Everyone knows ways to further the environment, but is it relevant? Unless you're in a sustainability space or the work you're doing directly impacts the environment. That's great if it's something you want all your employees to participate in, but how exactly is that relevant to my business? The opposite of an example would be like, we run great payroll. It's like, that's super specific, but it doesn't speak to value. It's super actionable but doesn't speak to a broader value base. What about your values makes you run great payroll? So I think clarity, and walking that line between specificity and relevance is important.
Janet Hefferan 8:39
That is a great point. I also wanted to point out that at any point, any of the participants can jump in in the Q&A and ask some questions themselves that we can answer towards the end of this. But actually bouncing off of what Moses had to say, how has your company culture implemented the way your teams have continued to work together? Some of you touched on this a bit, but you know, as we've moved into a remote workplace, and then potentially, partially coming back into the workplace. Does anyone have anything to say on that?
Courtney Burns 9:08
So it's interesting, one of our largest clients at Huge is Google. So we're already set up for some pretty great success in the fact that we're already using Hangouts and Slack to regularly communicate because like I said, we're always talking across office. And the way we resource our projects, we may have somebody from London working on a Brooklyn project, we may have somebody from Oakland working on a Detroit project. So I feel like we've been in this remote landscape for quite some time. But it's been really interesting to see some of the cool things that have come out of it. Like when we were used to doing a creative session, we were used to whiteboarding in a conference room, or in a team room. And so now we had to start using products like Figma. And we're even using virtual reality to do a lot of this. I thought it was great because, for one of our other clients, we were doing an activation that we were going to launch at the Olympics. And so we had to use, in order to show the client what we were making, and what we were working on, and how it would look when we set it up, because it was actually a live activation that was loaded with tech, in like a pop-up form, and so we had to start using VR. So the teams the other day, actually used their VR headsets to have a full-blown creative meeting in the living room of one of our executive creative directors. And after they got over the moment of actually being able to see their hands and like, you know, everybody— what everybody was wearing in— you know, they were the avatar. So I'm actually really excited about the opportunities that the remote workspace has given us because it's forcing us to be more creative, even in the way that we approach meetings. So I think for us, it's just been an exploration of tech and different programs that will work for Huge and how we can design concepts. And it's even made some of like, fleshing out the ideas even easier, because you can see that last thought, whereas you might have lost it in the meeting because nobody captured that one moment or that one thought but now when you're forced to write these down in this kind of setting, you're constantly looking at it and you can truly see your entire design process from start to finish.
Janet Hefferan 11:05
VR? That's quite something. Now what about any, maybe, challenges you've had? You know, maybe you have a more mixed environment. Anything— any challenges you guys have encountered while managing a remote workforce?
Jennifer Ruza 11:24
I think for us at Vayner, you know, at the beginning, it was really trying to figure out how to take our unique and successful and strong culture and sort of shift it to a remote model. And we were quickly able to pivot and do that. We started doing twelve at twelves, to bring employees together from different locations and ensure that everyone felt like they were really staying connected not just to their siloed teams, but holistically across the organization, which is something that's so unique to Vayner, and we really want to make sure that, you know, everyone feels like they're part of one larger organization versus just their small siloed team. And so we came up with a lot of really creative ways to do that, like I said, the twelve at twelves, and other initiatives that we had as well. Similar to Courtney, you know, we use Slack, so there's a lot of communication and, you know, a lot of chat that goes through that for a variety of different reasons. So our community resource groups have Slack channels, and so anyone can join them and see what's going on there. We have a Slack channel for parents in particular. So there was a lot that took place there as far as like, what are some strategies that you can use. So there were a lot of different communications methods and face-to-face methods that we did. The other thing that I also have noticed is a lot of people will put on five or 10-minute meetings rather than a 30-minute meeting because you just need a quick chat and you know, the days of just bumping into somebody in the hallway are not a reality anymore. And so the way that we schedule meetings also has shifted to ensure that we can maximize the efficiency and the amount of time we have in a day.
