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How to build a great culture during a global meltdown

Below is an article originally written by Suzannah Radack and published on February 5, 2021. Go to PRIMER's company page on PowerToFly to see their open positions and learn more.

Recently, Primer was named one of the Best Midsize Companies to Work For in the Bay Area. This was our first time making it on this list, and I'm especially proud because it happened in 2020 - a year when we needed to push outside our comfort zone and think innovatively about our culture.

As I reflect on how we got here, a few things stand out as being particularly impactful. Sudden changes in context forced us to reimagine every aspect of our culture, and redesign it with intention. Here are five things we got right in 2020:

We embraced change and looked for opportunities.

  • We saw COVID early, so we were prepared and the transition to remote work was relatively seamless. We made sure our employees were set up to be productive and successful by offering them an allowance for home office set-up, and a $75 monthly stipend throughout 2020.
  • We asked ourselves "How can Primer become an engine of job growth in 2020?" Looking for the opportunity in a dark moment changed the conversation. We didn't want to simply survive; we wanted to thrive. We decided we'd fight to win and oriented the team toward this goal. Following early successes, we fulfilled our goal of becoming an engine of job growth and onboarded more than 50 people in the latter half of 2020.
  • We got creative about designing cultural moments that worked even better in a virtual world. We trained the whole company simultaneously on Unconscious Bias and Coaching by video conference. We also held a virtual Customer Day with inspiring panelists like Tony Thomas, Sue Gordon, Dash Jamieson, and Kim Kagan. It would have been expensive and logistically impossible for a small company like Primer to host events like these in person.

We doubled down on our mission.

  • Primer creates the tools behind the decisions that change the world. Every day, our users are busy defending democracy, looking for cures to COVID-19, and guiding companies with our technology. When we're hiring, we screen for people who are passionate about this mission, and the result is a culture of grit, purpose, and excitement about the future.
  • We used our technology to help the world in a crisis. When COVID-19 struck, our team asked, "How can we help?" Over one weekend, a small group of engineers built to help doctors, scientists and researchers keep on top of the rapidly proliferating research on COVID. It was intensely gratifying when we received thank you notes from the people on the front lines, saving lives.

We cared for our people.

  • While the country was in lockdown, Primates made the best of it by working around the clock to build and sell our products. There was a lot of energy and progress, but no one was taking time to disconnect or renew. In addition, we were carrying a heavy emotional burden worrying about economic and health security, vulnerable relatives, systemic racism, loneliness, homeschooling, and wildfires. Work was a welcome distraction from the world around us, but the pace and intensity was unsustainable. The 'new normal' had created the perfect conditions for burnout. We decided we needed to disrupt the pattern. In May, we announced a company-wide Mental Health day to encourage self-care. Everyone turned off at the same time on the same day, and we encouraged them to share photos of how they found joy. It was so successful that we scheduled monthly Mental Health Days for the rest of 2020. We shared the benefits of our approach with other companies, and saw others follow our lead and adopt the same practice.
  • We adapted our routines to accommodate employees facing the biggest challenges. For example, parents were struggling to manage homeschooling while working 9am-5pm. We used a company's all hands to highlight the problem, and our CEO Sean Gourley set the expectation that it was on all of us to help each other by adjusting our usual schedules to accommodate homeschooling duties, giving colleagues space and comfort when their kids walked in on calls, and covering for parents when they were double-booked. This 'permission' changed the cultural dynamic and added a new lightness.
  • We found virtual ways to celebrate diversity. We hosted impactful employee-led events to build education and awareness around Pride, the history of racial injustice in America, and Native American Heritage Month. We highlighted important muti-cultural holidays at all hands and celebrated our differences.

We articulated how to be successful

  • After adapting our strategy to COVID, we quickly reprioritized and communicated new company OKRs. By articulating what success was going to look like in 2020, we freed our team to take charge of their own destiny.
  • With so much uncertainty, we wanted our team to know we saw a future for them at Primer. We invested in building out career ladders and training every manager to set growth goals for their people to give them a path for advancement. This provided structure during uncertain times.

