Culture in the Time of Covid-19
When I began writing this entry on culture in the time of Covid-19, I initially had a doom and gloom outlook on the future of organizational culture. However, through deeper insight and conversations with colleagues and clients, I realized that the pandemic has instead provided an opportunity for companies. This time and the challenges brought with it have provided organizations a cultural diagnostic in and of itself. The measures companies have taken to address Covid-19 put a microscope on culture that exposes things more visibly than ever before. Think about how you have defined your culture and look back at the past year. Is your organization’s definition of culture still reflected in your workforce?
In our model of organizational culture at Collective Insights, culture is an interconnected system of elements that carry the instructions for company growth, development, and day-to-day functioning. Of the six elements, place is a key component of the system, and place has been substantially altered for most of us since March. “Place” is the geography, architecture, aesthetic design, and physical location of your organization that inherently impacts the values and behaviors of people in your workplace. However, our new “workplace” during the pandemic is within the confines of an individual’s home or a transformed space that adheres to the restrictions of Covid-19. It is no longer the shared, in-person location we traditionally identified as the work-“place”. Since organizational culture is an interconnected system of elements, this dramatic shift in place puts significant strain on the five other elements:
- Behaviors – those actions that the company encourages, discourages, accepts, or rejects
- People – the individuals we work with, hire, and retain
- Values – a set of beliefs held by the company that explicitly define expected behaviors for how work is done
- Purpose – the company’s “reason-for-being”
- Stories – those narratives shared and passed down by employees
When nurtured the right way, these elements can align successfully with your strategy to create a powerful combination. Right now, all companies have had to develop strategies to deal with the operational, financial, and human capital (e.g. employee fatigue) strains that have arisen due to the pandemic. In concert, leadership is faced with the stark reality of whether or not their Covid-19 strategy is consistent with the values and purpose of their company culture.
Make a deliberate effort to focus on your company’s purpose and values. Do your current actions and decisions align with your purpose and values?
Consider if leadership decisions and actions, especially in handling the impact of the pandemic, reflect the purpose and values that define your company’s culture. Is your company doing what it says it believes in? Are leadership behaviors, especially in decision making, reflecting what they say their culture stands for?
Have there been actions or decisions that conflict with your organization’s purpose and values?
If so, how can you address these contradictions in leadership behaviors and the impact such actions have had on the “current” culture (i.e. cultural climate) in comparison to the culture the company says it upholds? This is key to prevent lost trust from your employees and customers.
How can leadership avoid making these contradictions in future decisions and actions?
If you cannot avoid these contradictory decisions to keep your business operating, then address each decision with upfront communications that incorporate the language, tone, and spirit of your culture and values.
Show empathy, transparency, and awareness of the conflicts. Bring your customers and employees along the journey with you, to help them see why leadership had to make the difficult decisions they did, and hopefully maintain (or even grow) their trust in your organization along the way.
Leaders should act as “advocates” of your company values and exhibit these in their communications and actions as frequently and consistently as possible.
What is the story being imprinted on the “organizational mind” of your company right now? Is it the narrative you want to be shared and passed down in the coming years?
Write the story taking place right now the way you want it to be remembered. There is no doubt this moment in time, and the way it is handled, will be personally remembered for years to come. This 2020 narrative will be imprinted on the “organizational mind” forever – passed down by current, previous, and potential employees and customers.
How are employees interacting in this new virtual environment? Are new mediums and cadences being put in place, and do they effectively bring your culture and values to life?
Redesign your company’s “socialization process” to take advantage of the current all-virtual environment. Bring employees together from across the organizational hierarchy to talk about the culture, what is going well and not well, so they are able to get to truly know colleagues from across the company. This redesign facilitates exposure to a wider, more varied set of experiences in understanding your company.
Research has shown that culture is more about shared values – making sure all employees believe they share the same organizational culture – than physical artifacts and place. All-remote companies argue that their model is more effective in communicating and facilitating shared values across the organization than in the in-person model, claiming how seldom a coincidental watercooler chat will occur between individuals on another floor or building.
This year and all of the challenges brought with it have put the magnifying glass on leadership action and the culture that is truly being upheld within organizations. Use this time to reflect on your organization and better understand how your culture manifests itself within the workforce. For instance, if your organization claims to foster collaboration and initiatives, and you see ad hoc teams popping up, then your people and their behaviors are reflecting the values defined within your culture. However, if you see aspects of your people, stories and behaviors that do not reflect your organization’s definition of culture, it is time to reevaluate and take serious consideration of if and how your culture is being upheld during this shift in environment and working conditions.
