Keeping the Granular Culture

Welcome to Getting Granular

The podcast where digital marketing experts from the agency Granular talk about the latest trends, tried and true best practices, and share their unfiltered thoughts about the digital marketing industry.

Keeping the Granular Culture

EPISODE SUMMARY

In the face of a pandemic, Granular leaders are doing everything they can to maintain a normal office environment for employees and clients. Tune in and listen as Steve and Jordon discuss some of the challenges the agency world is facing and how Granular is getting creative with the solutions.

SHOW NOTES

What you’ll learn in this episode of Getting Granular:

  • Granular’s approach to team communication and staying connected (1:51)
  • Tools the team uses (5:15)
  • How Granular was already set up for a remote environment (8:52)
  • Onboarding a new employee during the Safer at Home order (10:35)
  • Understanding COVID-19 impact on our clients and how can we take care of them (21:35)
  • Maintaining the normal perks for employees (30:00)

EPISODE TRANSCRIPTION

Announcer: Welcome to Getting Granular, the podcast where Digital Marketing experts from the agency Granular talk about the latest trends, tried and true best practices, and share their unfiltered thoughts about the industry. Whether you’re here to learn how to grow your business, improve your digital skills, or just want to hear some Midwest PPC experts rants about digital media, you’ve come to the right place.

Steve: Jordon, thanks for hopping on the podcast. I thought it would be a good idea for our audience and for you and me to sit down and talk about what we’ve been able to learn. Really, I’ve been impressed with what you’ve been able to do in terms of thinking through how to keep our team engaged, how to make sure that we’re keeping engaged with our clients, and just our overall network with all of us unexpectedly working from home. So thought we’d take some time to record this podcast.

Jordon: Yeah, absolutely. I think it’s a good idea. The work environment has definitely changed quite a bit, but I feel like we’re all staying just as connected and maybe even more connected than some days in the office.

Steve: Definitely, yeah. There’s some fun stuff we’re going to get into in terms of different perks and ways that we keep things light. But I think one of the most overlooked aspects of people working remote, and the difference between a successful approach versus maybe a not successful approach, is communication. So that’s where I want to start is what your approach has been in terms of communication and whether that’s been tactics we’ve used down to the actual technology.

Jordon: Yeah, sure. Let’s just start with keeping our habits as close to the same as possible. For me, I’m definitely a creature of habit, wake up at 6:05 every morning, try to get to the office by 7:00 sometimes give or take 15 minutes, jump in email, look at my meetings for the day. Everything’s stayed pretty much the same except now I’m either sitting in my dining room or sitting in an office downstairs. I think that’s been key to just keeping things as normal as possible from a schedule standpoint. Everyone’s got their personal schedules that I think they should adhere to and try to adapt as much as possible, but for the team we’ve tried to keep things as normal as possible too.

Jordon: Every Tuesday morning at 9:00 we have our team stand up. We’ve had that for the last four or five years since the company’s been around. We’ve kept that, it’s just all moved to Zoom. We do company updates from me, sales updates from you, Steve, client updates from every single team member. We talk about trends in the industry, any wins, we always celebrate wins, and then we also bring up challenges that we can have some group-think on and really solve as a team. That’s the big meeting that is super important to me that we kept on the schedule, and then there’s a bunch of other meetings that continue to happen. Just collaborating with two or three other team members about a client or about solving a specific problem, keeping our happy hour on the calendar every Thursday at 4:00 or 3:00. What is it? 3:30, 4:00. I don’t know, it’s definitely before 5:00 though because we’re Granular.

Jordon: So keeping those on the schedule. The cool thing about the virtual happy hour that we’ve been doing is I think we’ve got 90 to 100% participation rate. When we’re in the office, it’s probably closer to like 50% either because people are dipping out of the office early to go home, or they’ve got somewhere to be, or their heads down at their computer and they just can’t break away, or they’re in a meeting. So it’s been cool to see participation levels go up. We’re not all extroverts, that’s for sure, but even in a time like this introverts need to connect. So it’s been cool to see everyone really look for that human connection and being able to do that as a team and have some fun, and talk about all the current happenings, all the binge-watching we’re doing. It’s been really cool to stay connected that way.

