Keeping employees connected and engaged is a top HR challenge on the best of days—and in the middle of a pandemic that has forced millions to suddenly work from home, it has become even more of a concern. For one global company, the solution to that vexing problem has come in the form of music.
Emburse, which provides solutions for expense management and accounts payable automation, has 750 employees around the world—many of whom now start their days with a virtual performance by in-house band Bad Receipts. The four-member group is based across four countries—the U.S., Canada, England and Scotland—and originally formed three years ago to provide entertainment for an annual sales kick-off meeting. When the pandemic started, and all 12 Emburse offices went remote at the beginning of March, one Bad Receipts member decided to put together a “Daily Chorus” performance video for colleagues; the idea took off, and the band got back together—virtually—to perform for company-wide meetings.
While the logistics of rehearsing and performing in a global band are challenging, says Chief People Officer Danielle Tabor, the musicians are all of “a really good pedigree, so it’s mainly just a case of them all learning and performing their individual parts once they have picked the chosen song.” They decide on the tempo and key and the drummer often records first, with the band members each filming their piece and then one member mixing them all together.
“Given recent events in our society, the band has been a light during this period of darkness,” Tabor says.
Bad Receipts has welcomed other employees as guest singers and at the end of one recent performance of “Need You Now” by Lady Antebellum, the video included a photo montage of employees’ family members who are serving on the frontlines of the pandemic as healthcare workers, law enforcement, military and more.
The Bad Receipts is another way Emburse has sought to “humanize” work, Tabor says.
“A big part of that is ensuring that everyone feels connected to the organization,” she says. Even before the pandemic, the organization hosted quarterly all-hands, business unit and functional group meetings—which have moved to Zoom since—during which two-way dialogue is encouraged. Leaders also create frequent social events for their teams.
When the New York-based company shifted to fully remote work, it set up a “virtual water cooler” channel on Slack, through which employees share personal news, pictures and more. The organization now holds bi-weekly, company-wide “virtual coffee chats” on Zoom, with company performance updates from the CEO.
“We’re fortunate in the fact that the financial impact of COVID-19 has been relatively small for us, and we haven’t needed to make any layoffs,” Tabor says. “Keeping everyone up to speed on how the company is doing is reassuring in itself.”
When it comes to health and wellness, Emburse offers an exercise-tracking program rooted in gamification through Virgin Pulse and organizes remote exercise sessions. It has also worked to encourage all employees to take advantage of mental-health resources through its health plans and EAPs.
Burnout has become a serious risk for many remote workers, and Emburse has strived to promote empathy for parents juggling work schedules with childcare and home schooling, Tabor says. It offers a “take what you need” PTO policy for all employees and created a company-wide “Emburse Unplugged” day, in which employees were encouraged to fully disconnect from work.
“Everyone has been working incredibly hard the past few months,” Tabor says, “so we wanted to recognize that by making sure they get a bit more downtime.”
As employers around the globe strategize on bringing their employees back to workplaces, Emburse is taking a “flexible mindset,” considering options such as splitting workers into teams who work four days in the office and then 10 days at home.
“Fortunately, we’ve not seen any drop-off in productivity since everyone started working remotely, so it’s not too much of a rush,” Tabor says.
While employee wellbeing is the main priority of the HR team, Tabor says, the organization is looking to redouble its D&I work to ensure all employees feel welcomed and supported in light of recent events.
“There is no tolerance for racism at Emburse, and we continue to expand our efforts around Emburse’s diversity and inclusion initiatives, and how we can further support our team members from the Black community,” Tabor says. “The killing of George Floyd has brought the issue of racial inequality to the forefront of peoples’ minds around the world—we all need to do better and stand up to injustice.”