As the world stutters back from the COVID-19 pandemic, much has been written about workforce needs of the past and those of the emerging future and how it all affects workplace culture. A recent Harvard Business Review article,”Before Saying ‘Yes’ to a Job, Consider Company Culture,” actually prompted the writing of this article.
At the onset of the pandemic, companies and their employees, like us, were suddenly thrust into uncharted territory. Sudden, erratic, uncomfortable adjustments on the fly, sometimes day to day, based on government, medical, political, and social recommendations, made us not only crazy and scared but also left us blind as to how it would all turn out. The silver lining? Willing or not, we adopted and adapted to the only option available, 100% remote work but business as usual. So, we started cautiously, continued confidently, and finally embraced a new normal.
We’re lucky to be a small and flexible organization, but that wasn’t an option for everyone. Millions were forced to leave the workforce entirely. With schools shutting down, families either lacked sufficient means to pay caregivers or simply didn’t have time to be both full-time caregivers and full-time workers simultaneously.
A CREATIVE AND THRIVING ORGANIZATIONAL CULTURE
The Jewish Fertility Foundation, founded in 2015 to provide emotional, financial, and educational support to families experiencing medical infertility, understood the mission was more than words on a website so shutting down or being rigid were never options. “We pivoted, got creative, increased our trust in those who worked for us, and guess what… we not only survived, we thrived, and even grew throughout the pandemic.”
Indeed, staff at all levels expressed appreciation for JFF’s family first philosophy. JFF-Atlanta’s manager Kayla Heering shared, “I wanted to find a job where I could make a difference but didn’t feel like my family had to come second. I am so thankful for JFF and love working with the JFF team because it’s a group of majority women that work really hard but being a mom always comes first. I feel very supported as a mom in this community.”
SUPPORTING FAMILIES WHILE WORKING REMOTELY
Supporting families is a central value to the organization’s leadership, and that value was intentionally incorporated into all aspects of JFF. There was no question that family should and would continue to come first. Weekly staff meetings moved to Zoom, and no one batted an eye if the occasional toddler joined. Meetings and conversations became more flexible in both time and medium. There were days that we met in our pajamas with a screaming child demanding chocolate, and it actually became, dare I say ‘fun’? It forced us to let down our guard and we’re even closer now than before.
As for work itself? Remote meetings gave us a chance to collaborate more fully, discuss and receive feedback on projects, and benefit from all team member’s input, not just those sitting face to face in a room. Relationships remain a vital part of who we are, so we’ve been intentional in cultivating them within our staff teams. Our staff meetings are a time to share not just upcoming tasks or events, but also to reflect on our successes and struggles, to brainstorm together better ways to work, and to celebrate our team and the work they do. (Oh, and also to help one another figure out how to remove the mustache on our face that our loving child added to our Zoom pictures).
NATIONAL EXPANSION & NEW STAFF POSITIONS
Given how nimble and dynamic JFF has been during the pandemic, the growth is not surprising. We opened a new office in Birmingham, Al. and will be opening an office in Tampa, Fl. in the coming months, not to mention we’re hiring for our first development director. The move online has actually allowed us to more effectively incorporate staff at our new offices into our team on equal footing. We have learned a lot about staff onboarding, support, and supervision in the last year, and what qualities to look for when we hire new staff. Trust is vital to our success – the team trusts me to give them the support they need, and I trust them to achieve their goals. Most of us don’t work a typical 9-5, but we get the job done.”
Will the Jewish Fertility Foundation move back to an in-person office environment? Probably not; certainly not for all of our offices. It doesn’t make financial sense to maintain office space in every city. We are planning an in-person professional development retreat for our staff in December but we’re ready to shift it to a virtual retreat if the Delta variant continues to get worse. We are continuing to scale our organization nationally and hope to open one to three new offices annually. Expanding our services and helping more individuals and couples through their fertility journeys- that’s a better use of our resources.
Elana Frank is founder and chief executive officer of Jewish Fertility Foundation in Atlanta, Ga.