8 Chicago Tech Leaders on How Their Teams Are Coming Together Right Now

April 1, 2020
United We Tech
Built In

The coronavirus has upended the lives of people all across Chicago, and those who are fortunate enough to still be working are adjusting to a new normal, one in which their home also serves as their office and, for some, their child’s daycare center or school. The way people work has also changed, with all in-person interactions replaced by video chats, messaging apps and email. 

It’s a stressful and lonely time for many, and things may get harder before they get better. Yet even as many of us struggle to navigate the uncertainty of it all, many more are finding ways to lift each other up. We recently checked in with leaders from tech companies across Chicago to see if they’ve encountered any bright spots during these dark times and were greeted with story after story of teams coming together and connecting in unique and thoughtful ways. 

How are you and your teams coming together? Share your story using #UnitedWeTech.

 

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

Moving to a remote work environment has had the surprising upshot of actually bringing the team closer together on a more personal level. The team was social before, but with the increased reliance on Slack and Zoom, there’s been more sharing of personal stories, stuff that gets a laugh – and plenty of pet and baby pics. Maybe it’s something about seeing your coworkers in their homes every day drinking from their favorite mugs that bridges the work/personal life divide, but this episode has clarified that we lean on each other for more than just work.

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

One important lesson for us was learning how to be as helpful as possible to our clients as they deal with uncertainty, and to help clients recognize issues can be opportunities, too. We’ve always aimed to be the type of partner that has skin in the game and a shared fate mentality with clients. Over the past few weeks, we’ve had plenty of trial-by-fire practice finding ways to demonstrate that commitment by being flexible, offering proactive help and adapting to a quickly changing environment.

 

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

While it is maybe hard to point to any positives during a serious pandemic, as a company focused on fighting climate change, we have seen a real doubling down on the commitment of our employees to achieve our mission of identifying, collecting and destroying greenhouse gases. Our team members are working on projects outside of their typical roles and  collaborating to help find ways for our work to carry on in this constricted period. As a result, I expect that we will be well prepared to move our mission forward as we come out of this crisis.

It has been interesting to observe the global reduction in greenhouse gas emissions as work practices are modified and social distancing policies are enacted. This will be temporary, but the response to the pandemic demonstrates that it’s possible for global coordinated action in the face of a crisis. I am hopeful that this attitude and commitment will extend to the climate crisis. As the pandemic subsides, we expect that many companies will have a new and broader perspective on what is possible in terms of running their business with a smaller carbon footprint. 

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

At Tradewater, we have been working to enhance our use of digital tools and technology that help us communicate and share information more effectively when we are not face-to-face. Furthermore, shelter in place and travel restrictions have required us to pursue new innovations and partnerships in order to keep the company strong and moving. Some breakthroughs are imminent, which we will carry forward to make us more efficient and effective in our work in the United States and around the world. 

 

Lisa Fiore
CEO and Co-founder

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

I think the most significant silver lining we’ve seen (beyond getting to spend more time as an internal team via video calls and check-ins) is that the COVID-19 outbreak is opening up lines of communication around the need to do business online in our industry. The landscaping industry has traditionally been an offline business, but we’re seeing new customers reach out to us to discuss adopting an online strategy.

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

Our team is learning how we can serve as a resource to our industry, beyond advising our customers on buying and selling landscape and nursery material through our online marketplace. We have an opportunity to provide valuable business acumen and insights to help our partners open up additional revenue streams and expand their businesses.

 

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

It’s too early for silver linings. However, what we do know is that the COVID-19 pandemic has deepened our bonds and bolstered our culture of responsibility to ourselves and to each other. In the face of isolation and social distancing, we come together more than ever, albeit via digital means. From open office hours to cooking and exercise classes, our teams have adapted to and embraced our new reality without sacrificing the human connection of yesterday. 

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

Our team has felt the power of change, sudden and significant, while internalizing the importance of agility and attitude. Pushed to our limits by the pandemic, we realize how little we control the cards we’re dealt, yet how much we control the way in which we respond. Change is the only constant, and our ability to adapt and navigate these waters with an optimistic compass will serve us long after the quarantines of today subside.

