If you’ve seen or read The Devil Wears Prada, you might think you have an idea of what fashion media looks like. Hailey Wojcik, Global Head of People at fashion media company Business of Fashion, is here to shatter that stereotype.

Wojcik sat down with us to share her experiences keeping employees united during a pandemic, managing morale from a distance, and making virtual happy hours just a little less awkward.

Hibob: How are you keeping your people engaged and motivated?

Hailey Wojcik: We’ve decided to heavily invest in our employee networks. At a time when many of us feel increasingly isolated and uncertain of what the future holds both for our business and the economy, we’ve found that our team members are searching for new ways to connect with their coworkers. For example, we’ve seen a boost in the number of people joining Belong, our diversity and inclusion council, as well as our broader umbrella of employee networks like Parents at BoF or Pride at BoF. We’ve seen employees stepping up to lead on different initiatives that bring people together. 

Unfortunately, we had to make the difficult decision as a business to furlough some individuals. While furloughed employees are not undertaking any work on behalf of the business, these networks, such as Belong, Parents at BoF, and Pride at BoF offer a place for them to come, talk, share experiences, and feel connected to one another.

People have taken innate ownership over the work. It feels less like something we are pushing onto them, and more like the team feeling like they are part of the solution of getting through this truly unprecedented time. 

Hibob: I imagine when you had to furlough people, morale became a very sensitive issue. How did you manage that?

HW: Not only did we have to furlough some individuals, but we also had to ask people to take pay reductions for a period of time and do some restructuring. Those messages are never easy to deliver.

As anyone in HR knows, when you announce difficult topics in a company-wide meeting, everybody processes information in different ways, especially those who are most impacted. Sometimes a company-wide meeting, a call from your manager, and an email are not enough.

After announcing the changes company-wide, we asked managers to follow up with their team members directly so that everyone had their conversations on the same day. I myself reached out to 100 employees directly and set up time to walk them through the changes. We got a lot of difficult questions over email, and I couldn’t give the answer that employees wanted with an email response. By saying, “These are really valid questions, I understand how you feel, can we set up 30 minutes to talk?,” I was able to answer those difficult questions with real human emotion.

While it was a really difficult couple of weeks—a lot of phone calls, a lot of emotions—I can say that I will never regret picking up the phone and looking every single person in the eyes, to talk through their individual concerns and help them feel like they matter.

There is so much fear right now. Giving people reassurance that we’ll get through this together was the best decision we made, even if it meant investing so much time upfront. I said to everyone: “I can’t promise you what will happen in six weeks, eight weeks, or four months, but I’m committed to making sure you are ok” We can’t make promises, but we can be human beings, and I think that’s what people are looking for.

Hibob: Have you worked out a plan for returning to the office?

HW: We made the decision, for the first time in the company’s history, to give up our physical office space. This creates a challenge. Our team is highly collaborative and people value face-to-face interactions. Despite being split across four different countries and several time zones, having our hub in London was really important to the team. 

We’re adapting in real-time and, while we are still exploring flexible spaces, we want to engage with our team. We’re being quite transparent and honest with the decisions we’re making as a business and why we’re making them, and we’re inviting our team to let us know their thoughts on what they see as a viable solution. 

There’s not much we can give our staff right now other than transparency, honesty, compassion, and kindness. So as long as we can keep giving that, we can create a  highly engaged, highly committed culture at a time when we don’t know what office we’re going back to. People would rather hear that than some corporate mumbo-jumbo that is meant to smooth over the situation.

Hibob: Many companies are holding virtual happy hours and other social events, but these can be awkward. How do you make them flow?

HW: Let’s be honest, there’s always going to be the occasional awkward moments here or there. If we manage to crack how to not have awkward moments on a company-wide call, that would be a very valuable secret. We have tried to switch up who leads the meetings, relying on leaders from across the business who haven’t led meetings before. It’s a change of pace.

Shayna Hodkin

From Shayna Hodkin

Shayna lives in south Tel Aviv with two dogs and a lot of plants. She writes poems and reads tarot.