Nola’s human infrastructure
During the first lockdown, doctor and Fair Food advisory team member, Julian Caples, advised us to, “Plan for when, not if, we get a positive COVID case.”
Since then the “B Team”, made up of Fair Food front office crew and CERES staff, have been coming to Fair Food to learn various roles should the packing crew have to go into isolation.
Over the last two months various CERES teachers, managers, directors and this week our CEO, Cinnamon Evans, have come to learn how to pack.
The first thing B Team members report is the warmth of the welcome they receive on the line. The second is how quickly everything happens.
Both these things are no accident and both things are in, no small part, attributable to the efforts of Fair Food’s operations manager, Nola Pollard (that’s Nola in the pic).
Around eight years ago, after a stint away, Nola Pollard returned to Fair Food with the aim of creating a place that people wanted to come to work and where everyone knew exactly the role they needed to play.
At Fair Food we began calling this concept “human infrastructure”.
Along with her fellow manager, Jesse Hull, Nola’s challenge was helping a group of people from 15 different countries communicate and work together as a team.
It started with the very basics; training people to talk to each other in a very specific way and has grown into a culture that has propelled Fair Food to become one of Australia’s largest online organic grocers.
Human infrastructure work is slow, boring and incremental. Unlike a shiny new conveyor or a forklift, human infrastructure isn’t obvious, but without it even the best logistics equipment is useless.
With a dry humour and bottomless determination, Nola introduced unglamorous and unfamiliar things like organisational charts, inductions and job descriptions.
While not entirely unknown, in a fluid, egalitarian environment like CERES such things hadn’t been fully embraced in the past.
And then there was the nourishment for the soul; yoga sessions, cooked lunches, warehouse art, story-telling sessions and the parties.
Acknowledging the skills within our diverse group Nola always looked to bring on talent from within.
Starting with Mathees, whose extraordinary energy, generosity and habit of breaking out dance moves in any setting, drove the packing line for its first five years.
And then there came Hema. After starting on the packing line, Hema’s talent for working with people was clearly evident.
Early on I remember Nola half-joking that one day Hema would be doing her job.
Visitors to the Fair Food warehouse began to notice how quietly the packing team worked – people knew their roles, there was no need to shout.
Gradually Nola and Jesse began pushing more and more responsibility onto a group of leading hands and supervisors – the more they threw at them the more they stood up.
Then came the week of the first COVID lockdown. All hell broke loose.
Coles and Woolworth’s delivery services melted down and closed. Thousands signed up and Fair Food was hit with a tsunami of orders.
Under extreme pressure for that first week the team put in 12 hour days as sales more than tripled.
By the second week they were adapting and absorbing the new numbers. By the third it was a new normal and calm had returned.
Toward the end of lockdown Nola took a break to move house.
On the phone in late June we spoke about her goals for the new financial year.
Nola said that what she’d just seen her team do over lockdown made her feel like she’d completed what she’d come back to do.
She didn’t know what she was going to do, but she felt like it was time to leave.
A couple of weeks later at CERES 10th birthday each member of the packing line spoke about how they came to Fair Food and what it meant to them.
Person after person talked about their need for a job, their pride in being a part of such a tight knit team and how this workplace embraced people unlike any other they had been a part of.
As everyone shared and as each story was received the project Nola had begun eight years earlier was being revealed for all to see.
After tying up a few special projects Nola Pollard is heading to her new home on the Mornington Peninsula to begin work connecting therapy dogs with the elderly.
Hema Gurung, who started as a packer at Fair Food seven years ago after migrating from Nepal, is now fulfilling Nola’s prediction and will take over her role as Production Manager.
Have a safe week