Consider, if the challenge is maintaining your current company culture in this new normal or if the challenge is tweaking, or even reinventing, your culture to meet the new normal. If you are a leader, use the guide above to steer through the evaluation and solutioning process. If you are a current or prospective employee, use this guide to assess the organization’s handling of culture in one of the most challenging times in our history. You decide if their approach aligns with the values, purpose, and stories written on the walls, website, and employee handbook purported by the leadership and company itself.
Supporting Parents and Employees During a Pandemic: A Conversation with Smartsheet’s Victoria Azzaline
Back in June, Victoria Azzaline hit the limit on her patience.
Her house was in disarray, her partner was traveling for work and she was solo parenting their five-year-old and two-year-old, who were acting out, and she was in the middle of taking back-to-back meetings from her makeshift home office.
"I was angry. I felt as though in that moment, they knew better and knew I needed to work," says Victoria. "But after giving it thought, I was able to recognize that they just needed my attention. They just needed time and I couldn't give it in that moment." That was an opportunity, she now realizes, to recognize her own boundaries and figure out how she could show up for and balance two key roles—being a Senior HR Business Partner at SaaS company Smartsheet and being a mom.
We talked to Victoria about parenting during a pandemic, the role HR can play in supporting employees in times of crisis, and tips to help parents and non-parents alike adapt to extended blurred boundaries between work and home.
Adapting work during times of change
As a Senior HR Business Partner, Victoria occasionally worked from home in pre-pandemic times but was otherwise working from Smartsheet's Bellevue, WA, headquarters. Her job was to support the organization's Worldwide Field Operations teams across their people needs, from career growth and performance management to strategic planning.
That's still her job, but it looks a little different nowadays.
"We've come a long way in trying to navigate our way through it. Early on we were in a state of being reactive versus proactive, which is a different way for us to function," she says of her team's approach.
"We're doing everything we can to make sure employees know about resources available to them"—including Smartsheet's options for flexible schedules and home office equipment resources —"and focusing on a 'people first' mentality, which is very much part of our culture anyway, but now more than ever we're seeing that come through," says Victoria.
She's also making herself available to employees who need to vent or commiserate. Her number of one-on-ones has gone way up.
"We want people to know that we will figure out the right solution [for them]. It's not a matter of making their situation fit into outdated models, but instead it's meeting them with their needs and being supportive during this time," she says.
Sometimes this means helping employees meet their needs in a very tangible way. "With the continuing impacts of COVID-19, Smartsheet recognized that their employees needed to balance work and life in a new way. To help alleviate some of these challenges, in September all global employees were provided a premium Care.com membership so they can search for and post jobs to find child caregivers, adult caregivers, special needs caregivers, tutors, pet sitters, housekeepers, and more," explains Victoria.
On navigating dissolved boundaries between work and home
Victoria used to commute at least an hour each way to and from work every day. "That was a transition time to switch on or off from workplace to home life," she says. "Now, I'll log off from a meeting and walk out of my office and suddenly I'm a mom. And there's zero opportunity to transition or to clear your head."
Now that the line between work and home is basically nonexistent, she's had to remind herself to treat herself with grace—and she encourages other working parents to do the same.
"If you need to take a minute after your last meeting to decompress before you shift into the other mode, give yourself that space to do so. Give yourself permission," she says. "Just allow yourself to be how you are right now, without the expectation of who you used to be—forget the idea of this is 'me' at work, this is 'me' at home. Because those lines are so blurry, we need to just be present as we are now, rather than trying to fulfill our previous idea of what that should've looked like."
On parenting through a pandemic
Dividing her time between her children and her work has been hard on both Victoria and her kids, particularly when her husband has had to travel for his work. "They don't know me as an HR business partner at Smartsheet. They know me as their mother. So when I'm not able to fully lean into that role for them, it's challenging. I can see it on their faces and their body language, just how it impacts them. That part's been especially difficult to balance," she says.
