A femtech firm discovered itself in the course of the Ukraine invasion. Right here’s how sticking by their workers massively paid off–and helped advance science
It was a chilly February morning in my house in London and I used to be gazing my laptop computer display as my twin toddlers hadn’t woken up but. Wanting again at me had been the drained faces of the manager crew of Flo Well being, our standard girls’s well being app. After months of stress, Putin introduced what we had all prayed could be averted: Russia was invading Ukraine.
We knew instantly that Russia’s invasion of Ukraine would have a devastating impact on lots of Flo Well being’s workers and all of us felt intensely frightened in regards to the security of many Flo crew members. Flo was based in 2015 in Minsk, Belarus. Whereas we’ve since moved our headquarters to London, we stay a worldwide firm with deep Japanese European roots. On the time of Russia’s invasion, Flo had greater than 200 workers positioned throughout Ukraine, Russia, and Russia’s ally, Belarus.
Flo Well being is an ovulation and interval prediction app that helps greater than 50 million customers monitor their menstrual cycles each month. Once I joined the corporate as chief individuals officer in 2020, my function primarily handled expertise acquisition, administration, and constructing firm tradition. There was nothing in my job description–or for that matter, any job description at Flo–that concerned working an organization throughout a struggle that compromised worker security.
On this tense morning Zoom name, our government crew aligned on a plan and jumped into motion. Our plan unfolded rapidly: First, get individuals to security. As soon as workers had been secure, we would offer monetary help by means of a stipend, overlaying all relocation bills, and pulling ahead upcoming salaries to make sure financial safety. We wished to make sure that everybody on our crew was supported, each bodily and emotionally, throughout what was quickly unfolding into some of the terrifying occasions of their lives.
However the actuality of executing this plan was removed from clear-cut. Many fast-moving parts had been at play and workers in every nation had been coping with their very own distinctive difficulties. We instructed our workers in Russia and Belarus to depart their properties as their employment there was not possible beneath worldwide sanctions. A few of our Ukrainian workers determined to remain put regardless of the hazard. Many workers in Belarus had been investigating each attainable route out as what business flight routes remained out of Minsk offered out in minutes.
Folks had been panicking. Banks had been restricted. Workers in Belarus and Russia had been unable to withdraw overseas foreign money from ATMs. We organized wire transfers to our Belarusian and Russian workers. With air journey out of Belarus shutting down, greater than 200 Flo workers packed their luggage, households, and pets into vehicles or buses and headed to Lithuanian and Polish borders.
The struggle affected all our workers in dramatically alternative ways. Some workers with ageing family members had been unable to depart their properties. Others struggled to safe the right paperwork to move their household or pets. We had been excited to welcome a brand new product supervisor based mostly in Ukraine who was as a result of be part of Flo in a matter of days. Their onboarding program now included shut standing updates of their bodily location and firm assist–a state of affairs that takes “‘beginning a brand new job is anxious” to an entire new degree. Throughout all emigration routes of the impacted workforce, there have been mountains of paperwork and immigration paperwork to provide and sift by means of, PCR checks to arrange at border crossings, points with visas, and a sudden extreme housing scarcity in Vilnius, the small capital metropolis of Lithuania the place nearly all of our and different corporations workers ultimately relocated.
Open communication has at all times been on the coronary heart of our enterprise. Flo was based on the premise that higher details about feminine well being results in actionable insights and empowerment to vastly enhance our customers’ lives. We had precisely the identical method to empowering our workers by means of dependable, clear, personalised, and actionable info. We hosted day by day all-hands conferences to offer the newest updates and area each incoming query. Regardless of how tough the query, we sought to supply clear solutions.
For an organization of very pragmatic of us, we needed to go the additional mile to normalize concern, nervousness, grief, and anger. We validated each private combine of those feelings and thought of the affect on our day by day functioning. Lack of sleep, difficulties with focus, and doom-scrolling took a toll on all of us and lots of workers had been reeling from the results of the struggle in vastly particular person and alternative ways. We inspired our crew to face their tough feelings, organized a stress administration methods workshop with Shaolin Grasp Walter Gjergja, constructed “how you can keep sane” tips, and lined up psychologists for on-demand one-to-one classes in any most popular native tongue.
Regardless of mounting hardship and with no decision to the struggle on the horizon, small, humane victories emerged: The Lithuanian authorities welcomed and supported Flo’s instantly rising presence within the nation to affix their rising tech expertise ecosystem. A lot of our Western European workers discovered methods to help with relocation efforts. The just-arrived Belarusians joined forces with native Lithuanians and began the “Flotilla for Peace and Freedom”–journeys to the Ukrainian border with vans filled with humanitarian help, then returning with girls and kids from Ukraine in want of transport to adjoining nations. Throughout these attempting months, I used to be amazed by the efforts of our individuals, who day by day exhibited grace and resilience within the face of adversity.
And enterprise victories. Regardless of eight lengthy weeks wherein a lot of the firm was on maintain, we achieved quite a few enterprise targets. We grew our month-to-month lively customers (MAU) by 16% year-over-year and achieved the milestone of fifty million month-to-month lively customers globally. In our unwavering assist to the individuals of Ukraine, we translated the Flo app into Ukrainian and developed new related content material similar to how trauma and stress can have an effect on the menstrual cycle, fertility, being pregnant, breastfeeding, and extra. We donated to the Ukrainian Crimson Cross and made Flo Premium free to over 2.1 million Ukrainians so they may entry personalised well being insights, medically-credible info, and important interval and ovulation monitoring instruments. We performed a medical research in Ukraine to characterize the connection between signs, similar to stress and ache, skilled by girls in a state of affairs of maximum hazard. Such Research assist to bridge the gender analysis hole on long-overlooked topics similar to menstruation, girls’s ache, and the hyperlinks between emotional and physiological well-being. Each crew from engineering to localization reprioritized their work, streams, and roadmaps.
There are a couple of Flo workers who nonetheless dwell and work in Ukraine. Different workers, just like the 2 hundred who immigrated to nations like Lithuania, Poland, Cyprus, and the Netherlands, have but to return to their homelands–and don’t know in the event that they ever will.
Whereas lots of our workers’ lives are unrecognizable from the place they had been a yr in the past, one fixed stays. They’re very important crew members at Flo. Throughout these early turbulent months, we hoped to supply a constant, stabilizing power.
We’re nonetheless studying classes from navigating our firm throughout a time of struggle. There isn’t any guidebook for steering an organization by means of intervals of geopolitical change, violence, and financial unrest. An important lesson we discovered is that this: we had been proper to place our workers first. With out them, in spite of everything, we might not be the corporate we’re immediately.
Ann Roberts is the chief individuals officer of Flo Well being, a number one app for interval and cycle monitoring.
The opinions expressed in Fortune.com commentary items are solely the views of their authors and don’t essentially mirror the opinions and beliefs of Fortune.