November 10, 2020

Earlier this year, Topstep tried out an experiment.

As the company’s team members transitioned to working remotely due to COVID-19, the fintech firm, which recently rebranded from TopstepTrader, conducted a seven-week trial period in which employees worked four days per week, 10 hours per day. Participation was optional; for employees working Fridays, scheduling meetings was prohibited. 

After the pilot program received a positive employee response, the organization decided to institute it as a permanent scheduling option. 

 

Topstep Trader
topsteptrader offices

Jared Johnson, a ‎quality assurance analyst, is just one of the employees who found it to be a boon to his production, describing it as well-suited for the sprint scheduling on which his team operates. 

“This is a crazy year. Everybody's going through their own personal situations,” Johnson said. “With the extra day, you really have an opportunity to increase the ‘life’ part of the work-life balance. It's been extremely beneficial. During the four days, we find that the team members are a little more focused and there's a little more urgency.”

The arrangement aligns with a broader organizational emphasis on team well-being, one of the company’s six values. Well-being is so prized, in fact, that it was the lone company value thought to be “adequately embodied” by the team a few years ago when the company put its values under a microscope, People and Culture Manager Erin Clark said.

Sure, perks and benefits related to compensation matter, too, but Clark said giving employees time to unplug and recharge was more impactful in a COVID-19-impacted world, where stress and uncertainty abounds. 

“I think a huge thing is: you’re never going to know everything that everyone in your company is dealing with. You have to genuinely care,” Clark said. 

As Clark, Johnson and fellow teammate, Director of Finance Melissa Elaguizy, recently shared with Built In Chicago, flexibility and empathy are crucial to informing employee comfort, support and balance — now more than ever. 

 

How does Topstep view employee well-being and how has the company historically gone about cultivating it?

 

Clark: Focusing on the well-being of our team includes things like cultivating healthy, open and honest relationships; treating one another with respect and compassion; prioritizing one-on-ones with direct reports and supervisors; professional development; and team-building opportunities. Historically, we've always really focused on providing benefits that really enhance the lives of our team, like excellent health care, 401(K) with a match and flexibility toward the needs of all of our team members and their families. 

 

We've always focused on providing benefits that really enhance the lives of our team.”


 

 

Organization Ethos

“The mission at Topstep is to provide a safe experience, so traders can professionalize their passion, and we put that into practice in almost everything we do as a company ... Each department is accountable for creating an environment where traders can safely engage in and profit from the financial markets,” COO Melissa Footlick previously told Built In Chicago. 


 

Beyond financially-based perks and benefits, how is the social aspect of well-being catered to?

Clark: To keep connected, I've attended the marketing team’s daily standups since March. There have been multiple themes for standups to keep them fun. Also, our VP of marketing, Robin Simkins, has a huge network, so over the summer, her friends would do a 30-minute Zoom talk about their interests, like showing us how to make a margarita or giving us a lesson on pop culture. It was just something to get our heads out of the current world.

Elaguizy: I have a kid and, since the summer, we’ve had seven or eight babies born at Topstep, which is a huge number. I didn’t know I needed it, but having a Slack channel for us to all talk and share our experiences and what helps and what doesn't help, really helped. Being in that channel and talking to people did leaps and bounds for me.

 

“We've been really working to make some lasting changes that are also sustainable past this year.”

 

Johnson: We did a combined outing, led by one of the product team members, with product and engineering people. We had to solve two separate puzzles in order to understand what the master puzzle was. Those are the types of things that you have to continue doing even during this time. Figure out how to get together, enjoy yourselves and foster that team-building and camaraderie with each other.

 

TopstepTrader
topsteptrader offices

 

What does cultivating well-being look like in a remote world, and how does that come through in employees’ day-to-day?

Clark: In March and April, well-being was about being very open and very understanding. The main goal was trying to keep some stability in people's lives and ensure that work was not a stressor. I think employee well-being in the remote world is getting everybody as close as we can to some sort of new normal that they feel really good about.

Johnson: From the engineering perspective, two things to figure out were the following: how can we be comfortable in our new environments, and how do we keep up communication? We made all of our conversations on a public Slack so anybody could tune in and learn something from everybody else. That helped us to continue our group learning as a team and prevented us from going down individual rabbit holes.

Elaguizy: When you ask people how they’re doing, a lot of people say, “I’m OK, considering...” My goal with employee satisfaction and these benefits are to remove that “considering” part. We've been really working to make some lasting changes that are also sustainable this past year. We want people to continue to be happy and enjoy what we give them. 

 

 

Unpacking the Perks

Prior to COVID-19, perks at the firm included a professional development budget and a $500 vacation bonus for individuals who take five days consecutive PTO days. To help employees acclimate to remote work, the company expanded those offerings, upping paychecks to offset home internet costs; extending parking and Uber reimbursements for those who went into the office; offering $25 dinner stipends when supporting local eateries; and implementing a “work-from-anywhere” office policy.  

 

Since going remote, is there an instance that comes where you felt as if your well-being was accounted for?

Johnson: I just moved up here from New Orleans. When we had our first hurricane threatening the New Orleans area, our CEO reached out to me directly and asked how my family was doing and how I was doing. For someone at that level in the company to be that aware, and then that intentional in reaching out to me in an away-from-work situation, really touched me. It was really special and something I hadn't experienced before. 

Elaguizy: In my weekly meeting with my boss, the very first thing he asks is, “How are you feeling mentally? How's your health? How's the family?” If he sees something that he can actually help with, he does it. It's not just listening to check the box. I think the majority is just stopping and truly listening to people. Listening goes such a long way. 

 

 

Do what you can to support people who are telling you things, trusting you with things and asking for things.”

 

How can other leaders cultivate employee well-being right now?

Elaguizy: Respect your employees. Listen and trust them and read the room — even the Zoom room. If people look disgruntled, it's because they probably are. Employees just want to get to a point where they enjoy what they do and feel valued. Incorporating any ideas that they have, even if they're low-hanging fruit, can do wonders.

Johnson: On the tech team, where we found success was keeping communication open. Also, listen to the feedback from the team members and your employees. Don't be afraid to try something new, like the four-day work week. This is a new situation for everybody, so let's try a new solution. Have that mindset to think outside the box.

Clark: Take yourself completely out of your shoes and just listen with no judgment. Believe everything at face value. Do what you can to support people who are telling you things, trusting you with things and asking for things.

 

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