Having as much of a schedule as possible has helped mitigate the struggle of balancing parenting and work, says Victoria. This fall presented a new layer of complexity with many school districts in Washington state adopting a remote-only structure. "Carving out dedicated time for specific activities has always been important, but now with adding in the day-to-day management of classes and curriculum needs, we're incredibly dependent on having a clearly defined schedule of events for the week." she says. "Prior to school starting back up, I liked to map out a game plan in advance, even if it evaporated throughout the day. At least knowing I had an understanding of where my opportunities were to connect with my kids was helpful in allowing me to be able to shift in the moment if I needed to."
It hasn't all been hard; Victoria has enjoyed getting closer to her kids' everyday experiences and spending extra time with them during the day. "I'm getting a firsthand look at exactly where they're at in life, from what's troubling them to where they're showing new and stronger areas of interest. And getting to have lunch together or go on a midday bike ride are experiences and memories we'll be able to look back on from this time," she says.
As she continues to figure out how to balance her different roles, Victoria's remembering to support other parents. "I think we all need to continue to hold each other up and not be critical of one another," she says.
While extra time with her kids has been invaluable, says Victoria, she's excited to connect with coworkers in person, once it's safe to do so. "I'm looking forward to fully engaging in my work again. To be in that mindset without having in the back of my mind, 'What's happening in the playroom? What are my kids doing right now? Is my house torn apart?'"
She hopes to take some of the learnings she's come to about balancing work and family with her. "We're all going through this and have this opportunity to take inventory of the areas that we were not feeling great about before," she says. "We can see where we'd like to make permanent adjustments or carry things forward into the future as things kind of shift back into work and home separation. What types of behaviors and boundaries do we want to continue to hold for ourselves and to establish?"
If you're interested in learning more about Smartsheet, including their open roles, head here. And if you have questions or comments for Victoria, leave those in the comments!
The pandemic's impact on collaborative software company Quip's technical recruiting team started slowly.
First, their roster of engineering interviewers started to dwindle as rising concerns about COVID-19 led some of them to start working from home in January and February, remembers technical recruiter Grace Kim. "We needed to rethink how we conducted our onsite interviews with a limited pool," she says.
Then, things came to a head in early March, when Quip—and their parent company Salesforce—went fully remote.
Alan Leung, Quip's senior manager of technical recruiting, was in Tahoe with his wife and two friends when he got the news. "We talked through our emotions, how anxious we felt, what we needed to stock up on, and what it would mean to be and feel safe this year," he says. "And then the recruiting team immediately communicated the news to our active candidates."
The rush to move onsite interviews online, cancel travel confirmations, and keep candidates informed throughout the process was a scramble, and Alan credits Quip's dedicated recruiting coordinator for finding a way of making it all happen.
But that was just the start of the challenges and adaptations Alan's team was headed towards.
During these last nine months, Quip's technical recruiting team has had to redesign itself and its workflows over and over again. First, they created an all-remote hiring process. Then, when hiring slowed down as the business determined its changing headcount needs, they figured out how to pause that process while preserving candidate experience. Later, they ramped hiring back up again to meet growing demand. And through it all, they invested in bettering their processes, like by cleaning up their data and stepping up their blog game, and in deepening their bench of skills, going so far as to lend their team members out to other business-critical projects.
Along the way, their recruiting team has figured out how to be an agile, adaptable team—and also gotten an up-close, expert look at what the future of virtual technical recruiting looks like. Here, we've gathered their top tips for technical interviewees so that candidates can benefit from their hard-earned knowledge.
9 tips from Quip's technical recruiters on having a good remote technical interview
1. Use your network. If you're eyeing a role at a specific company, go ahead and see if you know anyone who can help make an introduction, says Quip technical recruiter Stephen Gavney. "Referrals can be such a powerful tool, so if you know someone who knows someone at a company you are interested in...use them!"
Tooba Qadri, a Quip senior technical recruiter, agrees, and notes that it's a good idea to be networking even if your dream company doesn't have any open roles listed. "Even if a company you like isn't hiring right now, still connect with people there—you never know when a position might open up," she says.
2. Ask for what you need. Tooba highlighted the fact that Quip is offering to set up interviews over several days so that candidates can more easily balance the load (and the resultant Zoom fatigue). "We understand that lots of people currently have other things going on in their personal lives so it's hard for them to do back-to-back interviewing," she says, noting that the scheduling process is a good way to see if the company has a flexible approach to work-life balance.
3. Triple-check your setup. Alan suggests making sure your computer is fully updated several days before the interview so that no last-minute software updates derail you on the day of. He also recommends an external camera if you have one, since they provide better image quality, and plugged-in headphones versus wireless ones in case your connection drops.
