I often tell people that I have four children. Kirby, Jackson, Brooks and this pretty amazing baby that magically appeared on the scene when I decided that starting a business in my basement in the middle of a dot-com crash and months before 9/11 would be a stellar idea. This 4th child — GroundFloor Media (GFM) and its sister agency CenterTable which joined the “family” in 2016 – has been nothing short of a wonderful, wild ride these past two decades.
However, this year has challenged us unlike any other year in our 20-year history. Like many other businesses, we are managing the ups and downs of COVID-19, the fight for racial justice, the challenges of employing working parents who are being asked to juggle work while managing remote classrooms (I know first-hand that Google has the answers to everything a 4th grader – and his mom – should know).
When I woke up on Nov. 3, I nervously scanned all of my favorite newsfeeds in search of the latest political news, but I also encountered a silver lining – we were named No. 2 on Outside Magazine’s Best Places to Work for 2020. That honor marked the eighth consecutive year we were recognized in the Top 10 – the longest run of any company currently on the list.
This award is particularly meaningful this year. I have witnessed team members battling cancer, watching their loved ones pass away from this virus, coping with a spouse losing her job and a team member trying to be the cheerleader to his only child heading off to college in the midst of a not-so-normal freshman year. And each and every one of our team has shown up for one another and for our clients in very big and vulnerable ways.
Yes, I want to toot our own horn for winning this award because I am so proud of my colleagues who make our company such a special place. But more importantly, I want to use this forum to share with other business leaders because this can be a really scary time to be a leader. And if we can share ideas and best practices about how we have all gotten uber creative during these past nine months, we will be stronger together.
So, I will share a bit of our story. In 2019, we moved back into our Downtown Denver office after moving out for 11 months while we completely gutted the building in order to create a modern open-space concept. At the beginning of the pandemic, we once again shut the office down and added walls and glass to allow for proper social-distance practices for those who self-selected to work in the office. (We made the decision to utilize the office as a “mental health break” space for team members who need to work outside of their home occasionally, rather than moving forward with a full re-opening of the office.)
But it was so much more than remodeling our physical space. Our team member’s personal wellbeing is as important to us as their professional sanity and in an attempt to unwind and connect with one another, we’ve added “Get Connected to Stay Grounded” virtual sessions where we held classes including “Sip and Draw,” “Aroma Acupoint Therapy” sessions and a “Virtual Cocktail/Mocktail Class.”
We have always been focused on striving for a “work-life blend.” Our autonomous culture allows employees to work when, where and how it works best for their lifestyle (ski lifts and hiking trails included). That includes “Trusted Time Off” unlimited vacation days and mandatory meeting-free time “Zero-Entry Mondays” on Monday mornings before 11am. The advent of COVID-19 may have put a halt on most in-person gatherings, but our weekly (now virtual) beer club gatherings, $50 monthly “Active Lifestyle Allowance” and four hours per month paid time off for volunteering haven’t changed. Because this can be a really isolating and frustrating time, we encourage each member to take care of themselves by prioritizing times to get outside or stretch or meditate throughout the day.
As leaders in the company, we have tried to stay in front of team members with personalized check-ins, sending surprise and delight gifts of lasagna and wine from our friends at Attimo, allowing team members to Choose Their Own Online Adventure including offering a digitally interactive adventure camp for their kiddos through AVID4 or offering an online subscription to MasterClass for six months. We also provided a team of “resilience coaches” from Downstream Partners for all team members to utilize and organized “Pandemic Partners” as a buddy system for mental well-being and allowed team members to change their work status options (100%, 75%, 50% & contractor) based on changing family needs.
As an extension of GroundFloor Media and CenterTable’s Doing My Part Colorado effort, we launched a new podcast series, Good & Grounded, where Jim Licko and I work with our (kick-ass) producer Armand Piecuch to interview dynamic and passionate local Colorado leaders who are impacting our community during this time of uncertainty. I have always loved the quote by Winston Churchill – We make a living by what we get, but we make a life by what we give. The leaders whom we speak with are the ones making a huge difference in our state. Had the pandemic not hit, I am not sure we would have slowed down long enough to honor what these selfless leaders give to others during good and bad times.
We are not perfect. In fact, we make a lot of mistakes and the bottom line is this is just hard. But there are silver linings and when I see a ranking like the recent one from Outside, I know that it matters. It matters because it shows that our team members are valued, and that they consider themselves long-term partners at GroundFloor Media and CenterTable. That means that clients have access to our highly talented team members, and that team members with institutional knowledge remain part of their teams for years.
I would love to hear about the other innovative ways Colorado leaders are working to keep their teams connected and inspired. Maybe we can even interview those of you willing to share a few of your pandemic survival ideas with us on an upcoming Good & Grounded episode? If so, drop me a line at firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can get through this.