Courtney Burns 13:10
To follow that, Jennifer that was— we experienced a high level of we got into it, we got ramped up, everybody was like, Alright, we can do this. Like we said, we're going to go back into the office on— it was a Thursday that we were going to do a trial run day, and we were all going to be back on Friday. And then we were going to explore doing it for Monday. We left that Thursday, and we never came back in. And it was a really wild thing to see because we ramped up so quickly that then Zoom fatigue became very real. And we also had employees that were saying, I'm getting Slacks at like, 10pm, and I don't know how to combat this, like, are they expecting answers? And you know, it was actually coming out of our parents' affinity group where people said, "Actually we don't— we're not expecting a response. This is just, we've been parenting all day. And this is our— this is the time that we have to respond to you, and we're sorry, but like, there's moments of the day where we can no longer— we're now doing two jobs." And obviously not allowing anybody to come into your home, you know, a lot of people were left with zero childcare. So it was a matter of figuring out that structure. We started to buffer in a— every day a mandatory lunch hour, we cut meetings short, they were all down to 50 minutes if they were supposed to be an hour to allow people— because we found out that people were just going back-to-back-to-back their entire day. And then we ended up sending people the comforts of the office. So if you were— actually, a lot of people have left the area, but if you were close to your office, we offered sending home desk chairs, your monitors, your entire full setup. So I think it was just a matter of getting the comfort and into the groove and then realizing that like Zoom fatigue is a real thing. So that— I think that was our biggest hurdle coming into it.
Moses Balian 14:48
Courtney, that's really interesting. You brought the office environment to your employees by shipping them some— I take it, their chairs, their equipment? That's not just a fresh one, that's super cool. I have a— I miss my chair, we had a great relationship. But I think— something Courtney and Jennifer, both of you have spoken to is the use of systems. And the biggest challenge I've encountered in my own work and with my customers— or at Justworks and with my customers, is keeping culture alive and vivid amidst all this when you don't have that group camaraderie. And I think it's important for us to spend a lot of time thinking about now that we don't have the physical office environment, how does our digital office environment reinforce company culture? And so this is a great opportunity to revisit some of the systems you use because systems do a lot to reinforce culture: what you value, are you designed forward, are you this, that, or the other? As well, molding those systems to suit your employee base. Perfect example: Slack. Slack is great. Think about ways— some— in some ways Slack channels can replace email, if that's the case, really sit down and think about that, and then train your employees on: "Hey, for this, we're going to use Slack channels, and for email, we're going to use this." And so creating some of those boundaries and delineations between different systems keeping things clear, will help reduce employees' mental load. But also, you'll find new efficient and dynamic ways of working within those various systems and educate employees on things like Slack alerts. Take the time "Okay, everyone, you know, you can set Do Not Disturb." Just really get into the nitty-gritty of some of these systems, and how they can be more effectively used to reinforce work-life balance, for example, which might be a value your company espouses. So think about ways in which systems can work for you.
Janet Hefferan 16:45
That's a great point. I'm a big fan of the Slock Do Not Disturb myself. Actually, in a follow-up, a lot of you have mentioned affinity groups, and I think considering the world's climate, a lot of people have had DE&I on their mind, so how have those affinity groups kind of impacted that remote culture and supported it?
Courtney Burns 17:07
So I actually lead our women's affinity group at Huge. And you know, it's interesting, we actually took a break in our programming during Black Lives Matter and Pride month. We just felt like it was time to lean in and figure out how our role as women could help what was going on in the current state that we were experiencing. And we actually, it's been— and now we're back to programming again, which is amazing. And I think that a lot of the affinity groups, it was a great outlet where people could actually share their feelings and what's going on in the world. We've had some incredible panels and we did a lot of listening sessions around DE&I to find out how our black employees were feeling, and how we could be better allies and better support. And I just— honestly listening sessions— I learned so much just by dialing in. Like, I didn't necessarily— it was not a moment where I felt I needed to speak, it was a moment where I felt I needed to learn. But the affinity groups provide such good programming that I feel like people are leaning in and really engaging. This is also the first moment we have ever had, and we used to always have inner-office affinity— like, the affinity groups would run in their respective office, this is the first time where everything is able to be global. So instead of the— we used to have, you know, panels that we've done, and you know, it might have been a happy hour. And so in New York, that's, you know, 5 pm, in London, that's 10. So they're not, you know, dialing in. Here, now, we're trying to set everything during the lunch hour, so you can participate and have like a fun lunch hour. And, you know, really decompress from work, but also bring your full self. And so that's been very helpful because we have offices as far as Singapore and Tokyo. And so I just— having the global perspective and actually being able to run events that roll out to every person and everyone can experience them the same way. And it's been great because each office is now contributing an idea for an event that like, is more or less sponsored by their office. so we're capturing the culture of the actual location in these events. We even had one where we had— where we heard from the US rugby team, women's rugby team, and they were talking about, you know, the pay gap and what it was taking— that they had to go out and get grants and to do all this fundraising just to keep playing a sport that they loved. And it was really great because I think that from that, the Huge employees got to connect with them, and even offer suggestions on how they could take their programming further, how they could have more reach. So I felt like it was very rewarding and people are really leaning into it. So yeah, mine is really just the global nature of it now is really changing the landscape of what those affinity groups were able to accomplish and who they could reach before.
