This is a guest post by Dina Rulli, the SVP of people operations at Classy.
The year 2020 has been filled with unprecedented experiences for all organizations, including the shift to remote work, participating in and growing through a social justice movement, and navigating the reality of many dealing with health and mental health challenges. At Classy, we’ve been stumbling through these together, learning from and supporting each other throughout it all.
As we close out the year, I am proud to look at Classy’s culture and can’t help but feel that we didn’t just survive; in many ways we are thriving. Classy is a tight community of team members who are lucky enough to call each other friends, not just co-workers. I see employees still cheer each other on, participate in hard but important conversations, and genuinely care about each other. This shows up in how we support and build for our nonprofit customers, who are the beneficiaries of a happy, engaged, and supported staff.
While we have more to learn and plenty to do, we took this moment to compile the strategies that helped us put our employees first and share them with others who are looking to do the same. Whether you’re a nonprofit organization or for-profit business, use these to inform and enhance the way you engage and prioritize your staff during uncertain periods and beyond.
1. Communicate Regularly and Consistently
A lot happened at the beginning of the pandemic when the world entered into the unknown. We were suddenly working from home, COVID-19 cases were spiking, companies were doing layoffs, the stock market was tumbling, and fear was taking over. We quickly realized we needed to be proactive with our staff-wide communications. The only constant for many of our employees was that they could show up to work each day. We needed to be a steady hand and a place where they could be reassured and kept informed.
We decided to set up an almost-daily cadence where our CEO or a People Team member sent a communication to employees. It became something employees could expect and lean on. We based our communications on what was happening in the world and what our staff was most concerned about. We gave updates on:
- The financial state of the business
- The latest updates on COVID-19
- The local government guidance
- Company happenings
- Tips for remote work, like finding balance, setting up your desk, being productive
- And finally, we hosted regular Q&A, where employees could submit questions for our executive team to answer
As we’ve settled into our new work from home rhythm, we’ve moved these communications to bi-weekly or monthly, but we prioritize them because staff depend on it, and it’s a way for all of us to be on the same page and stay informed.
2. Bring in External Experts
Never before had we dealt with a pandemic, a volatile election year, and racial and social unrest, all at the same time. Our staff needed to process through many emotions and also feel reassured that during this time of uncertainty, they (and we, as a company) were moving forward. We brought back our Monthly Development Series, which are sessions that are open to all staff and touch on employees’ personal and professional development. We bring in outside experts to speak on various topics, such as:
- Achieving effective and satisfying work-from-home routines
- Financial wellness
- Mindfulness and meditation
Like so many, the Classy staff was very unsettled with the racial and social unrest that occurred this past summer. Classy wants to be a part of the conversation and also part of the solution, so we reached out to a member of our community, Dr. Atira Charles, to help lead us through a guided conversation on diversity, equity, and inclusion. We had a raw and inspiring conversation with Dr. Charles that allowed us to process and share in a safe environment.
The session was such a success that we invited her back again during the election season for a non-partisan discussion on identity awareness, emotion management, and community building in crisis. We understood what an emotionally charged and important time it was, and we wanted to support our employees in feeling like they could bring their authentic selves to work, but also engage in respectful dialogue that creates inclusivity rather than divisiveness. The conversation allowed for Classy employees to share and speak while receiving input, insight, and guidance from Dr. Charles.
3. Create a Safe Space
Almost immediately after we shifted to working from home, we created a recurring internal event called #ThursdayThrives. This time creates space for team members to discuss what they’re facing and receive support from their colleagues. It’s a confidential, supportive space where we’ve helped console each other through illness, parenting struggles, family issues, societal unrest, and more. No topic is off the table and it’s truly a special space of support where one can come to be heard and consoled.
While #ThursdayThrives is completely optional, we have seen anywhere from 10 to 80 attendees per event, depending on the topic. While every session is different and team members are able to speak about whatever they are struggling with or what is bringing them joy, a couple of sessions really stand out to me. In June, after the killings of George Floyd, Breonna Taylor, and Ahmaud Arbery, we came together and had a vulnerable discussion on “supporting each other through injustice.” After the passing of Ruth Bader Ginsburg, we dedicated a session to the “celebration of womxn and RBG.” Other topics have included adaptability, silver linings, and radical acceptance.
No two sessions are ever the same, and while you don’t know what you may be compelled to share or how a co-worker’s sharing may affect you, you know that you will leave with more gratitude, more support, and more connection.
4. Make Decisions and Communicate Early
With so much uncertainty in 2020, we wanted to provide clarity wherever we could in order to remove some stress from our employees’ plates. Initially we intended to be back in the office by September. By August, and with no real plan (or need—one of the benefits of being a technology company) to return, we realized that employees were feeling anxious and out of the loop. We accepted that COVID-19 was not going away anytime soon, so we made the decision to communicate that we would be working remotely until at least the end of June 2021.
In hindsight, the decision seems obvious, but we were working with limited information and by this point our staff was divided in their feelings on working from home—half were thriving in the remote environment and half were feeling isolated and lonely. It wasn’t easy letting those folks know they would need to wait another year before we could be back together again.
However, we knew this was the right decision because it took into account the unique needs of our employees, including parents who were now homeschooling teachers, employees who were living alone and who wanted to get roommates, or those who wanted to move home to be closer to family—the list goes on. There are so many scenarios that we couldn’t attempt to solve each individually, and we felt that giving employees an over 10-month look into the future gave them the ability to make travel or living arrangements, and remove any unknown that could have been causing anxiety.
At Classy, we are fundraisers first. We are also a San Diego-based company, and we felt compelled to act locally and support our community in need due to COVID-19. Staying true to our stakeholder commitment to the local community, we decided to launch a campaign that our employees could rally behind.
Enter the San Diego Relief Fund, comprised of a collection of amazing local nonprofits tackling the pandemic from a variety of synergetic angles. This was a first-of-its-kind fundraising campaign where every donation was equally divided among six nonprofits in our local San Diego community. Our staff came together and rallied their friends and families to raise $60,000 for these nonprofits that support some of the most vulnerable populations in our local community.
As someone who participated in fundraising, I can tell you firsthand that engaging my friends and family to donate to this cause and help our vulnerable populations allowed me to not feel as helpless in a situation that I had no way of controlling. I was not alone in this feeling and our employees shared that taking action allowed them to reconnect to Classy’s mission and reassert their “why” for choosing to work here. Although we could not physically be together, we could virtually do good together.
As we look ahead to 2021, many of us are still reeling from current challenges and are unsure of what the future holds, but we continue to hold on to hope for treatment and for the ability to hug friends and family soon. At the end of the day, all we can control is how we show up for each other. When you can, continue to show up for your people and when you can’t show up, ask others to show up for you. Love each other, give grace, and take time when you need it.
While we at Classy continue to navigate how we can best show up for our teams, if you could use help figuring out how to show up for your team members, please reach out. The team at Classy and I are always available to brainstorm or simply offer a listening ear.
A Leader’s Guide to Motivating Employees
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