Hear from our Chief of Staff on how a flexible work environment treats employees as people first

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According to a TeamStage study, 88% of job seekers say that a healthy culture at work is vital for success. But, where do you start when trying to create a safe and engaging workplace for employees? At 1% for the Planet, we prioritize culture and employee satisfaction and are constantly working to make our work environment accessible for our whole team. 

Our “people first” approach focuses on the individual—ensuring that each member of our team has what they need to succeed. At the heart of our initiatives is Chief of Staff Taran Catania, who sat down to give a look into some of our benefits and how we continue to strive to build a culture that we can be proud of.

Ian Dupont: So first, I'll have you introduce yourself. What's your name? How long have you worked here? And what is your title?

Taran Catania: My name is Taran Catania. I'm Chief of Staff at 1% for the Planet. I've been here two years.

ID: Remind me, did you start as Chief of Staff or did you kind of work up?

TC: I actually came into this job in a different role, specifically a sort of people operation space around hiring and recruiting at a time when we were really growing.

ID: Right. Could you describe your current role?

TC: My role is focused on organizational strategy—so integration and people operations.

ID: So what to us, what is People Operations?

TC: People Operations is the heart of understanding people as one of our most important resources. And how do you cultivate a work environment and support systems that treasure that as a resource?

ID: So I feel like most people in the kind of “corporate” world know it as human resources. Why is it important for us to differentiate ourselves from that?

TC: Yeah, great question. The nod to culture is a really important one, and we talk about everyone being a culture holder in our organization, but people operations look at people as a core entity of our business and say, ‘How do we operate with this resource in a way that honors the resource and gets the job done?’

ID: What do you consider one of the biggest ways 1% for the Planet takes care of its people?

TC: We take care of our people in a lot of ways, but one of the ways I am most proud of and I think is one of the things that's most attractive to people who are finding us from the outside is that we have some pretty powerful benefits. We pay for 100% of the premiums for our staff and their spouses/partner's independence. And we just launched last year a six-month paid parental leave. So we're invested in some kind of radical initiatives to say, ‘People are humans first and workers second. So how do we take care of them that way? So those health benefits and family benefits are just one of the things we've initiated that I think is a cool nod to that.

ID: How do you think that helps people focus on their work?

TC: I think it's a great question and it comes down to if you're worried about things at home, if you're worried about your well-being and your health, how are you expected to do the day in, day out of your job? Taking care of our people for the things they need outside of their possessions, I feel helps them do the role they need to do.

ID: So, kind of the opposite of that: What is one of the littlest ways, a detail that might be often overlooked in how 1% for the Planet takes care of people?

TC: I love that question of what are the little ways we take care of our people and not the big flashy ways. And I think it comes down to a lot of things. I mean, we love a good birthday. We love encouraging folks to chat, you know, anything that is important to them. So we've got folks who are now in a very robust crossword thread. But I think one of the little things that I love the most is when we do all staff meetings, we've agreed, even though we have a hybrid culture, whether you're remote or you're in person, everyone calls in on a separate screen. And that's a nod to how we want everyone to feel included. There's never a sense of ‘I'm on a little screen and everyone's in a room without me.’ It's we're all in this together—so let's all call in on our own screens. I think it's just those little things, those little nods to ‘we know what it feels like to be on the outside, or at least we're trying to,’ that we build for. I think that sets us apart.

ID: At this point, we’re about 30% in office, 60% remote. How do we foster that hybrid culture?

TC: Yeah, our staff is pretty spread out at this point, but we know that in-person time is really valuable so one of the ways we care for our hybrid staff is we invest in time together. At least once a year we make sure all staff can gather. We spend meaningful connection time and we do some programming—but we've learned that the magic is in the time between programming. And so we try to honor staff and trust them to make the connections that work for them. Whether it's virtual coffee chats and encouraging folks to take time for that, or this in-person gathering that we not only prioritize what we plan for the year but also how we budget for the year. That's I think one of the things that has helped our remote culture is that there's at least one touch point, if not several, where folks can be in a room together and have what was once called the ‘water cooler talk.’ But now it's over a walk or a coffee or somewhere in the world where we've all gathered. We found that that’s important to reinforce what then you're doing remotely together.

ID: Spinning off that a little bit more, what are some of the challenges of fostering that culture in a remote work environment?

