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Chicago Organizations Are Blazing a Trail Through the New Normal

By Kevin Beerman / April 29, 2020

After more than a month of quarantine, Chicagoans are working to establish habits and routines to make this “new normal” feel, well, normal.

Some of the greatest changes have been to how we work, and many area organizations are finding innovative ways to adapt. Some organizations are doubling down on tools they already used to stay connected before the crisis began, like Slack. Others are integrating new tools to bring employees together, not only on essential work projects, but also in solidarity to take care of each other during the unprecedented time.

At Chicago Ideas, we take innovative thinking in the face of disruption pretty seriously. Curiosity about how to find a powerful solution in the face of immense challenges is what we’re all about, and forms the foundation of our community of curiosity.

So we reached out to some of our Partners to understand how they’re adapting to these entirely new shelter-in-place policies, and discover what innovations they’re developing along the way.

Table XI

New Tech Connects

Chicago Ideas (CI): How is Table XI adapting to things?
Mark Rickmeier (MR): We made the move to work in a fully distributed fashion by mid-March. It has been perhaps easier to stay in touch with our employees and clients on a day to day basis. But with all of Chicago’s major conferences and events being cancelled, I have been missing the opportunity to regularly connect with other leaders in the city.

Last week, we started a weekly huddle on Friday afternoons to regularly connect with executives and leaders to talk about the pandemic, the impact it is having on us personally (and professionally), and the opportunities to lead in this “new normal”. It was honestly very good to see some of these faces again. Every week, for an hour, we will get together as a community to connect, share insights, and support each other:

CI: How are people at TXI staying connected and taking care of each other?
MR: We created a separate COVID-19 Slack channel for those that want to discuss the pandemic. It was important to create a space for those who want to talk about it while not overwhelming those that are feeling stress and pressure given the circumstance. It keeps the discussion going without making it in everyone’s face.

We have a virtual series of hangouts with a dedicated Zoom account just for this purpose. So people can sign in for an impromptu lunch or quick chat – or we can organize a virtual event for the whole company. Even our chef has started to teach virtual masterclasses on how to prepare healthy and easy meals at home.

We started a video series called “Fill Me In Friday” where we highlight one story each week from the company. The video is more fun to watch than an email or Slack chat and provides a different kind of storytelling opportunity

The first week of the quarantine, we sent an air purifying plant to each employee at their home. It was a small gesture that we all enjoyed in common – a little bit of nature and green we could all have in our homes.

CI: What are some ways you’ve tried to create a sense of normalcy?
MR: We have created some new rituals for people to sign on at the start of the day and to sign off at end of day. It has become important to set boundaries around work hours and let folks when you are (and when you are NOT) available.

We gave each employee a stipend to get equipment for their home to make the environment easier (for some, it was spent on ergonomics and better chairs and desks. For others, it was spent on monitors and cameras). Each person could improve their set up so they can be more efficient and connected while at home

CI: What are some lessons you’ve already learned about working under these circumstances?

MR: It is important to focus on physical health: it is all too easy to spend time at your desk all day (only a few feet from your bedroom). It is important to develop a ritual of physical activity (stretching, yoga, walking, etc.).

It is important to focus on mental health. With no more physical separation between the office and home, it is easy to “take work home” with you. Each person needs to set hour boundaries on the start and end of the day and resist the temptation to be online at all hours. Apps like CALM help to be in the moment and put work behind you at the end of the day

And finally, Increase communication and transparency. In a moment of stress, people will get nervous about the incredible amount of uncertainty. A key learning has been focusing on over-communicating almost everything, recording presentations, writing down agendas and meeting minutes, and providing incredible transparency into financials that affect the entire company (revenue, profit, cash position).

Kindle Communications

The Key is Communicate, Communicate, Communicate

Chicago Ideas (CI): How is Kindle handling things?
Becca Lyon (BL): Kindle takes this current situation very seriously and the safety and health of our employees are of utmost importance. First and foremost, out of compliance for the current Illinois stay at home order and our understanding of the need to flatten the curve, we’ve temporarily closed our office doors and requested all staff work from home for the foreseeable future.

We’ve prepared ourselves to continue regular business functions remotely by onboarding a new video conferencing platform (an upgrade from our previous platform) to better support this new environment, enhancing our internal communications on a regular basis and hosting virtual all-staff meetings twice a week. Additionally, we’ve appointed a committee responsible for communicating news, updates, self-care tips, and support surrounding the COVID-19 situation.

CI: How are you keeping people connected?
BL: Our company has relied heavily on our internal communications platform, Slack, to stay connected on a daily basis. We’ve developed dedicated channels for daily check-ins, isolation tips, and fun conversation to provide some laughter during times of uncertainty.

Our marketing team frequently requests participation in some social posts focused on the work from home lifestyle where employees submit pictures or video to be included in each week’s posts. The personal nature and break from reality provides a deeper sense of connection among our staff and maintains our culture we worked so hard to build in the office. Additionally, teams frequently host Zoom video check-ins and happy hours to keep the communication going and provide some sense of normalcy to the daily routine.

CI: What is the most important lesson you’ve learned about maintaining a remote culture?
The biggest thing we’ve learned is to try and maintain some sense of your normal routine, whether it be waking up and going to bed at the same time every day, taking coffee or lunch breaks like you would in the office, and having set times you unplug at night.

We’re also prioritizing our people’s mental and physical health by understanding the vast differences and strains each employee is uniquely facing. It’s part of our ‘Kin. Kind. Kindle.’ approach to culture in making sure everyone in our work family is supported at an individual level.


A Culture of Health

Chicago Ideas (CI): How is W20 responding to the COVID-19 crisis?
Anita Bose (AB): During this incredibly unique time, every organization is working toward redefining the new normal. At W2O, we are dedicated to making the world a healthier place, and this mission extends to our employees as we are all coping with our new reality.

Nothing is more important than the health of our W2O teams. To support their overall mental health and wellness, we’re offering all W2O staff three tele-counseling sessions with a Licensed Clinical Social Worker. As a healthcare company rooted in data, science guides our decisions, which is why well before state restrictions, we enforced social distancing for all employees.

Although we are physically distant, we’ve stayed connected. Our team has taken full advantage of the technology we have at our disposal to ensure no W2Oer feels alone or disconnected. We have weekly town halls with our CEO, Jim Weiss, karaoke mashups via our company’s intranet, virtual meditation sessions, and happy hours.

CI: How have you all stayed connected in such a quickly changing healthcare environment?
AB: As healthcare communicators and marketers, we are partnering alongside our clients to continue the work of making the world a healthier place. The knowledge and insights that we glean as we learn more around the impact of the coronavirus allow us to keep W2Oers informed on the latest science, data, and news around COVID-19.