Turning Your Office into a School with Kinesis
Andrea Herron 00:04
When future talent is deciding to apply for a job, what are their most important considerations? Well, if they’re like most of us right after the job description and salary range your employee benefits page is going to be next. The reason is simple. Employees directly relate benefits to their overall perception of well being. And HR leaders are constantly adapting their benefit offerings to meet the needs of their evolving workforces. But let’s be honest, some employee benefits are way more interesting than others. Hi, I’m Andrea Herron, head of people for WebMD health services. And I’d like to welcome you to the HR scoop. On this podcast, I talk with other HR leaders to explore the world of unique employee benefits, and about the challenges of managing unique workforces, because well being isn’t a one size fits all approach. Today, we’re joined by Anya Taylor, Director of Operations for Kinesis Business Catalyst, who was recently featured in The New York Times for starting in in office School for the school aged children of their employees. We also talked about embracing mental health days, how larger community building practices can be incorporated into the culture of smaller organizations, and what it takes to complete a 100 mile bike ride. Welcome, Anya, I am so excited to have you on the podcast today. Thank you for coming.
Anja Taylor 01:34
Yeah, thank you for having me. I’m excited to write I have
Andrea Herron 01:37
heard that your personal super power is culture. And I definitely want to dig into that and hear more about it. But first, I would love for you to tell us a little bit about your HR journey and your current role there at Kinesis.
Anja Taylor 01:52
That’s an interesting journey, an interesting question, because we are a small company with 13 people total. And so we wear many different hats. And for me, one of those hats is HR. So my role is director of People Operations. And so within the the all encompassing operations bucket, there’s the people aspect of in this the HR aspect, in that, and I got to this by our project management, I worked for a custom build manufacturer for a long time. And, yeah, cut my teeth at managing projects, and then eventually managed the department manage the people there, then not quite three years ago, joined Kinesis. In the operations department,
Andrea Herron 02:39
that’s great. And really, I feel like people are just one big project. So that makes a lot of sense. One thing I do love about the HR profession is how different people’s journey to it can be. So thank you for sharing that. So I’m sure you bring a very interesting perspective to the role and can really make a difference even though it is a smaller organization. People are still you know, very important.
Anja Taylor 03:06
Yes, absolutely. And I think, you know, especially for us, we you know, we are a service organization, organization, we work with other small companies that are going to operate it as well, like, I know, anywhere from 20 to 100 employees, you know, that face some of the same challenges that we have in terms of, you know, having an owner or having a small leadership team that is responsible for many different important things. And so at Canisius, the way we approach HR, or our people, our operations, all of these things are really in a holistic way. That is, yeah, kind of expressing our philosophy from the inside out, which has, you know, our mission and our vision, our values at the center, and then come the people and how they connect to to those values. And that mission, it’s it’s incredibly important to me that, especially in operations, and especially at a leadership level, we put people first and what that means is that we don’t try to build systems and then plug people in there and try you know, to write a job description so that it fits into the system. And then we try to find the person to fit into the job description, but that we really think about people on what they need, and build our systems and processes around humans. And not not the other way around.
Andrea Herron 04:20
Yeah, that is very smart. And it seems like you’re really walking the walk over there. Because I believe congratulations are in order for a New York Times article that was just mentioned for Kinesis. You want to tell us a little bit about that.