We connected and listened to each other in new ways

  • Without in-person touchpoints, we needed technology to connect our people and business goals. We have a real-time pulse on how people are feeling and working.
  • We implemented Lattice to track OKRs, run employee pulse surveys, and manage performance.
  • We connected socially through fun Slack pop-up channels like #thejoyofcooking, #lets-socialize, and #petsofprimer to share glimpses into our personal lives from afar, and Donut to pair up randomly for getting to know you chats.
  • We used Clockwise to boost productivity and optimize our calendars.
  • Zenefits helped us do virtual onboarding seamlessly, and structure the first 90 days to ensure every manager and new hire are having the right check-in conversations at the right time.

We ended the year by giving our colleagues a holiday gift that was symbolic of everything we'd been through together - a Lego International Spacestation kit to build with their loved ones. Puzzles are a quirky and fun part of our culture, and we wanted to give them a puzzle that forced them to get off their screens, build something with their hands, and find joy with the people who supported their careers at Primer all year. We're proud we built a great place to work during the strangest of times, and we're sharing what we got right in hopes other companies can benefit.

If you want to join us and continue to evolve our culture, we're hiring!


How These Companies Are Celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month

According to a recent study, anti-Asian hate crimes have risen 150% since the pandemic started. But these acts of violence are not new — they are part of a much larger history of anti-Asian racism and violence in the U.S.

That makes celebrating Asian American and Pacific Islander Heritage Month (which was named a month-long celebration in May by Congress in 1992 "to coincide with two important milestones in Asian/Pacific American history: the arrival in the United States of the first Japanese immigrants on May 7, 1843 and contributions of Chinese workers to the building of the transcontinental railroad, completed May 10, 1869") this year all the more important.


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When Anuja Chaven turns on a fan in her house in Jersey City, she can't help but think about how every piece of it works.

"There are an extensive amount of things that have to go perfectly at the same time," says the former engineer (and current product manager at live event ticketing platform SeatGeek).

It was that interest in understanding how things actually worked that drove Anuja to study engineering—first electrical, during her undergrad in India, and then computer science, during her master's program in the U.S.


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Being fully committed to work and family is a challenge that many working parents have to take on. It can be exhausting and thankless pursuing a fulfilling full-time career, while taking an active role as a parent. Achieving a healthy balance can help keep you motivated and productive at work, while allowing you to be fully present when you're home.

We recently chatted with working moms at technology skills platform, Pluralsight, about their best advice for striking that elusive work-life balance. Here were their key points:


How to Make the Most of Being on a Growing Team: 3 Tips from Plex’s Adriana Bosinceanu

When the startup Adriana Bosinceanu was working for got acquired, things changed fast.

She went from being one of eight engineers on a small team building a streaming service to joining a company that was five times larger and had a much bigger scope.

That company was Plex, where Adriana has been working remotely as a software engineer for the last four and a half years.

As her team grew from two people to ten, Adriana decided to lean into the opportunity to grow; along the way, she found herself deepening her technical skills, her self-confidence, and her relationships. We sat down with Adriana to learn exactly how she did that, and to hear the tips she has for other engineers experiencing growth opportunities on their team.


What These Companies Are Doing to Celebrate Juneteenth 2021

*Updated on June 17th, 2021 to reflect Juneteenth officially being named a Federal Holiday in the U.S.*

Juneteenth has been celebrated by African-Americans since the late 1800s, but in recent years (particularly in response to global protests over police brutality and the deaths of George Floyd, Ahmaud Arbery, Breonna Taylor, and other Black Americans), there has been a surge in interest in the day that celebrates freedom.

Before it became an official federal holiday, many businesses shifted toward marking June 19th as an annual company holiday, creating different initiatives around the holiday and offering employees opportunities to learn, reflect, and take action toward racial equality.

© Rebelmouse 2020