blue sky desk

How to Create a Flexible Workplace that Works

Much has been written recently about workplace culture. In the era of the Great Resignation, when many employers are struggling to attract and retain the talent they need, there’s newfound awareness of the importance of both attracting the right people and instituting the right policies – and of the strong interplay between the two. As a result, more and more companies recently raised diversity, equity and inclusion to a strategic imperative and ramped up efforts to build a more flexible and supportive workplace. At Calvert Impact Capital, an emphasis on workplace culture is not new. Many years ago, we realized that a strong organizational culture is integral to our mission as impact investors. Traditionally, the impact investing space has primarily been about the work of directing capital toward solutions for a more equitable and sustainable world. However, we believe that being an authentic impactful organization also depends on living our values. That means also prioritizing a flexible and supportive workplace where all of our colleagues have what they need to succeed.

Below are the key steps we’ve taken to ensure that we maintain a workplace that respects our differences and works for everyone.

Standards not policies

Years ago, our employee handbook was a 200-plus page list of explicit rules around work hours and locations, sick days, maternity leave and a number of other employee concerns. We tossed that out and worked with an HR consultant to create a more thoughtful and unifying handbook more aligned with our guiding principle of ensuring mutual respect. The result was a 60+-page document that clearly spells out only the basic requirements and labor standards to guide us. In this way, the handbook serves as a reference for making decisions that can be customized for everyone on our team. It allows us to be flexible and to adapt as needs and circumstances change. For example, rather than quantify exactly how many days per week employees can work from outside the office, the handbook specifies the procedure employees should follow to make a request for a remote-work arrangement. Decisions about the exact arrangement are left to the individual employee and their manager to make together.

In addition, we’ve customized everything from work hours and location, to commuting benefits, sick time and maternity or paternity leave, including ways for working parents to manage childcare needs. We provide tools that accommodate special physical needs and don’t ask employees to self-identify their gender or ethnicity.

Listen, learn, act

Another key step was to revamp the process and tools we use for performance reviews. Gone is the evaluation form that called for numerical ratings on a set of goals. Today, reviews are two-way conversations using a checklist designed to elicit information about what each employee needs – whether more training or special tools or support of another kind – and what managers can do to help generate better outcomes.

We believe that each person knows what they need to succeed. Our goal is to create an environment of trust and good communication where each employee has a say in what work looks like for them, with a focus on equity rather than equality. By doing a lot of listening, we put ourselves in a position to hear little things that lead to a much bigger understanding of where people are in their personal lives and what they might need. Then we try to make it happen, without much fuss or a complex bureaucratic process.

That flexible approach proved particularly valuable at the beginning of the COVID pandemic. We had already been encouraging employees to take their laptops home with them at the end of each day because the science was changing and evolving. Managers worked collaboratively to ensure communication happened in real time to stay current with the work and ensure everyone had what they needed to work from home. That communication plan made it a lot easier to transition seamlessly to remote work when the lockdown was imposed on March 13, 2020.

We then devised a return-to-work plan that incorporated a number of possible scenarios and held regular all-staff virtual meetings to solicit feedback. The goal was to provide everyone the ability to structure their work plan in a way that felt safe. That work plan is still in place and continues to be the guiding standard for our organization.

Invest in shared values

The impact investing work we do tends to draw people who share and embody our core values. And our experience has reinforced the notion that deliberately investing in culture is a win-win. We both give and get a lot from our people, who appreciate that they can customize their work and have more control over their workday. That’s evidenced in the long tenures and the low turnover of our staff. Importantly, we’ve found that investing in our own shared values can also benefit our borrowers and, by extension, our investors: we can not only evaluate their loans, but also offer holistic guidance, based on our lived experience, for strengthening their organizational resilience by improving their own workplace cultures.