How One Company is Creating Solidarity Amongst a Global Workforce

What a time we’re all living in. Let’s start with a moment to simply acknowledge that. Situations around us are changing day to day, leaving many of us feeling uncertain and thrown off balance.

Our business at Lucidworks is built on helping customers connect people with information. Our products fuel the way people find the right answers, get the data needed to solve big problems, and discover the products or information they’re looking for. Although our products are about “search,” our solutions actually empower much more than that. As our global team works from home and adjusts to a new normal, we’re focusing on the same empowerment for our employees.

Most of us are nearly two months into being directly affected by this scenario. That’s enough time for people to lose touch with what our prior “normal” actually was – and to feel a lot of ambiguity about what our “next normal,” short and long term, might actually be like.

Acknowledging the challenges ahead

At Lucidworks, one of the first things we did was actively acknowledge the challenges and disorientation we saw on the path ahead. This was important for a couple of reasons.

First, we know unambiguously that stress, and especially collective stress, levies what I call a “cognitive tax” that affects focus, attention, creativity, and problem-solving abilities. Simply NAMING the concerns we foresaw primed people to consider that the stress or confusion they would likely experience wasn’t about some singular flaw or inadequacy in them: it was a normal response. We made the bet that naming this, and normalizing it, was a way to help stave off an additional layer of stress as people “stressed themselves out over feeling stressed out,” so to speak.

We also knew that isolation would have an impact, especially for folks who normally worked in offices or in client/customer settings. We addressed this in the short-term by increasing information sharing and ways of connecting. For example, things like drop-in Zoom co-working sessions, doubling down on our LucidTalks (showcasing the passions and talents of our team members), and 30-minute Zoom “coffee breaks” where people brought their pets or kids to work, dropped in from exotic locations (thanks to virtual backgrounds), or shared hobbies.

You’d be right to say, “Those have nothing to do with work.” Yet, they have everything to do with social connection, and we humans are social beings. In physical settings, we take the frequency of casual and mutually-supportive interactions for granted. When we’re sequestered, the lack of that reinforcement can affect engagement and confidence, as well as emotional stability. We’re a pretty “connected” company; people genuinely enjoy each other and value our team interactions, so we wanted to stave off some of the impacts we anticipated and set new “ways of connecting” for the longer term. Interestingly, McKinsey & Company’s COVID response perspectives echo what we anticipated and map the impact of isolation to the “next normal” we’ll all have to design going forward.

Finally, in keeping with one of our company values, we committed to “Be Curious” about the learning and benefits this unexpected change might bring to us. By staying open-minded and curious, we’ve identified a few patterns we plan to build on as we go forward. Let’s face it: the “normal” of work-as-it-was didn’t come from design thinking. It simply happened as the aggregation of ways of working as they evolved over time. As anyone who knows the data about workforce engagement, stress levels, and job satisfaction will agree, there was a lot about “work” that wasn’t working.

We’ve paid attention to the data and have called on frameworks of psychological safety and the excellent work of The Conscious Leadership Group to ward off some of the pitfalls facing modern organizations. Interacting with our global team, it’s clear that the last weeks have given them a taste of some better ways of working. People tell me they’re getting more sleep. That traveling less is improving their sense of well being. That they’re enjoying having dinner with their loved ones more nights per week. Even that they’re finally structuring and scheduling their time in ways that help them balance their deep, “genius zone” work with the always-on demands that shape the tone of “normal” business life.

These are good things. We’re looking at how we can continue them, even build on them, as we move to our next chapters.

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I’ve listed a few specifics below in hopes that others working with distributed global teams will find them useful.

The virtual care package

My team prepared a “Virtual Care Package” showcasing dozens of tools for keeping balance and perspective at this time – everything from quick links to benefits resources to cultural activities, schedule management tools, and “family fun” ideas. Our hope was to encourage that “silver lining” mindset as our team underwent change and the uncertainty associated with it. We anticipate continuing this, sharing ongoing tips for WFH, emotional support, fitness, learning, parenting, family fun activities, and beyond as we move through our next chapters.

Virtual roundtables

We’ve stayed diligent about understanding ongoing changes in the law, policy, and even benefits so we can keep employees in the know and let them focus on their work rather than wondering about changes they need to navigate. We’ll continue to offer “Virtual Roundtables” to review company benefits, ensuring they understand offerings like telemedicine and mental health support they might not have considered before. We also want them to understand options for leave time since those are likely to continue evolving as the timeline we’re facing continues to lengthen.  Offering these sessions proactively has helped us reduce one-off inbound requests that could take a disproportionate amount of my team’s time, given all that’s changing around us.

LucidTalks

We harnessed the unique (and often quirky) expertise of people across our company to relaunch our “LucidTalks” (occasional pop-up talks for sharing topics that inspire us) as a regular, virtual offering. Every Thursday morning, a subject matter Ninja shares 15 minutes on something they’re passionate about, followed by a lively Q&A. Some topics have been directly relevant to our business, like an overview of our product training and educational materials, or our Digital Commerce lead’s fascinating dive into retail search. Yet we’ve also looked at at-home fitness, a piano lesson, the neuroscience of stress management, and other topics. This is one “response” we intend to continue, and one any company can replicate. Not only is it a great way for us to learn and connect, but it’s also a way for team members to practice presentation skills – a skill that absolutely directly benefits work-related results.

“Return to Work” co-creation

The best results emerge from collaborative efforts. As we envision our return to physical work, it would be easy for my team to architect a plan based on what we’ve learned from this time – and we’ve learned a LOT. However, that would minimize the upside available to us by leveraging the unique insights and perspectives of our global team. To ensure we capture that value, we’ve created what I call a “Think-a-Thon” format – kind of like a virtual Hackathon – where people can contribute ideas, worries, practical concerns, questions, hopes, or whatever else is on their minds to our design process. We’ve only initiated this, yet in the coming weeks, as we make decisions regarding timelines of our “return” phase-in, we’ll dial this up, so people’s voices are heard. From the get-go, the insights people shared have been tremendously valuable, actually making our work smoother as we go forward.

These ideas are a small glimpse at how this time is offering us a chance to do our work as “People” people more effectively than ever. Unexpected as it was, we’re finding a silver lining in this opportunity to shift our impact as a team, and to empower our people to stay agile, curious, and focused on delivering results – and finding satisfaction. We’re excited to build on this on the path ahead, and we believe that our adaptation will help us create a better “normal” than we knew was possible before – and that is a silver lining available to all.

Ellen Petry Leanse is the Chief People Officer of Lucidworks, a company dedicated to transforming digital experiences across industries. Ellen blends decades of leadership experience with insight on innovation, neuroscience, and design. A veteran of Apple, Google, and entrepreneurship, she is a keynote speaker, former Stanford instructor, and bestselling author.

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