Uber is one of the world’s most highly valued private companies, but it lacked something that money can’t buy — a positive workplace culture. When Uber’s CEO Travis Kalanick stepped down recently, news coverage cited a toxic work culture, not only within Uber, but throughout Silicon Valley, too.
For startups, small businesses and companies of all sizes, creating an office environment that allows your team to thrive is essential. Despite the importance of workplace culture though, there’s no set of steps that all companies can follow to create the optimum workplace. That’s because offices are ecosystems driven by variables like the founders’ personalities, office design and ethos. Through trial and error I’ve found that there are ways to positively influence office culture.
Here are five techniques that have made my company, GlassView, a place where workers can thrive:
1. Get in tune with the company morale. Most large companies realize that morale is important yet they only survey their employees every year or two. One exception is heavy equipment manufacturer John Deere, which checks in with its employees every two weeks. That’s more accurate since morale and motivation tend to wax and wane. More frequent measurement gives you a more consistent view. For small- to mid-size companies, this is an easier task since bosses can practice management by walking around. I found this approach works best at GlassView where there’s no need for formal surveys about morale because I can glean a lot by having frequent conversations with colleagues.
2. Get everyone out of the office. I’m a big fan of off-site functions. We have held some recently in London and Texas. Office hierarchies disappear and employees can showcase talents and expertise that would remain hidden in an office environment. Offsite activities also prompt employees to interact with others who they might not cross paths with during their typical workday. A software engineer and a salesperson might not have the opportunity to regularly interact, but exposing each to the other’s viewpoints will make them more creative and prompt them to make better decisions and breakthrough innovations.
3. Share the spotlight. When I first started running GlassView, I followed an old-school top-down management style. I ran all the meetings and thought my role as boss was to push my ideas and make sure they came to fruition. But one day I realized that this approach eliminated workers’ sense of urgency about their jobs, which is the key to job satisfaction. Chastened, I began letting others run meetings and wound up delegating more and more tasks. This had a remarkable effect on employee morale since workers now had more of a sense of ownership about their jobs. This is truly a case where doing less (as a manager) is more.
4. Offering even small perks can have a big impact. There are other ways to make the office more accommodating ranging from offering healthy snacks to promoting wellness via yoga and meditation sessions. In an economy with near-full employment and in a segment (tech) in which talented employees have their choice of where to work, I find that even small steps are worth the effort, both in a business sense and in a philosophical sense.
5. Do more than make money. Millennials tend to want to work at companies that they feel are making the world a better place. At GlassView, about 15% of our media is pro bono, like a bike helmet awareness campaign for the city of Fort Worth (Texas) and a land preservation campaign for St. Barth. We don’t do this work to attract Millennials — we do it because we care about these issues — but we’ve noticed that Millennials like to be associated with a company that has a sense of purpose about what it’s contributing to the world.
Most of us need to work because we need the money, but we often don’t realize that our emotional need to make a difference can be even more powerful than our material needs. Ideally, an office environment should be a space where workers feel like their work is challenging and they have space to grow.