The rumors started in November. Rumblings about the lease on Poll Everywhere HQ expiring rippled throughout the company. Would we renew? Would we move? When would we know?
These rumors were felt most acutely by people operations manager Thoey Bou. “I found myself in a defensive position,” she said. “I couldn’t answer all their questions, so I started hiding from people. That’s when I knew I needed help communicating, because … hiding is not how I want to interact with my colleagues. That’s when I brought in the Operations team.”
The Operations team (Ops) needed a way to calm these rumors, and the ones that were sure to follow. No, Poll Everywhere would not renew its lease. Yes, the office would be moved. As for when, Ops didn’t have an answer – but they had a plan.
“I thought a lot about why I was being so defensive about this,” said Bou. “I realized it was because I knew Ops was working hard [on the move], and I was feeling like people should just trust us. So we came up with a plan to build that trust by holding ourselves accountable to the feedback we were hearing.”
Operations’ plan had three goals:
- Set expectations for the move and celebrate success
- Give people simple, structured channels for feedback
- Make the move feel significant for remote employees
“We owed it to the company to communicate this move in a way that empowered Ops … that gives us the autonomy to get the best office space that we can, while also putting everyone’s mind at ease by showing them that we have taken their feedback to heart.”
Below is a summation of how Bou and the Operations team accomplished these goals, as well as advice on how to promote transparent communication within your own workplace.
Set expectations for the move and celebrate success
Trust comes from transparent communication. In this case, Ops needed to communicate that they were considering every detail when selecting a new office, from the location to the snack selection. But they also knew the volatility of San Francisco’s real estate market made promising anything too specific a recipe for disappointment. Instead, they decided to benchmark themselves on themes and priorities rather than specific amenities.
These priorities were selected based on input from leadership throughout the company. Ops ironed out the ordering, and the benefits were immediate. “Right away, if someone asked about snacks at the new office, I could say, ‘Yup, we’re thinking about snacks. But as you can see, it’s number nine on our list of one through nine,’” said Bou. “That list was a great toolkit for responding to feedback.”
When the new office location was announced, Ops was able to frame that announcement around how it fulfilled each of these goals. “These really were our measurements,” said Bou. “By setting these up and showing the entire company our progress … it felt really gratifying to be able to show how everyone’s feedback fed into the decision we made. It was a moment for us to be able to share our work.”
Bou credits Poll Everywhere COO and head of people operations Sam Cauthen for a lot of this framework. “Kudos to Sam for setting a lot of this up in the beginning. She said, ‘It’s necessary to list out and share your criteria this way, otherwise there’s no way to measure our progress, our success, or to hold ourselves accountable to that criteria.’” This ties back to transparency and trust. People trust Ops because they can clearly see how Ops is honoring that trust.
Give people simple, structured channels for feedback
Regular check-ins from Operations on the status of the move did a lot to curb anxiety in office. However, people still had ideas, suggestions, and requests for the new space. “The questions were still coming,” said Bou, “and we still didn’t have answers because we had not signed yet.” Ops needed a way to manage all this, both from an efficiency standpoint and because they didn’t want to lose any good feedback.
“Adding [this slide] helped,” said Bou. “It was a way to let people know that we were still bringing them along on this journey; that we still valued their input. We needed channels for that input so that it didn’t fall through the cracks. We didn’t want to lose any great ideas that we didn’t have time to think about that day, week, or month.”
As you can see in the slide above, Ops gave people several channels for feedback. Almost any feedback channel can work so long as it’s a clearly defined one that everyone knows and agrees to use. Having a system for feedback is what’s important. The specific channel is up to you.
Ops faced a different sort of communications problem once the move was finished. “Now, we moved into this space, and people were like, ‘Things smell. The toilet isn’t working. Where is the toilet paper?’ I was definitely overwhelmed,” said Bou. “I was thinking, ‘This is coming in hot, and it’s coming in fast.’” The team needed a solution, and fast.
“Post-it notes were our quick-and-dirty solution for making sure people were being heard.” Ops asked people to write down their feedback on post-it notes and stick them to a specific wall in the office. “When we had a moment to breathe, Ops was like, ‘Okay, the post-its are great for the tiny details, critical things, but we’re not getting what we want to hear from folks.’ We realized we had to draft a few questions designed to get the exact feedback we wanted from people.”
From a slide deck and a Slack channel to post-it notes and a live poll, the Ops went out of their way to give everyone an equal opportunity to be heard. Each communication channel has its own pros and cons for that specific time, but the takeaway is simply having a channel.
Make the move feel significant for remote employees
“Our biggest secret that we kept was surprising the entire company that we would do the retreat at the new office.” For Bou and the rest of the Operations team, this was a Herculean undertaking; a many-headed Hydra of tasks and chores endlessly building off each other. “This was when we switched from Ops team to an HGTV production. We were pulling all-nighters, pulling miracles.”
“It was super energizing and the ops team, I think, we didn’t need any team bonding exercises because this was it.”
All the effort was worth it in the end. “For Ops, the biggest motivator was being able to share this move with our remote team members so that they could feel connected with the mothership. 40 percent of Poll Everywhere is remote. And we knew it would be a long time before we had everyone together in one place like this again. So we really had to double down on this move. We really pushed for it to be a cohesive company moment … something we were able to experience as a whole company, not just the local, 60-percent part.
“We had received some interesting feedback from our previous retreat, which was a destination retreat. Although there was team bonding, the remotes didn’t feel connected with the office. There is something to connecting to the mothership, and we wanted to capture that feeling here.”
In the end, the Operations team was able to earn the company’s trust by setting expectations for the move and celebrate their success; giving everyone simple, structured channels for feedback; and making the move feel inclusive for remote employees.
“Yeah, I think that the Ops team, we try to be an example,” said Bou. “We’re the ones that share with everyone what our company values are. We do the employee surveys and decide what themes from that feedback get priority. We needed to show that we practice these values ourselves.”