How this company used its love of coffee to lift its team back up again
“Once we forced ourselves to be vulnerable, connect, share, and laugh, morale and creativity were through the roof.”
Alex Azoury said he finally had enough of bad coffee … education.
“I wanted a resource for home baristas of all levels to find accurate, real-life tested ways to brew the perfect cup of coffee,” he said.
So in 2014 he started Home Grounds, a coffee education website with recipes, reviews, and how-to guides written by a team of coffee connoisseurs.
But when stay-at-home orders hit in March, the business saw a 20 percent decrease in orders through its affiliate programs due to consumers only purchasing essentials, Azoury said. Like many other businesses at the start of stay-at-home orders, Home Grounds’ workforce suffered from low morale. Here’s how Azoury said the company helped lift up his team’s spirits.
“Our normally nomadic workforce was suddenly stuck at home, so providing emotional support became more of a priority than before,” Azoury said. “Canceled plans, trips, and opportunities were leaving everyone feeling down, so morale needed to be boosted. Our approach was to go back to what makes us a community: coffee! We began having more social meetings online and sharing new beans we enjoyed, a new gadget or industry news we wanted to discuss.”
How it has benefited the company
“Making time for personal check-ins not only helped us stay connected; it allowed us to create more content that was suited to these times,” Azoury said. “Our content calendar got pretty much wiped out once lockdowns hit, and through connecting frequently, we were able to not only adapt the calendar but come up with entirely new posts and product reviews based on trends that were unique to now, such as dalgona coffee.”
He added, “Once the shock of everything settled in, it was like a reset for our creativity. None of us had anything else going on, so we were all dedicating more energy overall to creating new content, which equals more traffic and ultimately income. We have also been able to tackle our wishlist, doing tasks that haven't been urgent but are already optimizing our blog. Things such as adding more infographics to older posts, optimizing SEO in older posts, and searching for and fixing any broken links.”
“Though we are a pretty casual and friendly workplace anyway, it did take a little time to begin opening up to each other about our struggles and just get over the overwhelm of it all,” Azoury said. “Once we were a little more settled and forced ourselves to be vulnerable, connect, share, and laugh, morale and creativity were through the roof. It can be challenging to balance an obvious need to connect and professionalism, and this will be different for every business. As a CEO, I didn't want people to feel pressured to share if they didn't want to, but I also needed to provide a clear opportunity for them to voice their frustrations, fears, and anxieties.”
Tips from Azoury to implement this change:
5. “Challenges remind you that your workforce is made up of human beings. This should always be on top of mind — it shouldn't take an extreme event to remind you to have empathy, kindness, and seek connection with your staff and peers.”
4. “Sudden changes must happen with total transparency to avoid employee panic. Tell them the who, what, where, when, and why and you'll avoid the rumor mill spinning out of control.”
3. “Go easy on them. This doesn't mean let people walk all over you, but this is a time unlike anything anyone alive has experienced, so despite having more ‘time,’ everyone is struggling one way or another. Don't be the jerk who still expects every deadline to be met regardless of the situation, or every quota to be reached despite a recession.”
2. “Make yourself more accessible than before. People are going to have more questions and need more support in general, so if you've been somewhat unreachable, create a virtual open-door policy. Be open about this, as most employees won't reach out if they haven't been given the go-ahead.”
1. “Give support early and often. Don't let a situation worsen or get out of control. Approach employees who are struggling privately and early on to ask what support they may need.”