Anja Taylor 04:34
Yeah, that was kind of a crazy thing. So, you know, again, like we, I mean, that’s good. We also don’t call, you know, HR human resources that can use us we probably just, you know, people and benefits essentially. And the reason for that is that we don’t we don’t view people as cogs. You know, we don’t want people as just another resource. We really want to get away from this mechanistic thinking About, about people just you know, performing a job and they need to be managed and they need to be regulated. We believe that if you as a company can provide, you know, a purpose for people and a mission, and, and the vision, how to get there and then have people are passionate about what they do, and you’re able to connect that passion with where you want to lead them, and that will bring out the best in them, and it will free up the extra energy people have a lot of things that they do without needing to be prompted or managed or incentivized, like they, you know, they volunteer on their own time they run marathons or triathlons or do all kinds of different things that they do, because they’re intrinsically motivated. And so we want to tap into that. And so the question that we always asking is, what can we do for our team? What can we do? For them? You know, not not just in terms of which benefits are we providing, but really holistically as human beings? How do we support them in everything that they do? So, at work, you know, work is a part of life, like I don’t believe in, in the saying, it’s a false dichotomy to say work life balance, I think, you know, work is a part of everything that we do. And it’s a huge part of what we do in terms of the hours we spend at work. And so we want to make that enjoyable. And we want to make that positive. And we want to make that count in the same way that other endeavors that you do in your life count. So was that thinking, when COVID hit and we all were, you know, all of a sudden distributed working from home, those of us with kids really struggled quite a bit. You know, all of a sudden, we are what not only asked to be employees, parents, but now also teachers and full time caregivers and all of our kids. It’s really hard to get any work done. When you know, you have Yeah, toddlers running around, or even like school aged kids running around, we need obviously need help and need support and what they are trying to do. So Shawn Busey, our founder and owner, he posed this question to me, he said, Why? Why can’t we fix this, like, we have an empty office that, you know, we pay a lot of money for. It’s a beautiful office, but we’re not using it right now. And we have a couple of school aged kids and that in the broader Kinesis family. And you know, we could just hire somebody who takes care of them there. We have the space, we have Wi Fi, we have everything they need, we have desks, and and we can provide that. And so I reached out to my network, and also posted on on various social platforms. And then Claire Miller, who was the journalist who wrote the article from the New York Times, approached us and asked if she could interview us for P she was doing and they actually yes, and photographers and took pictures of the space. And I have my kids feature prominently. And they were very, very proud and shared it with everybody at their schools,
Andrea Herron 07:51
little models already. Well, certainly something we can aspire to how have the parents responded to having that option available to them
Anja Taylor 08:02
pretty pretty well. So we have two people, myself included, I’m one of them, who have school aged kids. And then we have several, three more of us who have toddlers and one infant, actually one baby. And so daycares are still open. So as long as they still open, they can send their kids there, but for the parents has been huge. Because we really have focused time right now where we can have some quiet time, have our meetings and so forth. I mean, we are always welcome to bring our kids to meetings and have them sit on our laps, or, you know, even our clients do that with us. They are in the same boat. But it’s been just a nice way to be able to focus and feel supported. And yeah, and it’s I think, also better for the children to be, you know, away from the kids from their parents once in a while and get unit get the school support, and the environment where they can focus on the schoolwork.
Andrea Herron 08:55
Wow, that is really interesting that you were able to pull it together and make it a reality pretty quickly. And you know, it seems like every day I’m getting online, and there’s a new study about the further impacts especially working parents are having and maintaining their own physical and mental balance while trying to also parent and work at the same time.
Anja Taylor 09:19
Yeah, and I think, you know, that’s, that’s really important component of the system, mental health of people, you know, what we think, you know, because for me, personally, it was the special Well, of course, I can do this, of course, you know, I’m Superwoman I can, I don’t know him do my job really well, and I can take care of my kids and take care of myself and all of these things. I really want to probe a little bit and say, Well, you know what, actually, I don’t believe you. You know, I’ve seen I’ve seen you being one out and I’ve seen this taking this tool and just Yes, can you do it? Probably but should we do it this way? That’s a different story. And instead of you know, making this people’s individual problems we took it on as a company problem to solve as a company. Any challenge. And I think what’s important also is that, in all of this, we don’t forget the people who don’t have children, because what ended up happening is that we had adjusted schedules and so forth, you know, we’re very flexible for the kids who do have children. But that meant also for the kids with children, sorry for the kids without, for the people without children to, to then maybe carry a little bit more of the burden, which, which they happily did. But I think it’s, it’s important to remember that we are a team and as many different needs that people have on that team, and some might be related to children. And some might be related to something completely different. We, you know, recently, like, we have a daily huddle in the morning, and one of my co workers said, you know, I’m not feeling it today, I’m having kind of anxiety creep up, I’m having some some other things going on, I need a mental health day, and y’all need anything from me, I’m here. But other than that, I think today is going to be they were just, you know, gonna take a walk and be outside for a little bit. And everybody’s like, Yes, do that. That’s great. So I think the question of, you know, the well being of the employee comes, you know, it comes in so many different ways is such an individual question. And I think then for the company, it’s really the charge to create an environment where these things can come out, and are appreciated and are supported. And so that’s, that’s really what we’re trying to do at Kinesis. And what we’re trying to do on a broader scale with our clients as well,
Andrea Herron 11:30
well, in to that point, I mean, relationships are the foundation in any workplace. And a lot of times people overlook that because of the old thought process, that there was a true distinction between when I’m at work, I’m at work, and when I’m at home, I’m doing things that relate to me as a human. And, you know, over the past few years, certainly that line has dissolved more and more. And I think it will only continue to do that as we’ve all lived in this alternate reality for a while. But back to the trust that you can build with your team. And the fact that someone can say I need to take a mental health day and go do this for myself, and that is celebrated instead of stigmatized is a huge step forward in the right direction.
