The Impact of Building a Flexible Culture

Jessica Adams, VP of HR and Recruiting at Brad's Deals
Aug 18, 2021

When a burst pipe sent everyone at Brad’s Deals home in February 2020, the company got a headstart on its remote work transition. On this episode of PIVOT, VP of HR and Recruiting Jessica Adams shares advice on building a flexible and burnout-proof culture, and why putting employees in the driver’s seat of company initiatives makes all the difference.

When a burst pipe sent everyone at Brad’s Deals home in February 2020, the company got a headstart on its remote work transition. Jessica Adams, VP of HR and Recruiting at Brad’s Deals, quickly discovered that flexibility and employee connections were the secret ingredients to a thriving remote culture.

In this episode of PIVOT, Jessica shares advice on building a flexible and burnout-proof culture, and why putting employees in the driver’s seat of company initiatives and programs makes all the difference.

On this episode, you’ll hear:

  • [01:28-04:53] How Jessica’s company got a headstart on remote work
  • [04:54-05:37] Tips for “burnout-proofing” in a remote culture
  • [05:37-06:37] How an emergency preparedness plan came in handy in February 2020
  • [06:37-08:23] The power of employee-led wellness, DEI, and mentoring programs
  • [08:23-09:57] Why flexibility is crucial in times of uncertainty
  • [09:58-11:31] Where a business should start in building a flexible culture
  • [11:34-12:18] What Jessica is most excited about in the small business world

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Jessica Adams is an award-winning HR professional, speaker, and writer with frequent contributions to outlets like Forbes. She is currently VP of HR and Recruiting at Brad’s Deals, which helps millions of shoppers save money by publishing the best deals from 4,000+ retailers. In 2020, Jessica was honored by Crain Communications as a “Notable Leader in HR” for innovative solutions to enhance employee wellness, work-life balance, and Inclusion & Diversity. 


Jessica Adams: We’re in this really unique time right now coming out of 2020, where we are going to be. Co-designing the future of organizations with our employees. 

Didi: Jessica Adams is an award-winning HR professional speaker and writer with frequent contributions to outlets like Forbes. She currently leads Brad’s Deals as a VP of HR and recruiter.

And I can’t wait to share her people. Ops insights with you today.

Box is the people ops podcast from Zenefits. The only show dedicated to small businesses, sharing stories of pivotal people. I’m your host Didi D’Errico as the night tire at Brad’s Deals, more than a decade ago, Jessica has been able to build a culture from the ground 

Jessica Adams: up. What’s been so great about that is that you really get to be impactful.

See your ideas put into place much more quickly. And one of the things that I really love about that is in these types of organizations, you typically have support to try new things, fail fast. If it’s not going to work and then move on. Most importantly, you get to really have that human connection. You get to know your teammates, you get to understand their drivers and motivators and then build programs.

Support them. And then ultimately the company and the growth and success. 

Didi: How could a burst pipe help get a headstart on a work from home culture? You’ll hear this story next. I want to back us up a little bit to talk about your plumbing. At the beginning of this conversation, I mentioned that the justice.

Speaker. And she also writes a lot for Forbes. And as I was looking at some of the stuff that she’s written a year ago, she wrote about the fact that the pipes in their company’s office in Chicago first, and it was February and they immediately went into remote work. So 30% of your staff was already remote at that point knew you had to make some nimble decisions quickly, and maybe it gave you a bit of a preview before the rest of us in terms of getting ready for COVID.

So talk a little bit about that. Some of the decisions maybe you made in that timeframe, how were they helpful for you to kind of get a preview of, of some of that full a hundred percent remote work and, and how you were already thinking about crisis recovery. Talk a little bit about that infrastructure and how maybe that helped you start innovating about what the next level of the COVID reality would be for your employee experience.

Jessica Adams: We were very lucky in the sense that it had happened right before COVID. So we, we had a couple of weeks to plan the, it was a slow leak that was just getting worse, but we have a little bit of time to make sure that we have the right technology, which is key. You have to make sure that people can stay connected and, and are able to communicate with each other.

We had to make sure that we were. Documenting our meetings in different ways. Uh, people may not be able to go. So how do we capture those notes? They might have technology issues because as this was all first starting, we thought it was going to be temporary. But I think what was really helpful about it all is that.

Our employees kind of started missing going into the office. So they were trying to figure out ways for us to stay connected. And so we had a head start before COVID to figure out how do we do that? How do we help people stay connected because it’s. Human interaction that keeps you coming to work.

That makes you really value. In fact, Gallup did a poll. I was reading a couple of days ago where you’re 63% more engaged if you have friends at work. I mean, and that’s, that’s huge. And that’s something that you’re is easier to do if you’re finding opportunities for people to bond. So. We were doing quarantine quiz shows.

We were doing virtual happy hours. We were figuring out how to give people insight into their home office. So we did our own version of cribs, where we were showing everyone’s home, you know, home office setups, which is great. And you know, it’s personal and you can have something to talk about, but even things like our animal slack channel, how are you dealing with your animals now that you’re home all the time or, uh, we had a character.

Slack channel. And we want us to make sure that was inclusive because it’s not just moms and dads or parents. It’s a lot of other people that are providing caregiving. So, um, sharing different tips. We were also able to think about our benefits in a creative way and have a little bit of a headstart on that.

 we started a working parent benefit where we would help pay for things like ABC mouse or some of the other tools that are out there that your child can continue to get education on. And also. Be occupied in a way that’s not just a video game and give the parents or the caregivers, a little bit of a break where they could jump in and get some work done because their, their child is learning from Khan academy. So just really different ways that we were able to look at how to support our employees in a remote environment. we also really wanted to make sure that burnout was not something that. Impacted our employees, obviously this has been going for a lot longer than we were expecting, but we had our current work at home employees talk about things that they do.