Steve: Yeah, that’s a really great overview, Jordon, of what we’ve been able to do as a team as far as maintaining certain habits, structures, keeping that cadence. I do want to rewind a little just to talk about the tools we use to enable us to do that beyond email and the phone. Two tools that we leverage quite a bit currently, and we’ve pretty much always leveraged are Slack and Zoom. So perhaps you can just talk about the role that those tools play with our team.

Jordon: Yeah, absolutely. Slack, it’s just a wonderful internal communication tool basically like a chat room within the team. You can have individual rooms that are specific to clients or specific to random stuff, or memes, or company announcements. That’s just a really good way that for a number of years now, we’ve used it to communicate within the office, and it’s just a good way for our type of work where you need to be really heads down and zoomed in to the work you’re doing, it takes a lot of focus. Drop bys, people stopping by your desk or your office to have a quick conversation, that can really disrupt the workflow and Slack is a good alternative to drop bys, and it’s a really good alternative to sending an email if you just need a quick question answered or just need some quick input.

Jordon: Our team and I know a lot of teams around the world have really taken Slack to another level from just a fun, engaging place to be as well sending memes, animated gifs, and links to fun articles and stuff. It’s really the modern-day water cooler that does a better job in the digital world and it’s been cool to see, I think we send between 1,015 messages a week because I get those stats sent to me a weekly. It’s been cool to see that number stay the same or increase with remote work, everyone’s staying really in touch and it’s been great.

Jordon: The other tool we’ve been using for a number of years is Zoom. That’s the video chat that everyone is familiar with now. I just had a Zoom meeting with my family, my six siblings and my mom, we got them on the Zoom meeting this Sunday and had a good hangout. It was funny to give everyone a tutorial because it’s normal everyday life for us at Granular, so to push that out to family and friends, and also to be talking to other business professionals who haven’t used it before. It’s pretty interesting to see the rapid adoption of Zoom.

Steve: Yeah, that’s awesome that you touched on that and brought up the fact that Zoom seems to be way out there with everyone in the world. I think it is valuable to talk through the fact that for most of our company’s history, we’ve always had at least one colleague who’s worked remotely. We’ve made sure that we set up our technology stack and our habits to make sure that we are inclusive of those remote colleagues. I do feel that compared to some other organizations, we were able to get out ahead of it with making sure that apps were installed on computers, making sure that there was sensitivity, making sure we had good video, good audio, good written communication. Because I think that helped us get a jumpstart on maybe some other organizations that weren’t set up for it.

Steve: I think the other underrated aspect of what you’ve been able to do with Granular is you built the company to be cloud-based first for the most part with file storage, with communication, with project management. So that’s really helped as far as not having to worry about VPNs, having to worry about accessing files off of a physical server, having to remote in. So again, some organizations don’t have that luxury, and we do feel for them whether those are current clients we work with are people or people are not work. But I do think that has really made the process quite efficient for our team that we didn’t really skip a beat because of those steps we’d already taken.

Jordon: Oh yeah, 100%. From the infancy and the creation of Granular, it was all in the cloud from day one. I never had a hardwired phone, I never had hardwired internet, never had hard drives sitting around our servers, all in the Cloud. Carbonite for storage and file backup, the Google Suites, RingCentral for our phone system that’s never required a hardwired phone, which is pretty cool. Seriously, you can’t tell the difference from any of us, any of our employees, from sitting in the office to sitting at home right now, nothing has changed, which is pretty phenomenal.

Steve: Yeah, it’s huge. Speaking of our team, I did want to touch on the fact that while we are recording this presently during the COVID-19 pandemic, I think there’s some lessons learned when it comes to onboarding a new employee 100% remote. So just to contextualize this, Granular, we’ve really been growing rapidly, quarter over quarter, and we had a job offer that we made prior to a national pandemic being declared. We were in a position where from the time where that employee accepted the offer and gave their notice to eventually come on board to the team, that there are certain employers who maybe could have balanced, made a decision, “Hey, maybe we’re going to rescind that offer or kick out the deadline.” But I think you’re very good at forecasting knowing what our needs are, looking at the pipeline, looking at our resources and you said, “Hey, let’s proceed, and let’s proceed with the March onboarding right in the midst of everything.”