4. Look sharp. "Even though we might not be in the office, still dress like you are going into the interview," reminds Tooba. Check with your recruiter ahead of time if the company has a specific dress code, and even if they say they're casual, don't show up in a t-shirt. Aim for a nice sweater or blouse instead.
5. Consider your body language. "There's no more firm handshake!" says Tooba. Instead, she recommends conveying confidence through direct eye contact.
6. Continue to ask questions. "Especially about how remote life has been for the people at the company," suggests Tooba. "Seeing what other people have to say will give you an idea into the company life and it will show that you are curious to learn more. Remember, even if we are interviewing you for the role, you should also be interviewing us to make sure it's a good fit!"
Alan notes that interviewees should be especially prepared for virtual interviews and come with meaningful questions. "Show that you have a thorough understanding of the company's mission, values, and culture and be prepared to speak to how your experience aligns with the team's goals," he says.
7. Take advantage of your surroundings. "While virtual interviewing does have its limitations, it also has its unique opportunities!" says Grace. "Feel free to pepper your screen with notes or prompts that you can refer to occasionally when you need a quick reminder, as long as it doesn't look like you're reading verbatim." If you're using your phone as a notes screen or timer, though, make sure you have the sound off, notes Alan.
8. Say thank you. Many candidates will send a thank-you email or card to their interviewers. But Stephen says that a note to your recruiter would be welcome, too! "I have gotten a couple of thank yous and it is really reassuring that the candidate knows and is appreciative of all your work behind the scenes," he says. Grace thinks you can get even more creative: "One of my coworkers received a cute cat photo from a candidate. I will never say no to receiving cute animal pics!"
9. Stay resilient. It's a tough job market, and not every interview will go well. Alan notes how important it is to find a way through it: "During these times, it's even easier to feel discouraged and unmotivated when you get a decline or a reject. Find ways that you can practice staying resilient, whether it be working out, meditating, crafting, or gratitude journaling. Figure out what works for you and stay true towards that purpose."
If you're interested in putting your technical interviewing skills to the test at Quip, check out their open roles and learn more about their company values here.
7 Tips from SoftwareONE's Khristy Young
Khristy Young is used to working hard.
She came to the U.S. from the Philippines at 19, computer science degree in hand, and landed her first job in tech, working in frontline support, at 21.
"I realized that for them to see past me being an immigrant and a woman, I had to be very competent. It sucks to say, but felt like I always had something to prove. Eventually, instead of worrying about what other people thought, I decided to show them what I could do," she explains. She dealt with coworkers who didn't listen to her and generally underestimated her, but she kept working to prove herself.
Khristy spent almost a decade at that company, eventually climbing the ranks into a coveted developer role, but left after her manager wouldn't give her a chance to become a team lead. "I realized I'd outgrown that job, and leaving it was almost like dating. I hadn't dated for nine years, and then all of a sudden I had to go out in the world again," she says.
A few months later, an old coworker suggested she join him at SoftwareONE, a leading provider of software and cloud solutions, including and especially Microsoft products. She came over and had to work to prove herself again, especially as her role was something new to her: consulting as a Microsoft partner. "I saw it as a gift. I'd never done that before, and I had the chance to learn it," says Khristy.
Once she got up to speed, she knew she'd made the right decision. Several years in, she's currently working as the Practice Director of their Future Workplace team with about 15 people—who she affectionately calls her "techies running around North America"—reporting to her as they advise clients on transitioning to the cloud and enable the technologies that allow for that. "One thing I like about SoftwareONE is that they recognize talent and diligence," she says. "Competencies speak more than words. So working for a company that appreciates self-starters is working really well for me."
But what do you do when competency isn't enough?
Khristy has been running up against that question for the first time in her career thanks to the pandemic. As SoftwareONE's cloud-based business is booming, she's found herself stretched thin, expected to run her team, take care of her two children, spend time with her partner, and not lose her mind along the way.
We sat down with Khristy this week to get her honest advice on what works and what doesn't when it comes to finding work-life harmony during a pandemic.
1. Learning to say no: the rule of three
Khristy's first piece of advice is something she's only just recently learned. "I have historically been a 'yes' person. People say I'm an overachiever," she explains. "I say yes to things when I shouldn't. But when the pandemic happened, it forced me to prioritize what's important."
