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Navigate and Elevate – How Clarus Weathered 2020 with Empathy

On Dec. 3, Twitter asked its followers to describe 2020 in one word.

Zoom had an appropriate description: Unstable.

Zoom’s response was fitting, not only because we’ve relied on its technology to help us through the year, but because it sums up what a lot of people around the world have been feeling.

Our 142 employees went home to work on Friday, March 13, not knowing what to expect.

What we thought was a company “test run” back then transformed into a new way to work and, really, a new way of life.

We navigated through 2020 as a team with the health and wellness of our employees and their families as our main priority.

Here’s how we overcame the challenges along the way to emerge stronger and closer.


We Led With Empathy

As a company, after the COVID-19 pandemic relegated us all to a work-from-home environment indefinitely, families were thrust into new and unknown scenarios. They were worried about their loved ones, their jobs, and their collective futures.

There was a lot of fear initially after our company went home to work in March.

Many employees wondered:

  • Would there be layoffs?
  • How would the company operate in a 100% remote environment?
  • How long would everyone be working from home?
  • How will I balance my work life and family life if schools and day-cares close?
  • How are we going to keep our close-knit work culture alive if we can’t come to the office?

At our first company Town Hall meeting, I wanted to address these fears and concerns.

I told team members that no one was losing their jobs, that the company was doing well, and we (the senior leadership team) were focused on everyone’s well-being.

We wanted to make sure everyone was OK and we wanted to hear from them if they needed help with anything.

As part of our remote culture, we extended our ‘Summer Fridays’ to year-round; allowed employees to carry over an additional week of vacation for 2021; and added an additional week off for everyone over the holidays, shutting down for the weeks of Dec. 21 and Dec. 28.

I can’t control everything, but I can control the days we work. I wanted to reward everyone with this extra time for all their hard work against a backdrop we had never seen before.

Plus, I want everyone to recharge their batteries, spend time with their families, and feel refreshed for 2021.


The Health and Wellness of Our Employees Were Our Guiding Lights

Retail faced many new challenges in 2020.

Since the pandemic hit the U.S. in March, there has been a massive shift toward e-commerce, which has made consumers crave convenience and left retailers jostling for a prime position to address heightened expectations.

Just like retail faced many challenges in 2020, at Clarus, we did as well.

Working from home changed the way we think about the company moving forward.

We had to navigate throughout the year, working closely with our retail partners, and attending to their needs.

We also wanted to serve our employees’ needs.

Our People Ops department has done an amazing job this year as far as keeping in close contact with employees.

They surveyed employees regularly, making sure they were feeling good and not overwhelmed. We also asked our department heads to examine how many meetings they typically have, attempting to reduce that number if possible.

Health and wellness represented the No. 1 priority from the start, which served as our guiding light.

People Ops has sent out monthly surveys since mid-March, asking everyone how they’re doing on a variety of levels and offered 1-on-1 time if anyone is struggling and needs someone to talk to.

Due to ongoing concerns with COVID-19 and rising positivity rates, we announced we’d be working remotely through September 2021 to ease peoples’ minds.

Another piece of our health and wellness efforts came from a national movement after George Floyd’s death in late May.

This sparked nationwide protests against police brutality and systemic racism.

I wanted Clarus to do something as a company and the team was very vocal about this. As a result, we formed a Diversity & Inclusion program, which was coordinated by Peoples Ops and WayFinding Partners. It launched in October and will officially roll out to the company in 2021.

I’m very proud of this launch.

The group, which plans to develop a diversity & inclusion roadmap with WayFinding Partners, wants employees to become more aware and inclusive through our D&I training and workshops.

It also wants to increase employer brand awareness to underrepresented groups (people of color, the LGBTQ+ community, and others), increase staffing of women in technology positions, and increase Black and Latinx employees throughout Clarus.

Clarus also created a Charitable Contribution Matching Program. The program is voluntary and allows employees to enhance the effectiveness of their personal contributions.

Clarus will match all monetary contributions up to a maximum of $250 in total gifts per person, per calendar year.


Listen, Learn, and Move Forward

So, what will 2021 look like?

Well, we know we will continue working remotely through at least Sept. 30, which is the end of our fiscal year.

Our People Ops Department has done an amazing job as we have had 22 new hires and counting since mid-March.

While many companies struggled, we still grew year-over-year in a challenging and very different retail world.

Clarus moved forward in 2020 with its retail partners, building even closer relationships. And we want our retail partners to know we understand they’re going to be coming off a difficult year in 2020 and we will be there to help them any way we can in 2021.

While we listened, learned, and moved forward with our retail partners this year, I think we did the same with our team members. As difficult and challenging a year as this has been, in many ways I truly believe it’s brought us closer together.

Our teams have met virtually for nine months and have listened and learned from each other. They’ve navigated their own work and family issues and discussed a lot of it with each other.


Navigate and Elevate in 2021

In the “Art of War,” Sun Tzu says: “In the midst of chaos, there is also opportunity.”

I think this quote speaks to what Clarus endured and prospered from in 2020.

We were presented with an entirely new work model. Yet we moved forward with our respective jobs while learning what works and what doesn’t work.

And I am very proud to say the results were nothing less than outstanding, especially given the global pandemic as a backdrop.

From this we came up with a company theme for 2021: Navigate and Elevate.

Much of the navigating piece of it has been done this year, but will continue in 2021.

I like what the theme says and means.

We can take the lessons we learned in 2020 and elevate those to higher levels in 2021, both professionally and personally. Because as much as 2020 was a struggle from a business perspective, it was also a struggle for many families.

How do we take these moments from this year and elevate our company and ourselves in 2021?

As Clarus prepares to move forward into 2021, we’ll continue to lead with empathy.

I want to wish everyone at Clarus and our retail partners, and their families, a happy, healthy, and safe holiday season!

Thank you for everything you did to make 2020 a memorable year for Clarus.

Tom Caporaso

Tom, our CEO, oversees the strategic direction of the company with over 20 years of experience in the loyalty and subscription space. When he's not leading in the office, he can be found coaching his kids in sports or watching his beloved New York Yankees or Pittsburgh Steelers.

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