How we’ve built and maintained a culture of innovation

Since I founded Capella Space in 2016, my team and I have been committed to making Earth observation reliable and accessible. But from day one, I’ve also had another goal: to build a team of the most innovative thinkers and create a culture of collaboration and transparency. I believe an innovative company can’t succeed without good people, and the key to finding good people is to cultivate a strong company culture. A good culture requires an intentional day to day attention from everyone in the company starting from the CEO. Every company goes through setbacks and challenges along the way, and that’s when you’ll appreciate a good culture the most. In moments when you are asking your team to trust you, or do something that requires personal sacrifice for the greater good, your company culture shines. In fact, in times of crisis a good culture will be the most powerful tool at your disposal to pull the company together and guide it through tough times. COVID-19 has been a real test of that company culture for Capella. 

The impact of COVID-19 on the workplace has made company culture more important than ever. These are challenging times, and many people around the world are sheltering in place and working from home. However, while our work environment at Capella has shifted, we’re maintaining the aspects of our culture that truly make us innovative: 

Eating lunch together

I know this seems pretty straightforward, but stepping away from work to eat lunch has become less common in the workplace. Every day, we have team lunches in our offices at a long community picnic table or on our sofas, and we take the time to connect in a relaxed atmosphere. If we have guests visiting the office, they join us too.

Even though most of our employees are working from home during shelter-in-place, it was important to us that we still find time to stay connected. Early on we scheduled virtual picnic table lunches over Zoom to ensure our team members would have a way to connect. We are also hosting virtual meetups for yoga, meditation, coffee, and boot camp fitness to help break up the day and connect with the Capella team, despite being sequestered to our homes.

Regular lunch and learn sessions

We also schedule Lunch and Learns where team members share the latest topics they are exploring. Some sessions are directly related to our work, such as image processing or global downlink facilities, while others are about individual hobbies people pursue outside of the office. For example, one team member shared his passion for restoring an Apollo guidance computer and what is involved in sourcing historical electronics to do so. These sessions keep us thinking outside the box; they also challenge unconscious biases and enable us to learn and problem solve in new ways. We’ve kept up this tradition remotely by first offering how-to resources to help team members adjust to a remote workspace. We provided tips and tricks and asked those who already work remotely to share their best practices. Over time we will introduce other topics teams want to hear about via Zoom.   

Celebrating our employees’ lives outside of the office

We know that our employees have a lot of interesting passions and hobbies outside of work. To cultivate these interests, we’ve created 14 active community clubs that focus on everything from baking to wilderness activities. These groups allow our team members to get to know each other beyond their role at the office, and I’ve found these groups have improved team collaboration and effectiveness. While we cannot meet in person at the moment, our hobbies and social interactions have transferred to our MatterMost channels — sharing recipes, favorite libations and humor throughout our stay at home order. 

Prioritizing transparency

One of our most important values is transparency: We are honest and direct about where the company stands so that everyone can contribute to making strategic decisions. We host town hall meetings twice a month to discuss the challenges and opportunities our company is facing. 

More recently, we created a COVID-19 response framework leading up to the stay at home orders in California and Colorado. We communicated where we were at with our response and monitored the changing landscape closely. This allowed team members to know ahead of time what our plans were as the pandemic progressed and eventually led to us working almost entirely from home. We carried out these communications at first in person in all-hands meetings and then shifted to both Zoom, email, Confluence (internal wiki and collaboration space) and MatterMost to ensure team members received the message in different formats and frequently so they could make plans that made sense to them. 

We also had a very open conversation about the impact of COVID-19 to the company. We shared information as we learned and we strive to not add additional uncertainty to people’s lives. We are all living in strange times worried about the future, and the last thing we want as a company is to add additional stress and uncertainty to our teammates. The framework and our frequent conversations allowed everyone to get behind our new goals and work hand in hand to find the most effective solution to get through COVID-19 the “Capella-way”.

A strong culture is critical for building and maintaining an innovative team. It’s during tough times like this that the culture of your company comes to test and can become your best friend. The state of the world in recent months has forced us to get creative in how we maintain that culture we’ve built, but I’m proud of how our team has adapted our company values and traditions to work in new ways.