Building a Culture of Joy: Helping Employees Thrive In Moments of Uncertainty

Here are three things companies can do right now to meet the moment and bolster productivity and innovation.

Alistair Berg/ Getty Images
Alistair Berg/ Getty Images

We are in the midst of summer, operating businesses fraught with challenges never experienced by employees or senior management – unprecedented economic uncertainty, unmet childcare needs, and building anxiety among a generation of employees faced with change. 

Businesses are having to do more with less, and that is pushing some employers to put added pressure on employees to work longer hours — hours many of us don’t have.  Work still needs to get done and every employee needs to contribute high quality, impactful work. But if there was ever a time when quality mattered over quantity, this is it. 

Stretched thin at home, experiencing heightened anxiety, and acclimating to a remote set-up, employees worldwide have endured extenuating circumstances these past few months. In immediate response, companies — ours included — quickly formed task forces and executed on business continuity plans. And yet, we know our work must move beyond operational plans to meet this moment. 

We have long known that engaged employees drive positive business outcomes. What we’ve seen these past few months, however, is that while engagement drives outcomes; culture carries them forward. At Quartet, by celebrating a culture of transparency, empathy, and joy, we have bolstered not just productivity – but innovation – during the Coronavirus pandemic. 

Be transparent. It’s ok not to have all the answers. 

Over the last few months, companies encouraged teams to experiment with new workflows and innovate rapidly in response to changing circumstances. This evolution, often occurring weekly, requires employees to be more comfortable with change. Risks have to be weighed in the midst of uncertainty, and decisions are required at every level despite a tremendous amount of ambiguity. Priorities shift — and then shift again.

With more questions about the future than answers, Quartet’s Leadership Team decided to lean on transparency as a form of certainty and stability in otherwise scary times. Today we’ve moved beyond asking “When can we resume business as usual?”, and instead ask what remains an unanswered question: “Should some elements of the business remain remote, or operate in new ways even after the pandemic is behind us?” Fortunately, our staff is excelling and we’re able to focus on reimagining the way we work and collaborate as a team. Transparency brings the company into these questions, so that we can be honest when we don’t know the answers. 

According to a survey by Edelman Trust Barometer, people are more likely to believe their employer on Coronavirus than government websites or social media sources. 63% of those surveyed said they are looking for daily updates from their employers about the virus.  Quartet is no different: our employees are looking for us to be a steady guide for them, especially now. 

Listen with empathy. It’s the only way through. 

At Quartet, we have a culture of constant feedback and open dialogue. Operating during the Coronavirus pandemic is no different. One key strategy in reimagining our future is to listen closely to our employees. 

Every Monday, we host an all-staff COVID-19 video call where senior leaders respond to an open forum of anonymous pre-submitted questions, provide operational updates, and take live Q&A.  Our Chief Medical Officer, Dr. Dave Lim, an infectious disease physician by training, answers staff questions and concerns about Coronavirus and necessary public health measures, while our CEO David Wennberg, MD, MPH, and others answer questions about corporate strategy and growth. 

There’s no question we don’t answer, no prompt we don’t read. The questions are hard, and honest. But through this, we give our employees a voice, and we get a pulse on what’s on their minds.

We use this time to reiterate to employees that we are all human, with demands and stresses coming from all angles. At Quartet, we don’t want anyone to feel they need to sacrifice their own well-being to tackle all their typical work responsibilities. Senior leaders who are parents reinforce that we don’t want parents logging on at 5 AM, or finishing their work at 11 PM to account for kids’ schedules, and we don’t want employees apologizing for building in breaks for self-care to balance their workday. What we want is to help people thrive within their own circumstances, so they can handle the situations they each face. Realistically. 

We also gather our employees’ perspectives through pulse surveys each week. Meant to be a 60-second exercise, we pose a few short questions to learn, listen, and understand where we need to do better. Today, we are also using these practices to determine our next steps as a company, including when we stop functioning as an entirely remote workforce.

While we don’t know our next steps yet, we know that when we do announce a plan, it won’t be a surprise to our colleagues. By listening to staff early and often, we help staff prepare for a world that will no doubt look different, but reflect their feedback, needs and preferences. 

Nurture joy. This can be a time to thrive. 

Quartet is a social team and part of our culture is having fun together. The connectivity and comradeship among our 300+ person team, spanning 27 states, has only grown in recent months. We have built a consistent candece of open forums where we answer questions and get to know one another outside of our jobs. 

We’ve also replaced in-person opportunities to play ping-pong or share pizza and a movie, with fun virtual games on Friday afternoons, including “Two Truths and a Lie,” and “Quartetians Questions.” Recently, our CEO David Wennberg was asked, “David, you’ve always been a trendsetter, when are you joining TikTok?” With a smirk he answered, “I haven’t even figured out Twitter!”  Jokes and cheers are also encouraged on chats during all-staff video meetings. When someone presents exciting business updates, the chat goes wild with support. 

We balance transparent conversations and fun games with self-care, too. Our Clinical Director and Recruitment & Operations Coordinator send out wellness tips, host guest exercise instructors, and co-lead fully remote Meditation & Yoga Sessions twice-weekly. This quiet time has become a nurturing moment during busy days for Quartetians to learn meditation and yoga, and care for their minds and bodies. 

Ultimately, we believe that if we can give people some control, safety and empowerment in an otherwise unpredictable time, they can have the physical and mental space to be creative and motivated, which is exactly what we need at this time – innovation. There is no playbook for this work. Luckily we are surrounded by an amazing team who inspire us, challenge us, and make us proud. 

“What can people do during the Coronavirus pandemic, realistically?” we asked. 

Soar, we found. 

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