It takes more than a pandemic to diminish a strong company culture.
At market intelligence platform CB Insights, socializing and strategizing in an office was the ideal setting for living out the company’s core values, or the five H’s: hard work, high standards, hunger, helpfulness and humility.
“The office was our incubator where we practiced those values based on our five H’s,” Amanda DiTrolio, a healthcare intelligence associate, said. “But our existing culture was pressure-tested by the pandemic.”
In-person collaboration is an important part of problem-solving at CB Insights, and impromptu opportunities to catch up with colleagues had a high value. Shifting those interactions remotely took consistent work, Alex Kern, a fintech intelligence analyst, said.
“Keeping the three-dimensional aspect of interactions alive was the biggest challenge,” Kern said. “We had to make sure we’re still getting to know colleagues rather than only connecting through the task-oriented communication that’s happening all the time.”
Being pushed into having sessions over Zoom highlighted the importance of that regular collaboration.”
Yet, team members showed a lot of agency shifting in-person events to remote settings, like hack day, and building new traditions, like Slack channels dedicated to wellness and working from home or spontaneous breakfast chats.
“To replace running into co-workers at the coffee machine or grabbing lunch, I do impromptu Zoom calls with my team,” Julien Capron, the director of engineering, said. “If I’m having breakfast and someone wants to have breakfast as well, we’ll video chat. Or I’ll keep my Zoom open for 40 minutes and allow anyone to join if they can.”
As it turned out, connecting over Zoom and Slack actually offered benefits not found in the office: Employees found more opportunities to meet new people through randomized coffee dates on Slack’s Donut app and chatting in the new channels. Cross-team brainstorming sessions occurred with greater frequency and benefited from the informality that Zooming-from-home provides.
“We’ve seen those core values transcend the boundaries of an office,” DiTrolio said. “Employees from every part of the country have maintained the culture over Zoom — it’s been great.”
Building better brainstorms
Since impromptu conversations at someone’s desk were no longer an option, the CB Insights team had to make communication more deliberate. But the adjustment seems to have paid off. Team members said brainstorming sessions over Zoom benefit from the informality of people working in the comfort of their homes. Some practices — like structuring times to problem-solve with others — will stick around even after in-office life resumes because of the benefits they provide.
Healthcare Intelligence Associate Amanda DiTrolio: The nature of our work on the research team is pretty heads down. We’re often in our own workflows and streams of thought when doing our data analysis and writing our briefs. I’ve been better about having more one-on-one brainstorming sessions with people on my team or across pods to talk out my ideas and examine them before I write them. Or we’ll have the healthcare team brainstorm with the consumer team over Zoom to identify opportunities for research.
Seeing more faces more frequently and having those brainstorm sessions has been, and will continue to be, really important. Being pushed into having those sessions over Zoom highlighted the importance of that regular collaboration.
Having things a bit more informal can be helpful for brainstorming and collaboration.”
Fintech Intelligence Analyst Alex Kern: I agree. There are a lot more structured interactions, whereas before, conversations were more spontaneous because they could be. Some of that structure will remain because it’s so helpful. There are benefits to holding ourselves accountable to regular interactions with people rather than waiting for them to happen randomly. And I think there will be a concerted effort for people to stay involved in groups and clubs after this moment as well.
There’s also some informality that comes with doing everything remotely that I see as a positive. It creates a more relaxed atmosphere. Having things be a bit more informal can be helpful for brainstorming and collaboration compared to meetings in a brightly-lit conference room. When you’re in your apartment talking to someone else in their apartment, it makes for a more relaxed experience, and it’s been one of the silver linings of this whole thing.
The Ongoing Success of CB Insights' Hack Day
Everyone’s favorite “H”
CB Insights updated its values just before the pandemic started — adding “high standards” and “hard work” — and the rollout was timely. The evolved values helped reemphasize the role the H’s play in maintaining the culture and guiding employees’ day-to-day, no matter their tenure.
DiTrolio: For people that have been at the company for a while, it was good to have a reminder of the values. Their meaning was reinstated for people already on the team. It also helped new team members learn the values and how we try to embody them.
My favorite H is “helpfulness.” It’s the idea of being adaptable to change, which allows us to help our teammates when things come up. As someone newer to the company who was onboarded fully remotely, it’s a trait I’ve seen highlighted across the teams. In light of all this change, everyone across teams has been able to deal with all their work and also make space for new people to come on.
We maintain more constant dialogue than we had previously in the office.”
Director of Engineering Julien Capron: My favorite H is “hunger.” It’s important to always keep learning and pushing personal limits, as well as the team’s limits. People motivate each other. As we learn — and share those learnings — others could get inspired to learn on their own.
On the engineering team, we do a biweekly team lunch and learn where people are invited to share what they’ve learned. It could be something they worked on that they’re proud of, something they learned or even a book they want to share.
Kern: “High standards” is my favorite H, but in combination with “helpfulness.” The challenge is, how do we maintain the high standards of our work when we don’t have people in arm’s reach who can help? And it’s hard to know when we can be helpful to others. So now we’re much more proactive about reaching out to people. We maintain more constant dialogue than we had previously in the office when we could just turn to people on our left and right.
It’s not all about business
Amid the reorganization of workflows and company values, CB Insights team members also found time to have fun. Taking in-person hangout sessions virtual allowed Capron to participate in the Dungeon and Dragons club for the first time since he didn’t have to commute during the evening hours when they play. He’s since become a regular member.
Team-based happy hours — some new, some that existed pre-pandemic — took on heightened precedence. One thing that aligns both activities is the agency that team members have in facilitating them. Anyone can run with an idea for an event for their team.
DiTrolio: We had a virtual wine tasting. We all logged on Zoom and we had a sommelier walk us through the different steps of a wine-tasting process. That was a fun event people enjoyed.
Capron: Engineering had a wine tasting, too, and that was very fun. Other events are very self-organized. We have “Funday Friday” at 5 p.m. every week on the engineering team. We close off the week with a card or board game, which translates very well to the remote situation. We found a new set of games to play on Zoom. It started with one team, then another, and more people kept joining when they heard about it.
DiTrolio: We have a sales and research happy hour event every Thursday after work that’s pretty free-form. If people have time, they can log on and chat about their weeks or what they’re planning to do over the weekend. Those types of events are ad hoc; anyone can have an idea, and we’ll do it.