Growing a company during a pandemic (while also being a human)
Emily Charry Tissier
A year into the pandemic and we’ve learned a lot at Whale Seeker. None of us co-founders have created companies before so we can’t start to compare growing a company pre and post-COVID. This craziness is all we know! But that doesn’t mean it’s been without challenges, it means we’ve had to do things a new way from the ground up, and I think that’s been easier than pivoting a huge company to new realities.
100% remote work
We all have been blasted with a million blogs and articles on creating a community and managing a team remotely by now, so here’s the simple takeaway for us: routine and regular contact. Our team is small so this part is rather manageable -- we have Monday and Friday all-team meetings. This helps with community AND managing goals for each member as well as the whole team. The meetings start with how everyone is doing, how was their weekend, anything big going on or are they getting sick? Just touching base on a human level grounds us and calibrates us to the week ahead, then we dive in with specific goals and professional discussions. Then, Friday, we wrap up the week in a similar style. Friday is usually a shorter meeting but again, it creates a joint space to exist all together so we can talk about the week's developments and close the week out as a team. My co-founder, Antoine, is always the instigator of community meetings, rituals, and virtual picnics for company cohesion and I’ve been on board but in the past few months, I’ve understood the real power and necessity of these meetings on both the business and community fronts.
The pandemic has shifted everyone’s lives around in countless ways. Some changes we have all felt (i.e.: curfews, business closings, masks, etc…) but some effects are unique to each person. With this acutely in mind, we created flexible work policies (hours and location) as well as more opportunities for personal/professional growth such as courses or conferences in-line with each employee’s professional goals short and long term. Feeling really tired or stressed? Learn something new or simply put in more hours tomorrow when you get your pep back a bit :) These flexible and human-oriented work policies were part of the foundational work we did to apply for full B Corp certification. Now we have solid company policies that we feel reflect our values and we can use them to grow a larger team. Exterior to the company community, particularly for us founders, finding a community of other founders has been essential. Thanks in large part to Techstars, we have a group of trusted peers and mentors that we can get tips from, vent to, laugh with and support. It’s a wacky lifestyle, starting and growing a company, so it’s priceless to know those who can actually relate.
Balance & Sanity
Ooof. The alchemy all founders are after! And, most humans in general, I suppose. To be clear, I don’t think I can check this off as a success, but I’m trying very hard. I like that our team has a special Slack channel for weekly personal goals. Those goals change or stay the same as needed and have ranged from meditating a certain amount of time, limiting screen time, exercise, and eating at the right time of day. Some members share their goals, some do not; it’s opt-in-only. It’s like a work-out buddy but for your inner-self. It makes me feel supported in taking action to keep healthy/happy.
Most of our team are parents to small children. This has been and continues to be especially difficult to manage. Little ones are sick so often, and now we need to keep them home to wait for COVID results before sending them back to daycare, and then there are daycare/school closings. Sleep? What sleep?! It’s all stressful enough without adding judgement from coworkers to the list. So if you have to parent, PARENT.We don’t expect multitasking because we want work done well. Sure, our kids make the occasional appearance on a video call when we can’t manage otherwise, but overall our team is made up of responsible adults whom we trust to organize their time and responsibilities. If that means sporadic non-conventional work hours, fine by us! As long as the work gets done. Also, we often put in extra hours when we are feeling “up” or have the time, knowing we won’t always be in that situation.
Still a struggle
Those are things that have helped us - so,what have we NOT solved? Always having to put your foot on the gas no matter the situation. We worked through the holidays and couldn’t come up for air so collectively we were all feeling burnout breathing down our necks. As entrepreneurs, we don’t have the luxury of stepping away when we want, only when the work allows. But that’s where the community comes in - supporting until we can recharge. And we are fiercely protective of our team’s time off. We guard the space they have earned.
Everything we’ve learned over this past extraordinary year has forged our company in fire, so to speak. We are committed more than ever to our mission, our values, and each other as a team. And for me personally, on the days when things look like a dumpster fire in the news, I love having work that serves to create a better world, with people I’m proud to work with.