The Importance of Two-Way Trust During Times of Adversity

Trust in the workplace is built through actions, not words. Bob Saccullo, director of people operations at Blackbaud, shares how the company has been able to maintain two-way trust between leadership and employees during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Trust in the workplace remains a top priority for both employees and company leaders. And now with workforces being more distributed than ever before, having a high-trust work environment is key to maintaining employee engagement and productivity. I recently spoke to Bob Saccullo, director of people operations at Blackbaud, a leading cloud software company powering social good, about how they’re supporting their workforce in the midst of a pandemic. You can find excerpts from our conversation below.

How did Blackbaud respond when the pandemic first hit?  

Blackbaud was able to swiftly shift gears because we had several tools and operations already in place that helped us go from primarily in-person work to remote work. For example, earlier in the year, we rolled out new collaboration tools like Microsoft Teams and Webex across the company. Also prior to the pandemic, we implemented security capabilities such as multi-factor authentication that allowed employees to safely work from anywhere. We also had existing business continuity plans in place and had tested work-from-home scenarios, so we were comfortable shifting our operations when the time came. On the HR side, we had virtual interviewing tools in place and began to rely on them heavily to maintain a great candidate and hiring manager experience.  

During the pandemic, our IT team worked hard to deliver innovation and improve the technology our employees use every day. We implemented better digital tools for our sales, marketing, and services teams to engage and support our customers. We also shifted our in-person onboarding process to be completely virtual, and configured more automation within Workday Human Capital Management to collect documents that had normally been collected in person.

Overall, I credit our agility to our managers and the trust they had in their teams—and vice-versa, the trust that employees have had in their leaders. Our employees have proven themselves during this challenging time by maintaining focus and innovating for our customers. Our customers, I should note, are relying on our technology now more than ever. Blackbaud’s goal is to ensure that our workplace culture continues to reflect our values and support our people, customers, and communities, whether we are in person or remote.

“The truth is that none of us have all the answers right now, but showing empathy and listening is a good way to start.”

With your workforce being virtual now, how do you maintain employee engagement?

Since we no longer physically see each other every day, our employees aren’t able to grab a cup of coffee together, go out for lunch, or volunteer together like they used to. It’s important to recreate a sense of community and connection, albeit virtually. There are a few ways we’ve done this:

  • As I mentioned, we rolled out Microsoft Teams across our company. This has provided an easy and accessible way for employees not just to collaborate, but to create community. We’ve been able to form Teams channels for different topics like wellness and volunteering, as well as channels that are just for fun. Our Teams channels allow employees to stay in touch with each other both personally and professionally.

  • We’ve established consistent virtual communication from leadership to bring employees together and provide transparency, including weekly CEO-led calls with our global management team, video updates from CEO Mike Gianoni to all employees, and “Open Mic with Mike” roundtable sessions. We’ve also introduced virtual all hands meetings and casual “coffee chats” with leadership.

  • We’ve refocused on training by launching LinkedIn Learning and sharing sessions on topics like how to lead virtually and how to create belonging and inclusivity virtually.

  • We launched “Mindful Mondays” to provide real-time resources for employee health and wellbeing.

  • Giving back is a core value at Blackbaud and it’s important to our employees. We’ve rolled out several virtual volunteering opportunities during the pandemic to provide ways for employees to get involved and make a difference while staying safe.

Many people are working from home while caring for their families. How are you helping employees find a work-life balance during this time?

It’s important to recognize what people are going through. We're in constant communication with our managers to make sure they’re aware of what’s happening and have prioritized flexibility. We understand that people may need to shift their schedules a bit to work around what’s happening at home. For example, we have some employees who have temporarily transitioned their workload to 30 hours a week, and some who have adjusted their start and stop times to better fit their personal schedules, especially those who are also caregivers.

We also launched the Blackbaud After School Program this past fall as a way to bring employees together and support working caregivers whose children are home during the pandemic. This program enables employees to volunteer their time and expertise to entertain the children of their coworkers. By hosting live, virtual learning sessions, employees are able to provide entertainment for Blackbaud families—allowing working caregivers time to step away and focus on other tasks. 

“Our employees have proven themselves during this challenging time by maintaining focus and innovating for our customers.”

How are you continuing to cultivate two-way trust between employees and leadership? 

We’ve been conducting regular employee pulse and engagement surveys to understand holistically how employees are doing and what they need, instead of assuming the answers. For example, through our surveys we found that over 70% of our employees want and need more flexibility, both now and in the future. With the transition to full-time remote work, our employees have proven that they can do their jobs from anywhere, and therefore we saw that flexibility needed to be built into the future of work at Blackbaud. We aren’t returning to offices right now, but when we do, our employees will have the opportunity to work with their managers to determine the best workstyle for their role, whether that’s returning to the office full time, remaining remote full time, or having a flexible schedule that allows for a mix of both office and remote work. 

Do you have any advice for HR leaders who are looking to increase trust with their workforce remotely?

The most important thing that HR leaders can do is take the time to listen. And then, use employee feedback to make decisions so that employees know they are being heard. The truth is that none of us have all the answers right now, but showing empathy and listening is a good way to start. In order to retain employees, companies have to consider what flexibility can look like and adjust to new ways of working.

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