Growing companies face a common challenge: knowing where to invest their limited resources. No business has an infinite budget; and with so many deserving options, it’s difficult for leaders to know which areas to invest in.
“Should we prioritize training or new software? Maybe budget more for AI? Or should we add a new position?” — questions like these can keep a business owner up at night.
For us, there is one area that we’ve never regretted dedicating resources to. If your thinking, “SNACKS!” you’re half right. It’s our company culture.
Culture Is a Garden
Cultivating any aspect of your business requires time, resources, and people to own it. Culture is no different; there’s no garden without a gardener. Companies don’t accidentally become positive environments where every employee is engaged, thriving, and happy.
Sure, we could boost short-term profits by increasing everyone’s net utilization and removing so called “unnecessary extras.” But the long-term costs of that change would rapidly erode any short-term gains. Within 6 months we’d start to see employee satisfaction drop and productivity dip along with it. We would experience higher turn-over and incur the cost of finding and hiring new people.
The Post-Pandemic Double-Down and the Work-From-Anywhere Shift
(Also, that’s a lot of hyphens 😂)
In the last two years, the methods we’ve used to nurture our culture have changed, but our emphasis on it has only increased. A little back story… until March of 2020, Mostly Serious operated entirely out of its Springfield, Missouri location. When we opened our office again 18 months later, we had re-launched ourselves as something new—a work-from-anywhere company who also has an office (the order there is important).
Rather than succumbing to remote work as inevitable, we leaned in to it, chose it, and made it our own. Seeing remote work as an opportunity and embracing the change has made all the difference.
Early into the forced experiment of COVID-19 we started designing a work-from-anywhere framework that would closely align with our in-person experience. At the time, research showed that it was much harder to build co-worker relationships in a virtual environment, especially across departments, so we felt it was essential that our WFA plan address this directly.
Specifically, we had to create new opportunities for "community collisions" — the spontaneous interactions between team members where folks talk about random things, learn in non-structured ways, and strengthen "weak ties." These moments happen often in in-person settings, and they tend to have a significant effect on, broadly, what we think of as “culture.” So, a key question for us while developing our WFA framework was, how do we get people to “bump into each other?”
We know now that in-person and remote experiences will be different, and our best hope is to ensure quality rather than similarity. This has informed our more recent iterations.
Like all things at Mostly Serious, our work-from-anywhere approach has been an evolution. We design a framework to shape the culture and the culture shapes the framework in return.
— Spencer Harris, President
What Work Looks Like Here
Let’s look at the how our emphasis on culture in a work-from-anywhere environment plays out day-day. For the purposes of this article we’ll discuss three areas:
- Policies and Processes: the framework to support work from anywhere
- Communication Rhythms: the ways we keep everyone connected
- Unique Touches: the special something, the extra oomph, the way we go beyond what’s expected
Policies and Processes
Work-From-Anywhere means our policies, systems, and tools are designed to support all employees equally, regardless of where they choose to work: from the office, from home and office, or from another state. Practically, that means:
- Every employee is encouraged to set up a dedicated work space, whether it’s their bay in the office, or their desk at home. We even provide every employee with a stipend to set up a home office when they start, regardless of where they live.
- Working hours are flexible. Meeting times are firm, and some time-zone overlap is required, but most work hours can be performed when it’s best for the employee.
- Every meeting is conducted over Zoom, even for attendees located in our central office. Our in-office spaces are equipped with microphones, cameras, displays, etc. to make this happen. (Roll the vid everybody.)
- Asynchronous communication is preferred. For example, a to-do task in Asana is preferred over a direct message in Slack.
- Whiteboard notes are converted and shared in documents. Decisions, action items, and relevant information are written down and shared.
- However, impromptu meetings are still encouraged whenever they make sense. There are many contexts where it’s good to hash things out together, like between a designer and developer. We encourage employees to initiate these impromptu moments in Slack.
- If an employee needs uninterrupted focus time, they let their coworkers know they are going dark.
- Company information is shared publicly in a place all employees can access. (It’s in a Notion document, and not in a filing cabinet.)
- Time away from work should be guarded.
- We ask employees to set healthy boundaries for work-life balance at home.
Did you know? Our full policies and procedures are posted on our website so they are visible to prospects and employees alike. Check them out here!
Every employee has several regular touch points to interact with their team. To help remote employees not feel isolated, we stagger their weekly meetings so that they typically don’t go a full a day without seeing and interacting with their coworkers. These include regular:
- Department-wide meetings
- Team-wide meetings
- One-on-ones with their manager
Rather than a daily standup, we bookend our team meetings on Monday morning and Friday morning. The meetings are structured so that each person will contribute something they’re excited about or consider a win for the week. Think of as “positivity bookends.”
Unique Touches — Going Beyond the Expected
“We ask why. We have fun. We do better.“ This tagline isn’t just a catchy slogan for us. It’s a principle we actively work on. Exceptional culture can only happen if we’re going beyond expectations—if we’re doing the extra things that make us who we are.
Enter the Fun Committee
It’s true, we have an internal team dedicated to having fun. They are the ones who do the work that makes everyone feel valued and connected, including:
- Celebrating birthdays and work-a-versaries
- Planning team-wide events that support virtual participation (Mario Kart anyone?)
- Random treats and lunches - with food delivered to remote teammates too!
- Welcoming new employees with a special meet and greet
- Keeping our Slack workspace lively with silly polls, food and movie threads, and non-work convos
- Organizing our annual House Cup challenge
- And running our highly competitive office bingo
Not Your Average Perks
In addition to basic benefits, there are few areas we work hard to go above and beyond in.
- Generous parental leave (for both new moms AND new dads)
- Budgets for conferences and training
- Milestone rewards at 1 year, 3 years, 5 years, and 10 years (you get a cool pin too!)
- And a planned transition bonus
At the time of writing, there was an ironic story about Zoom asking employees to return to office. Yes, we give a wink and a chuckle reading the headline, but we get it too. As much as we love being work-from-anywhere, and wouldn’t want to go back, we acknowledge that working remote isn’t going to offer the exact same experience as being in office. We sure do our darndest to make the experience as close as we can. But there are some things a home office will never have (ex. the margarita machine).
With that in mind, at least once a year we gather the entire team for in-person planning and fun. It constitutes a significant part of our culture budget, but it’s worth every penny.
So, how are we doing at it?
From the feedback we’ve gotten, the investment in culture is paying off.
- Our quarterly employee satisfaction surveys are highly positive.
- When we experience turn over, our exit interviews are positive, and folks talk about how much they will miss aspects of our culture.
- We get requests from applicants who say, “I don’t know if I’m qualified, but I really want to work here!”
- Some past employees have returned as clients or freelance contractors.
All of those indicators have been encouraging, and make us feel that we’re on the right track.
Tend the Garden
When your employees feel valued, connected, autonomous, and purposeful, they will produce output that you never imagined possible. Yes, you’ll attract talent and improve retention; and sure, it will be good for business. But the real payoff comes when you look in the rear view mirror and find that you’re working for a company you love.
Don’t let your company culture be an unkempt garden made up of what you passively allow. Invest in it. Dedicate resources to it. Assign trusted employees to own and nurture it. Do the things that make you more than average. And don’t be afraid to experiment and have fun.