There's a reason water coolers are the iconic meeting place for employees to air their grievances: in a workplace where there's nowhere else for staffers to break from the daily grind and let off steam, chances are high they'll have a lot of gripes to share—and that they spend more time stewing at their desks than working.
Designing a thoughtful office culture is one of the most important frameworks to devise when building up or revamping a company. The right tone and environment can improve employee productivity and happiness tenfold. The wrong one can sabotage your goals.
The biggest mistake a workplace leader can make with office culture is failing to devise one at all. How do you know if your office culture is helping, or hurting, your employees, and as a result your bottom line? See how your office stacks up against these four red flags that can make or break your company.
A cohesive office culture starts at the top and is built with intention. Facebook's founder projects a laid-back vibe, from his signature hooded sweatshirts to his low-key rollouts of new features and updates. That sets the tone for his $200 billion company, where he fields weekly Q and A sessions from his staff, loads up the perks, and courts a young team that closely mirrors his target market, positioning Facebook as especially plugged in to their wants and needs.
On the flipside, an office culture at odds with the bosse's personality won't ring true. Don't try to host weekly bike trips if you can't pedal a block without training wheels. Your company is a reflection of your mission and your passion for it: let that be the starting point that unifies your team, and extend the perks and shared goals from there.
"The best cure for a culture killer is prevention, and that starts with leadership," says John Froman, former COO of Circuit City and today the CEO of Vapor4Life, a pioneer in the e-cigarette craze.
That strict dress code or early start time may seem like an easy way to ratchet up professionalism in your workplace, but is there a good reason for it? Strict requirements that work in a law office may erode the work ethic at a hip tech startup. Make sure to back up your rules with reason.
At Culture Studio, a T-shirt design and printing company, you'd better believe there's no place for ties. Employees are encouraged to dress down in their brand's merchandise or their competitors'.
"We want our employees to intimately understand our product," says Rich Santo, Culture Studio's president and head designer. "We hope that our customers will live in our T-shirts: putting ourselves in their shoes every day is part of an active effort to understand how best to serve them."
Google-level perks like team-building events, free food, and open rec rooms aren't just for show or to wow would-be recruits: they build loyalty, motivate creativity and keep your workers happy and on-task.
A recent survey of productivity studies by the Atlantic backs up what the new guard of CEOs already knows: frequent breaks, work-day flexibility, and teamwork on projects that don't top the corporate to-do list make for better, happier employees.
Foosball tables won't be at home in a high-powered corporate office, but that doesn't mean leadership can abandon culture development there, either. High-performing people tend to be goal-oriented over-achievers; capitalize on that with team-building activities, contests, and incentives for superlative work. Think critically about the ideal employee for your team, what makes the tick, and how you can support them, within and outside of their role in the company's goals.
Setting the tone for your workplace starts with each hire, at every level in the company. At digital marketing firm Mabbly, every hiring decision is made with the company's vision in mind: a hip, young team of approachable guides that demystify the murky world of PR in an internet age.
CRO Vlad Moldaskiy says it is vital that "every piece in the Mabbly puzzle fits our culture vision," even low-level staffers who may never interact with a customer. "When we're all on the same page, we can tackle our objectives as a unified force," Moldaskiy says. "Mabbly's mission and vision should be a part of every team member's DNA."
BarkBox doesn't require its employees to own dogs or to bring them into the office, but you'd better believe the type of passionate pet parents they want at the helm of their delivery service are people who would leap at that opportunity. Employees reported that at first working alongside their pooches was occasionally distracting, but later they found they did better quality work, and more of it, by skipping trips home to walk and feed their dogs and feeling as fulfilled in the workplace as they do in their personal lives.
Office culture doesn't just happen—it is carefully forged, and can make or break a company. A well-oiled corporate machine should function in equal parts like a sports team and a family: a welcoming environment that supports individual initiative that advances overall goals.
Failure to value a well-placed ping pong table or snack bar's role in fostering that ideal environment is a more than a cultural leadership faux pas—it's a major disadvantage. Trust that your competitors know this and value perfecting your office culture accordingly.
—Barry S. Saltzman is CEO of Saltzman Enterprise Group and has more than 30 years of executive experience in both public and private global companies. During Barry’s career he led multi-million dollar turnarounds, quadrupled revenue growth, and helmed global 100 companies in the industries of IT services and software distribution. He also speaks on business strategy and is a frequent guest expert, lending his entrepreneurial acumen to audiences of aspiring business leaders.