Mike: Hey, everybody. Welcome to the Level Up Leadership Podcast. My name is Mike Delgado.
Patty: My name is Patty Guevara.
Mike: This podcast is designed to help you get to know the leaders here at Experian and also gain insight into the leadership skills and traits needed to grow our careers.
Patty: In this podcast, we’ll talk mentorship, career navigation, handling rejection, work-life balance, mental health, diversity and inclusion, and so much more.
Mike: A lot of our recordings are done through WebEx, so sometimes the audio quality is not perfect. We apologize. We’ll get better in time, but we hope you enjoy the show.
Patty: Hi, everyone. We know that times are hard navigating life with something we’re not very familiar with at all, the COVID-19 pandemic. A lot of us are making drastic changes to our work and home lives, and we know that this can take a toll physically and mentally, so today’s episode will be a short discussion about the ways to cope during this period.
Patty: We’re speaking with Nora Cook, HR Director and Business Partner at Experian. Nora also serves as the Executive Co-Sponsor for Aspire, Experian’s mental health and wellness employee resource group. We hope you find useful insights and advice in this episode. Enjoy.
Patty: Why don’t we start with introduction. So Nora, if you can explain what you do at Experian and your role in Aspire to our listeners?
Nora: Sure. So yeah, so I’m Nora Cook. I’ve been at Experian for about three years now, I am an HR Director. I work with two businesses, specifically DA North America and GDA; I used to be with ECS. And I used to work out of Costa Mesa in our headquarters, and I moved to San Francisco about year and a half ago now, for personal reasons. So I’m remote, up here by myself. We had an office here until the month before I moved here. So, I now work out of my home office and I travel a bit.
Mike: Awesome. How long have you been working from home?
Nora: A year and a half, since I’ve moved to San Francisco.
Mike: How was that transition for you?
Nora: It was interesting. I thought it would be really easy. I came here and I was like, “Oh, I’m going to have so much time in the day. And I’m going to be able to just work and get so much done and have free time.”
Nora: And what ended up happening, because I have a global business and a regional business, is I start my global calls at 6:37 AM; I get right out of bed and I go to those calls. And then I get a little break, I make my coffee, I do something. And then I go right into finally looking at emails, because I had been on calls for the beginning of the morning. Then I’m looking at emails and then I feel like I’m already behind. So, I had to find a way to not feel like I’m already behind by 10:00 AM, which took some adjustment.
Patty: So, has anything changed for you during this time, with this pandemic? I know a lot of people are adjusting to working from home, but I know that’s something that you’ve been doing for a while now.
Nora: Yeah. So, it has. So I work from home. My husband is a farmer and a chef, so he’s usually out and about, and he’s home now. So we’ve got myself, him, and we have a friend living with us right now and she works from home.
Nora: And then, my stepson usually is with his mom on weekdays and with us on the weekends, and we swap schedules. We’ve got more adults here and so we do weekdays now. So we’re doing homeschool with my 11 year old son and all working out of our San Francisco apartment.
Patty: Full house. Everyone is super busy.
Nora: Yeah. Yeah, exactly.
Patty: And how are you feeling during this time? How are you coping with everything?
Nora: I’m a little worried. I’m someone who’s more on the cautious side, right now. Shelter-in-place came a little bit earlier in San Francisco, so I think we had a bit more time to be alarmed earlier. I know I have a lot of family in the Midwest and they’re still… some fitness gyms are still open and things like that, but ours is all closed over a week ago now. And so, I definitely, I see the serious side of it. I go to the hospital, actually. And happy news, I found out I’m pregnant, two weeks ago.
Mike: Oh, congratulations!
Patty: [crosstalk 00:04:21].
Nora: Yeah, thank you. So, that means I’m going to the hospital. I’m being extra cautious and seeing how they’re taking care of that, but I’m going for a really happy reason, which is different from why a lot of people are going in. So, I’m trying to channel that happiness and excitement and good news, and really positive… or focus on positive things and things I can control.
Nora: So, I’m closing my rings every day on my Apple Watch. You can’t see me, but I’m holding up my Apple Watch. I’m on day 23. I started this before and I’m committed. I’m doing virtual yoga. I’m going for walks with my son and my husband. And I’m video chatting constantly with my best friends and family, who already lived far away from me, and now we actually are seeing each other more and making a bigger effort.