Janet Hefferan 19:52
Katie Sagan 19:53
I would add there as well, our groups do an incredible amount of work, but we've also been very conscious that it is not their responsibility to take it all on. And there's been an incredible response from the whole company to say, here's my strength, so— and let me help. So the project managers, that's their day-to-day job, have now actually stepped in to help the community resource groups and to pull in and say, Okay, we have a senior leader who is really great at writing transparency reports, and so we're going to help keep you on track to work on that piece of this so that we're not just putting it all on these groups to do the work, we're playing to everyone's strengths in the organization, which has been really incredible to get everybody involved.
Janet Hefferan 20:49
Moses, you work with some smaller companies that may not be at the point where an affinity group or a community group, an ERG, would really make sense. How have you seen that sort of emerge in the smaller companies, or what have been some best practices you've seen?
Moses Balian 21:05
Bingo. So the majority of Justworks customers are between five and 35 employees, we have a small as two, and as large as 350. But that is such a stock HR response. I mean, it's a good one, I have been a huge, huge buy-in with— as far as ERGs and affinity groups since I started my career in HR, but it hasn't been able to be the response— the immediate response that I toss to customers simply because the vast majority of them are not at scale, they don't have a quorum to form ERGs based on ethnic or cultural identity, race, or even other non-demographic-related interests. And so what I've been recommending is that instead, it needs to be a company-wide effort on allyship. And to preface that, I want to really emphasize that it's no one person's or one group's job to teach, but it's all of our jobs to learn. And so you have to be careful that your organization doesn't put an undue burden on your people of color to say, "How can we be great allies?" That's a lot of pressure. That's a lot of work. And that's a lot to ask. But all of us are in charge of our own education and companies and leadership teams and managers can help with that. For example, there are some great reading lists out there. I like to talk about this amongst my friends, but this grand movement that's happening is, in very many ways, an intellectual exercise. And some of these questions and realities that's— all of us are— many people are encountering for the first time, or in new ways, or in expanded ways, it really requires a lot of brainpower, and a lot of reading and a lot of empathy, like intellectual empathy. And so I have never thought readings— reading books is as important in my lifetime as it's been right now, and the Times has some great lists, you know, just to name a few titles, there's White Fragility, anything by Ta-Nehisi Coates, Americanah, if you want to look at the fiction or memoir perspective, there's just so much reading we can all be doing right now. Besides that, there's some great allyship trainings that your company can purchase from organizations like Udemy has a great allyship course, self-guided. And these are ways that we can bring people together, even if it's through individual learnings on the allyship front and just learning what all this means and how we can be better colleagues. I think the remote work environment has leveled the playing field in a lot of really good and compelling and exciting ways for people who have to code-switch, for people with disabilities invisible and visible, and just an exciting time right now and we all need to put in the work.
Janet Hefferan 23:56
So switching gears just a little bit now how have— are any of you even back in the office part-time, or some people are going into the office, or are you still preparing, you know, your office for that, or have you gone all-in on remote?
Jennifer Ruza 24:12
So, at Vayner, we are in the final stages of beginning the transition for a very small percentage of employees that want to go back on a voluntary basis. And that's set to begin next month. And so we have gone through a tremendous amount of work preparing the office with our office team and making sure that there's proper signage, that desks will be properly social distanced, you know, that there's one way in, one way out. And our HR team has put together trainings which all employees must go through before they can be permitted to go back into the office, including a process for a request to go in the office which we do through our HR system for approval so that we can manage to the 25% that's allowed to go in the office. It also provides us with the information that we would need in case we need to do any tracing in the unfortunate event that anyone would come in contact with somebody or potentially contract COVID. And so we took a tremendous amount of time (inaudible) all in place so that we can be ready for those employees who do feel the need either on a temporary basis or a more permanent basis to go back to the office.
