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June 10, 2020

Q&A – Lora Blum: Chief Legal Officer, SurveyMonkey

Julie Q. Brush

Lora Blum is the Chief Legal Officer and Secretary of SurveyMonkey, an online survey development cloud-based SaaS company. Lora is a seasoned legal executive who served as a partner at Heller Ehrman and Jones Day before transitioning in house to Linkedin as VP, Legal-Corporate. She joined SurveyMonkey in 2017 where she leads the legal department as one of the company’s top executives.  I asked Lora several questions about the market in the throes of Covid-19 and she was kind enough to provide her thoughts and perspective. Here’s what she had to say:

You’ve been through other economic downturns, what is unique about this one?

The way it came about is definitely different from my prior experience, and the depth of the downturn is much more extreme. I started practicing in the fall of 1999. There were signs of the dot com bust in the spring/summer of 2000, and then it really evolved into a downturn as we got into fall and then the next couple years. In 2008, things appeared to crash pretty quickly when Lehman went under, but it seemed to take time for various areas of the economy to feel greater impact. With this pandemic, it has been a total shock to the system and so incredibly fast. The sheer number of people who are unemployed is almost incomprehensible – to go from 3.5% unemployment to 14.7% in a month (and that 14.7% is understated) is really unbelievable. Separate and apart from the speed and size of this downturn, we have this horrible illness that is having a terrible impact on so many people, so that also adds a dimension that I hope we never see again.

From an executive’s perspective, how can an employee increase his/her value to the organization during these challenging times?

Being productive in this environment is hard. There are so many distractions – whether you are a caregiver working from home and trying to support a sick family member or homeschool a child, or you share a small home with several other people and don’t have a place where you can easily get your work done (or maybe a combination of those things!), it’s tough. Doing your job well may seem like table stakes, but it’s hugely important. If you are someone who does not have as many challenges in this environment as some of your colleagues, speak up and let people know you can help. Doing that is not only good for you and your organization, but it also supports team members who may need it, and that will drive appreciation, collaboration and strong bonds well beyond the situation we are living through right now. And if you can’t be as productive as you usually are, make sure you communicate – in many cases, additional support can be provided and so the key is making sure that people know what’s going on, and it can be hard to remember that your manager or colleague doesn’t know your situation as well as they might when you are in the office together.

                Lora Blum

What is your advice to other GC/CLOs and managers on how to keep their teams mentally healthy, motivated and positive?  

Over-communicate – we’ve been having weekly team meetings, and additional optional “fun” meetings every other week or so that different people from the team have planned. We’ve had trivia games, a hilarious version of family feud, a baby picture guessing game, and we’ve also had breakfasts and lunches over Zoom with no agenda or activity. People miss the informal conversations and gatherings at the office. We can’t totally re-create them over Zoom, but giving people the option to connect without having to get something work-related done seems to be helpful. I’ve also been very honest with my team about how I am feeling, what I worry about, how much I value what they’re doing and how hard they are working, and how lucky I feel to have a job. I think they all appreciate hearing those things even more now than they normally would. Also, and very importantly, make sure to take time off and to encourage your team to take time off. It may feel weird if you don’t really have anywhere to go so not like a “normal” vacation, but getting away from the computer and the meetings on screen for a few days is so helpful!

What have you learned about yourself during this pandemic?

I enjoy being in the office more than I realized. I am so lucky to have a job I love, and I know that and I also know how much I love the people I work with and how important that is to me. I just never realized how much energy I get from the people I work with when I am around them and how important the social interaction is for me during the course of any given workday. I’m doing fine working from home, and I’m very fortunate that my kids and husband are totally self-sufficient so I am able to work from home pretty easily, but sometimes it’s really hard to get motivated to get things done, and I never felt like I had that problem in the office (maybe because I always wanted to get through my work day so I could get home…). I’ve also learned that I love going out to dinner more than I ever realized 🙂 !

Top 3 ways the professional world will change after Covid-19?

  1. More flexible work from home policies/reimagined workspaces.
  2. New approaches to recruiting because of 1. It’s exciting to think about the diversity of talent companies will be able to tap into if they are less constrained by geography.
  3. Much more intentional business travel – I don’t think business travel is going away, but I think we will think about why people need to travel for business differently. Are in-person meetings really required for certain types of sales jobs? Do demos really need to be done live? Connecting with people in person is incredibly important (I miss it so much!), but I think businesses will be more thoughtful about why and when people travel for work.

What are you doing to stay mentally and physically healthy while you are quarantined?

 I like to keep a “commute” time in the morning and not immediately begin working right after I wake up. I try hard to make sure I don’t start meetings or calls before 9 a.m. and take some time to connect with my family, work out and keep my brain out of workspace for a little while. In the evenings, even if I end up having to work late, I find it easier to take breaks for dinner or to do something fun with my family even if I have to get a little more work done later, but if I have to start work immediately after I wake up in the morning, it makes me feel kind of awful. Pre-pandemic, I always dropped my younger son at school and then had a 30-40 minute drive to work, during which I’d listen to the radio or talk on the phone, but didn’t think hard about work until I got in. When I first started working from home, I lost that time in the morning because everything seemed urgent and like I had to respond right away and it made me a little crazy, so inserting time between waking up and working has been important. I also try to get outside for at least a little while every day – even if just for a quick 15-minute walk. It seems to help keep me from getting too grumpy!

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