Nora: So, really just focusing on what I can control, positive things. Allowing myself to have a moment, turn to my husband and be like, “Can I talk about my fears for a second?” And then we talk about them, and then let’s move on.
Patty: Great. Just don’t dwell on the negative things. I feel like that’s my issue right now is that I’m so invested and keeping up with the news that I start to feel overwhelmed and scared and yeah, out of control, because there’s nothing I can do to change what’s happening with this pandemic, right? Other than staying home.
Nora: I know.
Patty: Yeah, it’s tough. Do you have tips for people who are working remotely for the first time?
Nora: Gosh, this is just what’s worked for me. I have to do something before my work day starts. I was talking about how I would just get right into a work day. I mean, it sounds obvious, but take a shower, go for a walk, make your coffee. Do something that’s yours and your time, like you would if you were driving into an office, before you start your work calls. That has made a huge difference for me, for my head space, and it’s also made me feel more manageable, that feeling of feeling behind from the beginning. I did something today and I wasn’t behind when I made my coffee, so I’m okay.
Nora: I’m also a big fan of a dedicated space. So, I share… My son’s bedroom has a corner where I’ve carved out my workspace and we take turns. And now that he’s here, we’ll swap, but this is my dedicated space. My computer sits here when I’m not working, my work stuff, I’ll notes stick here so it’s not all over my house. My living room is my living room, my bedroom is my bedroom, so it’s still keeps some semblance of normalcy in my house and doesn’t make it all collide too much.
Nora: I make my own lunch. That’s one of the pros we have of working from home. You get to eat yogurt out of your fridge and not have it in a lunchbox, that you forgot to put it in the fridge and then you can’t can’t eat it. So, take advantage of the things that are advantages. Do a workout class middle of the day, because you can do a workout class in the middle of the day.
Nora: And I think a big thing for me has been chit-chatting with coworkers. There’s no water cooler talk, you’re not walking by and talking so find a way to chit-chat. At the beginning of a call, ask them how they’re doing. Share something about your life. Force people to have informal conversations with you. Even if they’re in an office and they have plenty of them, you need it when you’re working from home.
Mike: Yeah. I miss popping over and just seeing Patty and just chatting with her.
Mike: I miss that already. What have you found to be some of the dangers of working from home, when you’re not separating that work life? What are some of those dangers, those things you’re cautious of, as you’ve been doing it for a while?
Nora: Yeah. I think one of the main ones is, just that feeling of feeling frustrated. I don’t like feeling overwhelmed by my workload. I don’t like feeling frustrated that I haven’t had a break yet for me today. I like to avoid that. I like work to be positive. I like to problem solve. I feel so happy to work for a great company culture like Experian and to be in HR, where that’s really what we focus on. So for work to be enjoyable, I need to find ways to schedule in time that’s for me. I think that’s a main one.
Nora: Another one is just, by the end of the day, you’re so exhausted if you don’t do it. If you don’t take a walk in the morning or after lunch, by the end of the day, you don’t want to take a walk because you’re just tired of it all. And I think my husband probably gets the brunt of that. By the end of the day I’m like, “I’m not making dinner. You make dinner. I’ve worked all day, raising this kid. That’s not fair.”
Mike: I think that’s the hard thing, especially because Experian, I think what’s really cool about Experian is we have so many high performers, people that are goal driven, people who work really hard, people who like constantly innovating, testing new things. And at least for me it’s like it was always nice for me to go into the office and there was that separation. When I’m in the office work hard and they want to get in the car, now I’m home. And now that I’m just beginning to try to adjust to working from home, I’m running into the, “I’m always thinking about work.” Because the computer’s right there.
Nora: Right, right. I think having a dedicated space for your work to be helps. Because you can walk in and out of a room. And I’ll do that, I’ll walk out of this room that I’m in right now and I’ll hear myself take a breath. And I’m like, “Oh I needed to breathe.” My Apple watch [inaudible 00:10:03] yet. But I guess I did. And it’s finding those physical separations from work at home. Otherwise it all becomes the same thing.
Nora: And like I said, my husband will get the brunt of it but he’ll hear all about my work. He doesn’t need to hear all about my work. We need to talk about other things that matter to us. So, finding that way to dedicate time and space to work makes you feel like you have permission to walk away from it in the middle of the day. And at the end of the day, close your computer. I’m satisfied with what I’ve done. It’s as if I’m driving home right now on my commute.