Courtney Burns 25:35
For us, we're not back yet. We're still exploring what that's going to look like for us. We have now told all employees that they can work remotely until 2021. But we are exploring opening the office potentially in September or October in Brooklyn. But it's different from— for every office, every different location is going through a different phase of COVID right now. So it'll be interesting to see how it's panning out. But we did actually take a survey to find out people's comfort level. And it was interesting, it was only a very, a very small fraction of our workforce that wants to go back in the office. I'm actually one of them. I would love to be back in the office. But you know, again, it's just probably because I love that company culture, I love our space, and something about being in the space feels very good, but I'd want everyone to be safe. So we're still waiting to hear what that's gonna look like for us.
Janet Hefferan 26:31
It's definitely a struggle, and I think we've gone through the same thing where we found we have a small, but very vocal minority of people who are like, "I need to get out of my house with my children because I would like to accomplish work during working hours pretty please, let me in." Now, let's switch gears a little bit to new hires. For the hires you guys have had to make while you're fully remote, what does that onboarding process look like? What changes have you had to make along the way? I'd love to hear more about that.
Katie Sagan 27:02
Sure, so we actually just onboarded 15 new hires about two weeks ago. So we've been onboarding people through this whole thing. But this was a big group to do at once. It wasn't one-off. And I think a lot of it is about over-communication. And I also spend a lot of time trying to create scenarios that would happen in the office organically that we now have to facilitate. So making sure that they have time to meet with the leader of the team, making sure that they have time to meet with our CEO, with our Chief Heart Officer. You know, these are people that they might just see in the hallways, but now I have to be very deliberate about making sure that they have those interactions. There's a lot of kind of facilitating just hang out time that you would normally have because they'd casually be around each other's desks. So saying "Okay, at 5:30, we're all going to get on and play a game together." Jen and I, and our team the other day, did a scavenger hunt around our homes. And we actually just used our time as a team together because we needed to laugh, we needed to just have that entertainment that we would have sitting next to each other because building those relationships is such a big part of our culture. And we have to figure out different ways to do that through Zoom now.
Janet Hefferan 28:27
Courtney Burns 28:30
Onboarding for us has been— we've also been steadily hiring through the entire pandemic. Just the nature of our work, which is very fortunate, is very much products that people are using, you know, on a day-to-day basis, you know, with Google, especially and several of our other clients. So we have actually been hiring through— just steadily. We have seen an interesting shift, though. We have more temp-to-perm and more freelance hires than we've ever had before as we decide what you know, what the future state of our client work is going to be, and what our clients are doing. So onboarding has looked a little bit different. And we've actually had to take a lot more care in how we're onboarding freelancers because we realized that we're already employing most of our regular freelancers. So these are net new people coming into Huge and not getting to experience the culture, and also these people that we want temp-to-perm. So we kind of had to revisit onboarding in that structure. And then also with the DE&I lens on, we also realize that advertising as a whole, it's an industry issue where, you know, there are less diverse talent in the industry altogether. And we want to set our underrepresented groups up for success when they start at Huge. So we're actually partnering them with an executive sponsor when they come in so that there's already a direct line. Like, if something is not working, and if your team doesn't look like you, how are you feeling supported by the agency as a whole? So we're trying to structure it so that there's always aligned to the C-suite and you know, any of these flags you know, we want to make sure to create a safe space where people can say, "my onboarding isn't going well." Or "I need, you know, stronger support from my teams." So we're leaning in that way. And we're also trying to do some of the, you know, things that would have happened at Huge, like the things you would have walked in to find on your desk and all the— you know, basically your First Day Kit, but now we're making it for the remote landscape so that people still have something to look forward to. And before they're starting, they're getting this box. It's like, "welcome to this awesome brand." We really pride ourselves on our swag. So anything at Huge, so a lot of sweatshirts and T-shirts and bags, and they all really represent how we feel. And so that's what we're trying to send out to new hires so that they're still getting that like, I'm part of this bigger team.
Jennifer Ruza 30:47
And just to piggyback on what Courtney was saying, from an actual, you know, tactical orientation perspective, when we all started working remotely, we actually— we started working from home, I think it was on a Wednesday or Thursday, and we had new hires that were slated to start the following Monday. We did push them off a week, but we quickly pivoted. We do a week-long orientation out of our New York office. And we quickly pivoted to a remote orientation. And in fact, we were able to scale that to include new hires in our LA office, as well as our UK office, where they weren't able to participate before in our, you know, large orientation that we had, and they did much smaller scale of it, we were now able to ensure that they were included in the full orientation. So it has really allowed us to bring together a global organization and scale one orientation.