TC: Absolutely. I think one of them is just time. There is not a lot of time in the day to do your job, to help everyone with their job, to have a coffee chat with someone, to keep that connection going. And on top of all that, there are emails you have to attend to. So given how much time there is in a day and how much we do ask of our staff, I think one of the challenges is how do you still prioritize that connection time that can't really be quantified on that to-do list and I think we're getting better at it. I think we're also being innovative with how we've done our scheduling. We have a full flex schedule policy and we encourage staff to use what we're calling ‘Flex Fridays’ to figure out if you need some life admin or wellness. That Friday is very flexible. But then where is the time for the coffee chat? So I think at the end of the day, making sure that staff know that they can prioritize connection time, that it is part of the to-do list, part of the strategic work that makes our work better. I think that's a really important component of the hybrid and remote staff.

ID: What are some of the benefits of having that hybrid culture or access to remote staff?

TC: Yeah, the benefits of a remote staff are great. It is very known at this point that folks, when they went home during the pandemic, found there were a lot of benefits to working from home and having that flexibility. So what I love about our flexible policy is that it meets folks exactly where they are—whether you have kids at home, whether you're caring for an elderly parent, whether you have laundry you need to attend to, whatever it is that makes up your personal non-work life, you can figure out how it fits in with your work life. It is a great, non-prescriptive way to encourage work-life balance. 

“We don't care exactly why it is that you find us in terms of what about our remote culture matters to you, but we know if it supports you, you're going to be able to do the job we need to do.”

ID: That's a good reminder of the laundry I need to do.

TC: I need to do laundry, too.

ID: In what ways do you find or think about new policies to implement?

TC: In my opinion, I think we've done a number of cool things, but I actually think one of the best ways that we approach our benefits is by listening to our staff. I'm a big fan of surveys and we've implemented some pretty rigorous staff surveying to just invite our staff. What things are you looking for? What benefits are you hoping for (even if you don't know what benefits you're looking for)? What needs of yours do you have that are unmet? How could we meet them? 

And so really challenging ourselves when we think about what benefits we offer. Who's in the room? Who has unmet needs? And then who's not in the room and who are the underrepresented folks on our team and on our future team who have needs that we can figure out how to meet either creatively or in standard ways? But really pushing ourselves to think outside the box and to say like, even if we've got great benefits now, what do they look like next year?

Questions that get at, do staff want to be here? And I'm proud of us not just for creating a place that staff want to be but for creating a place that staff advocate for how they want it to change. So they want to keep being here.

ID: What are some challenges you see us facing as it relate to our people and culture, and what are you excited about in overcoming those challenges?

TC: I think one of our greatest challenges so far has been growing and how to scale your culture with that growth. 

So we were just about 20 staff about three or four years ago, and now we're nearing 50 staff. With that growth has come a lot of change. One of our challenges has been, how do you have the kind of culture we have when you're more than twice the size you were? I think it's been a neat question to ask ourselves and to not assume we know the answer… to ask the folks who are coming in, to ask the folks who've been here and say, ‘What is 1% for the Planet to you and how do we keep it going?’

TC: What do you love or like? No pressure!

ID: Definitely our Flex Friday policy, but I think overall, just the sort of peace of mind that the benefits bring in a large part, but also knowing that it's a two-way street. Like you were saying, if we have challenges or we feel our needs aren't being met, there's an avenue for you to broach those issues. I think an important thing with the staff surveys is they're very focused—very specific to one or two issues that we may be testing out at a given time. So they're not super broad in that they're trying to solve all problems at once. The acknowledgment that ‘that's something that we have to do’ is nice to have because it's not like ‘we're just going to hear all of your complaints and then not do anything about any of them.’ It's like ‘we're going to focus on this problem that people are facing and solve it and then we're going to move on to this problem that people are facing.’

TC: I like that. There's a philosophical component I like to point to something that our CEO, Kate Williams, says. She likes to say that ‘we try to create the conditions for people to be wildly successful.’ And I think that speaks to a lot. It’s not that we know exactly what it takes for folks to be wildly successful, but we trust that you know what success looks like for you and we are trying to create those conditions. There's a sense that we are in this together, we can iterate, we can be imperfect, we can ask staff what works for them, and we can slow down and try to fix one good thing at a time. 

I see us next year focusing on our people management program and professional development—but these things take time. So part of our people philosophy is we trust our staff and we want to support them. Let's build the programs that do that. Let's build them slowly, but let's also think big and act now, and let's do it together.

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Treating employees as people first can lead to more dedicated, long-term workers and a positive work environment. Be on the lookout for our career opportunities and in the meantime, start your membership journey today.

"Commit, then figure it out"

Doug Tompkins, dear friend and one of the great influences of 1% for the Planet's founders.
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