This year has challenged leaders of every industry to navigate a new landscape with their customers, employees, partners, and broader communities. As we enter yet another month of remote work, I’ve been reflecting on what’s worked for my team and how we can continue to unite as an organization under a common goal.
While it’s difficult to face the unknown of COVID-19, I also believe every leader can take steps to put their organization on solid footing when confronted with a global challenge.
We can’t know exactly what’s next, but we can prepare, lead with data, and think creatively to help us overcome uncertainty and commit to solving the bigger problem. Here are three ways to do so.
Conduct “the sky is falling” exercises
In the last few years, our leadership team has prioritized preparing for the worst. We predicted a recession would come; we just didn’t know when.
So we practiced “the sky is falling” exercises — the evaluation of different economic scenarios — and readied ourselves for every outcome.
In 2017, we saw the bull market continue its decline into ever-higher valuations, so we thought through different severities of recessions that could occur between 2017 and 2019. And in that time we raised nearly $800 million to stay financially ready for anything.
While our board of directors was reluctant at first and kept reminding us to only ‘raise when you need it,’ we persisted because we didn’t know when the downturn would arrive.
In the case of COVID-19, we’re preparing now for different outcomes: a recovery not until the beginning of 2021 and a deep recession that could last as long as four years and have stronger impacts than the 2008 downturn. While we put scenario planning exercises into place before the pandemic, COVID-19 has made the need to stay prepared even clearer.
I strongly believe that to get ahead of inevitable change and downturns you’ll face when running a company, you have to hope for the best but plan for the worst to make it through tough times.
Leverage data to proactively monitor and manage employee morale
While we had a globally dispersed team with 40% of our workforce remote before the pandemic, the shift to a fully remote team amplified the technology efficiencies we’d already implemented.
Aside from adjusting our technology stack to work for a global team working from home, we faced both challenges and opportunities in maintaining our new virtual culture.
Many leaders question how to maintain company culture and boost employee morale amidst so much uncertainty and without a physical presence in the office.
We are intensely data-focused as a company, so, unsurprisingly, we decided to turn to data to lead with full transparency and see how our employees coped with the psychological challenges of working from home.
At the beginning of March, we started conducting company-wide “employee check-in” surveys monthly. The questions ranged from “how happy are you at work” to “how would you rate our communications during the COVID-19 WFH period” to “has this WFH period made you want to continue working from home in the future?”
Each month, we measured the percentage change from the previous survey to understand how employees fared that month, what we would improve on, and their vision for the future of remote work at Databricks.
In a recent survey, we saw that 90% of employees felt they were just as productive or more productive at home and that many would want to continue working from home more frequently or full time, so we’re structuring our back-to-the-office plans with that sentiment in mind.
Through data, leaders can make sound decisions on what’s best for the entire employee base and address concerns early.
Rethink the way you’ve always done things
To navigate our new fully dispersed workforce, we’ve had to rethink the way we used to operate and adjust accordingly across all teams. This has meant maintaining an openness to let go of tradition and a willingness to embrace change.
Across all teams, we’ve considered how we can adapt to keep employees motivated and meet our customers’ changing needs. On our sales team, we’ve changed the way we compensate; now, it’s more about usage and less about upfront deals and commitments.
On our customer success team, we’ve offered to support our customers in the hardest-hit verticals, like travel and hospitality, in ways we can. We know COVID-19 is a data problem and that the world needs data more than ever to help solve the crisis, so we’re stepping up to provide government agencies and healthcare professionals with the tools they need to track the virus, curb the spread, and analyze critical data.
On the events and communications teams, we just took on our biggest task yet: converting our traditionally in-person Spark + AI Summit to a virtual event with almost 70,000 registrants.
Many of the changes we make now — in how we prepare, boost employee morale, and turn toward organizations that need it most — will have a lasting impact on our business and community in the long-term. This isn’t the only obstacle we’ll face: there will be more “Black Swan” or unpredictable, rare events in our future.
As leaders, we have an obligation to rethink how we lead our teams into this next era of this pandemic and into the future as we face our next inevitable roadblock.
Published October 5, 2020 — 08:52 UTC