Steve: Initially, it was an evolving situation where the new colleague, you thought maybe you’d be able to do an in-person orientation just with you and her. But as more news came out about social distancing and here in Wisconsin, the Safer at Home Order, you had to figure out how to onboard this new employee who she had never worked remote before, and we’ve never onboarded an employee completely remote. For our remote colleagues, they would physically come into that office for the first week as part of their onboarding. So it’d be really interesting to talk through what your process was, the steps you took, and I think that there’s some really interesting takeaways moving forward because I think it went really well.

Jordon: Yeah, it was definitely an interesting moment. I think the thing that CEO’s figure out really quickly is that they’re there to solve problems and they’re there to solve them in a very timely manner, and you have to have an answer almost immediately on what you’re doing and you have to be confident in that answer. When it came to this situation, we had the offer out there, we had the accepted offer before the restrictions were in place, before social distancing or anything was a thing. It quickly progressed to the fact that, okay, I can’t even meet this person face-to-face to give them a welcome handshake or meet the team, or even really give them their equipment and show them how to use it. So it was a really stressful period for me to figure out, all right, how do we do this the best way possible?

Jordon: But I was quickly put at ease with the team that’s behind me, and that’s you, that’s our directors, Justin, Mike, and the rest of the team that just jumps at any occasion to help me out and to make sure that if they were in that position of starting a new job, they would want things to go a certain way. So everyone really just stepped up and took on assignments, and took it upon themselves to meet with our new employee, and really make her feel welcome the first couple weeks of work, which is so critical at any new job. So, I feel blessed to have that support system.

Jordon: But some of the things we put in place were, all right, let’s do quick less than 30-second equipment hand-off. I drove it out to her place, and aside from the three-foot reach I have with my arm and her reach, that’s about as close as we got, said a quick hello and then drove off. She got online right away, we had a Zoom call, went through the normal onboarding process of this is all the stuff that’s going to happen the first couple of weeks.

Jordon: The thing that changed a little bit was instead of doing a lot of that stuff myself or having you do that, Steve, we basically grouped the whole team together and assigned them tasks that would normally be done by me or HR, admin or someone else. So we got the whole team involved with her onboarding, which I think really helps just show the support system that’s here, get people to know her and really, selfishly, take some of that burden off of me so I could focus on other stuff that was needed in the business. So I think with those things, patting ourselves on the back a little bit, but I think it went really well.

Steve: Yeah. I would 100% agree with that. I do want to talk through some of the tactics you employed. So first, I want to talk about the 30 minute get to know you Zoom meeting that you had on her first day, which I thought was a great idea. Maybe talk about that.

Jordon: Yeah. I’d love to take credit for that too, but that was Justin’s idea of let’s just throw her into the deep end and say hi to everybody. Not dissimilar from what we would do in the office, parading a new person around saying hi to everybody. But we all jumped on a Zoom call, she got to see all of our faces, hear all of our voices, we’re joking around right away but also gave good professional introductions to each person. So that is a really fun way to onboard somebody the first day and jeez, I think aside from our team lunch that we always do on someone’s first day, I think this was the next best thing of just getting everybody in the same place even though it’s virtual. I think it really worked out.

Steve: Yeah, definitely agree. Then I think something that’s pretty underrated is when new employees come on board and look, even as a young company has gone through evolutions, we’ve figured this out. Something I thought that was really good you did, which is, “Hey, instead of her coming on board, she’s remote. She doesn’t know what client she’s going to be working on.” I think you did a good job of making sure that tasks were assigned to team members to support certain clients or learn different functions, and that kind of served two purposes of getting to know the team but also being able to jump in and feel that she can be productive out of the gate. If you could talk about that?

