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Establishing the New Normal in Pandemic-Aftertimes

[Three Hundred and Eighty-One]

[Three hundred and eighty-one]. The number of days it’s been since our Sentry offices shut down, in what we believed at that time to be a very short-term temporary measure while we took stock of the events unfolding around us. In this last year of the pandemic, like so many companies, we were initially left scrambling with how to handle the complexities of our newly distributed workforce, while juggling the uncertainties we have faced in what I hope is a once-in-our-lifetime global phenomenon. The results of the pandemic have left businesses reevaluating and reimagining how their operations can effectively operate not just in the chaos of the immediate-term, but also with longer-term sustainability. A few monoliths have swung the pendulum hard and shifted entirely to a permanently distributed workforce, while other companies have opted for a hybrid approach. At Sentry, we believe that investing in flexible solutions while maintaining the connectedness an office hub affords, is the work of the future.

Building Connections IRL

So why not go fully remote? Many jobs in tech aren’t bound to physical locations - grab a laptop, you can work virtually from anywhere! And yes - while this is a (mostly) true statement, this largely ignores the invaluable in-person interactions with teams & coworkers that one doesn’t get to experience with fully distributed teams. Interactions like turning to a coworker for quick conversations, informal, serendipitous “watercooler” chats, the deeper personal relationship-building that happens over a coffee walk or a lunch gathering, or simply engaging in a quick friendly interaction during a minute wait outside of a meeting room.

We’re also looking to solve for the problems folks face when they lack that physical separation and boundaries between work and home life. Having an office environment that is specifically set up to suit work needs, using commutes for focus, being able to participate in the camaraderie of team building events during the day or after-hours. All of these serve as ways to stay mentally healthy, productive, and engaged within teams and the company as a whole.

An Ethos of Flexibility

And so, instead of reactively hard-pivoting to a fully-distributed model - one that doesn’t positively impact our company culture - we have proactively focused on the ethos of flexibility. We have always provided a flex model - days, time, time-off. We are expanding on this programs where folks can collaborate in-office three days and work from wherever the other two; flexibility in working hours while maintaining some amount of time of overlap with their peers; and empowerment for our people leaders that allows each team to figure out right model of collaboration and engagement to foster environments where folks can do their best work, and live their best lives.

With this in mind, our focus at Sentry has been to create and provide spaces that allow for different levels of in-office flexibility. Our HQ in downtown San Francisco is thoughtfully designed to provide a variety of situations that address differing work styles and needs. From breakout spaces for teams to collaborate and whiteboard, a Library where individuals can have moments of quiet and heads down time, to wellness rooms and spaces to casually collaborate, providing an overall office space where people have defined separation of home and work adds value to life-work equilibrium.

The connective tissue of making deep, long-lasting human connections lies in the unique value in being an office-first culture to an organization, value which significantly diminishes when you remove the ability to regularly meet and collaborate in person. And, whereas a distributed model likely means most interactions are taking place asynchronously, and therefore perhaps allows for less conscientious comments, being in person encourages folks to engage in more intentional, thoughtful interactions. It adds layers of colour that are missed in written text or video chats, through tone and body language, and a lot of things can go awry when you permanently take away these key pieces of communications.

On the flip side, life isn’t just work, and it rarely fits into a nice little set of structured time boxes. Providing employees with work-from-wherever flex days gives room and opportunity for our folks to take care of things that inevitably crop up in general life, without needing to significantly reorganize their schedules. We also have a diverse population where a good number of folks are caregivers who have faced immense challenges to all aspects of their lives in this past year. We believe that wholly supporting employees in those circumstances with the ability to be flexible in their schedules is a win-win.

The challenges of this past year have given us opportunities to reflect on how we as an organization contribute to the health and wellness of our people. We began pandemotimes by expanding some of our stipends - setting up a Remote Tools reimbursement for our employees to get their home setup more comfortable, adding a Wellness Stipend to supplement and support mental and physical health, and very recently adding additional company-wide holidays through the year to give longer weekends to disconnecting and foster downtime.

In Closing

Having [virtually] met with every single one of our [60] new hires who have joined Sentry since the beginning of the pandemic, a common sentiment I’ve heard is “I can’t wait to meet everyone finally and be back in an office again! This is hard!” It is hard. Psychologically, emotionally, to operate in a world where almost everything has become transactional by nature. Zoom fatigue is real, and burnout from being stuck in the groundhog day of pandemotimes is wearying, at best, and utterly mentally exhausting, at worst.

We believe in the power of humanizing connections and a massive aspect of this is the ability to build relationships in real life. The pandemic has shown us just how much we miss out on, when we don’t have the chance to connect with each other within in-person spaces. We’ll continue to invest in our employees by maintaining a human-centric approach to our ethos of in-office work, through supporting the needs for flexibility in reimagining work-life entwinements. We’re squirrelling away to establish the new normal and we’d love for you to come and join us on this journey - we’re really nice people 😎.

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