Tech culture has the reputation for long hours, intense competition, and little time for reflection.
But Asana, a workplace-productivity management company founded by former Facebookers and Googlers, couldn’t be further from this stereotype.
The company is built on the idea that mindfulness, clear communication, and compassion are all critical to long-term success. Asana has become known for its radically inclusive, positive work environment.
This approach has paid off. Asana received a rare perfect rating on Glassdoor and a spot on Glassdoor’s Top 10 Best Places to Work in 2017. The company was also named one of Entrepreneur magazine’s best workplace cultures of 2017.
For founders Dustin Moskovitz and Justin Rosenstein, this was the goal from the start. When the two former Facebook engineers sat down to build their new company in 2008, they drafted two things before anything else: Asana’s codebase and the company’s core values.
The values included things like healthy work-life balance, inclusiveness, embracing mindfulness and equanimity, taking responsibility, and always communicating openly and honestly.
But while countless startups dream of an open atmosphere full of collaboration, that type of environment is extremely challenging to implement. For too many businesses, culture becomes viewed as something that will form naturally with enough free lunches and ping-pong tables.
Moskovitz and Rosenstein quickly understood that if they were going to realize their vision for a better workplace, they would have to take a more active approach.
“We decided to treat culture as a product,” Rosenstein says.
He explained that instead of looking at culture as something that “just happens,” he and his cofounder realized that culture was actually something that needed to be carefully designed, tested, debugged, and iterated on, like any other product they released.
This means that representatives from all areas of the company meet regularly to reassess Asana’s values and design new ways to incorporate those values into every process at the company. Once a new process is “shipped,” an intense period of user feedback begins.
“We actively survey people anonymously, and during one-on-ones, we ask what’s working well and what isn’t working well. Based on that information, we go back to the company and say, here’s what we heard, and here’s what we’re doing to do about it,” says Rosenstein.
In fact, every quarter, the entire company takes a full week off from business to road map corporate goals for the future. Many of these goals are business-related, but culture-related reflection is heavily encouraged.
When problems are brought to the table, Rosenstein says that management is quick to address the issues. Asana even has a name for these issues–“culture bugs”–and it seeks to squash them as quickly as bugs in the codebase of any other product.
For instance, at one point the issue of “false empowerment” was raised. Asana is structured in a way to give many junior employees a great deal of ownership over decisions related to their projects. However, some younger employees felt that more senior employees were negating their decisions.
Asana restructured the way responsibility was scoped among teams in order to make sure that no junior employees felt falsely empowered (i.e., their decisions would no longer likely get overturned by a more senior manager).
Rosenstein says he recognizes that a large part of culture is also cultivating a diverse and open-minded workforce.
He feels that it’s important to make sure that employees are aware of their unconscious biases which, left untreated, can lead to breakdowns in effective communication. It’s for this reason that all Asana employees complete mindfulness training when they begin work, and the company offers several employee identity-resource groups focused on things like race and gender.
In 2015, Asana poached Sonja Gittens-Ottley from Facebook to serve as the company’s first head of diversity and inclusion, and the company has since established recruiting partnerships with Code2040, the Ola initiative, and DevColor, all organizations focused on getting more minorities into tech.
“I’m just such a hardcore feminist,” Rosenstein says. “I know that it’s not enough just to say it, but there’s a very strong, deep respect for all genders and races at Asana that in some ways is more subtle than any one particular process.”
In order to supercharge its welcoming, inclusive environment, Asana also offers many top-notch perks that have become a common feature of tech startup life.
Free meals and snacks are provided in multiple areas around the company, and Asana has its own in-house cook who prepares seasonally appropriate home-cooked organic meals twice a day.
All new employees are given $10,000 to set up their own customized workspace, and for those working toward their daily step goal, a row of treadmill desks is set up overlooking the San Francisco-headquartered company’s eighth-floor view. There is also a game area, squishy chairs to relax in, and in-house yoga sessions twice a week.
If you’re looking to grow personally or professionally, the company even offers access to a life coach.
“We have a culture of work hard, live well,” says Rosenstein, who credits Asana’s top-notch culture for enabling the company to grow, and to hire and retain top talent. “I felt like we needed to set an example. Asana’s whole mission is to enable teams to work together more easily. So we wanted to be the change that we want to see.
“Even if companies are just out there to make money, they should still invest in culture. Treating each other well, being respectful to each other, building a culture you actually want to live in, these are all things that make people happier, and in the end, more productive.
“Companies that are succeeding with a more mercenary model are succeeding in spite of it, not because of it.”
Taylor Lorenz is a freelance technology reporter based in Washington, D.C. Her work has appeared in Business Insider, Slate, Entrepreneur, and Inc.