FINCH Company Culture in the Time of COVID-19
At Finch, we recently celebrated our ten year anniversary; for the first four years we were entirely virtual, everyone worked remotely. Flashforward to 2020, we have 65 employees in 9 different countries on 3 continents, many of them spread over a lot of satellite offices. Video calls are standard practice around these parts, not just internally, but also client-facing. We support customers in Germany from Ireland or we work from the Philippines with customers in the US. Coming from an already decentralized and digitized work environment, we had a clear advantage when forced to work from home due to COVID-19. So what actually changed for us?
Besides all the negative effects that this crisis has for us economically and personally, a beautiful thing began to stand out more than ever: our unique company culture at Finch.
What Is Company Culture?
Per definition, company culture can be described as the shared ethos of an organization. It’s the way people feel about the work they do, the values they believe in, where they see the company going and what they’re doing to get there. Collectively, these traits represent the personality – or culture – of an organization. We at Finch have always lived a very strong culture, showcased at various global/regional summits and meetups. Our uniqueness starts with the personalities of our two founders and ends with an insanely high amount of office dogs in our Salt Lake City headquarters. But the recent challenges have triggered our company culture even more. There are a few things I’d like to highlight.
Strong Leadership and Transparent Communication
From the very beginning, our leadership team took the Coronavirus with all its potential consequences very seriously. A reason for that might be that Bjorn, our Co-Founder and CEO, had spent some time in Japan in February. The first cases of COVID-19 over there had just been detected and the huge customer conference of our client Rakuten, where Bjorn was supposed to hold a keynote, was canceled last minute. Finch sent all employees home for an undefined period of time, one whole week before the US recognized it as a pandemic! In a global all-hands call we heard very early about the plans of our leadership team strategically positioning our company against the upcoming pandemic, and how to best support our customers during these times. At a time when nobody knew what was even happening, we heard clear words from a prudent and careful leadership team, which provided security during vast uncertainty. The best news: this dynamic cycle continues today!
“Hey guys, Thanks for showing support and positive vibes for how we are working through challenging times as a team! I will start sending out a daily email with a few tidbits to stay in touch and spread some love.”
This was the intro of Bjorn’s first “Daily tune-in” email on March 19. Since that day we’re receiving daily updates on the development of our company as well as our client’s businesses. Additionally, Bjorn highlights accomplishments and wins during all teams and regions on a daily basis. And as a special treat, we get a hand-picked song every single day. We’ve created a Spotify playlist based on that. Check it out! He has quite an eclectic taste.
Global Team Spirit on a New Level
Working internationally is a great opportunity to get to know different locations and cultures. At this time everyone across the globe has one thing in common, the same huge threat called COVID-19. We are realizing that we are all in this together. While many are in physical isolation to protect their safety and that of others, we more than ever feel connected. As a result, we are becoming increasingly caring and are checking in on each other. We’ve been standing together as one global team, sharing challenges and fears, comparing COVID-19 numbers and government programs, and most of all having the most frequent virtual happy hours (admittedly that lead to some early happy hours, as you can imagine with an 8+ hour time difference).
We even had an Easter party and were asked to bring family and friends. This included a very special agenda point, music. Music always plays a crucial role in our company gatherings. Tony, our Director of Sales in Europe, has an underground talent, he’s an outstanding pianist. It’s a common thing at a Finch company event that at some point we end up in a bar with a piano, singing, dancing, and drinking to his live music. We have some talented songwriters, too. Mixing up those two skills made them release our very own COVID-19 Finch song. On the melody of 4 Non Blondes (“What’s going on”) we were singing all together:
“10 years of Finch and united we’re still
Trying to get up that great big hill with hope
For global domination
We realized quickly and we knew for good
That Corona means trouble in the neighborhood of Finch
We’ll fight it by all means….”
Adapt Like a Finch(er) and Stay Focused
Our company was named after the most adaptive species on the planet according to Darwin: the finch. Especially in times of rapid change, being adaptive is more important than ever. Having this in our DNA, we tried to adapt to our changing work environment as quickly as possible, defined new processes, and optimized workflows. One example is the daily structure and collaboration within our teams. From the very first day after the transition into our home-offices, we have established daily stand-ups in our departments, where everybody gives a brief outlook of what he or she wants to have accomplished by the end of the day and which roadblocks need to be removed to do so. This helped dramatically to sharpen the understanding of each other’s daily challenges, which made us collaborate more closely and brought transparency into our workflows across regions.
We did not only optimize our internal workflows due to the home-office situation, but we also adapted to it addressing our external audiences. Let’s explain that with an example: when we prospect for new clients we often offer to come to meet in-person, especially in Europe. Since that is obviously not happening these days, our German sales team has been beyond creative as they invited prospects to an “online pizza party”. They order the pizza delivered to their place and start the conversation about the prospect’s current challenges and what Finch can do for them while having pizza together over a video call.
We know that a company’s culture influences results from top to bottom. It may also be human nature to drive motivation out of a challenging situation. Whatever the reasons are, it is going well for us. As a team, we are very productive and focused. Most importantly we are here for our clients, and try to navigate them through the crisis in the best possible way. But on top of that, we are not waiting around or doing only the most necessary work, we are also driving big changes at this time! Not only did we release our new reporting engine a few weeks ago, but we are also about to roll out a collaboration management software that will take the workflow management between us and our clients to the next level in so many ways. Exciting things ahead! And everybody is pulling in the same direction. Cheers on that!
To sum it up, facing COVID-19 as a global company made us grow – in terms of commitment, compassion and determination, but most of all in the feeling of being one global team. Why did that happen and what might be a take-away for your own business?
- Leadership is crucial in a crisis. In a challenging situation, the CEO of a company has an incredibly important role. Only if the leadership team defines a clear direction, motivation, commitment, and effectiveness of employees can be kept up high.
- Transparent top-to-bottom communication is key, even more in a global team. A lot is uncertain in times of crisis. Many employees are concerned. How about the security of our jobs? Are we going to lose a lot of customers? Which drop in sales over which period can we handle? Questions after questions. It is necessary to explain transparently where we currently stand as a company, and what the worst and best-case scenarios look like. Your staff will appreciate it.
- Corporate culture cannot be enforced. It can be supported by setting the right framework or driving specific activities, but it depends mostly on individual employees hopefully picking up what leadership exemplifies. In our case, we can consider ourselves being very lucky that we can count incredibly great people among our colleagues around the world. We have a lot of unique characters, who are super smart, a lot of fun, always ready to help, and who really make a difference in our company. In a nutshell: people, with whom you not only want to work, but also want to spend time with.
Culture and productivity are closely linked. There are various studies, which prove this point. A positive culture increases the well-being of employees, drives motivation, helps them to focus on the company’s overall goals and supports their wish to contribute to that. It works!
Like everyone, I hope that times will soon get better, we can go back to our everyday life, and things will start to feel normal again. I also hope that once it does, we not only remember COVID-19 as the crisis that caused chaos. Instead, I hope we will remember it as the crisis that brought us closer together.