Moses Balian 31:40
I think the power of the onboarding cohort is something that should be maintained. So, Jennifer, that's super exciting to hear that that was broadened in geography and scope. The people you start with, if you're large enough to have waves of hires, is— has the potential to be a more diverse swath of people than you would ever encounter within the normal scored scope of your role, I think it's a great opportunity to foster just those interdepartmental relationships, even if they're not strictly work-related. So yeah, I think emphasizing the new, higher social dynamic can be really powerful.
Courtney Burns 32:18
And I would also really encourage people to do a 30/60/90 plan and not let that fall by the wayside. Like, there needs to be regular check-ins, and we need to make sure that the employees are doing okay, and that they're finding that they can use all the technology and they have access to everything that they need. So we're staying very close to 30/60/90. And they will, of course, meet with their talent partner and their manager. But then their recruiter will also follow up with them just because that's been the first relationship and like, obviously, a safe like, person to connect with. So the recruiters are doing a really great job of reaching out afterwards, just, you know, letting them know Is there anybody else you'd like to meet with? Is there anything else that we can do to make it a little easier?
Janet Hefferan 32:59
So, now I'm going to take it to the Q&A. We have some great questions in there, I'm just gonna go through the minium— from top to bottom. So Zeke asks: Toby, the CEO of Spotify said recently, it's impossible to have the same culture in a five-people company as you have in a 500-person company, but you can have a great culture in both. How do you see company culture evolving over time as a company grows? And what are the primary things to be mindful of to ensure you maintain and grow the culture? Anyone like to take that one?
Katie Sagan 33:34
I can say we— so under the VaynerX umbrella, we have several companies. One of them is a start-up, an ad tech company that I also work for. So when I started there was about, I think, 15 people. It's now closer to 40 and I think they'll continue to scale. And one of the things that we did last year was actually put pen to paper to say these are our values. And we didn't put them in stone, and we actually revisit them probably every, maybe four to six months, because there are new joiners, and they say, "Do these resonate with you? Are we upholding them? Does this still make sense?" We actually just went through them, changed some of the language because we felt like they could still be more inclusive. And so I think this is one of the great ways to scale is being able to give language to what those values are and how you want them demonstrated in the organization. So they start in our recruitment process and how we are evaluating people and then they are carried through when we give kudos to each other through Slack, we, you know, hashtag one of our values to attach it to that all the way through to performance reviews. So I think that's a really great, great way of scaling and just defining what it is but then coming back to it because as a start-up, things evolve, right? And you want to evolve with it.
Moses Balian 35:02
I think you have to create nested levels of belonging. As your company grows, subsection it into departments or functions where employees can really feel something they belong to and identify with and work for. For example, the customer success department at Justworks is now as large as Justworks was when I joined. And now I sort of feel like that is the immediate bigger company that I fit into within Justworks. And it's important to have— be able to— humans, you know, evolving from clans in like hunter-gatherer times, they can only hold so many persons in their immediate consciousness or perceive a group to be so large, so you have to make sure the groups spin off and become smaller enough where people can look around the Round Table basically and say, Oh, this is us, and so the "us" can never get too big, and when you create little pods, then you maintain a stronger engagement.
Janet Hefferan 36:00
That's a good point. So the next question, what's one way you see remote enhancing company culture? And versus another way that you might see remote work being a detriment to your company's culture that you need to be mindful of? And I think some of you have kind of touched on this here and there.
Courtney Burns 36:20
I mean, I think that ties back to being able to be global. You know, for us, that is really because we can reach every office now. And it— I'd never realized that we were slightly exclusionary before. Like, I didn't realize that our events were not, you know, always catering to everyone. And I did notice that there was a focus where we were putting most of the events in Brooklyn, and you know, the other offices were like, "Well, hey, like, we have a really amazing dynamic team too, like, why aren't you focusing on this?" And it's actually gotten me just involved with more people at the agency. Like, now that we're in this remote environment, and Slack is so prevalent, like, there's no reason I shouldn't be able to reach out. Like, just because I can't walk up to them and say, "Hey, what's you know, what's the status of this?" Now I feel like it's— they're even more so at my fingertips and I can build these relationships. And the next thing I know, I'm having— I'm in our Wine Club, having a glass of wine with people that are all over the globe. And like that's just a— that's a really fun thing for me. Like, people I've never met before, I am now— and now that— like, Wine Club used to only be in our Brooklyn office, and now we have people from all over that join in. And it's just like, a way to share and chat and talk about ideas off the clock, you know, that kind of thing. So I think it's just the reach
Moses Balian 37:39
So if it's happy hour in the UK, what time is it by you, Courtney? I'm just kidding.