Jessica Adams: So get out of your pajamas, get a commute, going, even if it’s walking around your house or your apartment, and then your day in the same way with, that commute, making sure that you get away from your desk and find time. To, have lunch if possible, have your desk in an area where you can shut the door and not see it until you’re ready.

You’re ready to work again, because I think a lot of the research is telling us that people have a hard time turning it off when your office is also where you live and that’s contributing to some of this burnout too. So we feel really lucky that we were able to actually come up with our emergency preparedness plan, at the end of February.

So we were ready to go with what we were going to do and what numbers needed to be hit in terms of COVID positivity rates, where our entire workforce to go remote. And this is a proud moment I have. What was helpful about that is that our team was aware. We had one employee that basically said, this is crazy.

I can’t believe you’re putting this out here. And then several weeks later we needed it and we utilized it and everyone went from home and that employee came back and was so grateful that we had this plan and knew what was going to happen. And then. He still had friends that were, that had companies that were scrambling to try and figure out what it is we are going to do or how we’re going to be supporting our employees.

And, you know, our whole team had a handbook ready to go, that  all the managers had reviewed and signed off on as well. So. That was a big, a big learning to make sure we’re prepared for that. And again, the pipe probably helped us be, be more prepared to make sure we have the right technology.

Didi: One thing I appreciate about Jessica is her unique approach to mental health and wellbeing. So what has she done to dig into this topic and continue to evolve? 

Jessica Adams: One of the things that we really did this year, A lot of our initiatives, whether it’s wellbeing or it’s our community planning, our mentoring, our diversity equity, inclusion initiatives, they all became employee led.

So it grew outside of just HR. And we were able to bring in employees that are passionate about each of those individual topics. And then we’re able to. A more holistic idea of what people value, what people want. It also opens up that Rolodex, if you will, of people that you can reach out to different ideas of speakers or topics or, other virtual events that we can do that will, again, not only lead to connection for our team, but also supporting that wellbeing piece, helping them get that connection with employees, be able to be more meaningful, have more.

And working with our employees. We not only get their insights and them becoming ambassadors of the program. So we saw our, our attendance numbers increase. We saw the people that came to the programs. We saw that they voted or rated them more highly than, than perhaps in the past. but we were able to get their buy-in.

And so it’s not just an HR program anymore. It’s a company led initiative and we have. people speaking and drumming up support and excitement for these different events because they come from all over the organization. And it’s just been a really, really impactful kind of change that we’ve had this last year.

And that will definitely keep going forward. Can 

Didi: you share an example or as we’d call it here at pivotal people moment that maybe highlights what a healthy culture and employee experience can do for a company and for their team in times of uncertainty. 

Jessica Adams: Yeah, I think for us, it’s been flexibility. One of the recent stories that comes to mind for me is we have an employee that she contracted.

COVID her child contract. COVID everyone in the family ended up getting it and really figuring out the best way that we could support them. Right. Other than them taking time off to get themselves healthy and recuperate, we didn’t really have to change anything because we had been listening beforehand.

We were letting people work the hours that worked for them because of their own individual family circumstances or experiences. People were very well versed in what it meant to take time off because of COVID. I think that we were able to be really proactive and addressing how we wanted to handle situations, what people should do if they found themselves in these situations and realizing that we didn’t really have to do anything, it was like a big win.

We had prepared our workforce for, for that. So obviously we wished that. COVID didn’t happen. And that nobody got, if she had a full recovery as did her whole family, which was very, very fortunate, but this hybrid work happened pretty much overnight for all of us. And so now it’s really making sure that we can figure out the right ways to sustain that and keep our workforce educated on what that means and support.

Didi: So if other leaders of small businesses saying, Hmm, this all sounds good, we haven’t started or we’ve started and stopped. And we just haven’t gotten our heads around it yet. Where would you counsel them to start? When it comes to building that flexible and effective culture? 

Jessica Adams: I think it starts in two places, one with your employees, understanding what that means to them.

I think flexibility. If you want to be competitive as talent, either not bleeding it or acquiring it. If you’re looking to hire a, you’re going to need to have flexibility in your workforce. That was a big competitive. Janitor for us in the past and now more and more companies are offering it because you have to, so we’re looking at the next big thing, which I think for us is going to be focusing on our carbon footprint, and how we can offset some of that work.

But I think it’s really understanding what your employees value and then, what your managers need and making sure that you can support that. I think also some people love being remote and some people hate it. So remembering what that looks like so that you can support. All types of employees in your organization and providing those that want an office space, or they want that team face-to-face connection.

The opportunity to have that. And then making sure that for the folks that want to be remote, you’re offering that to them. But finding ways that they still feel connected to the organization and to their, to their teammates. making sure that your managers feel supported and that you have that individualized growth plan for each manager on your, on your team.

Didi: Finally, what Jessica is most excited for in the small business world in a word. 

Jessica Adams: I am so excited to see the creativity that comes out of everyone being in these remote structures or, or, you know, not being able to really get out and do everything that they’ve wanted to build. So the new businesses that are going to come up that are going to address some of these necessary and required, it changes that we need to see now and going forward with the realities of, of the workforce.

Super excited to see what new organizations come up, uh, how we can support them and then how you can incorporate them into your own businesses. I think we’re going to be seeing things that we didn’t even think were possible. So super excited about that.

Didi: I’m Didi and this was PIVOT. If you want to learn more about inspiring people, operation stories like Jessica’s checkout and backslash Pop’s dash podcast, where you’ll find bonus resources, profiles, and even a link to order our new book titled you guessed it, people operations.

Also, if you have questions you want us to answer on our show, check out the link in our show notes below and we’ll get it covered.


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