Patty: I think a big issue a lot of people deal with is that when they’re working from home they feel like they have to compensate and like work even harder and work even longer. And I know that’s an issue for me. I’m checking my email after hours. I’m trying to log on as often as possible. I was just telling Mike, I totally forgot it was Saturday and I got for work [crosstalk 00:11:01] I lost all concept of time. It was crazy.
Nora: It bleeds together.
Patty: Yeah it does. And I know a lot of people are dealing with that and it’s even harder for them because they have families. And I know for you, your son is at home, your friend, your husband. So, do you have any tips for people who are maybe having to deal with merging their work life with their home life and then making sure their family is well taken care of? Because they’re scared too, but then also getting work done at the same time.
Nora: Yeah, I really like having a schedule. So, for me, the three of us, we have outlook. We go in the beginning of the day, we open our calendar, and there’s a schedule for us. What I do is I look and I find a break and it’s like, okay, there’s time. That’s going to be my lunch today. Or that’s going to be my 15 minute walk. And then I share that with my husband and my son and I say, “Here’s when I can eat lunch. Do you guys want to do it together?” Or like, “Can we do PE at 11:30 because I can go for a walk?”
Nora: Yeah. And for kids, my son’s been doing the same thing. So we’ve got a dry erase board with each day of the week on it. We already had it, I think we use it for groceries and at the beginning of the day we have him put in, what do you think your schedule should be? What do you want to do? You know you have to do math and writing and those. But what else? How do you want to do it today? And it gives him some control right now.
Nora: He’s setting that routine and then we sit down and then like I said, I’ll say, “Well, actually do you mind if we move lunch? Because then we can eat together.” Or, “You don’t seem to have reading here. I know you don’t like reading, but when would you like to do it?” So, I’ve really found that that helps.
Nora: And journaling helps, reflecting. We do something called Rosebud Thorn at our dinner table. Have you heard of that?
Nora: Okay, so at our dinner table where there’s no phones, they stay somewhere else if all goes right, we go around and Rose is where you talk about the best thing that happened today. So, on Friday I made myself an awesome peanut butter and jelly sandwich and I had this feeling of being a 10 year old and that was my rose.
Mike: I love that.
Patty: It’s the little things.
Nora: Yeah, it is. You can still have these sparks of joy even on stressful times. And then Thorn, we talk about what just kind of sucked today. What do wish didn’t happen or made you upset? And I’ll talk about something like, I went for a walk and I pulled my leg and I had to go back early and I didn’t get outside again that day. And that really, I found, had an effect with me. Because if I can’t get out the rest of my day, I looked out the window and wished I could be there.
Nora: And then Bud is whatever you’re looking forward to tomorrow. So, it helps you visualize and think what could go really well tomorrow. Like, tomorrow I’m going to call my mom and talk to her because she told me she’d be free and there’s things I’ve been wanting to catch up with her. So, I’m going to make sure I call her no matter what. And that’s really helped us get to talk about the day and integrate our family and fit and reflect a little bit for ourselves during this.
Patty: I love that. I love the part where you ask your son to make his own schedule and give him some sense of control in a very uncontrollable situation.
Mike: Nora, I wanted to ask you about staying connected with your colleagues. And one of the things that I’m having a hard time with is I’ve always just enjoyed being in the office and be able to just drop by somebody’s cube, sit and chat, and just do my rounds, and I just enjoy doing that. Even just walking up and down the hallway, seeing my friends, seeing colleagues on the way to the kitchen. And now that I don’t have that, right now I’m doing a lot of text messaging and some video capture in there. But I’m just wondering how are you being intentional about keeping in touch with not only your own team but those even outside your team that you want to keep that communication going?
Nora: That’s a really good question and I think that’s actually harder for people who work remotely when everyone else is in an office. Like you said, your way of staying in touch is to walk around. So, I find that felt more challenging to be honest, before we’re all working from home. Now there’s this desire to stay connected. So my manager, I’m really lucky. I work for a manager who cares about the human being and then the work and I think that helps us be better at our work.