Courtney Burns 37:42
Right? Some people have been joining the happy hour, I'm like "aren't you in Oakland, California?" I'm like, "What time is it there?" We did do one on a Saturday where people just like, felt— when— back when it was March, and it was cold, and people couldn't really be outside. We were just like "hey, we're going to do a Saturday thing. Does anybody want to do it?" And we couldn't believe it, we had 52 participants. So I mean, it's just— even things like that, tying your culture together. It was not— it was totally not mandatory, totally optional, and everybody showed up.
Moses Balian 38:13
Pretty cool. I think a big benefit of remote office culture is that it promotes diversity in a lot of ways. You can pursue diversity of geography in your hiring, which naturally promotes diversity in race and socioeconomic status. People who could have never have afforded to move to New York from Tulsa can now move— can now work for your company without ever having to make that major life change, so I think that's really good. It also tends to be more inclusive on the neurological aspects. So when we're talking about mental health, people with invisible disabilities, I think, find the remote working environments more inclusive, whether that's a history of substance abuse or major depression, bipolar disorder, some of these conditions that people are living with and working through every day, reducing the stress of commuting, and the Open Office floor plan can help with that a lot, healthy boundaries. And third, I think it's— it creates fewer opportunities for microaggression. And so, for women and minorities, I think the remote working environment levels the playing field a bit. You don't have a big personality, bellowing over a conference room table. Instead, we're all here on the screen, same size box, same volume, and we can have more egalitarian discussions that way.
Courtney Burns 39:36
I agree with everything you just said. And it's interesting because I also think it was able to shift some of the perceptions of— there were a lot of people that felt like you had to be in the office to do great work. And some people that have circumstances beyond that, or even as you were just saying in other locations like, we're able to hire them, we can actually open up the position and say, is this open for remote work once we return to a work environment. But it's changed the perspective of a lot of people that work at the company that you don't have to be sitting in a physical office to do great work, and it's accomplishable anywhere.
Janet Hefferan 40:16
(inaudible) As our teams go remote, our CEO is concerned that our employees are taking advantage of the hours they are being paid to do non-work activities. He would like to install a software that tracks productivity through tracking idle time, the software people are using, etc. I think implementing this tool will cause a huge negative shift in our culture. How do you communicate empowerment while still needing to be a results-driven company without micromanaging? How do you communicate this to CEOs? That's a juicy one.
Moses Balian 40:45
Oh, you coach your managers on better performance management. Don't track mouse clicks. Come on. I can say more about that. I think just increasing check-ins and knowing— coaching managers how to measure effectiveness and performance is crucial. I'm sure others have some things to say about that.
Janet Hefferan 41:04
And I would challenge, you know, just from my point of view, I would also challenge whomever that individual is or that wants to do that, to really ask what productivity is being lost or what is not— what deliverables are not being met, and dive a little deeper into that and understand why they're not being met, rather than putting in a tracking mechanism. Because to me, there is probably something more significant there than loss of productivity. And there's probably a reason why that productivity has gone down. And really understanding what the crux of the issue is before just finding a solution to say "I, you know, I think my employees are taking advantage." You know, I come from a position and I've always worked in organizations where there's trust. And so the trust is that you know, you get that long leash until you prove that you can't have it. And so you really need to put some facts to it as to, you know, why the leash may be pulling back. And so that's what I would challenge whomever is thinking about that to do.
Yeah, I agree wholeheartedly with all of those answers, right? Considering a renewed focus on diversity, equity, and inclusion, what are the ways a job seeker can measure or test whether the culture is indeed inclusive, rather than DEI just being a nice talking point for the company.
