The Covid-19 pandemic caused a revolution in the workplace, with work-from-home opportunities tearing down geographic boundaries and allowing people to work for anyone from anywhere they want. For some companies, this has caused numerous headaches with employee turnover and constant hiring to maintain a stable of talent, while others have built their brand around the idea that flexibility is an asset.

As Kevin Miller and his digital marketing agency, GR0, have seen first hand, it’s important now more than ever to build a culture within your company that resonates with employees, and that drives them. While launching his company during the peak of the pandemic, Miller adopted a people-first approach that’s taken him a long way, but also required an immense effort to get to where he is now.

Building Something New When It’s All Falling Apart

“By all accounts, 2020 was a difficult year. But for me, it was a time of immense growth and progress,” Miller writes in a blog post. When Miller and longtime friend Jon Zacharias began their SEO agency, they had zero full-time employees. The two of them did a majority of the legwork, with a bit of assistance from hired help found on LinkedIn and Upwork.

They would work 16-hour days managing campaigns directly for their first eleven clients, who would serve as the blueprint for what their innovative SEO campaigns could do. To fund the company, they each put $20,000 into bootstrapping and launching what would become GR0 when they couldn’t find a loan or VC investment as first-time founders. In every sense, Miller and Zacharias built their company through nothing but hard work and tenacity.

Personally Speaking to Each Candidate

After several months they made their first full-time hire in Bridget Reed, a content editor and recruiter for their writing operation. They found her through LinkedIn, where Miller made sure to connect directly with her rather than sending an impersonal InMail message.

By making his approach more personal, Miller was able to recruit Reed to help manage their roster of writers and ensure content abided by stylistic guidelines. Even as their staff has grown exponentially, Miller still speaks to each candidate himself.

“I’ll call on the same day they had an interview with other team members, even if it’s the weekend,” says Miller. Adding that leaders who are “too busy” to talk to the people who will be working with them should “rethink their priorities.”

Making Employees and Clients Feel Like Family

GR0 utilized this personalized approach for more than just hires — it also came to rely on referrals from existing clients to help bring in new ones, with all of their first-year clients coming from warm leads. Miller and Zacharias would personally meet the every need of their clients to earn these connections and offer value to all parties involved.

Miller says that he routinely offers small gifts and gestures of appreciation to both clients and employees to remind them that the company appreciates them, not just values them. And he works to build a culture of support and appreciation across the entire company. For example, he maintains a Slack channel for employees to praise each other for a job well done, and those names end up in a biweekly raffle in which they can win fun prizes.

Giving Employees the Flexibility to Build the Life They Want

“Human beings are more than what they do at work,” Miller notes, mentioning that benefits are helpful for building relationships, but they aren’t the complete story. As people have struggled in recent years, it’s important to be understanding of their mental and physical health to provide them with the flexibility they need to bring their best effort to work.

That includes flexible work spaces — employees can choose to be fully remote, to work from the modern and collaborative company headquarters in Los Angeles, or a combination of both that works best for them.

GR0 has frequently sought and recruited overlooked talent in their network and helped give them the coaching they needed to succeed, even if they didn’t have the bulkiest resume. GR0’s co-founders believe that work ethic and critical thinking are just as, if not more, important than formalized training and experience, and so they found people who they felt would fit their work ethic the best.

Prioritizing Work/Life Balance

Miller understands that employees have lives outside of their careers, and forcing those personal lives to suffer will only breed frustration and distractedness. That’s why GR0 has flexible work hours. If an employee needs to leave work to pick children up from school due to a Covid outbreak, or take a beloved pet to the veterinarian during business hours, they’re encouraged to do so. When they return to work, their mind is clear and they can progress without nagging concerns.

This is further exemplified in the company’s unlimited PTO policy — which not only allows for vacations and fun, but also encourages employees to take mental health days as needed. Mental health is a major priority at GR0; so much so that Miller provided all employees with a free Headspace membership.

The ROI of Maintaining Human Connections in Business

Miller makes the case to care for your employees to the best of your ability. Talent is increasingly becoming commodified with people freely bouncing from one job to another based on better offers or relocations, so by offering a healthy work environment and a culture that employees want to be a part of, Miller finds himself with a happy, motivated, and committed workforce who are thrilled to remain dedicated to GR0 for years to come..

“The most important thing a company has is its people,” says Miller. “Not tech, not brand name, not product-market fit. All of those come when you get the right people.” Judging by GR0’s explosive growth over the past year, it seems like he’s onto something..