Anja Taylor 12:15
Yes, I agree. And it takes that, you know, to your point, that takes a lot of trust. And, and it takes a while to build that up and in the company. And yeah, I think what we try to do for a while is building what we call a human centered business. And so we did that collaboratively. And we, you know, when you talk about relationships, we thought about what do we want relationships to look like? And what does it really mean to have a human at the center, and what do humans need? So we looked at Maslow’s hierarchy, and we looked at, you know, successful teams, at Google, and like hunter gatherer societies, and just like these, these teams of people and how they work together, and we came up with like, three components. One of them is psychological safety. And then there’s growth and belonging. And I think those principles are the same principles that, you know, work for communities that work for, you know, families friendships, and, and I don’t really see a company being different, or much different than those communities that want to build relationships and want to thrive. And so I think our ideas if we, if we help people to thrive, if we help building a thriving community, in turn the company with five, because it’s a symbiotic relationship, it’s not, you know, it’s not an antagonistic relationship, but we’re trying to get as much out of the employee and they try to get as much out of us, but we’re trying to build this together for a bigger purpose. And so I think that relationship aspect is incredibly important, and being intentional about how we approach relationships.
Andrea Herron 13:45
I really love those three points, I’m gonna say them again. But he wants to write them down. They were psychological safety, growth and belonging. And I love that because it couples back to the things we talked about earlier with discretionary effort, intrinsic motivation, and I would also throw in their loyalty. Because if someone feels like they can be themselves, they can grow and they belong to an organization. Why would you go anywhere?
Anja Taylor 14:14
Yes, absolutely. And, you know, I, this is such a good point. Because you’re building you’re building a community together. And so what we did then with these, you know, three big buckets, we then said, Okay, psychological safety. One of those things is an abundance mindset or assuming abundance, for example, like I don’t feel that if I you know, give up on a deal, I contribute in a certain way that that gets taken, taken away from me, but we’re contributing together like the same as we elevate others, right. We want to support others where we’re not here to win as an individual. We’re here to win as a team. Yeah, I think there’s there’s so much important conversation to still, you know, have to happen in workplaces around those kind of agreements of how we, how we treat each other how we work with each other, how we want to be with each other, and community. And we yeah, we again, this was a collaborative team effort, that’s how we work. So we all talked about what we want from each other, how we want to show up for each other. And we’re able to build this framework, and we’re still working on it. This is a, you know, continuous, you know, feedback loop and, and kind of an experiment we’re running. And we’re hoping at some point, that we have this built out in a way that we can, you know, bring it to other small businesses and really, you know, embrace this, you know, strong, you know, community aspect or relationship aspect of work. And, and then people will, yeah, hopefully, be excited to be there. And then, you know, with the growth component coming into that, that’s really where we see the professional development, if you want to use corporate suite, coming into that, because we are then asking people, okay, what are you passionate about? And how do these passions connect with the purpose of Kinesis? And what do you like about your work, what gives you energy, what takes energy away from you, so let’s try to figure out in your personal journey, where you go outside of job titles, outside of, you know, many other things outside of perks, but really as a as an opportunity to grow personally, and, you know, experience work as a place where I can do that, and not as a as a place where well, I need to, you know, earn the money to then experience my personal growth somewhere else outside of work.
Andrea Herron 16:30
Right. I love that. And another thing that comes to mind is on the topic of the belonging, especially right now, I think belonging is so critical, because so many people are feeling isolated, and lonely. And we talk about, you know, the parents with children, and that’s one group, but you also have the single people or those who live alone who aren’t getting any real social interaction. So if there’s a way to still be connected, it is just for that person’s own Well, being a very good thing. So is there anything that you all are doing to make sure people still feel connected? And do you think that will change? You know, once we eventually go back to an office, are there things that you think will be different going forward?