Yes, that includes wellbeing and family and health, but Khristy is talking specifically about professional prioritization. "People don't realize we spend most of our time at work. I want people to value my time instead of just throwing stuff over the fence to me," she says.
To do that, she's adopted a hard and fast rule: she only focuses on three things at a time, and she says no to everything else.
Those three things could be updating her budget, checking in on team morale, and building next year's strategic plan, or any other set of priorities. The key is in keeping them limited to just three. "A friend told me that if you have more than three priorities, you're not really prioritizing anything. Ignoring something can take just as much energy as focusing on something, so you're better off saying no. I'm finding that's true. If I can meet those three, then I can make room for more," says Khristy.
2. Stay just the right amount of informed
Some people have been going on media diets during the pandemic, paring down the amount of news they consume each day. Not Khristy. She's found that staying informed through trustworthy channels, as in certain news and science outlets instead of social media, is allowing her to keep focused on why we're all making sacrifices.
"It puts into perspective why we're doing this, why we're in this situation, why we can't go out," she says. "It reminds you that things are not as bad as you think when you see the amount of people that are dying."
She keeps that perspective for herself—her kids are happy, healthy, and actually enjoying remote learning—and for her team, who are all employed (Khristy retooled her budget to avoid layoffs) and safe at home with their families.
3. Cater to you
"To find that balance between teacher, mom, and employee in the same place and with the same hours allocated is really hard," says Khristy.
"Being a mother, it's a very thankless job, and it's natural for us to cater to our kids, who are now always home. And then you also may have to cater to your partner, your husband, your boyfriend, whoever it may be. And we forget to cater to ourselves," she says. "That's when you get to that burnout factor, that pressing state of, 'Oh, God, I'm just exhausted.'"
Khristy suggests finding one activity, any activity—"It could be scrapbooking, it could be going to Target, it could be paint by numbers or yoga," she says—that is just for you. Something you can do alone and use as a bit of a retreat. "[Alone time] really resets my mind a little bit," says Khristy.
4. Take actual time off
Khristy knows what you're thinking: where are you going to go?
But just because you can't travel doesn't mean time off isn't worth it. Khristy says she used to travel up to two weeks each month for work and go on at least one fun trip around California or nearby states every few weeks pre-pandemic, but now she's learning how to take a different type of PTO.
"To be quite honest, even if you're just having those days where you're sitting on the couch and watching Netflix, taking time off really helps with a mental break," she says.
5. Draw new boundaries
Khristy's cue to turn off her work brain used to be the sound of her partner opening the door after his work day. But now that everyone works from home, that boundary has disappeared. "My compass is all messed up!" laughs Khristy.
Instead, she's learned to set new boundaries on her time and how she spends it. First, Khristy has committed to only working in her office. "When I'm there, I work. Anything outside [of that space] is life," she says.
And for timing, she's made a new version of that dinnertime rule, setting it at a specific time versus waiting for her partner. When that time rolls around, she leaves her office and doesn't return until the next morning. In between, she hangs out with her kids and enjoys the new rituals they've set up to make pandemic life more fun, including Taco Tuesdays and Saturday movie nights.
6. Stay connected
Months into the pandemic, Khristy realized she was struggling to stay focused. To combat that, she reached out to her peers.
"If I feel like I'm not on an island by myself—if I know that there is purpose to what I'm doing, that it's moving the bigger needle somewhere—I feel like my time is worth something," she says. "Keeping in contact with peers across the business in all different verticals has helped with that."
Khristy stays in touch with catch-up calls and teamwide happy hours, which are focused on entirely random topics. "Last Friday we talked about cats and cat lady syndrome," she says, smiling. "It uplifts the team and reminds us that we're all fine. We ask how everyone is doing and we say, 'We're COVID good.'"
7. Remember that work is just work
"The saving grace," says Khristy of what keeps her able to balance her work and her family, "is remembering what I'm doing this for. In the end, I'm working for my family, to give them a better life. That's really the only reason."
Keeping that focus in mind allows Khristy to live within the work-life boundaries she's set up for herself, and she suggests others figure out what's driving them and rigorously protect that goal.
"Some people leverage work to get them out of their lives. I don't have that," says Khristy. "My life is really good outside of work. Knowing that I don't want to miss the moments that actually matter keeps me from spending too much time on work."
If you're looking to join Khristy in finding work-life harmony at SoftwareONE, check out their open roles.