Jordon: Yeah, the worst thing that you can do on the first day of the first week of a job is sit there and wonder what you should be doing. I’ve been there before, I think a lot of people have, and it’s an uncomfortable feeling because you know that you’re skilled at something, you are eager to contribute, do work for the company, but for one reason or another you’re just not as busy as you’d want to be. I think we did a really good job with the whole team supporting this, signing tasks to not only keep someone busy but to see how far we could flex her skill set to get to know strengths and weaknesses of somebody. I think we did a great job of really filling her calendar for the first couple of weeks.

Jordon: We use Basecamp as a project management tool, so everyone kind of has visibility to what was on her plate. So we did a good job of not filling it too full but also definitely keeping her busy, and that really just shows right away, all right, she got into some accounts to see how we structure things, our architecture, our management style. We had her on a couple new client kickoff calls, so she got to see that cadence and our communication style there, she’s also on some audits. Really just seeing a bunch of little pieces of how Granular operates within the first week or two I think really pushed her off the training wheels right away into some good projects, and producing work that really matters and makes a difference.

Steve: Yeah. I noticed how big of a difference that made and the fact that in her first month she has been able to just start jumping in on existing clients. We were able to onboard a new client with her where she’s going to be working on that and support. The feedback I’ve received in conversations with her has been really positive. One other thing that I did want to mention that I think went really well is you had suggested doing was outside of her getting to meet different team members in the context of tasks, just assigning one-on-ones with each team member just to get to know them, to help her feel connected, face to name, get to know the individual beyond the group setting. You mentioned different personalities don’t want to go out of their way to raise their hand and talk. I know myself, and I can think of a couple of others have no problem filling dead air with conversation, but there are other team members who aren’t as talkative on those group meetings, and that’s something you did push for was those internal one-on-ones, which I think was really smart.

Jordon: Yeah, thanks. I think overall with onboarding a new employee remotely and during this time especially, we picked up a lot of good habits and learned a lot of lessons that we will definitely do in the future even if we are back in a full office.

Steve: Perfect. Yeah, I do want to transition, I think we’ve covered a lot of ground talking about the team internally, communicating, onboarding. I do want to talk about the foundation of our business is built on serving clients and providing great value to them, and doing everything that we can to make sure that… They’re disrupted as well with COVID-19 and we wanted be that steady presence, someone that they could rely on and turn to for trying to get answers and figure out what’s going on. So if we can just transition into that, Jordon, and talk about some steps that we took. I guess for starters, maybe just talk about the approach with some of the internal one-on-ones that we did with our team and talking to their clients.

Jordon: Yeah. You did a great job of setting up a meeting with every team member right away and we went through every single client in our roster and really just dug in to see all right, how are they currently? Before this thing happened, last week or whenever, what was the current status? What were the current projects in motion? Does this change anything for you, is your person still employed there? Are they still in business? Can they sell stuff? Can they sell their goods or services or their offering? We really dissected every single relationship like it was new. So we had dozens and dozens of basically onboardings and audits within our current client set to really understand how this is going to impact them, how this is going to impact our relationship, working with them, and what we can do to help them.

Jordon: After that full day and a half of meetings we really came out with a strong game plan of how to work with each of our current clients in a new way that actually makes us more productive, makes their return on ad spend even better, and really just laser-focused on how we take care of clients. Because at the start of the day, at the end of the day, our clients are what makes Granular stay in business. I think everyone on the team understands that, and it was rule number one to make sure that we’re taking as good a care of our clients as possible.

Steve: Yeah. To that point, Jordon, is something that we talked about was proactive communication with our clients, not waiting to hear from them. For so many of our clients, who they think of when they think of Granular is their day-to-day contact. So some team members did have standing meetings that same week, but we had others who sent emails out or requested phone calls. But something that I thought was valuable is with you being the CEO, the founder, maybe the someone that they don’t interface with day-to-day but they really associate with Granular, you had actually conceived the idea of just doing an email direct to all of our clients. If you can talk about that?

Jordon: Yeah. So I thought it was important just to communicate what’s going on at Granular right away. We were one of the earliest businesses in Milwaukee to make the call of working remote. I wanted to communicate that with our clients in case they randomly showed up to an empty office or they had a scheduled in-person meeting with us at our office on the third ward in Milwaukee. So I wanted to get out in front of as much as possible and make them understand that look, they’re our number one priority, our team is also number one priority. We’re taking care of both of you, taking care of our team. We’re keeping them at home, we’re setting their equipment up at home, they’re all going to have dual monitors and the comforts of the office and the technology of the office in place, so they will not skip a beat from a productivity standpoint.