Nora: So, she started a group chat with everyone who reports directly into her, we’re skip level, and we just have like a very informal texting conversation. Every other day she’ll text us and say like, “Hey, I’m just checking in to see how you’re all doing.” A lot of us are in different cities and she’ll just be like, “How’s it going in your city?”
Nora: [inaudible 00:16:02] I do like a roll call. Like, “Hey San Francisco, shelter in place for two days. Here’s how it feels. Besides that, I’m okay.” So we have the informal texting. I call my direct reports or message them on Slack every day and just check in. How was your weekend? Kaylee on my team told me that she put up wallpaper on Sunday, and just talk about that. We’ll talk about working a little bit.
Nora: Besides texting and making sure to talk not just about work, I think there’s this feeling right now that seems to be going through a lot of the teams, like with my businesses, people want to help each other and people want to know what they can do for you. It’s that service mentality. So, I’ve been feeling that and trying to give that to my businesses as well, which is like, “Hey, is there anything I can do for you?” They come back and they’re like, “How about you? How are you doing it all of this?” And it’s a really easy way to stay connected right now and not just have bombarded by to do lists.
Mike: Yeah, I love that you’re being intentional about talking about things other than work. I think sometimes people feel really guilty about having that water cooler time, but that’s actually super important for building relationships, building trust, getting to know people. And I think right now, everyone working virtually, we’re on all these business calls as it is, but I think it’s super key what you just said about setting up those little, even a five minute call, just to catch up with somebody. That’s super important right now.
Nora: Yeah. Yeah. So, I was already used to working from home. If it’s your first time building this routine, is it harder to get those informal channels set up right now?
Mike: Yeah, I think right now I set up a video chat during our lunch hour, so basically every day from 12:00 to 1:00, I have a group video chat using the Blue Jean app. So anybody who wants to, it’s just there. It’s random people popping in at different times and it’s just kind of a fun way. I said, “No work talk.”
Mike: Talk about what you’re streaming on Netflix or Hulu. Or listening on Spotify, this is the time just to chat and it’s lunchtime. You can even make your lunch. So that’s kind of a fun thing that we’re doing in our team to keep the levity up. But yeah, I think we have to just be intentional about setting up those times.
Nora: Yeah, we use Slack too. In DA North America, we’ve got the organization on Slack. We have a channel set up for competitions, and right now we started a workspace competition. Share your workspace. Gosh, I wish I remember who it was off the top of my head, but his workspace was a yoga mat with toilet paper and his [crosstalk 00:18:59] on top of it, looking out a window, and he was like, “This is how I’m saying Zen. I know I’m prepared, I have what I need. I can relax.” It’s so fun. People want to know more about people. You know, our highest open click rate for our internal communications emails were the getting to know you email, or new joiner emails. So when we’d have five new joiners, we’d send an email and that was the highest click through.
Nora: People want to know about each other. I don’t think we’ve historically felt like we needed to find reasons to share more about our personal lives. I think that’s a beautiful thing coming out right now.
Patty: Yeah, that’s so true. Because I thought going into this, you know, I’m introverted, so this is going to be the time of my life. This is where I’m going to thrive. That was so not the case. I was like [inaudible 00:19:49] my coworkers, I get to talk to [crosstalk 00:19:53] because people started to really come out of their shells and call people they wouldn’t call usually, or want to reach out to the people that they usually wouldn’t talk to that often in the office.
Patty: So yeah, like another professional, like you were saying [inaudible 00:20:09] when you try to look up pros in this terrible situation, is that you’re making connections you probably might not make in the office.
Nora: Right. I mean I’m talking to you guys.
Nora: I talked to Patty, but this is the first time, you know, the three of us are chatting. I FaceTimed with Justin Hastings. That was great. We’re all getting more exposure to each other.
Mike: So I have a question. What’s interesting to me also about this virtual working space is that I enjoy very much face to face. Being in the office, I enjoy nonverbal communication. I get a lot of feedback that way. So my thing right now, Nora, is video calls. With Patty I’m always like, “Let’s FaceTime, let’s chat.” But I know that not everyone wants to FaceTime every day. Right? So can you talk about being sensitive? Some people might just want to be on the phone and talk, and that’s pretty much all they want to do with that day. But then sometimes maybe they want to FaceTime. How do you kind of balance between, I don’t want to ever put someone in an awkward position of you need to FaceTime with me. Because I’m happy if you just want to email me, that’s fine too. But I also want them to know that I love seeing them.
