Emily Culligan from the OHSU Foundation: Embracing Change through Transparency

Emily Culligan from the OHSU Foundation on Embracing Change through Transparency


Emily Culligan

For the second episode of our Think Beyond Space | The PDX Workplace Insider podcast, host Blake St. Onge was joined by Emily Culligan, his childhood friend and Senior Director of Human Resources for the Oregon Health & Science University (OHSU) Foundation. Every year, thousands of donors contribute millions of dollars to support OHSU and Doernbecher Children’s Hospital. With more than $1.5 billion in assets, the OHSU foundation is one of the largest public university foundations in the Northwest. In the podcast episode Emily shared how the foundation found the challenges of 2020 to be an opportunity for deeper employee engagement as they plan for their team’s return to the office.


Continuing Her Roots at OHSU

Working at OHSU has deep meaning for Emily, as she is a 3rd generation OHSU employee. Her grandfather went to medical school at OHSU and Emily’s mother went to nursing school on the campus-both also taught at OHSU after their training.

With 110 employees the OHSU Foundation is separate from the OHSU Research Hospital, and the foundation’s work is critical to support OHSU’s mission to make Oregon a national leader in health and science innovation for the purpose of improving the health and well-being of Oregonians and beyond.


Leading with Flexibility for Employees & Sharing their Why

We all remember mid-March of 2020 as a turning point for our respective workforces due to the COVID pandemic. Emily recalled a late evening leadership call to discuss what they should do. They knew fast, transparent communication with employees would be critical to support their teams and they quickly made a decision to implement remote work.

Looking back on these past 14 months, Emily is proud that they have led with maximum flexibility for employees since that late night call early in 2020. Emily also shared one of their biggest learnings was not only being transparent about why decisions were made, but how decisions were made. Emily’s team incorporated a lot of employee feedback over the past year to identify the employee engagement activities that would be valuable to support their staff. They took that survey data and built fun engagement activities and new benefits based on what employees asked for, including weekly town halls to add an additional layer of transparency and as a forum for input of new policies and procedures.


Positioning for the Office of the Future

As they got deeper into 2020, the OHSU Foundation leadership team saw the success they were having working remotely. The feedback from employees was also very positive as they enjoyed the new flexibility. This prompted Emily’s team to pause the negotiation of extending their current office lease and ask, are we doing the right thing by staying in our current office?

Knowing that they wanted to incorporate much of the flexibility they had put in place over the last year, they decided to find a new office space that meets the needs of how they were planning to work going forward. They cut their footprint by a third, and even with the reduction in size their new office is designed for more open, community space. The foundation’s new office also incorporates hoteling and flex options.

Emily shared that though challenging, the pandemic has truly propelled the foundation forward- not only have they adjusted their business model, but also the way they work and it has made them a more progressive, modern employer.  Emily noted in the podcast episode, “every employee has different needs. For the employees that want to work in the office, we want to say ‘great we have a space for you.’ If an employee needs a more flexible work situation, we also want to tell them we support you and can provide the tools to make you successful.”


To listen to Emily’s episode and to future episodes, subscribe to Think Beyond Space | The PDX Workplace Insider Podcast on Apple, Spotify, Google Podcasts or wherever you listen to podcasts.