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For a new start-up, it’s a challenge to determine who we are and what our culture will look like: we have money to worry about, searching for the best talent while not always being able to offer what the fancy tech companies can.  But throw a pandemic in the mix, and it really makes for a wild ride.  In the very early days, as a group of four employees, Instnt determined what our values would be: empathy, curiosity, direct honesty, and kindness. But how do we take those values and translate them into what we do every day, especially when we are not in the same room or even the same state? 

My belief is that an employee’s first impression of an organization is paramount and is developed even before day one on the job. Prior to shifting to the remote world, Instnt was lucky enough to share an office with a Series H startup: chocolate-covered almonds and cold brew on tap. While we as a seed-stage startup offered stickers and an optional monitor, we were able to give a tour of the office space and endless goodies, as if they were homegrown by yours truly. But as we all know by now, employee satisfaction and engagement are not tied to the beer fridge and company-branded fleece vests, it's directly related to the people you are interacting with, how you are treated, and what you are getting out of the work you are doing.  Surprisingly, Gallup’s 2020 engagement poll showed that employee engagement didn’t decrease when COVID first rattled the workplace in March of 2020 and even saw an increase in employee engagement in mid-May. With work and life being disrupted and most employees transitioning to fully remote work life, this data is very telling and should be used to better understand how people work happy.

Now, this is not to say that there haven’t been bumps in the road: How do we adapt to a fully remote work world? How do I get the answers I need from marketing that was once offered to me by poking my head over the divider between our desks? We have had to lean into our value of direct honesty and adapt to new ways of communication.  Difficult conversations sometimes need to take place and working in a remote world should not prevent these conversations from happening, and happening when they need to. There is a necessity for ongoing transparency, at both a company-wide level and in regard to the expectations from each member of the team. Managers and leaders need to adjust in order to give their employees what they need to succeed. 

Communication challenges like these have gotten us out of our comfort zone and into the world of video calls.  Finding the balance is hard. Zoom fatigue is a real thing, and we learned that fast, but we also started to learn more about each other.  For our already remote employees, it also gave us an opportunity to involve them in team events they would have otherwise not attended. I certainly wouldn’t have learned that our now CPO is very fond of water polo, our Lead Data Scientist once lost a friend in Tijuana for 15 hours or recognized that the team was thoroughly unimpressed that I play the fiddle. But I digress… 

Getting to know one another has been so important as we build culture. Especially the new hires that we never met in person pre-pandemic. Onboarding has become an even more complex dance, with the coordination of setting up, sending equipment, and training, to name a few. Our new hire’s first day has shifted into a virtual world of zoom meeting introductions and training from the comfort of their home office or couch. The team was most recently treated to a piano recital from our newly hired Lead Infrastructure Engineer.  But with shifting to this new world, we have been able to expand our reach when looking for new talent. 

Currently, our team represents seven countries and five states. Our differences spark new ideas and innovation, encouraging our value of curiosity. This remote world has only increased our ability to find diverse talent with different opinions and backgrounds.  

The pandemic has allowed us to focus on the importance of kindness and empathy. It has been made abundantly clear that work is not everything.  As so much pain and loss are happening around and within our small group, perhaps taking a step back and reevaluating is one of the keys to living a more balanced and enriched life. “Work and life are more blended than ever. The new challenge of organizational culture is to address what organizations can do for the whole person – not just the worker – because all aspects of wellbeing matter to the workplace culture, resiliency, and performance including career, social, financial, physical and community wellbeing” according to the Gallop study. The team has a common goal and mission in mind, to redefine the business models, fraud acceptance, and technology approaches with healthier alternatives, and we are all working together to reach that goal, but understanding how people work best and trusting their approach has been rewarding.  Perhaps that means working from a new location or at hours that suit best, ensuring the well-being of our employees is a basic and fundamental rule. 

We don’t know what the future holds, but as we continue to grow and are able to give our employees endless amounts of chocolate covered almonds and Instnt branded cold brew on tap, we will be sure to come back to our values and apply them in whatever world we are living and working in. 

 

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