How Our Startup Doubled Its Workforce, Went Virtual And Became Even Closer During The Pandemic

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  • Jeremy Fain is the CEO and Co-Founder of >Cognitiv, the first neural network technology available for marketers.

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    For most businesses, the pandemic has led to strained budgets and, in worse cases, layoffs. Cognitiv’s pandemic experience, however, has been much the opposite — we thankfully went through the greatest period of growth in company history, expanding our client base as well as doubling the number of employees. How did we do this, and what lessons can businesses take from our experience?

    I believe it was a combination of being in the automation business and having a preexisting bi-coastal virtual culture structure.

    In a pandemic, where there are constraints that might curtail a company’s ability to operate at full strength, success is highly dependent on the services being provided. As we have seen with Netflix and Clorox, companies that help you at home are winning. In our case, while the marketing industry was certainly impacted by the effects of the coronavirus, the services we offer — namely, the ability to use custom-built neural networks to help marketers better achieve their business goals — were ideally suited to the challenges that brands found themselves facing.

    According to KPMG, 89% of tech CEOs reported that their digital transformation projects have been sped up by months or even years. It is no surprise then that demand for automation solutions has increased significantly since the beginning of 2020, with executives constantly looking for new ways to do more with less. In fact, Gartner named hyper-automation — the use of advanced technologies such as AI and machine learning to “automate processes and augment humans” — as one of its Top 10 strategic trends for 2020. 

    In the past, companies may have seen investment into cutting-edge technologies such as artificial intelligence or deep learning as a nice-to-have, but the pandemic has emphasized just how misguided those assumptions were. Going forward, businesses of all types must understand the need to find the right technological tools for their business, whether that is a deep learning-powered algorithm or video conferencing software, that will enable them to not only meet the challenges they face in the present but also adjust to unexpected scenarios. Far too many companies, particularly fast-paced startups looking to make an immediate impact, take a myopic view of their situation instead of thinking about the longer-term consequences of their decisions. 

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    There are many who are understandably worried about the effect that automation will have on their jobs and their workforces. Nevertheless, burying one’s head in the sand in an attempt to avoid the inevitable or unpleasant will lead to more damaging consequences by far. Instead of thinking about how automation can replace people, it is more useful to think of the ways in which it can help people perform their jobs better.

    For example, instead of requiring members of a sales team to manually enter leads into their CRM, it would be a more efficient use of resources to invest in a CRM that is capable of automatically capturing that information on their behalf. This would free your sales team up to spend more time cultivating those leads, which could, as a result, lead to greater returns. 

    You can have the most sophisticated technology in the world and still struggle, however, to recruit and retain the top talent you need. This is something we have experienced firsthand, and it is why we have spent a great deal of effort and resources to create a company culture that people will feel drawn to.

    Over this past year, we discovered that this had an unexpected benefit: Because we had worked hard to create a single culture that would effectively connect our bi-coastal offices, it made it easier to maintain company morale and remain cohesive. It also allowed us to onboard new team members effectively, keep the bonds between our employees strong, and quickly adjust and keep working together effectively after we went all-virtual.

    Since our founding, all new hires are automatically sorted into one of what we call “Houses” — essentially, intramural teams. Each House is made up of people from different offices and departments, ensuring that everyone has the opportunity to get to know a different set of team members from the ones they already work with. Each House has its own name and crest, and over the years has developed its own characteristics based on who leads it. We host monthly activities like trivia contests and escape rooms; some are scored and some are just social. Most importantly, everyone has a great time all year and gets to bond with people from different parts of the company and the country.

    This system enabled us to transition smoothly to remote work. Our virtual team meetings — from daily no-business Zoom coffee sessions to weekly office-wide lunches — came naturally. The House system has also made it possible for new hires brought on over the past year to integrate seamlessly, and to immediately feel like family (even though we are not exactly sure how tall anyone is). There is no question that, without the House system and the sense of camaraderie it brings, we would not have been able to achieve such success throughout this past year. Our experience shows that a strong, intra-department, intra-office culture can make a company more resilient and able to quickly respond to new situations.

    While this type of system may not work for every company, the principle behind it can be easily applied to any organization. Companies need to have a system in place that enables bonding between employees that will allow them to feel supported while also giving them the opportunity for greater recognition within the company. Moreover, as the pandemic has shown, it is more important than ever to find ways to support a healthy work/life balance and give employees the flexibility they need in order to ensure productivity in the long-term.

    As our experience highlights, success can come at the most unexpected of times. There is no one blueprint to success, particularly in a pandemic, but hopefully our experience will help companies better weather the next storm.


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    Source : https://www.forbes.com/sites/forbesagencycouncil/2021/04/08/how-our-startup-doubled-its-workforce-went-virtual-and-became-even-closer-during-the-pandemic/

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