The People team: our journey through the pandemic

Gemma, our People Director, talks through how we navigated the pandemic, and came out stronger.
By Team member, 25/05/2021
5 minutes read

There was so much change in 2020 for everyone, no doubt about it, it was a tough year. For us in the People team here at Cuvva, we were just building the foundations of our service when we had to rethink our strategy and adapt to a completely remote workforce, along with all the other challenges that came with the pandemic!

Setting up shop

We closed our office in early March 2020 and at that time a team of 83. We’d only ever worked from home on a Wednesday–which followed a strict no meetings policy, Wednesdays were our time to get stuff done uninterrupted. Now we were all remote, all of the time. Surprisingly - and I say this as we work in a highly collaborative, product-driven company - it was an easy adjustment for all of our teams. Discord was quickly introduced, our Slack admins audited all channels and created some for ‘team chatter’ so that the day to day chit-chat within teams could still happen. Daily team stand-ups and meetings continued in Google hangouts.

As the month of March continued and the whole country went into lockdown, we like most other businesses, had to make some cost saving decisions–never a pleasant process. Our CEO Freddy gave us one objective - get through this without losing anyone! This was music to my ears; we are all about the people at Cuvva, and it was reassuring to know that even when the going got tough, we stuck to those principles.

First, we paused hiring, cut marketing and op-ex costs and then from the 1st April, we did have to reduce some people’s hours, put a few people on furlough and most of the company took a small temporary (voluntary) pay cut. By May though, people were coming back from furlough, June - hours were increased, July - we incrementally increased salary and by August all measures were reversed, salary increases and hiring resumed.

Ensuring transparency

We’ve always been committed to transparency and in leadership we wanted to stay accessible. It's easy for someone to chat to you when you’re in the office, but while you’re remote not everyone can easily contact you. With all the temporary measures taking place, we wanted people to feel comfortable and safe asking anything on their minds. We already have a CEO update every Thursday and an AMA channel for Cuvvarati to ask questions and get open answers, but it still didn’t feel like quite enough. So we started daily office hours where leadership would be on a hangout every day for an hour and you could ‘pop-in’ and ask any question you wanted. We didn’t need to do this for long, maybe 6 weeks until we adjusted to this new way of working.

We rolled out a performance and engagement platform to give some structure to 1:1’s and ensure quarterly reviews and 360 feedback happened, so that people’s development didn’t suffer and we could have a more clear view of who is working on what. We introduced weekly updates through our performance tool, asking everyone to share what had been great that week, what had been a challenge, and ask for feedback on engagement questions. So things like; ‘Is there anything more Cuvva could be doing to support your wellbeing?’. At the end of each update, everyone is asked to rate how they are feeling which gives us a great indication of sentiment and if anyone’s sentiment score is low, we’d have a wellbeing check-in with them.

Introducing new tools and benefits

As the pandemic continued, we found ourselves super busy with the company growing and new products launching - an exciting time of growth, however, high workload and continued restrictions do impact people's wellbeing and mental health. We anticipated this by continuing our partnership with Sanctus for coaching, introducing Lifeworks as our employee wellness tool, offering free counselling sessions and support.

We introduced a work from home allowance, so people could buy the things they needed to make working from home easier - we’d send out all the usual; monitors, headphones, keyboard, mouse etc but some people needed to buy a desk or a decent chair or a plant for their home workspace!

We’ve successfully (and remotely) hired and onboarded 54 members of the Cuvva team since 1st March 2020, with a further 14 waiting to join. That means a huge percentage of our team have never physically met or been to our office. We’ve worked hard across all areas to make sure that everyone joining remotely has the same sense of belonging as those who have been here for years and we adapted our onboarding processes to make sure everyone adapts and integrates seamlessly into the business.

At Cuvva, collaboration and a sense of belonging is super important to us, so our office manager pivoted into a workplace experience role, with a large focus on remote socials, team building and charity events - we’ve done everything from quiz bingo, crystal maze, murder mystery, drink & draw nights to of course lots and lots of quizzes!

Opening the office

We’ve continually spoken about going back to the office - since lockdown first began, we’ve known that we never wanted to be a fully remote company, we place so much value in collaboration and togetherness, that it was never an option for us. We did recognise, however, that going back to the office full-time would also be a mistake. We surveyed the team to get feedback asking what they’d like, lots and lots of conversations later and we decided that a block of time with those you work most closely with whilst crossing over with other teams might be the best fit for us. The first draft of our remote working policy launched in summer 2020. Fast forward to today and we’ve put a trial in place to begin from July 1st 2021; where each team should be in the office for 1 full week out of 4. This trial will take place throughout Q3 and in Q4 we’ll trial with total flexibility.

I know what you’re thinking - scheduling nightmare! Being product driven, we have so much cross-team and department collaboration that it's not been simple, but we’ve used Common Surface to help schedule and it's been fairly simple. We’ll continue to survey and gather feedback throughout 2021 before we set a more formal policy for 2022. I believe the trick is to trial and iterate before rolling out any formal policy.

It's not like we haven’t had anyone in the office though. Back in August 2020, we opened the office for people who were finding it hard to work from home; giving people a safe space to work that supported their mental health has been important and we’ve left it open ever since. Most days there are only 5ish people in the office and we still run our socials etc remotely; there is no pressure for people to come in, however, the uptake in returning to the office is slowly increasing. As I mentioned above, most people haven’t met physically or been to our office, so walking in for the first time and not knowing where to sit or who anyone is (it's hard to be sure you have the right person if you’ve only ever seen someone from the shoulders up!) can be intimidating. So, in the last few weeks of May, we’ve held pizza days, and invited anyone who has joined Cuvva in the last year to come in for the day and get acclimated to the office–our first pizza day 30 people turned up!

Humans are social creatures, but we naturally avoid change and uncomfortable situations. Pizza days have supported people to feel more relaxed coming into the office when they’d never visited it before. Our approach with an enforced requirement to be in the office throughout Q3 and a flexi policy in Q4 will (we hope) help people adapt to the change, as well as support and normalise social interactions. We'll use the office weeks for team building, collaboration and social events and the remote weeks to power through work uninterrupted - well where possible!

Team member