Maher said the decision was made to give the foundation’s 400 employees and contractors a realistic sense of what’s expected. “We wanted to give them clear guardrails,” she said in an interview Monday evening.
When employers give generic instructions telling employees to juggle their increased workload however they can, she said, “it just creates an uncertainty and lack of clarity as [employees] try to read between the lines about what’s expected.” By creating a “ceiling” of hours, she hopes workers are able to shift to home responsibilities and think “the organization’s not going to judge me.”
Those who want to keep working full time may do so. “Many people use work as a way of channeling their stress with the world around us,” Maher wrote in her letter. “If that’s you, great!”
About two-thirds of the foundation’s workforce are software engineers and product developers — and 70 percent were already remote, with people in San Francisco, Washington, North Carolina and Minneapolis.
Maher said the site has seen an uptick in traffic. “We’ve seen a surge in interest in coronavirus,” she said. “What we’re expecting is we’ll focus our staff on shoring up the resiliency of the platform. Instead of rolling out a new update to iOS, we’re focused on presenting critical coronavirus information in the best way possible.”
People who work on the foundation’s partnerships or events teams will be redeployed to support the people who edit the site, or to work on partnerships with public health entities.
How long the part-time offer will continue is unclear. Eighty percent of the nonprofit’s budget is funded by small-dollar donations, Maher said, at an average of $15 to $16 from 7 million to 8 million individuals each year.
“My feeling is what we’re really looking at now is the initial crest of impact; the economic impact is a longer curve,” she said.
Maher, who is based in San Francisco and has been working remotely since March 9, is still working full time, though she did take a break for an hour or so Monday to make a run to the grocery store, she said.
She decided to post the letter online in hopes that other employers might use similar tactics. “This is a force majeure,” she said. “Being honest with people is the only strategy that’s going to work.”