Jennifer Ruza 42:35
I mean, again, I'll jump in here and from my, you know, my experience and my point of view, deciding what organization to join is just as much of an interview process for a candidate as it is for the organization to go through. And so make sure that somebody is doing their due diligence, you know, finding out and seeking out others that work there and asking those tough questions during the interview process and making sure that you're— you know exactly what those answers that you want to hear are, and that you can really probe further if you're not hearing what you want from a hiring manager or the hiring team. In fact, at Vayner, we're talking about creating a program that is called, like a talent magnet program, where we have a group of individuals across the organization from a variety of diverse backgrounds, who will be part of an interview process, even if they're not going to be working directly with the candidate or on the team. So that, you know, employees coming in can really get a feel of the entire organizational culture. And again, not just that silo that they're going to be coming in and working with and that immediate team that they'll be working with, and so you can really get different perspectives from employees, you know, across the office and across the globe, really, as you build out a program like that.
Courtney Burns 44:00
To piggyback on Jennifer, I completely agree. For us, we started at the recruiting end of the process. We took a look around after, you know, we had been working on this since, I want to say, last December. And we wanted to make sure that we were tapping into the entire agency. And so what we did was we did a recruiting training, where we basically called out— it's a DN&I recruiting training. And we launched it to the entire company, we went office by office, and we showed them our process because it turned into a situation where people said we don't have as diverse of a workforce as we'd like, and we're like, okay, but that's on the agency as a whole. Are your teams, you know— are you creating the space for opportunity, people who may not have had this experience before? Are you open to hiring somebody with potential? Are you looking at it that way? What are your interview teams look like? Are they, you know— are— will people see themselves in this team, and if not, are you doing a cross-discipline interview so that you are showing people that they will be working with other people, and it's not just like-for-like? And so we did this in an interesting way where we actually measure our internal baselines. So every single requisition that we open up, we tell the hiring manager their exact makeup of their team. And we can tell them, you know, what they might need, we'll call out right away, like, you have, you know, this team is primarily white at the director level and above. So we break it out by location, by level, and by discipline. And then we give them that information. And it's really a call-out so that we all hold ourselves accountable so that we're changing the landscape of that team. And then we actually did something really cool right before this meeting. I had a global meeting where we asked our entire agency to start sourcing talent and it was to go through their LinkedIn profiles, and we taught them how to go through them and you know, where else to be looking, and groups to be joining for anybody who may have been pushed out of our industry. That they may have worked with before, or somebody they've seen speak at a conference that inspired them. And we built a tracker. And the idea was all-around diversity. Yes, we want all candidates that you feel would be an amazing fit for the agency. But this was a specific moment, it is an hour of a month that we asked all employees to join. And even if they can't, they can just fill out the survey, it auto-populates into something and then that's starting to build our pipelines. So we can actually— we have a pipeline, so when an urgent rec opens up, we can't say we didn't have time to make a diverse hire here. That should never be the case. We need to have a pipeline of candidates and then that ultimately is going to impact our culture, and how people see Huge and why you want to come to Huge. Like, we already know it's a systemic industry situation. So we're trying to change that by the hires that we make so that future hires feel supported and see themselves within the landscape of the company.
Moses Balian 46:55
I used to come from advertising, HR and advertising, Courtney, the best thing I can recommend, easiest thing, pay your interns really well, because advertising and PR have such representation problems. If you pay your interns a living wage, it starts there. They get in the door, they come back to your agency when they graduate, and now they're the future leaders of your organizations. Pay your interns.
Courtney Burns 47:18
Love that, I love it.
Janet Hefferan 47:20
Pay your interns. Alright, the next question we have up is how do you deal with employees that over time have displayed a gradual separation from your company culture? A lack of engagement, how do you guys address it? Particularly being remote.
Katie Sagan 47:38
I think we're not afraid to have the conversation with employees when it starts to not be a good fit. And that's okay. They're still part of the Vayner community. We want something great for them and we encourage them to have that conversation with us. If it doesn't feel like the right fit, can we help you find something else? Gary, our CEO takes these meetings all the time. What are you interested in? What connections can I make for you? Companies evolve, especially in startups, like, annually, they become a different company, right? And it's— and we give people space to say, this isn't the right fit for me anymore. And then we say, how can we help you? Because we know you're really great. And we want to help you find the next best thing for you. And it's really good for us as well, we keep somebody in our network and who knows when our paths are going to cross again.
Jennifer Ruza 48:34
And just to add to— Sorry, Moses.
Moses Balian 48:38
Please go ahead.
