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How employee wellbeing helped us navigate 2020

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Last editedDec 20204 min read

There’s no doubt that 2020 has been a challenging year.

It has been the year of mass remote working, lockdowns and quarantines, clapping on the porch, umpteen zoom quizzes, and far too much banana bread.

It has been the year of phrases like ‘unprecedented’ and ‘when this is all over’ and ‘post-pandemic’. We’ve all had to adapt, both in how we live and how we work. Concepts like community and wellbeing have become national headlines, with many working to support those around them even as fears rose around the mental health of the isolated and lonely.

When it comes to companies – big or small – cultural adaptability has been key. Studies suggest that businesses that are more adaptive have been better able to manoeuvre and respond to logistical challenges and employee needs, fostering greater trust and engagement within teams. 

But perhaps even more importantly, trends around workplace wellbeing have accelerated.

Before the pandemic, 68% of people globally said that company wellness schemes were a big factor in accepting a job offer. But now these initiatives have become even more of a priority for many, with employers being seen as critical sources of support and guidance to the people working for them.

Adapting to change

That’s why at GoCardless, we’ve been providing activities such as lunchtime yoga and pilates, flexible working, team lunches (and lunch roulette), as well as monthly townhalls for years.

“It really is like a family feel,” says office manager, Meghan Molony. “Even as we’ve grown, we’ve really kept that vibe. I feel like when I go to work, it’s like working with all my friends.”

Of course, the pandemic changed a lot and fast. Not being able to see everyone in the office shifted the way things were done. As a technology-first business with a flexible working policy, we were set up for people to be able to work remotely from the start. It wasn’t so much of a shift as an overnight transformation. 

“Like a lot of companies, we went remote almost overnight. It’s weird to think back to March now because at the time it was unprecedented, that word comes up a lot, but we really didn’t know what was going to happen,” explains Drew Holland, Head of Internal Communications. “You tend to think you’re prepared for anything, but in this case, we really had to question what we needed to do in order to keep the company aligned despite everyone being remote.”

From the outset, steps were also taken by the leadership team to make sure that employees were prioritised. This included making sure that not only did all of us have the right tools and office set up, but managers were offered coaching where necessary. The aim was to maintain that spirit of optimism that’s so valued, as well as provide a sense of stability for everyone in the company.

 “What I’ve kind of loved, what’s really shone through in the culture, is this sense of resilience,” Drew continues. “Despite the fact that it was difficult for a lot of people on a personal level, everyone really seemed to double down on their attachment to GoCardless. And actually what I think was a positive is that employees looked internally to us to provide them information as well - about the pandemic, about working, about wellbeing - we really tried to give people what they needed without overwhelming them. It really showed that trust we have in our teams and the company.”

Throughout the year we have used used a number of tools and channels to bolster morale and keep people informed, positive, and healthy. From slack groups for parents, virtual lunches, mindfulness sessions, talks from dieticians and health providers, lessons led by artists, live music, and, of course, the weekly town halls over Zoom, bringing together the whole global team for updates, insights and news - we've maintained multiple points of connection across the company.

A special mention goes to Donut, a new app provided via slack that links up people across the business, including the exec team, for virtual coffees and conversation. 

Continuing the conversation

“Keeping people together was really important, providing visibility and making sure we protect our values like openness and connection, it was really important to us when we were thinking about platforms like Donut and what kind of benefit sessions we wanted to provide,” says Meghan. “This was also why we also decided to run our wellness weeks online.” 

Involving a series of talks from food and fitness experts, mindfulness sessions, and an open forum on mental health topics, the wellness weeks played a key role in not just preserving the culture but fostering a deeper sense of togetherness and community.

One of the people who spoke at the event was Eva Ducruezet, Chief People Officer and VP of Strategy and Business Operations. “We’ve always been very comfortable with tough topics at GoCardless. We have hard conversations about mental health, disability, work life balance, menopause, racism and diversity. But now we’ve become even more open. I never could have imagined speaking about my experiences with anxiety and depression in the past - especially not in front of 200 colleagues - but doing so made me realise how we can really embed those values of openness, empathy, and compassion into our culture for the long-term. Because I don’t think we would have survived the way we have without those values - they’re already in there, starting with Hiroki’s leadership - so now we have this opportunity to formalise them, to make them part of our hiring process, our internal communications, our management.” 

Jade Skeete, regulatory compliance lead UK and co-chair of GoCardless’ D&I Group, BEAM, similarly remarked that it was our culture of openness and candid conversation that allowed the community to grow even closer through the summer, particularly in the wake of the global Black Lives Matter protests.

“We have a lot of people from different backgrounds at GoCardless, so the BLM movement impacted a lot of people across the business. I don’t think some people realised at first the level of hurt that black people were feeling. But there were real efforts to recognise what was happening and educate people where necessary. We also ran a session specifically on BLM and mental health,” Jade explains. “In some ways the pandemic helped people to slow down. There was no pretending you hadn’t seen the news, so it forced people to take a stand. It was interesting, when you actually have conversations with people, you realise most people care but just don’t know what to do. It was also great to see the senior team open up on the panel discussions and townhalls. We all know that we’re all human, but it’s so good to actually see it. To know we’re not alone.”

Growing together, remotely

Supporting employee wellbeing is a central pillar to the culture here at GoCardless. It empowers everyone to bring more of their true selves to work, to engage with each other, to be authentic and vulnerable in order to grow. It has also been vital to the way we have adapted to the challenges presented by the pandemic, with plenty of learnings and insights around how to keep a business running and thriving despite the most challenging of circumstances. 

As Eva notes, “If you’d asked me a year ago if you could have your best year financially and also bring in all the changes we’ve had in the last year culturally, plus take in account the external unpredictability and the management of huge new projects that were a complete surprise, and also do all this whilst working remotely - I would have said no. But actually all of this happened. There’s no way we’d go back to the business-as-usual of a year ago. There’s a lot we’ll continue into 2021.”

“It was essentially about taking something that could be seen as destructive and looking at it as an opportunity to help everyone grow.”

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