Why This Startup Closes Every Third Friday: A Conversation with Folsom Labs’ Tiffany Harris
Talking to a fellow working parent is what really sold Tiffany Harris on software company Folsom Labs.
Tiffany is the Head of People Operations at the company, whose tools to more efficiently design and sell solar arrays are helping to build a future of clean energy. She joined two years ago, moving her family to the Bay Area from Santa Cruz for the role.
She was nervous about the move. Moving away from the community, extended family, and school system her family knew and loved was a risk. (Not to mention Tiffany's roller derby league—more on that later.) But then Tiffany talked to Folsom Labs' Director of Sales and Marketing, Evan Sarkisian.
"One of the main points that he hit on was how family-oriented Folsom Labs was, and how supported he felt as a parent," says Tiffany. "They've definitely lived up to what Evan sold to me in my interview."
We sat down with Tiffany to talk more about her journey to Folsom Labs, including how the start-up has made wellness more than just a talking point, and what advice she has for others looking to prioritize their mental health and work-life balance.
Taking a chance on startup life
A few years ago, when her sons had gotten a bit older and they needed her less, Tiffany realized something big: she wasn't sure who she was when she wasn't being their mom. Or even what possibilities were out there for her.
"In a late night Google, I came upon the Santa Cruz Derby Girls. I decided right then that I was going to become a Santa Cruz Derby Girl," says Tiffany.
She joined, she adopted a derby name—Sin D. Savage, for the curious among you—and she got inspired. "It was an eye-opening experience. I saw so many women doing amazing things with their lives, many of them mothers," remembers Tiffany. She branched out from being a mom and a derby player and started working on the league's board; this led her to a role in HR and office management at a medical office, and from there, she found her way to Folsom Labs.
"It really seemed like a place I wanted to be, a place where I could not only benefit from being around great people, but where I could learn, contribute to that team, and use my skills to really drive what they were already doing," she says.
Fostering balance and inclusion at Folsom—for herself and others
Tiffany's role as Head of People Operations includes HR, diversity and inclusion initiatives, company morale, and, in the times of COVID-19, company engagement during a pandemic.
"A couple months into the pandemic, we began seeing signs of fatigue in employees," says Tiffany. "We had such a strong company culture in the office and really wanted that to transition to our remote team, but it was clear that everyone really needed time to recharge."
One of the limited available responses to stressed-out employees during a world-disrupting global pandemic is, of course, taking time off. But Tiffany noticed that Folsom Labs' employees weren't doing that. Neither was she.
"You're at home, so you have this false sense of being on vacation, but people weren't taking breaks. I found myself having my laptop in front of me most of the day," says Tiffany. She and the company's leadership team started telling everybody to take a day off during the month, whatever day worked for them.
They didn't, though.
It's a problem other companies, including those with "unlimited vacation," know well: despite the fact that vacation is allowed and even encouraged, employees don't feel comfortable taking it. Maybe they're worried about falling behind, or looking like they're not committed to the mission. But being a tech company familiar with the power of experimentation, the Folsom Labs team didn't stop with "maybes."
"We needed to rethink our approach and adjust," explains Tiffany, "so we decided to make the third Friday of every month a company-observed wellness holiday."
And it worked. "The first one people weren't so sure about, but now they're definitely expected," says Tiffany, who personally enjoys having the third Friday of every month off because it gives her some dedicated time to focus on her kids, her family, and her own wellbeing. "It's helped a lot of employees to take time for themselves, to breathe—they can schedule a hike on that day, or do whatever they might need to reset and recharge."
Folsom Labs' focus on taking care of their employees has included, in addition to extra days off, flexible schedules, low-stakes group discussions to talk about stressful topics in the news or in people's personal lives, and what Tiffany describes as "a culture of understanding, wellbeing, and empathy."
That empathy is reflected in the company's approach to DEI, too. Tiffany and her coworkers plan themes for each month that address different aspects of identity and social justice, from intersectionality to unconscious bias. Folsom Labs' employees read a relevant book, meet in small groups to discuss, and do team building exercises. In between themed months, they do a month focused on wellness "to give people a break and a time to reset and digest what they've learned."
Tiffany recently led an activity about intersectionality where team members talked about how they feel they're perceived and how they want to be perceived. "Getting to know people on that deeper level, you can gain a different level of respect for them—you can respect who they truly are," reflects Tiffany.
4 ways to find balance in your life
Tiffany considers herself to be energized by her work supporting others, but sometimes she has to remember to apply that same focus to herself. "Being a caregiver, you have to take that step back and realize that you need to focus on your personal mental health and wellbeing too," she says. She does that by:
- Staying positive. "It's easy to start focusing on negatives. The things you didn't get done, especially being at home. The things that you had planned pre-covid or things that you're missing out on. I try not to let those thighs take over my thoughts," she says. "My goal is to take things day by day, do things with intention, and pick a couple of things that I'm really thankful for."
- Give yourself five. "Taking a five minute break to sit in a quiet room to meditate or stretch. Making a commitment to be present in that moment—to not think about work, or the stuff going on outside the room has been a huge help for me," she says.
- Share your goals with someone else. "I find it helps when I vocalize my goals—no matter how small. Sharing goals with friends and co-workers gives me the extra push to hold myself accountable. It's also nice to have people around you to celebrate when you achieve those goals!"
- Celebrate your wins. "Even if they're tiny!" says Tiffany, who likes sharing updates in the Folsom Labs Slack channel for wellness. "Here, we definitely have people encouraging you on little wins, which is so nice."
One last one to keep in mind: pinpoint what's going wrong. That's something Tiffany has learned from running Folsom Labs' quarterly wellness survey. Instead of blindly diagnosing imagined issues, operating with a real data set helps Tiffany and her team really understand what's wrong and work to solve it. "We try to focus on the passion points of our team. This gives us a clear sense of direction to set attainable goals," she says. That seems like good advice for all of us to follow for ourselves, doesn't it?
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Have you read any of the books below? Let us know what you think!