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This Web Development Shop’s Passion Project: Injecting Your Company Culture With Gratitude

“It’s a movement toward gratitude in the workplace,” says HappyFunCorp CEO Ben Schippers.

This Web Development Shop’s Passion Project: Injecting Your Company Culture With Gratitude
[Photo: Flickr user David Wall]

HappyFunCorp is a website development shop based in Dumbo, Brooklyn, but its 50+ employees are distributed across half a dozen time zones. That kind of distance can be a serious challenge for a company’s culture.

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But it isn’t just distance that can mess up office culture: Let’s be honest, it can be easier to be critical than to be positive. To combat these challenges, HappyFunCorp built Shoutouts, a lightweight company feedback platform that encourages workers to compliment each other. While building the tool, the question for HappyFunCorp became ‘How do we prompt you to share some love?’ says HappyFunCorp cofounder Ben Schippers.


Shoutouts is a simple public marquee that displays compliments between people within the company–which ideally becomes a positive feedback loop as complimenting becomes normalized in the workplace. Shoutouts then sets up a daily email roundup that summarizes the day’s compliments and gently nudges those who haven’t complimented anyone in a while. While Shoutouts can work as a standalone software platform, it’s designed to be stitched into a third-party program that employees are already using–like Slack–where compliments display in a widget.

Most of Shoutouts’ several months of testing has been within HappyFunCorp’s offices or based on beta-customer feedback. The product is young, and HappyFunCorp keeps tinkering to find the right balance of encouraging re-engagement without scaring off users. It was tempting to gamify the whole thing and publicly recognize Shoutout compliments with badges, but that could just turn into a competition for “most benevolent” points, says HappyFunCorp engineer Aaron Brocken. Instead of highlighting the people who have given the fewest compliments–in effect, creating a loser board–Shoutouts emails people who have not given many compliments recently and “reminds them that, hey, this other person is doing rad stuff every day,” says Brocken. Compliments do not have to be an event: People should feel that it is normal to tell someone that they’re doing a good job.

It takes effort to battle cynicism in the office–to be sincere in front of peers. There are growing pains when a company adopts Shoutouts and employees struggle to sincerely thank their coworkers.

“When people start using it at first, they use sarcasm as defensive posturing to avoid sounding cheesy or whatever. It’s a psychological thing that people just need to work through,” says HappyFunCorp cofounder Will Schenk.

With a few months of testing, HappyFunCorp has found that including everyone in a daily email roundup improved engagement, even if some workers sent fewer compliments than others. And like any app, increasing re-engagement has been a key goal: By request from their users, HappyFunCorp included the ability to thank someone for a Shoutout, which ends up creating micro-dialogues. This bring users back to the platform, where they are likely to send more Shoutouts.

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HappyFunCorp has started quietly shopping Shoutouts to several medium- and large-sized companies but the product has not yet been openly released. They are still tinkering, but HappyFunCorp needs to prove to companies that Shoutouts is an easy way to help raise office morale–one that workers will actually use. Yes, employees could send compliments over email, but nobody would know about it. Shoutouts reflects one-to-one gratitude back into the company’s larger orbit.

“People don’t express positivity, which is fucked up, and when things are good, they don’t say anything,” says Schenk. “Shoutouts works because you are part of it. You can’t do it anonymously.”

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