Street Culture: Flexibility Helps WeddingWire as It Scales Up

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The walls were pink and the windows were dressed in frilly white curtains.

It was a living room, but it was also the first office of WeddingWire, an online marketplace serving the wedding and events industry. WeddingWire, headquartered in the Washington, D.C. suburb of Chevy Chase, Md., had 380% revenue growth between 2011 and 2014, an increase that immediately called for more growth: more employees.  For this 8-year-old technology startup, the expanding employee base is providing new opportunities to fine tune company policies.

“They started with four guys in a living room,” said Jenny Harding, WeddingWire’s vice president of people. “Everybody was bumping into each other, they couldn’t help but all know exactly what was happening.”

As decisions were made, news traveled quickly from person to person, until everyone knew the plan and was talking about it, Harding said. The company grew more, big enough to need separate departments and separate offices. Management noticed that as fast as decisions were being made, the line of communication wasn’t keeping up. Some changes affected employees, but the need to inform them had gotten lost. The communication breakdown led to frustrated employees who didn’t feel like they were being made aware of what was happening.

“You can take for granted that there used to be this telegraph of information, and now there’s not,” Harding said.

Even if information is not intentionally being hidden, it’s important for a system to be in place to communicate openly with employees, she said. Some companies use an intranet, in-house newsletters, news bulletin boards or regular meetings to help distribute information. For WeddingWire, email communication needed some fine tuning.

WeddingWire_photo2_StreetCulture“Communicate too early, when things aren’t completely clear, then people get confused,” Harding said. “In one week, my team was sending out four emails all having to do with the same thing. Now we have a newsletter. So from all the departments, the executive teams say, ‘Yes, I want to announce in the newsletter.’ We’ve measured engagement on the open rate of the newsletter; our average open rate is between 85 and 90 percent.”

The fluid changes are really a response to what employees communicate that they want, Harding said.

“We look at where the employee needs are,” she said. “Employees express their opinions and their needs and we try to address those needs.”

WeddingWire now has more than 700 employees globally. The company has locations in Los Angeles and Barcelona, and employees also work out of New York, Boston, Denver and Romania. About 50 employees work remotely, but having the majority of the workforce in the office is a priority, Harding said.

“If we hire smart people and put them together, we benefit more because those people are sharing and growing from each other’s knowledge,” she said. “A lot of people become friends with their coworkers. They look forward to coming to work. We’re going to make it good to be here.”

Harding said that the “no business attire” dress code that many tech startups adopt means employees don’t need a separate wardrobes for work and for everyday life. A group of employees began “Tie Day Friday” so they would have a reason to dress up.

“We really want to keep employees with us,” Harding said. “We’re still young as an organization, so everything is happening for the first time. A lot of employees who, when they started with us, weren’t in serious relationships are now married and having children. We’ve added benefits that will be more meaningful for them.”

WeddingWire’s disability and maternity leave policy went up for review when one of WeddingWire’s employees experienced difficulty nursing after having her baby. Before returning to work, the employee talked with WeddingWire’s People Department to better understand the company’s flexible arrangement benefit, which provided her the option to work from home, allowing her to nurse longer.

“We wanted to be flexible with her, and we were able to do so because of the policy we had in place,” Harding said. “Anyone returning from disability can take three months of flexible hours.”

The three months of flexible work time is in addition to the 12 weeks of leave mandated by the Family and Medical Leave Act.

Other employees have also benefited from WeddingWire’s flexible policy. They have extra time to get their babies to daycare, work out schedules with their spouses; they can utilize family support longer and delay daycare an extra three months. But Harding said that the adaptable approach is a testament to the employees.

“It wouldn’t work if the employees weren’t responsible and didn’t understand that their contributions are what support the company,” Harding said. “They’re helping us achieve mutual success. “

Employee retention is important, she said, and the company is at a point where they are trying to reinvest in workers.

“We spent a lot of time growing our employee base and onboarding, and we really want to give everyone an opportunity to learn about their work and find better ways to do their work every day,” Harding said. “We have more training programs, more opportunities for employees to invest in their own knowledge and help their career development.”

April Nowicki is a contributor to Street Fight.