Thriving at Jivox at a time of crisis

As a three-time entrepreneur, I have always valued developing a strong culture over and above almost anything we do as a company. We go to great lengths, starting with interviewing people to ensure that cultural fit is treated as importantly as qualifications and experience, creating activities to reinforce our culture, talking about it frequently and most importantly, practicing it every day.

Practicing our culture every day meant creating a family-like work environment where teamwork, collaboration, an open-door policy, candor, and integrity became part of everything we did, every single day.

When the Coronavirus outbreak starting to spread globally, I started to realize we had a possible threat to that culture and work environment we were so used to. I was therefore quite worried that the need for us all to work from home would quickly destroy that culture and also create in the minds of our work family a sense of isolation, loneliness and after several days or weeks of hearing only bad news even depression. This worry, however, conflicted with something that to us as a company has always been even more important to us than preserving our culture and that was the health, safety and well being of every single team member.

I agonized all last weekend over the decision to ask everyone to work from home and was fearful of what that would do to our company culture. I couldn’t even think of what it would feel like not being able to walk around the office saying hello to everyone, enjoying “fireside chats” with our teams across the globe, enjoying happy hour with our team each time I visited one of our 6 global offices.

At the end of the weekend, I knew I had to act.

I assembled our leadership team Monday morning for a long and deep discussion about how we can keep our team safe and yet ensure we preserve our culture. I had also planned to discuss our plan to grow the business in the midst of the crisis, but most of the meeting was consumed in the discussion about the safety of our team and preserving our culture. Our VP of People and Culture – Claudia as always — had the answer — she said “let’s do everything we do at work to preserve our culture but do it via video”, we all looked at her strangely, thinking, sure we can handle our meetings via video but how about gathering around the table for lunch, the Thursday evening happy hour, the open door to the management team’s offices?

One by one we discussed and figured out we could try and do all of these things virtually. I have to admit, I was a little skeptical at first but my overwhelming desire to keep the culture alive led me to say — “okay let’s do it”. That afternoon, Gavin Newsom – Governor of California mandated that 5 counties including ours be locked down to “shelter-in-place”.

I walked out of my office, took one fond look back at the cool purple decor and green bean bags Claudia had laid out in our office and wondered when we would all be back there again.

Within two days, we set up virtual open office hours, virtual lunch events at each of our office locations and a virtual happy hour at each location each Thursday — all on — video!!

On day 3 after we had asked our team to work from home wherever possible, I remember logging into my Zoom for my “virtual open office hours” dreading the fact that I might be the only one on it – I was thrilled and pleasantly surprised to see several of our US team and even a few from the UK and India, logged in and chatting away.

We talked about a lot of things, some work-related, we saw how people’s homes looked on the inside. We saw and heard a few dogs, a few spouses dodging the video as they tried to get across the bedroom or dining room where the video session was going on.

The kids — most of whom were having to stay home, entertained us by either making cameo appearances, making faces, laughing, crying, eating, climbing over the parent’s shoulder and toppling into their lap, peeking from above the computer – and, two alien-looking eyes suddenly staring at us! Initially, everybody seemed a little tense but we quickly found our selves forgetting we were on video and chatting away about many things.

That afternoon was our very first virtual happy hour in NY, it was, however, 2 PM in San Mateo, CA – our headquarters – I wondered to myself, how do I join a happy hour without drinking. I said to myself “oh what the heck” and poured a glass of Rosé and turned my video on. One by one the whole team showed up, some wondered whether they should have a drink or not and had water in the hands, others had already poured drinks.

Within minutes everyone had a drink and we had our very first virtual happy hour. It was such a riot, we talked about our pets, kids, the virus, work, the economy and politics. We discovered Zoom had various backgrounds we could apply to pretend we were on a beach, vineyard, the snow. Claudia decided being in her backyard for real made sense — she didn’t need a virtual background!!

Over several virtual open office hours, virtual lunches, virtual happy hours we saw a few amazing things happen, that were quite unexpected:

  • People who had never met each other due to their remote locations – met for the first time over video, some across the globe
  • We got to see our team members in their homes and learn things about them — their pets, their spouses, their hobbies and things we never knew about them, especially the challenges they sometimes have at home that we may not be privy to
  • We all felt an overwhelming sense of being part of a family working together to build something great and now supporting each other through challenging times

It’s only been 2 days since we started doing this and I am convinced our culture is as strong as ever and if anything has been further strengthened and reinforced even more by working together virtually. All of our core principles of candor and transparency (I had to honestly tell people about the likely impact to our business of the virus), teamwork (we had to design and brainstorm over video), open-door policy (was no longer limited to people in the same building). I distinctly felt our culture kicking back in strongly and while it’s only been a week, we are already back at work doing what we have always done — building great personalized digital marketing products for the worlds largest brands — something they all need even more of as our physical world goes into lockdown.