Mercy, Mercy Me: Adapting, Changing, Caring for Staff During COVID-19
On March 6, 2020, the Field staff gathered for the first time in the new office space we co-conceptualized at the FBRK Impact House for breakfast. We toured the building, met up with colleagues and imagined working collaboratively in a cooperative space designed to build relationships and nurture ideas.
Today, four months after COVID-19 gripped the world and forced us to stay home, most of us have yet to return.
I feel like we are living in a Marvin Gaye lyric: “Whoa ah mercy, mercy me—ah, things ain’t what they used to be…” At Field this is true. Business as usual has not been business as usual for some time. These last four years our grantmaking has evolved to center racial equity, and over the past few months our approach has simultaneously been sharpened and expanded. It points us to the places that we need to go and leaves us free to explore new ideas and important, timely issues.
And while things aren’t what they used to be, they do resemble 1971 when Marvin Gaye wrote “Mercy, Mercy Me (The Ecology)” and released the album, What’s Going On. The feeling is the same—and unfortunately so are the issues. Be it the 1965 riots in Watts, police brutality in Berkeley, the Vietnam War, or the human impact on the environment—we see similarities to the Coronavirus pandemic and racism today. Racial equity is a constant journey—things shouldn’t be what they used to be, and at Field we continue to rethink, reshape, and redesign our work while staying true to our values.
As we all started work from home on March 16th, it was immediately clear that things were different—from our makeshift home offices, we realized quickly that we had to find new ways of working together—ones that were not defined by physical proximity but that still allowed for deep connectivity.
In those first few days, the Field team dug in—worked harder, learned more, shared opportunities and connected even more. Over the first few days, after the video conference accounts were set, the frenetic sprint pace eased into a steady distance run. We asked ourselves, if we want to lead with equity, what does an equitable workplace look like in this unfamiliar new world? How do we support staff, our grantees, and our partners?
From the onset, the Field team acknowledged that we did not have all the answers, but that we would find solutions together, and that while we may be isolated, we were not alone. Taking care of ourselves became as important as making sure that the work was accomplished.
To center care of staff and equity in our work lives, here are a few things that we have done:
- Making Work from Home—Work. To start, we created a guide to working remotely that positioned the team to communicate through technology and to encourage learning together so that we could make distance feel minimal. We encouraged everyone to reflect on our internal core values of equity, respect, transparency, trust, and kindness which we co-created prior to the pandemic. We emphasized communication—both internally and externally—and created a safe, productive environment that promoted creativity and connection. As spring emerged and work from home continued, we surveyed the team with a short list of questions that addressed work at home needs. We aggregated the responses, set budgets and incorporated expenses—we used our findings to design new policies that addressed working from home, including supplies, equipment, and software requirements customized to each staff members’ responsibilities, and made moderate resources available for use over the fiscal year.
- Communication, Communication, Communication. Committing to open and transparent communication has been a deliberate activity. We had to find innovative ways of working together and communicating even though we would not be near each other. We established a weekly virtual “huddle” where the team connects and shares with one another—huddles usually include coffee, the voices of children in the background and special pet appearances. We discuss our work, we check in on one another and we share what we are learning—and over time, in these unusual circumstances, we have become closer as a team. We have also been intentional about connecting with our FBRK Impact House colleagues and have created platforms to share ideas and ask questions in weekly or bi-weekly calls that help us collectively think through our new space and our equitable philanthropic responses to the pandemic. We have also been using our digital media more than ever before and have expanded our role as a communications outlet with the help of our talented communications consultant, Sabrina Miller.And since our goal has always been to showcase the amazing work of Chicago organizations working on Chicago’s pressing issues, we are now doing this virtually by connecting and lifting the voices of our grantees and sharing ideas of the moment in new ways and on new platforms.
- Transparent Budget Process. As information about the pandemic emerged and markets around the world plummeted, Field was in the process of creating our Fiscal Year 2021 budget. Establishing a budget based on a forecasted future and in the face of enormous volatility was challenging, but at the core of the FY2021 budget is a standing commitment to our grantmaking model and to Chicago communities. Getting there required many transparent conversations about the budget on every level. As a staff, we walked through an array of scenarios and discussed items line by line, asking questions and thinking critically about how we could adjust our operations and where we could save. We created room for the entire team to weigh in and built in space to ask questions and make suggestions. As a result, we created a budget with a 6.45 percent payout level that we are proud of and that allows us to continue supporting organizations doing incredibly important work throughout Chicago.
- Wellness Fridays. While working from home, we saw how the traditional boundaries of the workday blur and we responded by mandating breaks for the team to disconnect and recharge through the creation of “Wellness Fridays” where every other week we completely disconnect from calls and email and take intentional time off to refresh.
- Cyber Security Protection. Working from home can include increased cybersecurity risks. And to address the increased cyber threats that are emerging, we have been assessing our security, building increased staff awareness, and beefing up our cyber security profile overall.
- Understanding What Return to Work Means. Not only has the world that the pandemic created changed our lives, it has also forever impacted what it means to be at work. While we have yet to return to our office, we understand that the stakes of going back to a physical work space are much greater now, and we wanted to make sure we were not forcing people to return to work during this uncertain time. Conversely, we understood some might feel isolated and wanted to be in a safe physical space outside of their home. Choice and safety measures are both critical, from understanding considerations ranging from building sanitation and elevator safety to accommodating our team’s apprehensions, and social distancing needs. We wanted to know how issues outside of work like commuting, childcare, and concerns of the immunocompromised impacted decisions to return. We have leaned on our partners at FBRK Impact House to share information about sanitation protocols and the recommended safe uses of space. We used the survey information regarding returning to work to develop flexible policies that address a voluntary and gradual return that supports staff with commuting and parking expenses.
These aren’t the only ways to bring equity into our new way of working but it’s a start. We realize that being equitable is about both process and posture. It demands a different attitude, one that leans in, tilts its head and listens. At Field, we are listening—to communities, our grantees and to our colleagues. And while things may not be what they used to be—we are working to be better and more supportive than ever before.
Vice President, Programs and Administration
Congratulations Spring 2020 Grantees
In May, the Field Foundation announced its Spring 2020 grantees. These 35 organizations have persevered and adapted their programming to accommodate the extreme changes caused by this year’s COVID-19 pandemic.They each represent our grantmaking model of Community Empowerment through Justice, Art, Media & Storytelling and Leadership Investment. We are proud of our Spring 2020 grantees and are inspired by their bold vision and work.
Media & Storytelling
Voices from the Field
Hrishikesh “Rishi” Shetty
Hrishikesh “Rishi” Shetty, Trainer, Guidance Resource Unit-ComPsych, 2014-2015 Field Fellow
“My time at the Field Foundation opened my eyes to the tremendous philanthropic work that happens in Chicago. The amount of organizations, individuals, and corporations working together to improve and grow Chicago amazed me. My experience at the Field showed me how philanthropic support extends beyond funding to include leadership, program expertise, technical assistance, a network, and anything in between. The skills I developed as a Field Fellow continue to help me in my work today.”