In March of 2020, the leaders of edtech company GiveCampus were feeling good.
At the time, the then-30-person startup had just moved into a brand new, 12,000-square-foot office in DC’s Navy Yard. Boxes were still on desks, and CEO Kestrel Linder said everyone was still figuring out where the bathroom was and the best local coffee spot. But we all know how this story ends. A few weeks later, everyone was sent home, and life changed more or less forever.
Now, the GiveCampus of 2022 looks a little different. It’s ballooned to 66 people, spread out across 21 states and DC. It still has its nice office digs down at the Navy Yard, but it’s now optional how much employees want to use it. On any given day, you could find anywhere from zero employees at headquarters to 20 or 30 once a quarter.
With all the changes, though, Linder said it was really important to him to not let the positive company culture slide.
“Doubling in size places a lot of pressure on the culture of a group,” Linder told Technical.ly. “Things really change when, all of a sudden, wherever there was one person, now there are two people or in our case a little bit more than two people. That creates a lot of pressure.”
In the beginning, Linder said the team tried a couple of different angles to maintain culture among a remote staff. GiveCampus staff hosted virtual trivia days and virtual cooking classes, but what stuck were the chances to see even a small group of coworkers IRL. Now, the open-office policy helps people plan workdays together, even those coming from out of state.
Alongside this, the company makes an effort to help employees meet up wherever they can, be it an out-of-state coworking day for West Coast employees or an employee lunch closer to home.
“Whenever anybody at GiveCampus wants or needs to spend time in person with other people at GiveCampus, the company will support making that happen however it can,” Linder said.
Something else the company kept post-pandemic was a mental health stipend for employees. While a number of the company’s healthcare plans include therapy, according to Linder, employees can also receive up to $300 per year in reimbursements for mental health expenses. Employees aren’t required to say what the expense was for, they just need to email the person who manages benefits and ask for a reimbursement.
For Linder, this helps acknowledge to employees that leadership is aware of the challenges and stresses of the pandemic and acknowledges there’s sometimes a need for extra help. He’s not sure what it’s meant for productivity, since there’s no way to measure it, but he said the benefit is popular among employees and has garnered a lot of good feedback.
“We wanted to show that the company was there to help support people and not just support you in the sense of we get it, period,” Linder said. “But more in the sense of, we’re actually going to put the company’s muscle into supporting you in a meaningful way.”
On the whole, Linder views company culture as an “amorphous concept” related to the interactions among a large group of people. He thinks it requires being very intentional about what cultural values and characteristics exist already, which ones the company wants to accentuate and what to minimize overtime. Altogether, it’s much more of an art than a science, and requires looking at employees as a whole person, not just in their work life.
“Mental health, physical health, emotional well-being are all tied together,” Linder said. “In order to thrive in life, in order to thrive at work, you need to take care of the whole you, and [GiveCampus] supports taking care of the whole you.”
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