Real Estate

Opendoor’s Erica Galos Alioto on leading through layoffs

Women of Influence: Leadership in the midst of crisis

Layoffs have been widespread due to the spread of COVID-19, something Opendoor has experienced firsthand.

More than 26 million Americans have filed for unemployment over the past five weeks, including 4 million just in the past week, according to the U.S. Department of Labor.  

Opendoor, which has raised more than $1 billion in funding in the last few years, recently laid off over 600 of its employees, or 35% of its workforce, as the company deals with the economic impact of the coronavirus.

The struggling economy is forcing many leaders to make difficult decisions, especially those who oversee company culture, such as Opendoor Chief People Officer Erica Galos Alioto. A 2019 HousingWire Woman of Influence, Galos Alioto said staying transparent with employees was key.

“It’s important to share as much information as possible about why the decision was made and what is changing as a result,” Galos Alioto said.

HousingWire sat down with Galos Alioto to discuss leadership in difficult times. This interview has been lightly edited for length and clarity.

HousingWire: How do you keep up company morale in the midst of layoffs?

Erica Galos Alioto: Communication and transparency are key. It’s important to share as much information as possible about why the decision was made and what is changing as a result. We are also putting a lot of thought into keeping people engaged, through all-hands meetings, Slack channels, virtual events and more to make sure people continue to feel connected to the team and to our mission.

HW: Have you seen a decrease in employee satisfaction at Opendoor or in focus on company culture during this time?

EGA: We’re still in an uncertain time, so employees are highly engaged as they try to understand what to expect in the coming months both personally and professionally. For the most part, I see colleagues working to support one another and their team’s goals. There has been a real sense of solidarity.

HW: What should leaders do to ensure their teams stay connected during this time in quarantine?

EGA: Now more than ever, it’s important that team members feel supported as they balance home and work life. We’re mindful that the circumstances of each of our employees is unique, from working parents and caregivers, to single parents, to people who are alone at home without any support system. I believe it’s important for leaders to be transparent about the challenges they’re facing so that others feel empowered to do so as well. This creates a more human and personal connection between team members.

We’re also continuing to think of new ways to help people adapt to this new style of working. For example, remote meetings can be just as energizing as in person if you put some creativity into them. At Opendoor, we’ve started incorporating themes into our virtual meetings, such as bring your pet, or wear a fun hat.

Additionally, we’re encouraging team members to take initiatives to stay connected by joining virtual gatherings and concerts, participating in a digital book club, sharing recipes and hosting Netflix watch parties. Opendoor parents have even started Slack channels broken down by age bracket so they can share ideas and tips that are relevant to their child’s specific age group.

HW: Do you think this time, when Opendoor and other companies were forced to move remote, will change how they operate in the future?

EGA: Companies are stepping up in big ways and working to adapt their businesses to evolving consumer demand and a volatile environment. Transitioning entire workforces to be able to operate remotely is a part of the effort, and I think we’re all in the front row seat as to whether it can be a sustainable approach.

HW: HousingWire recognized you as one of our 2019 Women of Influence. What is your secret to success?

EGA: If you asked me 20 years ago what my life would have looked like 20 years from then, it would have been completely different than it is now. I’ve learned not to plan my life out too far in advance because if you do, you may not be open to all the great opportunities that present themselves to you.

Early on in my career, I spent a lot of time doing what I thought was expected of me, or what I expected for myself based on what I believed success looked like. At some point I started focusing more on doing the things that energize me, and being less concerned about the level of prestige that was associated with the role. I’ve learned that for me at least, being able to have an impact on things I care about is a much better definition of success.

I’ve also come to view failure as a learning experience, more than anything else. Being open to failure has led me to new experiences and companies I’ve been passionate about. Don’t wait for opportunities to come your way — raise your hand. That’s how most opportunities have come my way.

HousingWire’s nominations are now open for our 2020 Women of Influence. But they won’t stay open long – nominations close on April 24, 2020. So nominate your Woman of Influence today, we want to get to know them!

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