Jordon: Then we wanted to check in with each client to say, “Look, we’re here to support you. Your business is probably going to change over the next month or two, and just let us know how we can help to get in front of any downturn,” or in some cases spikes in business, there’s huge opportunity that some of our clients are seeing in this environment. So I really just wanted to get out there personally, give everyone my cell phone number again to call or text if they had anything on their mind that they wanted to talk about, and we did that right away I think before any stay at home notice was issued by the government. It was important to me to just get in front of it before any client was wondering, what’s Granular doing?

Steve: Yeah. I think that’s so huge. Just again, there’s so much going on, and knowing that Granular as trusted partner was there, they’re hearing directly from you, putting that line of communication out. I know you did have people reach out to you directly to thank you for that. We did have other team members where they mentioned their clients, they referenced receiving that communication even if they didn’t tell you directly, so I think that was awesome. Something that you’ve really expressed to our team right now with our clients is pushing for more meetings with clients and really leaning into that, pushing for video calls, even if the clients aren’t using video themselves. Can you talk about that?

Jordon: Yeah, communication at any time is super important and we have some standards in place at Granular just to make sure that communication is really strong all the time, and that did set a good foundation for the new normal, which is over-communicate. That doesn’t mean writing a two-page long email, it means being there for the client, giving them proactive ideas, setting up meetings and sticking to them, and like you said, we want them to see our faces even if they’re not going to have their video on. So yeah, it’s really just let’s stay in communication as much as possible because things are changing daily, not even weekly or monthly like they used to, things are moving very rapidly. So our team is definitely communicating with all of our clients on a very regular basis now, and most of those meetings are video calls with Zoom, but we’re also texting clients, we’ve got some Slack rooms set up. We’re really on top of communication as our clients need us to pivot or change messaging or change products or services that we’re focused on. So, that’s pretty much the directive and what’s been happening with that.

Steve: Yeah. It’s been, again, trying to find the silver lining of the situation. There have been so many relationships where funny enough, I feel like they’ve deepened, and I don’t know if it’s a case of they say that, “Shared trauma brings people closer together.” I probably wouldn’t go that extreme, but it is interesting that there’s so many of our clients where there’s kind of a dropping down maybe of the guard a little, really leaning on the relationship more, wanting to hop on quick calls because there’s time available now. So that’s been really fun to see that aspect of it.

Steve: I did want to make sure we touched on some of the things that we’re doing as far as perks in the office. I think Granular has always been great at beyond when people talk culture, it’s not just snacks and treats and other things like that, but that is something that we do that is very appreciated. Obviously, things are a little different now. I think Granular’s always been great at choosing a local option when they can for supporting businesses with what we have for coffee in the office and what we’re doing as far as supporting them. But it would be great to hear what your approach has been as far as how you’ve helped maintain some of those perks in the office, taking steps to try maintain normalcy there while also dovetailing of that with supporting local businesses.

Jordon: Yeah. Like you said, we’ve always been super focused on making the office a place people want to be. A lot of that stems from just my wants and passions from working at other agencies and working at other companies, and seeing what they give and what they don’t give. You only have to drink so many cups of really bad coffee to say, “You know, someday I’m going to get the best coffee we can if I have an office,” and you only have to put so many dollars into a vending machine to say, “You know, if I want a mid-afternoon snack, some gummy bears or licorice or chips or granola bar, I don’t want to spend $2 and hope that it’s fresh and that it actually drops out of the machine when I press the buttons. I just want to grab something out of the drawer and not worry about having pocket change on me.” Then it even goes to thinking about lunch options and things like that.

Jordon: So what we did at Granular from the start was just take care of a lot of that stuff and try to emulate a Google, and try to emulate a startup without having that startup money, and trying to be financially smart about that stuff. So we stock snacks, we have great coffee in the office, but on top of that, we also give coffee gift cards each month to our employees and Public Market gift cards to employees, so they can get out of the office for another coffee or a snack, and they can go out to lunch a couple of times a month on the company.