 

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

Prior to COVID-19, Entara employees were 90 percent onsite. We have since embraced our new work-from-home environment and found that we have been able to connect with all employees on a deeper level. Our leadership team is taking time daily to have video check-ins, making sure everyone has everything they need to not only do their job, but to support their families as well. These check-ins often include children, spouses and pets who we wouldn’t normally get to see on a regular basis. The result has been stress-reducing laughter and even some exciting life news being shared, like baby announcements!

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal? 

Our biggest take-away from this new season has been to go back to the basics. As leaders, we have embraced the call to provide a sense of security to our employees by being present, transparent and available. Likewise, our team has elevated their dedication to our clients and to our firm. The work we do isn’t always easy, but with team members who exhibit your core values, the work just gets done. This has affirmed our resolve that focusing on your values and harkening back to them is the surest foundation to build upon for firm-wide success.

 

Elizabeth Lages
SVP, People & Culture

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

We already had a large portion of our employees who work from home full-time, so the move to everyone working from home was pretty seamless. We found we already had the IT infrastructure, the employee support, and the internal tools/channels to communicate plans quickly, frequently and effectively. Because we already had a global office site leader program in place, we were able to use them as a conduit to the teams in their individual offices. Some decisions differed by office. For example, our Guangzhou, China, office versus our Melbourne, Australia, office had different situations and therefore different site-specific responses. 

Now that the transition has happened, we obviously need to continue to enable our managers to support their teams in this new environment. Since everyone feels isolated, is juggling a new environment and is probably a little stressed, we saw the need to pivot our 2020 manager training plan and I’m proud that we put together a “Leading Through Change” program in a short amount of time.

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

We were able to quickly form a Global Health & Safety team, which is comprised of IT, legal, HR, communications, facilities and operations. With as fast as the information changes, using a persistent chat tool like Microsoft Teams was critical to compare notes as to what was happening around the world, and the different local/regional restrictions being put in place. As this team was tasked with staying on top of the news, our message to employees was that we promise to communicate regularly and keep up with the changing dynamics so that they can focus on being productive in this new normal. I realized that this crisis model works. We now have the right people and the right mechanisms in place if we have to manage through something like this again.  

 

Shekhar Dhupelia
General Manager

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

We take pride in our ability to be extremely nimble, and every one of us at Iron Galaxy has always had the ability to transition from one project to the next seamlessly. Even with that in mind, the rapid way in which our entire team, across multiple locations, managed to get everything they need packed up and fully functioning at home the next day was incredible. 

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

We continue to be reminded that there’s still no substitute for in-person meetings. Beyond just getting back to work, because we love and are passionate about what we do, we continue to make a considerable effort to stay close and connected, which has been demonstrated through virtual happy hours, live-streamed video game and movie nights, morning push-up challenges from home, shared pics of our “teammates” (i.e. children, cats and dogs) and more to stay connected as people. The need to over-communicate with each other continues to be a valuable lesson for us all.

 

Evan Wray
Co-founder and CEO

We know this has been a trying time for everyone. But as your team has adapted to new working conditions, have you found any positive takeaways from this experience?

The most unexpected silver lining has been the desire of our community of users, and our team at Mavely, to lean into virtual community building. We’ve seen our users really rally around virtual events and supporting others. The core of Mavely is built on women supporting women, which is something we’ve seen accelerate dramatically in the last several weeks with everything that is going on across the globe. 

 

What lesson do you think your team has learned from this, and how will you carry it forward into the business once things return to normal?

While COVID-19 is a terrible occurrence globally, we actually are viewing this as an opportunity to scale our business and address several needs that are happening right now. People are looking for ways to make money from home, and Mavely provides this. People are looking to connect with community, and Mavely is this.

We also think that the shelter-in-place orders across the nation will have an accelerated effect on digital trends. Specifically, e-commerce will be dramatically accelerated as physical retailers have no choice but to find direct-to-consumer channels and consumers are unable to go to stores. This greatly benefits platforms such as Mavely as we are connecting shoppers with top direct-to-consumer brands. 

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