Nora: Yeah, we’ve been talking about that for how long have I said I’m remote? A year and a half, since I went remote, my manager was like, “I will be FaceTiming you, I need to see you, I need to talk to you.” So with her we immediately set the schedule, once a week at our one-on-one, it will be over FaceTime. I might be in my yoga outfit with my headband on, I might look really nice because I’m going to happy hour later. It doesn’t really matter. I might be walking around my house, doing things while I’m talking to her, and it’s just built a habit to be honest. Now that we have that habit, it feels normal. I know that that is harder for people. I’ve got a team member who I love and we work so well together, and we don’t need to be on FaceTime to work well together. But sometimes it is nice to have the video there, especially if there’s a group of us.
Nora: I’ve noticed that she’ll open her blinds behind her so that she actually looks like a dark shadow, and then she’s on the line, but you can still see kind of like reflections and her hand motions. I was like, “Hey, that’s so clever. I see you there, we know you’re present. We know you’re a part of it, but you just don’t want to be totally visible all the time and that’s okay.”
Nora: So I think honoring people’s space, if somebody never wants to get on video, I think that’s a bit more challenging. Really it’s just continuing to talk more about why it’s okay for us to be looking whatever way we’re looking. I don’t have makeup on right now and that’s okay. I’m at home. You might be sitting on your couch, I’m not judging you if there’s a couch in the background, that’s fine. We’re all in our homes. Homes have couches. They’ll let you see them in person at the office. So just trying to I think help people who are uncomfortable see it as more of a normal thing.
Patty: That’s really good advice. Do you have any tips for people who might need something a little more than just taking a walk outside or talking to their family? Like a little mental break I guess. Do you have anything that you really like to do?
Nora: So we have employee assistance program, and I didn’t share this during my intro, but I’m also a co-sponsor of our Aspire EAP. And one of the things I’ve loved about being so involved in Aspire is I’m personally learning more about all of our resources out there. With EAP, you can call and you can talk to a counselor over the phone. You can also do in-persons when it’s not the current situation. But right now you can do that. I actually, during all this, I was like, “I’m going to try this whole text to counselor thing.”
Nora: So it’s called Talkspace, talk, T-A-L-K space. It’s an app you can download, and it’s through EAP. I immediately started chatting with somebody who’s like, “Hey Nora, how are you doing?” And I was like, “I’m good. You know, I just found out I’m pregnant, so I’m excited, but I’m also scared because this is what’s going on.” I just started texting and she’s like, “Okay, you’re in a close space, and we’ll continue texting and then I’ll assign you to a counselor.” Within 24 hours I had a counselor, and you just chat when you’re ready to chat.
Nora: They reply when they’re ready to reply. Sometimes it’s not immediate, but it’s kind of nice because it keeps it ongoing. So for somebody who’s looking for something… I have found a good experience with Talkspace. This isn’t the only one out there. You can go outside of our EAP. What I haven’t tried [inaudible 00:25:10] live for mental health, but we have MD Live, which I don’t know if you guys have used for physical health, you just call a doctor, “Hey, this is what is going on.” They talk you through it. You don’t have to go into urgent care all the time. They have it for mental health over the phone. I’m not sure if they have texting, but Experian waived the copay for 90 days. So if you are enrolled in Experian benefits, yeah, you have access to MD Live physical and mental health with zero copay for 90 days, starting I think last week.
Mike: Oh, that’s awesome.
Nora: So those are a bit more extreme, not extreme but like powerful resources in the moment. Right?
Mike: Yeah. That’s really, really cool. I’m sorry Patty, I was going to say… I think those are wonderful resources, and I’m glad you shared them because I wasn’t even aware, the texting one sounds really cool, the Talkspace. That sounds like an amazing resource, but I want to ask you about, as we’re all being sensitive to our colleagues and if we’re sensing that someone’s going through something hard, what are some ways you suggest to approach that person in a caring way? Not to be intrusive, but just to be able to help, prompt them to make a move towards using one of these tools.