Anja Taylor 17:16
Yeah, that’s a that’s a great question. Because honestly, we struggled with that in the beginning of COVID. And also, you know, I think we all experienced this, it was so sudden, you know, from, you know, one Friday to the next Monday, we decided we’re not going back to the office
Andrea Herron 17:29
and right, the world shut down.
Anja Taylor 17:31
Yeah, exactly. And we had, you know, certain rituals, like a weekly huddle and, you know, Friday lunches together in the office, and all of a sudden, that was gone. And what we noticed is that we had less connection with one another, and we didn’t feel the belonging, right. And also, I think there’s another thing that often spaces, businesses, companies are branded in a certain way, and you can create a certain feel, and a certain connectivity through that. And all of a sudden, everybody’s in their own house, and they don’t, they don’t see the company everyday, right, I’m not going there and feel, you know, the calm space, or I don’t see, you know, certain things, I don’t see the values on the wall, I don’t see all my co workers all the time. And there’s such magic that happens sometimes when you just stop by at somebody’s desk, or you know, I’m walking to the printer and walk by my colleague, and I smile at her. So you know, those, those little interactions, they’re all lost. And so we thought, okay, what can we do to help the team through this and, you know, there’s some very concrete things that we did, we changed our weekly huddle to a daily huddle, and we took turns, everybody in the company takes a turn hosting the huddle. So that gives an opportunity for everybody to kind of bring their own personal flavor to, to gathering it’s half an hour long, again, we’re only 13 people. So that works pretty well for us. And then people give, you know, inspirations, and it can be a new recipe that tried or it’s a hike they went on, or it’s some music that inspired them, it can be whatever they want it to be, it’s usually personal, we usually don’t talk about work, we then go around, like, you know, round type of style, and, and just talk about what we did, you know, in the last 24 hours, and if somebody says yeah, I didn’t really do anything special, and that’s cool, too. So what we really tried to do is build these personal relationships and the personal connection that we don’t get when we you know, just talk about work. What we also did is we have a book club now, where we connect on a very different level with one another not work related. And once a month we do an in person, socially distance happy hour at a park usually will be you know, keep our distance but at least we see each other in 3d. So that has been super helpful and and we did a virtual retreat with the same kind of format as the as the morning huddle where everybody could just bring some sort of inspiration or teach a lesson or something that they wanted to, you know, show to the team. Some people play music, some people showed slideshows of their summer vacation, just ways to connect as human beings outside of work. So we try to create space for that. Sorry, and you ask about, so we don’t know, yet we, we, we are actually looking for a new office space in terms of looking ahead after COVID When we are planning on going back to the office, but not in the same way as we did before. So we found that quiet working time works really well for people being at home. And that we want to have a space with our new office that focus primarily on collaboration, both for us as a team and with clients, and maybe even just have clients there if they you know, want to have a meeting and collaborate and open it up to the community to create this kind of collaboration hub. That’s That’s our vision for that.
Andrea Herron 20:57
That is interesting. And I do think office spaces and purposes will shift. And also those are some great ideas as far as how to stay connected with each other. You know, it doesn’t really, it doesn’t really matter how big of a team you have or what industry I mean, those are very attainable ideas for folks. So thank you for sharing those. I know that we’ve had a couple of our teams do kind of open lunchtime, Zoom chats. So it’s very casual, no agenda, no work, talk. But we don’t get to sit at the table at lunch together anymore. We don’t get to pop by and say hello. So it’s just a open come chat. Tell me about your weekend kind of time.
Anja Taylor 21:40
Yeah, that’s a great idea. Yeah,
Andrea Herron 21:42
I love that. Yeah. And personally, I will say I have been able to read more books now that I’m not spending an hour and a half commuting every day. So little things like that, or trying a new recipe has been one of the perks of this situation for sure. Yeah, I agree. So one other thing I wanted to ask you about was your I believe your organization is B Corp certified. So I was curious how that might inform some of your practices and policies.
