Community is the key to success at Learnerbly, where Marie Krebs, People Operations Manager, has worked hard to create a culture that emphasises collective action, as well as individual success.
Naturally, as a workplace learning provider, Learnerbly is proud of its internal learning culture and emphasis on employee wellbeing as a path to driving individual and team performance. Before the pandemic, the company already offered benefits such as personal learning budgets to spend on its platform, a healthcare scheme, the option to work from home and flexible hours, with some of the team already distributed.
When Covid-19 hit, however, the company’s primary concern was how best to support its people through the disruption and all the physical and mental strain that came with it.
“We spend so much time at work, it was crucial we adequately supported each other to the best of our capacities, and that only works if each person is empowered to have a say and make an impact at an organisational level,” said Marie.
In early March, when news of the pandemic first surfaced, the company ran a two-day full remote drill to assess what would and would not work in the case of a long-term full remote working roll-out. Employee feedback was gathered and new initiatives were implemented based on this. Learnerbly publicly shared the results of this survey to help other companies to understand what the key blocks and challenges could be.
An adaptable response plan was then drafted and, based on employee feedback, everyone was encouraged to work from home as much as possible.
What were the key challenges?
The main issues the company faced during the transition to full remote working were:
Anxiety about a global situation outside of the leadership team’s control
Employee loneliness due to physical circumstances – the company has a culture of close relationships and fun in the office, which ended overnight
Significant work challenges
“Teams that had never operated remotely like business development and customer success needed to understand how to do so overnight. Regardless of the support offered, it's a huge challenge. While our product team had partially remote experience, we had no idea how we were going to deliver our most significant feature in a completely new working environment,” explained Marie.
Simultaneously, the business launched a furlough-special version of its product to enable organisations to support their furloughed employees for free during this tough period. This drove high engagement, which was an amazing reward, but also required lots of work from the team.
How did the company approach these issues?
“We moved fast, we gave clarity over the things we could control and acknowledged uncertainty about the things we couldn't control,” said Marie.
“With no power over the situation, our leaders were deliberately vocal about acknowledging that this is a difficult, challenging, unprecedented situation and encouraged everyone to share their concerns and seek support as needed”.
Managers embedded these practices in their weekly one-to-one sessions with their reports. The business also implemented alternative means of socialisation and support across the business, including:
A Donut app for casual virtual coffee chats
A variety of watercooler channels from food to games to ‘random’ and ‘picture of the day’
Virtual coffees with everyone across the team for each new joiner during their first month
Introductions to each department for new joiners even if they won't collaborate particularly closely going forward
In August the company launched its first ever internal ‘hackathon’ to drive cross-team collaboration. This involved a 10am – 6pm day with a paid-for lunch break where all employees were invited to start off by sharing new ideas of projects they would like to spend a day collaborating on across teams. At the end of the day, everyone presented their projects and voted.
“We had very positive and enthusiastic feedback about cross-team collaboration which was something people flagged they were particularly missing,” remarked Marie.
What was the overall reaction from employees?
Employees were quick to praise the company’s response to the pandemic. In one feedback survey, an employee commented:
When I first joined Learnerbly, I could tell it was very based on values. It didn't feel like a nine-to-five, it feels more like I've joined a community and I’m participating in a big project. Now it's the same, and it's even more intensified that Learnerbly actually practices what they preach.
At the peak of the pandemic, the company’s employee net promoter score reached an all-time high of 85, while the onboarding feedback score was 9/10 overall. New recruits were warm in their praise of the company, with one commenting, “this is the best onboarding experience I have ever had”.
During the summer’s Black Lives Matter protests and a wider discussion in society about the issue of racial inequality, a black employee at Learnerbly publicly shared the following insight:
This is the first time I’ve ever been part of a workplace that addresses important issues like this. I originally was even worried to apply for this role because I didn’t see anyone who looked like me on the team. I’ve only been here for a few months and I can already see a huge change and I realise I had nothing at all to worry about. I’m so proud to be part of such an inclusive and welcoming team and thank you all for being so supportive and caring at a time like this.
Looking to the future
Over the next three to six months, the company’s immediate priority is to keep up its efforts in supporting mental health among employees and facilitating social bonds.
“Uncertainty and isolation are tough on individuals and can create silos in a business,” explained Marie.
Q4 is always the busiest, most intense time for Learnerbly, so the team is cautious about providing everyone with adequate tools to cope with the demand. November saw the launch of a mental health workshop to help employees approach this challenging time with positivity.
Also on the agenda will be:
Shorter feedback loops in the company’s hiring process, asking candidates for more qualitative input on their experience
Staggered 360 feedback cycles to avoid a bottleneck effect twice a year. (The company plans to model the 360 cycles on employees' lifecycle as opposed to running all reviews at once)
People interviews have already been conducted, so the next step is to sort this information to better understand the learning that can be drawn from this
The team is also working on a manager guide, in a similar style to its new joiner guide and public employee guide
What did our Culture Pioneers ambassadors think?
Communication and a people-focused approach were key to Learnerbly’s success during the pandemic, agreed our ambassadors.
“Their emphasis on improving communication, services and processes when Covid-19 hit was impressive – they took a holistic approach. Their iterative processes, involving teams and continually seeking feedback on what was needed and what could be improved, should also be celebrated. It’s positive to see a company working out loud and sharing experiences like this with their customers and prospects,” commented Laura Overton, Partner of Industry Insights at Tulser.
“This entry showed a great understanding of how important it is to replicate the physical workplace experience as much as possible when working remotely. Learnerbly identified that onboarding is a crucial first step in the employee experience and doing that remotely would be a challenge for new starters, so they redesigned that experience to ensure new starters not only got to meet members of staff but also were able to have virtual casual encounters with them,” noted Gethin Nadin, one of the world’s Top 100 Employee Engagement Influencers.
“Learnerbly is a small company that took a big company approach to culture, and that’s laudable,” concluded Perry Timms, Founder and Chief Energy Officer of People & Transformational HR.