Jordon: When that gets taken away when everyone has to work remote, that definitely bothered me and made me want to figure out, all right, how do we keep something like that going? So the first week or two we reached out to a Milwaukee Pretzel Company, who have these ridiculously huge pretzels the size of your head, probably bigger than your head, that me and my wife are fans of. We reached out to them, bought enough for the whole team, and hand-delivered those to the team. That was before social distancing was really in effect. But then it got even trickier, right? Okay, now we can’t even drop stuff off to the team. What do we do? We came up with, all right, we want to support local restaurants, local businesses, how can the team do that without us dropping something off at their house or apartment?

Jordon: So, we gave gift cards to either Door Dash so people can order from wherever they want, or some people named some specific restaurants that had gift card systems set up, so we gave everyone gift cards for that. The next week we checked in on caffeine levels, caffeine is super important to keeping people happy and productive, and it’s just to maintain that office lifestyle of having a nice fresh pot available, or we’ve got more Rishi tea than probably anyone in the city. How do we maintain that normalcy? So our agency operations person, Jaime, she polled everybody, got everybody’s favorite coffee or tea and mailed that out. We’re trying to keep things as normal as possible from culture standpoint with all the meetings, and happy hours, and seeing people face-to-face, but also with those creature comforts of, “Oh, I want that snack from the office or that coffee or whatever.” So we’re trying to keep things as normal as possible there.

Steve: Yeah, I think it’s a good measure when you have people think about how their at-home situation can feel like a downgrade compared to being in the office for some of those perks. While definitely we’ve done a lot as far as making the work from home experience great, I think that’s one of the things that could have been easy to overlook. But to the team members it would have felt like a pretty stark drop-off, like “Wow, I’m getting really high-quality coffee, really high-quality tea, getting great food and snacks.” Those are all things that, otherwise, if there wasn’t attention put to it would’ve felt like a drop-off, and you can say if that’s fair or not, but that’s just reality and that’s been awesome.

Steve: I think something that has been cool too, I was a part of a group of people since this has gone on where I celebrated a work anniversary. I think that there’s been things that have been done as far as sending cards, being able to drop-off balloons using safe social distancing measures to do that, being able to send cakes in the mail, these are things that really help you feel bonded and connected to a company. If you want to know if a company cares about their employees, look at their actions, don’t look at just what they say. So that’s something I feel like the actions and the steps that have been taken show you clearly care about the members of the team.

Jordon: Oh yeah, I appreciate that, and we definitely do. Unless you’re listening to this podcast, you probably don’t even know half of the stuff we do because we put plenty of stuff out on social, on Instagram, but half of the stuff isn’t even publicized, which I actually like keeping some of that stuff private. You’ve got to work here to understand just how much we actually do care.

Steve: Absolutely. Well, I know we’ve covered a lot of ground, there’s a lot more we certainly can talk about. I do think it makes sense to, unfortunately, wrap up here soon. But I want to make sure that we haven’t missed anything, Jordon. Before we sign off, is there anything else you want to make sure we touched on before closing out the podcast?

Jordon: No, I mean I think we shared a lot of stuff that people might not know about us, and I’m happy to get out there if any businesses are struggling with supporting a local staff that’s now remote, definitely feel free to reach out to us. We’re both part of the MMAC, we’re part of some other round table groups with other businesses where we’ve been sharing ideas and getting ideas from plenty of other folks around. I think this has really just been a great time for business owners to get together and support each other and learn from each other because a lot of us really do care about our employees, and we want to make sure that we keep things as normal as possible on top of a paycheck.

Jordon: It’s important to think about what comes after that and what makes work enjoyable, so we’ve been trying our best. Personally, I’ve been ordering out way too much food, but I’m really trying to support local restaurants and hoping other people do that as well. That’s part of why we did the local gift card thing too, just to keep as many local businesses open as possible.

Steve: That’s great. I think that’s a perfect place to sign off, Jordon. I want to thank you for being on the Getting Granular podcast.

Jordon: All right. Thanks, Steve.