Anja Taylor 22:09
Yeah, so you know, a B Corp is, ya know, to benefit corporation. And so we really thinking, you know, beyond just ourselves and our little community, and, you know, maybe outside of, you know, just the bottom line and outside of just, you know, the financial responsibility, we have, you know, to, to our owner to to the employees there, but also thinking about our community, and what are the things that we want to do to? Yeah, honor the people and the place that we’re at. And so it has influenced us, and in many ways in terms of really solidifying those ideas, and kind of really thinking about what are we here to do? And really finding funny the answers to that, you know, in a broader community, and in, in things that are, you know, that that have something to do with, with a higher purpose or a different purpose than just, I don’t know, making money and growing, for example,
Andrea Herron 23:11
great. I mean, obviously, that’s a wonderful, wonderful thing. And I’m glad to see that in your organization. So was there anything else that you would like to share with our listeners about your organization or the culture there,
Anja Taylor 23:27
I think we’re really doing something special. I am incredibly grateful and humbled by, you know, by being a part of Kinesis. And working with, you know, the people in such an amazing team. Like I always tell people, I’ve never worked with a team of so many dedicated, smart, humble people where there isn’t an ego. And so, yeah, I think, as a company, we’re really, we’re really trying to, you know, continuously work on on building that for themselves for ourselves, but then also building that for our clients. And we recently switched from we traditionally come from marketing, we’ve then over the last couple years, really dove into a more holistic strategy for small businesses. So we do a lot of different things, you know, around strategy, communication, even sometimes business model shifts, and we’re working with the owners of those companies. And what all of these owners have in common is that they truly believe in their people. And they want to bond for the people to do well and to thrive and for the company to reach the potential and so we’re helping them with that. And it’s, it’s such a privilege to, to do that in, in this space. And also, at the time, you know, building a great place to work for ourselves.
Andrea Herron 24:44
Yeah, it’s really wonderful and quite special that you’re making. All of that happened at Kinesis. But then also have the ability to influence so many other smaller businesses out there. It’s really great.
Anja Taylor 24:55
Yeah, and I do believe your small businesses are particularly well suited for all of this work, because, you know, they tend to be on the smaller side, like if we think about, you know, the Dunbar number of, you know, reasonably a person can have 150 relationships, you know, that that are meaningful to them and their life, then, you know, that translates to businesses as well, and to have, you know, smaller companies and build the connectivity there. I think that is something that that I’m personally very, very passionate about. And putting the people first Yeah, with that, yeah, and making making those companies reach their potential through their people and in the marketplace. And I think, you know, often the focus is on the big corporations. And it’s, I’m so grateful to have to be talking to you about as a small, small business to be talking to you about all these things, because I think there’s a lot of innovation coming from small businesses as well.
Andrea Herron 25:50
Absolutely. And I can’t wait to see what you all do next, I have no doubt, it’ll be amazing. So to wrap it up in, in keeping with, you know, the theme of the human centered business, I’d love to learn something about you, because, you know, you’re human to something about you that people may not know,
Anja Taylor 26:13
one of the things I kind of tried to see, like the red thread, you know, through my life and, and I think what, what, what that is, is probably that I like to challenge myself, I like to explore new things, you know, I one of my passions is bike riding, and I will go on 100 mile ride or I don’t know how to write, you know, an elevation of 4500 feet, or 32 miles or something, something like that. And there’s a lot of people out there who are who are much more avid cyclists than I am, but that’s something that pushes me outside of my comfort zone. And, and I like that and I like because I grow. That’s, you know, that’s where I grow. And that’s where this exploration of life and kind of the, the juice of life is for me.
Andrea Herron 26:56
Wow, that is impressive. And my quads hurt. Just thinking about CUDA
Anja Taylor 27:03
brings me a lot of pleasure. So I really enjoy it.
Andrea Herron 27:07
That’s great. Probably good for your physical and mental health as well.
Anja Taylor 27:11
Absolutely. There’s a huge mental health component to that as well, for sure.
Andrea Herron 27:16
All right. Well, thank you again, so much for coming on the podcast and sharing all of that goodness with us. We really appreciate it.
Anja Taylor 27:24
Yeah, thank you, Andre. I also really appreciate it and yeah, thank you for inviting me.
Andrea Herron 27:30
Thank you for listening to the HR scoop podcast. Please take a moment to rate and subscribe on Spotify, Apple, Google, or directly at WebMD health services.com/podcasts