One Step Backward, Ten Steps Forward: How Almabase Transitioned To A Sustainable Employee-First Remote Culture
“Your setback is just a setup for your comeback.” ~ Steve Harvey
Building a strong company culture takes time, effort, and perseverance. You are busy investing your best in creating an amazing work environment and when you’re almost there, a pandemic decides to challenge your might. Do you let it shake your foundation, or do you turn the tide in your favor?
Here’s the story of Almabase, a company that provides a SaaS platform for alumni engagement and fundraising - of how they didn’t let a sudden remote switch impact the culture they’d spent so much time building.
The Culture at Almabase
More often than not, when we think of the state-of-the-art employee benefits and work culture, large companies like Google or Apple cross our mind. After all, startups are too young to invest in ping-pong tables, nap rooms, or even health insurance for that matter, right?
While this was the perception for a long time, startups today are increasingly realizing the role of culture in a business’s success. As a result, they’re focusing on employee engagement and culture-building from the very beginning. Almabase is one such startup.
Since its inception in 2014, Almabase has strived to build an open culture at the company. For the unacquainted, an open culture is not the same as an open office. It is not built by constructing fewer cubicles in the office, but by building an environment where employees feel belonged and valued.
Almabase shaped its open culture on four key pillars:
- Holistic Growth with Fun: There should always be a balance between personal and professional growth. And it should be fun for all- because why not!
- Freedom and responsibility: With the facility of unlimited leaves and work from home, employees have the choice to work when they feel the most productive.
- Transparency: All communication is transparent and open unless necessary. If an employee has an issue, they’re free to take it to the founder directly. Not just that, everyone’s aware of the company’s growth, success, and setbacks.
- Constructive Feedback: Nothing great ever gets done without constructive feedback. Like a great sports team.
We take care of the rest
“At Almabase, we’ve always had a culture of trust. We trust everyone to give their best while we take care of the rest. We aim to ensure that our employees have fewer worries, and all the support they need to perform well," said Yash Nagada, Finance and Compliance Manager at Almabase.
Here’s how a usual day at Almabase before the pandemic looked:
If you would have happened to walk into the Almabase office (before the lockdown!), you would have been greeted by Pepper, your little furry friend who’d wag her tail expectantly while demanding more pats from you.
After playing with the adorable pup, as you’d walk further, you may also find a lounge area where one of the Almabase folks would be engrossed in a game of FIFA on the in-house PlayStation.
As you’d move further, you’d find a love outdoor dining table on their office terrace where the team enjoys free meals (5 times a day!), celebrate birthdays and farewells.
From meals to stationary, to stress busters, the place has everything an employee could probably want while at the job. The goal is to ensure that employees have the opportunity to focus on their work, while the company takes care of the rest.
But times change...and the office space and culture Almabase created had to be shifted to a remote setup.
The Challenge: Adapting to the new normal
With the spread of the Coronavirus, like every other company, Almabase also asked their employees to work from home. While the company did have a system of work-from-home in place for employees to work remotely from time to time, they’d never been completely remote.
“While we saw everyone was still putting in their best and trying to work, we could see that the engagement was low. Something wasn’t going well and we (Yash and the company founders) could sense it, " recalls Yash.
Work-from-home definitely comes with its own share of challenges and obstacles for leaders and employees alike. Hearing people out is usually the first step, according to Yash. “To understand what challenges people were facing, I decided to have one-on-one conversations with each of our team members noting down their issues. That’s where I found out that people had a lot to juggle and worry about while working remotely.”
Now aware of their team’s problems, the founders rapidly began to take measures to overcome them.
The Antidote: Introducing WFH enablers
The spread of Coronavirus brought a lot of uncertainty. Employees were precarious about whether to stay in Bengaluru in their rented homes alone, or to let go of their rented spaces and move back to their hometowns. “As a first step, we decided to declare that come what may, Almabase employees can work from home till 31st March 2021, ” Yash explains, “This helped them in taking decisions about their living situations easily.”
Now that the team had clarity on the WFH structure, Almabase “decided to ramp up [their] #WFH game and roll out new benefits to all the employees”. They came up with remote-first benefits to ensure that the employees had the right financial, emotional, mental, and social support to work from home. Here’s what the policy included:
Employees got a one-time setup allowance to use however they deemed suitable in setting up an ergonomic workspace. The employees were encouraged to invest in chairs, desks, and other desk accessories for their workspaces. Additionally, employees got separate allowances for infrastructure needs like router UPS, ethernet cable, desk light, etc.
Not just that, employees also had recurring allowances for internet, stationery, and even food and groceries (since employees received free meals earlier!).
Health Insurance Support
While they had health insurance from the very start, Almabase switched to Plum to ensure that their employees could have a better, hassle-free experience. “Earlier, team members would approach me for initiating claims and then I’d talk to the provider. Not just that, there was so much back and forth and confusion about what’s covered and what’s not, my team would get flustered. With the platform that Plum provides, that all goes away. I no longer have to be the middleman. Employees directly initiate claims and clear their doubts on the live chat,” shares Yash.
Emotional and Mental Well-Being Initiatives
The company tied up with online counseling and emotional wellness platform, YourDost through which employees got access to counselors and coaches any time they needed. In addition to that, a monthly mandatory day-off was made available for members to take a break when they’d feel too overwhelmed. Lastly, as it was not easy for everyone to be productive and available all the time with added household responsibilities, the working hours were made flexible. Everyone had the flexibility to set their work hours and update those as the Slack statuses. That way, people would not work all day. Nor did they have to be available beyond their working hours.
Virtual Team-Building Opportunities
When you don’t have your teammates to banter with during lunch hours and tea breaks, isolation creeps in. To avoid that, Almabase introduced team lunches, huddles, and fun team building activities which would be conducted in addition to their usual “Fun-Friday” meetings. They also plan to invest in software and tools that would boost social interactions within the remote team.
Soon after the new #WFH policy was released, one of the employees at the company wrote, “As the world adapts to a new way of working, I'm really proud to say that I'm part of a startup where employee wellness has always been a priority.” And that says a lot.
Bonus: What we (also!) love
While there’s a lot about the culture at Almabase that we loved and admired, we fell in love with their Zoom background game! During their virtual celebrations, depending on the purpose, they have customized backgrounds for the entire team.
Believe it or not, they made us smile. Sometimes, it’s these little things that make all the difference!
Want to learn more about the Almabase Culture? Head over to the Team Blog to read more of their impactful stories.