Creating a Real Culture of Openness

This article was published in the Summer 2020 issue

by Marie-Reine Pugh, BambooHR

It’s tempting to look back on 2019 with rose-colored glasses. We didn’t have to wear masks to go out, we weren’t worried about our loved ones getting sick, and we blithely went to work, taking for granted the daily interactions and camaraderie of a typical office environment.

For many of us, those in-person interactions are now out the door. While working in tech has been advantageous in that many of us have been able to keep working remotely, we’ve also added new words to our vocabulary, like Zoom fatigue, which hint at the exhaustion of work and life inextricably blending together.

What we keep calling “the new normal” brings along a lot of uncertainty. How do you recreate the casual, incidental contact of a workplace in an atmosphere where any call feels like it has to have a defined purpose? How do you ensure that people feel included as a part of your organization, even when they’re not at your normal workplace every day? At BambooHR, we’re still trying to answer these questions, too. But we’ve been advocates of company culture since day one, and we believe that culture––specifically one that puts employee well-being first––is going to be a big part of the solution going forward.

Dig Deep to Find Your Company Culture

If you’ve depended on a physical office to build esprit de corps, it’s easy to feel lost during this crisis. Maybe you miss the hubbub and conviviality of your open office layout or the way your lunchtime volleyball games helped people come out of their shells. Even as businesses open back up, restrictions remain in place that may bar these kinds of physical interactions.

To keep a good work culture going without those specific activities you have to strip the meaning of culture back to its core. Cassie Whitlock, director of HR at BambooHR, counsels that, “Now more than ever, how you treat people in the work setting is the core aspect of company culture.” To successfully put employee well-being first and maintain a positive company culture, though, you have to be intentional about adapting formal programs as well as those more casual interactions.

For example, one of our most popular benefits at BambooHR is our Paid Paid Vacation, which makes it possible for employees to take a vacation and have some (or all, depending on the vacation) of their expenses covered with a vacation-specific stipend. But when COVID-19 hit, a lot of things turned upside-down, including any upcoming vacation plans. In the current economic climate, it would be easy for any executive team to put a program like Paid Paid Vacation on hold for multiple reasons. But BambooHR’s senior leadership decided to keep it intact in the form of a cash bonus, making it clear they view employee well-being and work-life balance as a top priority.

On the more informal side of things, we have countless anecdotes of teams actively and purposefully creating opportunities to bond with each other and check-in with one another. The creative team has an informal “water cooler” virtual meeting twice a week around lunchtime. Anyone is free to join the conference call to talk about movies, video games, or anything else. The training team has been doing a question of the day––serious, insightful, or silly––through chat, which helps them stay connected while building the team’s culture of trust and openness. Other teams report doing similar daily, virtual check-ins. These keep them connected to their teammates and engaged even as they work from home.

Stay Human and Be Open

In a recent interview on LinkedIn Live, Ryan Sanders, co-founder, and COO of BambooHR, talked about what he thinks businesses will learn from the pandemic. “Hopefully,” he mused, “we can keep the humanity in business.” On the lighter side, that means acknowledging that people have dogs, cats, and children who sometimes bust in on video calls. From the many weeks of navigating this new and somewhat more spontaneous reality, we know we can make it work––what’s more, and this is Ryan’s point, it helps us appreciate the human side of the digital faces on our screens.

On the more serious side, staying human means staying open, especially as a leadership team. It’s easy to get lazy with communication when you’re not seeing each other on a daily basis, but that’s what makes it even more important to keep everyone informed, so employees aren’t worrying about what will happen going forward.

One of our values at BambooHR is “Be Open,” and we’ve kept that up during the COVID-19 craziness by not only shifting communication online but amplifying it and increasing the frequency. Our HR team sends out email updates every week on how employees can keep safe and healthy. We still have our monthly company update meeting and monthly department meetings. Additionally, the leadership team also sends out a weekly recorded video message, with each senior leader taking a turn to keep the company informed on the rationale and decision-making taking place in different areas of the business.

We Can All Do Better

At another point in the discussion, Ryan characterized one aspect of BambooHR culture that stands out in his mind: “It’s not perfect, but I think it’s the thing that’s different for us that people notice. We acknowledge our mistakes and we make changes. We certainly can’t do all things—we stay pretty focused and try to chip away at those things a little at a time, but that cycle of constant improvement really inspires us and hopefully inspires our team.”

BambooHR has already made shifts to adapt to the pandemic by moving most of our operations remotely during its start; we’ve opted to keep our offices mostly empty for now and are evaluating the best way to reopen while keeping employees safe. On the business side, we’ve leaned into our values to sustain us and keep us driving forward. We’ve chosen one of our values, “Make it Count” as the company theme for 2020.

On the human side, as Ryan mentioned, there’s always room for improvement. Our culture is inviting and inclusive, but we’re working hard to put in more structure and programs to better support our employees and maintain the atmosphere of openness and friendliness that makes BambooHR special.

In our quiet little corner of Lindon, Utah, we’re sometimes insulated from the larger national stage, but that doesn’t mean we can’t do our part to make things better for people when they come to work. Other BambooHR values include: “Grow from Good to Great, Do the Right Thing, and Lead from Where You Are.” For us in the current context, these values mean we can always do better, and taking care of our employees so they can be their best selves is how we can make a difference right now.

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*Read the latest issue of Silicon Slopes Magazine, Fall 2020GhostMagazine-cover---Summer-2020-3
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