Square Communities in a distributed workforce.
Square Communities are a central space for employees to join together and build connections — across teams, locations, and backgrounds. Now more than ever, our Communities are integral to fostering a sense of belonging and connectedness.
ERGs, COVID-19, and Community
Square Communities, more commonly known as employee resource groups (ERGs), are a central part of our workplace culture. Initially founded by a small group of dedicated employees passionate about celebrating underrepresented backgrounds within tech, our Communities have grown over the years to include 14 global groups with 79 Chairs and a robust calendar of programming. Our Communities have established themselves as a central space for employees to join together and build connections — across teams, locations, and backgrounds. And the importance of Communities and the relationships they’ve built have only become more integral as of late.
Since the switch to working from home, teams and managers across the company have been working to identify ways to maintain our sense of community and connect employees virtually. Our Internal Communications team rolled out new formats to keep us informed and connected, including regular COVID-19 email updates and a weekly virtual all-hands; our Learning & Programs team developed a range of resources for managers on leading distributed teams and through times of crisis; and our team leads surveyed their teams (and continue to) to keep a pulse on how they’re navigating the adjustment.
But for this post, we’re sharing the ways that our Communities — sources of camaraderie, support, and development independent of core functions — have been inventing and learning to maintain a sense of belonging and connectedness during this time. We hope sharing what we’ve tried will provide other ERGs, Inclusion & Diversity teams, and companies with some ideas to explore.
One of the first challenges we faced in this new work from home reality was how to orchestrate events. Between International Women’s Day celebrations, events planned by our interfaith Communities for April, and regular Community lunches and happy hours, our events calendar was full of great programming. Though the current situation clearly isn’t business as usual, we’ve tried to maintain some sense of consistency and normalcy, especially as it relates to opportunities to connect with one another.
So, we check in with our Community Chairs regularly to touch base, provide a framework of options for translating events and gatherings into virtual formats, and brainstorm other virtual community-building activities. Here are just a few highlights of the ingenuity demonstrated by our Communities over the past weeks:
Virtual Watercoolers — For the more extroverted among us, Communities have set up ongoing “always open” Google Hangouts where folks can join whenever they feel in need of a bit of connection. The Community Slack channels serve as a nice complement, where Community members can pop in to let folks know they are headed to the “watercooler” if anyone would like to join. These Hangouts serve as a great way to allow for casual, unstructured conversations about…whatever!
Hosting events virtually — Rather than cancel or postpone in-person events, we have worked with our Communities to host external speakers, movie watch parties, meditations, and more via Google Hangouts. This has allowed Community members to connect in real-time and has had the additional benefit of supporting speakers, artists, and teachers at a time when business, for many, is being negatively affected.
Ask Me Anythings — Playing off of the Ask Me Anything (AMA) format from Reddit, we’ve hosted AMAs in our Community Slack channels featuring executive sponsors, members of our leadership team, and members of other teams of interest, such as Internal Mobility and Benefits. These AMAs provide a fresh way for Community members to engage. Pro tip: Be sure to send out communications about the AMA and get it on the calendar ahead of time. This will give folks the chance to consider questions and be sure to attend.
Photo Contests — For more asynchronous Slack fun, a number of Communities have been hosting photo contents, inviting members to share pictures of favorite meals, work from home set-ups, children, or pets. The photo with the most reactions sometimes receives a small prize ranging from a donation to the nonprofit of their choosing to a gift certificate to a local small business.
Slack Profile Images — To help elevate holidays such as International Women’s Day (which normally we would do through physical installations in our office spaces), as well as to demonstrate solidarity, we’ve been experimenting with sharing digital assets for employees to swap in temporarily for their Slack profile image. So far we’ve only seen these assets used within pockets of the company—we’d recommend clear communications and participation from leadership for it to really take off.
Addressing key needs
In keeping an eye on our Community Slack channels and staying in close touch with our Chairs, it became clear that some of our Communities could benefit from additional resources on navigating new challenges. In partnership with our Chairs, we identified a few opportunities to provide information and support — and hopefully help Community members feel less alone in the challenges they were facing.
Resources for Parents — In partnership with our Parents Community Chairs and our Benefits team, we developed a resource document including tips & tricks on working from home with children, ideas to entertain K-12 children, parental benefits to be aware of, and CDC guidance for parents related to COVID-19. The document was developed to be collaborative in nature, with space for parents to share resources and wisdom, and it continues to grow.
Mental Health Resource Doc — The burden of navigating the mental health challenges associated with social distancing, disrupted routines, economic stresses, and health anxiety is sizable. To help prevent employees from feeling further isolated by these challenges and connect employees with resources, information, and one another, we partnered with our Neurodiversity Community to develop a collaborative document including information about our mental health offerings and other resources on caring for our mental health during the time of COVID-19.
API-Squares Safe Space — In partnership with our Asian Pacific Islander (API) Community, our Inclusion and Diversity lead and API-Squares executive sponsor hosted a safe space conversation to acknowledge the rising incidents of hate and discrimination targeting the API community. Employees, including allies, came together to share thoughts, feelings, and experiences, as well as to simply listen. Following the discussion, we shared resources focused on educating yourself on the API experience and expressing empathy and allyship.
Since a number of our in-person Community events shifted to lower-cost virtual formats, our Communities saw an opportunity to reallocate a portion of the funds originally dedicated toward in-person events to come together and give back. Our Community Chairs were excited to partner, so we teamed up with our in-house creative team to develop a swag item (comfy socks— perfect for WFH life) with all sales going towards nonprofits supporting COVID-19 relief.
Though our Communities are generally inclusive and intersectional in their approach, this effort marked one of the first-ever all Communities initiatives — a heartening nod to the fact that, at the end of the day, we are all in this together.
While indeed a privilege, working from home through a time of uncertainty, isolation, and hardship is an unprecedented challenge. Over the past weeks (nearly months now), we’ve seen our Communities come together, and bring us together, in new and innovative ways.
We certainly can’t claim to be experts at navigating these strange and tough times. We’re all, more or less, winging it. What we can say with certainty, is this is a time to learn from each other and bring people together (albeit virtually), as community reminds us we’re not in this alone. So that is what we’ll keep trying to do.