Nora: Yeah, I know that can be challenging. Being in HR, there’s often times where we’re talking to employees where I think we have kind of a different, like what is it called? We’re allowed to say things maybe, because we’re in HR, like we talk about resources. But I think this is a good skill for everyone. What I’ve kind of stuck with is start by asking people how they’re doing, and if they’re avoiding talking about that, “I’m good, I’m moving on,” or, “I’m fine,” find a way to ask something more specific like, “Hey, I know you have shelter in place in your city. Have you been able to go outside? You haven’t been able? How has that felt not being able to go outside?” Finding a way to not get a yes or no and not shut the door and just open that conversation, because really, I don’t know about you guys, but I don’t like taking resources from people I don’t trust. If there’s someone I don’t want to talk to or I don’t trust, you can tell me all day what to do and I’ll be like, okay, thank you, but if it’s somebody who I’m like, okay, Patty cares about me. She’s asked me about how I’m doing. I can tell she’s been vulnerable back to me and opened up a little bit so I know this feels real. I should listen to her because she probably genuinely cares.
Nora: I think that’s something, it’s like laying the groundwork before trying to go that extra mile to offer someone support and make sure they know you’ll be vulnerable with them so they can be vulnerable with you. You trust them. You care about them. Then asking permission, like, “It sounds like it’s really stressful for you in San Francisco. Is it okay? Can I talk to you about some of the resources that I’ve heard of lately that really helped me? I don’t know. They might be helpful to you right now,” and asking if you can open that door. If they shut it down, they shut it down. I think if it’s beyond that, if you’re really nervous for their mental health and safety, then definitely reaching out to an HR partner or their manager in this type of moment could offer you more support and offer ultimately that person the best opportunity to get the help they need, whatever that could look like. You don’t know, but at least we’re caring and we’re looking out for each other.
Mike: I think that’s actually the hard thing sometimes when the leader is checking in on someone on their team, and let’s just say that there is trust there and mutual respect, and somebody on the team begins to share something that’s painful going on in their lives and it’s one of those situations where that person’s not ready to go to HR. They’re not ready to talk to a professional, but they just want to share what’s going on with the leader. That leader’s kind of conflicted, like, “Oh man, this is something that’s really heavy. I care about this person. I want them to get help, but I don’t want to break their trust by going to HR or an outside party.” How should leaders, how should colleagues work in that realm?
Nora: Sure, sure. I think that’s a really good question. I think that’s something that people often kind of worry, “Will I be able to make the right choice if I’m in that situation?” I don’t know if everyone even knows when they’re in that situation. Before I answer, just as a reminder, I’m not in any way a mental health specialist, so really what I go with is that gut feeling and trusting that sometimes your gut can be one of the strongest facts. If your gut is telling you something is wrong, if it’s telling you that you fear the safety of a coworker, and if you know that there are resources that could help that person, I think it’s admirable to be able to go to your HR partner, the manager, or go to somebody you trust to help you talk to that person and ensure they have access to the information that would benefit them at that time.
Nora: Every situation is different so there’s not a recipe for this. If you are entering it with compassion, and I was going to say love, I mean, sometimes there is love behind there in a coworker relationship, we care about each other, but if you’re with compassion and delicacy and sensitivity to where the other person’s coming from, there is a way to navigate that situation. Sometimes you do just [inaudible 00:31:03] HR partners or even like your spouse at home that you can talk to about it can help you think through [inaudible 00:31:08], but we do have good resources at Experian. I’ve mentioned this before. I love working in HR here because I work in a people function at a company that cares about people. We’re in it together. How Experian has responded to the COVID crisis just proves that we’re in it together. I’ve never felt more connected, honestly, globally across Experian or with my coworkers as I do right now. You’ve got to just trust that the best intentions are there.
Patty: Right. We have come up on our 30 minutes here, Nora. Thank you so much for joining us. If you have any last words for our listeners about like maybe coping with all of this or just well wishes, go ahead and take the floor.
Nora: I think going back to the very beginning where we talked about thinking about what we can control, there are beautiful things coming out of these crazy circumstances. Mike is having lunch with all of his coworkers. Who knows if they would have lunch with him in person regularly, but look, he’s got a party of people. We’re learning how to be better at videoing with each other and getting on FaceTime and being responsive. A lot of us are going for walks and doing healthy things. Remember that things you can control and the positive things coming out that you want to keep going in your life. I am going to continue closing my rings on my Apple Watch even a