Jennifer Ruza 48:40
Yeah, sorry. Just to add what Katie— to what Katie was saying, you know, Gary, our CEO really does say that he wants joining Vayner to be the best career decision that anybody has ever made. And that's whether you stay at Vayner for 10 years, or you come to Vayner and realize that it's not the right place for you, or it evolves to be not the right place for you over time. And Vayner is the one that helps you get to what that next role is that you're going to stay at for 10 or 15 years.
Janet Hefferan 49:12
Yeah, I think that's the perfect outlook to have like, you are great because we brought you on, so you must be great, so whatever you do next, let's stay connected. Considering the new ways of working, the importance for companies with intent towards high growth and nerves during layoffs, how are you thinking about or measuring for employee burnout?
Jennifer Ruza 49:39
So we don't necessarily have tools for measurement for it, but we did begin to recognize quite a while ago that, you know, people were on 9, 8 am to whatever time it was, some parents were parenting during the day and then working through the night. And you know, as Courtney alluded to before, there was a lot of Zoom fatigue. And so we really took a stance early on as an organization to ensure that our leadership was encouraging our employees to take time off. And although we know it's strange to take time off, especially early on, when you really can't go anywhere, and you may not be taking vacations, to really take a day, two days, or even a few— you know, a week off to just recharge yourself and so we did that as an organization. And, you know, I— myself and, and our Chief Heart Officer did it amongst our team and really encouraged employees to take that time off. And when they're off, really make sure that they're not being bothered during that time so that they can focus on you know, having some time to unplug.
Janet Hefferan 50:48
Alright, so we have four minutes left, there are a few more questions, maybe this could be a bit of a speed round and just have one of you answer at a time. Has Google's decision to telework through June— July 2021, impacted any of your return to work timelines? We've touched on this, it sounds like you guys are kind of taking it as it comes and taking in new information, you know, as it produces itself.
Moses Balian 51:13
Google's a huge organization. They have so many moving parts. Real estate, only one of many, A diverse employee base across geographies and demographics, I can see why that makes sense for them, for a giant corporation, simplicity sake, and then they can get everything together for their plan upon their grand return. I think for smaller organizations, they can probably— they just have more agility, they can make micro-decisions on a more frequent basis. That said, I think pushing it out— your horizon out that far is not a bad idea at all. There's a lot yet to be seen as far as case spread and vaccine development. So that timeline, decision-making aside, makes sense to me.
Janet Hefferan 51:59
When most of the employees are unhappy with the company culture and you want to improve it for them. Should you fire the managers that are causing this unhappiness? That's an interesting question. Would anyone like to take it?
Jennifer Ruza 52:16
I mean, I don't know that I could answer that question outright and say Yes, go ahead and fire everybody. But I would definitely, you know, peel back the layers of the onion and understand who may be the biggest causes of some of the unhappiness and either have conversations with them, get them coaches if it's something that's a coachable moment for them, to shift that behavior, or potentially, you know, look to exit them if it's something that's not fixable.
Janet Hefferan 52:49
I think that about covers it. All right, and the last question we have in the Q&A: What do you see happening around health and wellness with remote working? And they say sorry, we've already covered this— we have not. Have you guys any had particularly successful initiatives? It is an area where I think we've struggled internally.
Courtney Burns 53:05
It's interesting because when we were in our Brooklyn office— and all the offices had this, we had an on-site chiropractor. And it was chiropractor, it was acupuncture, and it was physical therapy. And it's really cool, it's more on them than on us, but they actually have now done— just started an in-home service. So you can have that same service and it was, you know, a $10 to the Huge employee to have this service done, so the company covered some of the cost. So from a wellness perspective there that's been, you know, really great, but I think that we've also done— that our HR team has done an incredible job of sharing all the resources in terms of what our healthcare providers are offering and what— we have United Healthcare, and they've been really great about showcasing it. So it's right there for employees to tap into whether it's, you know, booking a therapist or anything in the mental health space. We launched a— the app Comm to all employees so that we could you know, it's much like a Headspace situation where it was an online meditation app to all employees, so we bought that service as well. But different incentives like that.
Janet Hefferan 54:16
Awesome. Well, thanks. This was great. Really great takeaways for everyone. So I'd like to thank everyone again for joining us on what I'm sure was a busy Wednesday afternoon. We hope to see you soon.
Katie Sagan 54:32
Thank you. so much.
Courtney Burns 54:33