Thriving Not Just Surviving - Working Remotely at Trewstar
April 20, 2022
As a glass-half-full type who feels very fortunate to have avoided the suffering that many experienced during the COVID pandemic, I think about preserving the positive changes in my life since March 2020. At the top of my list is the newfound opportunity to work from home. But working from home at age 65 is untenable if the team is not happy, trained and supported. Given that so many organizations are also facing these challenges, I wanted to share some of the solutions that have worked to sustain our culture. They have also allowed us to both double our revenues and the size of the team.
We developed a variety of ways to stay connected, with constant daily interactions anchored by two weekly all-hands-on-deck Zoom calls. As importantly, we also have quarterly in-person meetings that combine a little bit of work and a lot of team building.
We rotate the leadership of the weekly meetings, so everyone has the opportunity to both choose the agenda and run the meeting. The Tuesday meeting is designated as the “fun” one, during which we have explored a range of clever activities. I love how these meetings bring the team together. I think it would be interesting for you to hear from one of our associates who joined after the shift to a virtual workplace. I asked Claire Merrill, who joined in June 2021, to write about her experience as a new associate at Trewstar:
"Flashback to entering the lunchroom as “the new girl” sidling up to a laughing, lively group where I was eager to join in, yet anxious. On my first day, the Trewstar group had gathered for one of our in-person meetings, in this case a birthday lunch. I looked around and envisioned a long road of assimilation into this close-knit bunch of women. After all, the firm – like so many others in New York City – had switched to “fully remote.” How would I be able to get to know my new colleagues without a traditional office culture? The lunch was enjoyable, but still I wondered. How was this going to work?
Then I attended my first virtual Tuesday “fun” meeting. The week’s topic, “Share a photo that brings you joy,” was billed as a casual opportunity (really, with the senior partners?) to share a personal story. Naturally skeptical, I produced a carefully curated snapshot of my cats. My idea was to reveal without being revealing, much as I had interacted with prior office mates. Others that Tuesday chimed in with much more personal pictures and stories. When our CEO took the last turn with an intimate, but discreet, photo of a long-ago family outdoor shower time – which still has us chuckling – I began to understand how the Trewstar team had developed their strong team bond. The accompanying anecdote involved her husband taking on more responsibilities allowing her to pursue her career. These teammates were serious about sharing.
At Thanksgiving, we revealed our favorite dishes and created a recipe book that highlighted our diverse backgrounds. We have a “Trewstar Jams'' Spotify playlist, and a virtual art gallery of our favorite works of art, both results of Tuesday meetings. We have played “guess whose refrigerator” and “guess whose closet” from photos submitted of the insides of team members’ fridges and closets. Our activities are far from highbrow.
I have become less tentative about sharing in this space. This is a team that exhibits sensitivity, empathy, and respect. Our topics lead to interesting conversations: from the story of a colleague asked to shave her legs by a misguided boss triggering an exchange of harassment tales, to discussions of isolation during stints abroad (unknown to each other, two of Trewstar’s team lived in South Africa in the early internet days), and conversations about the special efforts we make to include others and the importance of “showing up.” I have learned that this is a team that cares enough to create space for individuality. Knowing this also makes me more confident when we work on assignments together.
I’m really looking forward to our upcoming Spring gathering – our first since November. Because of the culture we have built through our virtual (and occasional in-person) meetings, I know I will feel completely comfortable and engaged with the rest of the team. And, I will be able to personally thank my Secret Santa for the giant purple unicorn cat tunnel, while wondering . . . have I inadvertently continued to share too many cat stories?"
I appreciate Claire’s details and hope some of you benefit from hearing about our approach to working remotely. When I think about the single most useful decision I made during COVID, it was to release the leadership of the team meetings to the whole team on a rotational basis. It gives the young women at Trewstar a chance to lead and has brought so much creativity to the topics for Tuesdays.
We would be delighted to hear your thoughts and tips from this life-altering period in our lives.