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Isaac Oates: On Caring for My Team During Emergencies

After a bombing in Manhattan, Justworks CEO Isaac Oates shares how he cared for his team in the face of unexpected events.

Isaac Oates, CEO of Justworks
Isaac Oates
Sep 22, 20165 minutes
Isaac Oates talks about caring for his team in the wake of emergencies.

This past Sunday morning, I woke up to find out that there had been an explosion in Chelsea, just a few blocks from where our NYC office is based. According to the news report, no one had been killed but several dozen had been injured.

The odds were low that one of our employees or their families was involved. But I still wanted to know that everyone was okay. I also wanted to make sure every employee at Justworks was talking with at least one other person at Justworks. And I wanted our team to know that we care deeply about their safety and well being.

How We Mobilized in a Crisis

We have about 150 employees. Here’s how we mobilized:

1. I pulled a current employee census from which included each employee’s name, manager, phone numbers, and home address.

2. I loaded that data into a Google Sheet, added a status column, and shared it with every manager at the company (whether they report directly to me or not).

3. I emailed the same managers and asked them to reach out to their teams and make sure they were okay:

Managers, > > As you probably know by now, there was an explosion last night near 23rd and 6th, along with an undetonated device around the corner from our office. There were a few dozen injuries. > > Please get in touch with your teams and check in with them this morning. A quick text or call or slack is more than sufficient. > > Once you're in touch just update this spreadsheet. If you need contact info, it's also in this spreadsheet. If you don't have access to Google Sheets (i.e. you don't have your laptop with you) then get in touch with your manager or me. > > Here are our current teams according to our system, please make sure you check with the people under your name. > > [list of each manager and their teams] > > Thanks, and stay safe. > > Isaac

4. I texted all of my direct reports to make sure they were okay, that they were awake, and that they knew what we were doing. I called the ones who didn’t respond to the text within a couple of minutes. Everyone was fine.

What happened next was incredible. I watched the Google Sheet update in real time as our managers started to come online and get in touch with their teams. It was a poignant example of how efficiently a large group can accomplish something if they’re organized the right way.

Learn how to keep your employees happy and productive.

We’d reached out to almost all of our employees by early afternoon and by that evening we knew everyone at the company was fine. Here is the (slightly edited) note that I shared with our managers, wrapping up the event:

Hi folks. > > First, thank you for doing this. Especially on a Sunday morning after a multi-day work event and during the busiest time of the year. Despite all that, I'm sure that your people appreciated from hearing you and knowing that you care about their well-being. > > As of now (around 4pm) we've been in touch with all but five of our employees and made several attempts to reach the last five. (If you are still waiting, please update the spreadsheet once you hear back.) > > Second, this is neither the first nor last time that we will be doing this. I'm sorry to say that an "emergency alert" is an important muscle to build and keep in shape, especially since Justworks (1) provides critical services to tens of thousands of people and (2) is based in a city prone to bombs, blackouts, blizzards, hurricanes and the like. > > An aside:

As you might know, I wrote the original code for Justworks during the week of Hurricane Sandy in October 2012. At the time, I was also working at Etsy and it fell to me to make sure all of our employees were okay. We ran a process along these lines and there was one employee, Joe, who we couldn't get in touch with after numerous attempts and more than a day. (He was in my org.) > > So I finally went over to his apartment in lower Manhattan and used a flashlight to climb eight flights of stairs. It was pitch black. As you might recall, there was no power below 34th St. And I found Joe, no power, who had been sitting in his apartment for a couple of days with no connection to the outside world. Cell phone dead, no battery radio, etc. He had no idea that people were walking to 34th St or Brooklyn to recharge their stuff. > > Needless to say, Joe was very happy to see me. I think he appreciated that the company he worked for cared about him to the extent that someone would actually come to his apartment and check on him. (In the 1950s this would have been expected. But we are in a different era now.) > > I will spend some time debriefing with team leads this week about how the process went, what was good, what needs to change, etc. > > Thanks again. > > Isaac

During our debrief this week, we decided there were two things we’d improve: We’d write a script for each manager to use in communications like information about whether employees could expect the office to be open. We’d make sure that someone reached out to everyone ASAP, even if a particular manager wasn’t available.

You Are Responsible for Your Individuals

The thing is, there will be a next time. When you lead a company, you aren’t just responsible for the work that your team does; you are also responsible for the individuals that have committed themselves to your organization. This process is a good way to make sure that responsibility comes through during the times when it matters most.



This material has been prepared for informational purposes only, and is not intended to provide, and should not be relied on for, legal or tax advice. If you have any legal or tax questions regarding this content or related issues, then you should consult with your professional legal or tax advisor.