How do you support and care for your team during a Pandemic?

By setting up the foundations to build a great place to “be”, and not just to “work”.

Sebastian Bueno
Feb 11 · 5 min read

Since the World Health Organisation declared COVID-19 to be a global pandemic in March 2020, it’s been a busy time for the People & Operations team here at Vizzuality.

We have worked closely with our peers across the organisation to ensure we are doing the best we possibly can for our people, empowering them to navigate the impact of an unprecedented global pandemic, whilst also trying to nurture Vizzuality’s purpose. In this blog, I will explain what we did to support our team, and share my take on how to navigate a pandemic whilst supporting and caring for your team.

Our foundation is anchored on three principles: Engagement & Wellbeing, Creating Space for Dialogue, and Culture & Community.

1. Engagement & Wellbeing: “People First Team.”

On 11 March 2020, our team transitioned overnight from remote-friendly to fully-remote. Within three days, we set up a cross-functional People First team to design experiences, spaces and tools to maintain engagement and team wellbeing.

  • We provided tools to empower: We co-wrote 21 newsletters with ideas, tips and tools on Resilience, Focus and Community.
  • We listened and acted based on Data: We set up a fortnightly “People Survey” to get a better understanding about how our people were feeling and experiencing the pandemic and also to identify new opportunities to support them.
  • We (over)communicated: We knew that when things are uncertain and complex, every day counts, and the important messages about company financials and health, project pipeline or sales, needed to be understood and well received by everyone. Our Exec team did a great job sharing the “good, bad, and the ugly” news.
  • “We all have Mental Health”: Data from our People Survey started to show that sustaining wellbeing and mental health was going to be a marathon. In response, after the summer we kicked off an initiative that provides our people with access to therapists on-demand and mental health resources.

2. Creating Space for Dialogue: “Remote Working & Future of Work.”

Once I read (thanks Susan!) that “transformation happens when everyone who wants to build the new thing, actually builds the new thing”, and at Vizzuality we truly believe in that. In an organisation like ours, ongoing invitations for participation are needed to help everyone un-learn the expectation that change is ‘done to us’.

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In this specific case, we invited the whole organisation to make sense and have a voice in our transition to “Fully Remote”. Using workshops, surveys, and individual conversations, everyone was actively shaping and engaged in re-imagining our “Future Workplace”.

3. Culture & Community: “The glue that brings everyone together.”

It’s fair to say we all want to work in a great team, create meaningful relations, and belong to something bigger than ourselves. But when you are in the midst of a pandemic, the possibilities of getting people together to bond, nurture those relationships, and develop new skills, gets a lot more difficult.

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Vizz Music
  • “We crowded together and nestled closely”: Throughout 2020, we created different “virtual spaces” for people to connect and have a good time together. These included Meeting Check-In & Out, Huddles & Water Coolers, Thursday Night Cañas, Music Concerts & Festivals, and Christmas Celebrations.
  • “How do we want to be together?” We also took a few steps forward when it comes to shaping the culture we want for Vizzuality. We got together to make sense and reflect as a team on how we can all have a caring and respectful experience when being and working together. We also launched a Slack Recognition channel to encourage people to express their appreciation and love to their peers.
  • Developing Human Skills. In a company organised the way we are (self-managed, distributed leadership, etc.), open and straightforward communication and effective emotional skills are essential. Last year we put extra focus and care into raising our team’s awareness and also empowered them with resources on how to give better peer feedback, handle conflicts, and how to increase their accountability and performance through agreements and social contracts.

What’s my take on how to navigate a pandemic whilst supporting and caring for the team?

If I have to summarise my experience and personal learnings of 2020, I would say whatever you do:

Stay true to your purpose.

At Vizzuality “we believe in a fair and sustainable planet by creating tools that radically empower people to make positive changes now”. Try, as much as you can, to focus your efforts on aligning your day to day “people work” to the higher purpose of the organisation. In our case, this meant building tools to empower people so they could navigate this complex time we were living. (i.e. spaces to make sense, mental health support, resources & tips, learning sessions, recognition channel, etc).

Care: Communicate, involve and listen to the team.

We also asked ourselves how to get the team onboard? How do we do this without commanding or imposing things on them? Place a lot of effort in creating spaces for dialogue, and use data to inform your decisions. 2020 was a year for over communication, frequent updates and full transparency with our people. We treated the team like grown-ups.

Be Flexible, Experiment & Iterate.

Finally, ask yourself, what do we need to “stop, start and continue” doing? Which is the work that will have the most impact to support people and therefore the sustainability of our organisation?

Don’t be afraid to use a“Parking Lot” to park all those great ideas and initiatives you plan to implement. The most important thing now is to “leave your ego at the door” and refocus your efforts and resources on running a few (or many) experiments on what is most needed by the team in that specific moment. In our case, this meant Engagement & Wellbeing, Remote Working & Future of Work, and Culture & Community.

Sebastian Bueno is Vizzuality’s People and Culture Coordinator. He helps people grow and unleash their potential, lives by the belief that “sharing is caring”, and stays happy by tending to his plants, meditating and practising yoga.

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and…

Sebastian Bueno

Written by

Applying people centric design, and a bit of love, to build great organisational cultures and experiences at work (Org Design, Learning & Performance, Change)

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and software development. We create tools and applications with a lasting benefit to society and the environment.

Sebastian Bueno

Written by

Applying people centric design, and a bit of love, to build great organisational cultures and experiences at work (Org Design, Learning & Performance, Change)

Vizzuality Blog

Posts on data design, user research, open data, and software development. We create tools and applications with a lasting benefit to society and the environment.

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