When many think about agency culture, they think: ping pong tables, beer, some guy carrying a longboard, and other miscellaneous hip decor. Well, we do have beer and awesome decor. As cool as having all of those things is, it doesn’t keep people employed at a company. When I started with Happy Cog, in June 2016, it was clear to me that having the appearance of a fun culture did not equal a good culture. Good culture is better. Happy Cog focuses on working hard and producing great projects for good people. We recently ditched the office, moved to a coworking space at WeWork, and officially became distributed. Staff rotate in and out of our office space throughout the week, with the bulk of the team being present on Tuesdays. It’s typically pretty quiet around here. So without people around, how does Happy Cog maintain its culture in the distributed workplace?
Healthy Work-Life Balance
The ability to work remotely has really paved the way to ahealthy work-life balance. A happy, relaxed team leads to a productive work environment. Having the flexibility to work remotely has given our team a lot of freedom in our week. We no longer have to live in fear of missing a package delivery, dealing with elusive Comcast technicians who may or may not show up between 7am-6pm, or getting to a doctor’s appointment on time.
Because of our distributed work policy I had an opportunity to spend more time with my family during the holidays without tapping into my PTO. Our culture allows us to be people as well as employees.
We do our best to do outings as a team, but when your team is distributed this can be tough. There is one thing that is going strong, and that is Taco Tuesday. (We alternate with Pizza Tuesday, but it doesn’t have the same ring to it.) We are fortunate that most of the team isn’t far from our WeWork space in Philadelphia. Company outings should never feel like an extension of work. Taco Tuesday is a low pressure weekly tradition. If you can’t make it, no problem, there’s always next week. The lack of obligation to attend creates that transition from a lunch with colleagues to a lunch with friends. This is vital in building a great culture together. It’s a relaxing break early in the week when we’re able to do it.
I love Slack. It’s convenient, it’s user friendly, and you can add fun emojis and gifs to spice up a conversation. We rely on tools like Slack in a distributed workplace to close the physical gap and communicate with each other real time. A lot of times emails can get lost in translation or come off a bit harsh since there are missing verbal and nonverbal components that add context. Since Slack allows you to put those components back into the conversation, it opens up clearer, faster, more fun (“funner”) communications with your coworkers. Emojis add elements of personality to a conversation and can even be used to soften difficult conversations. The ability to brighten up conversations allows us to bond with one another when we wouldn’t otherwise have the chance.
After all, nothing says “let’s be friends!” like Party Parrots.
We use Zoom to video conference with each other and clients throughout the week. Zoom is a helpful tool for connecting with each other without worrying about who’s in the office. Even when we’re all in the office, we’re hidden behind screens. It’s nice to see everyone’s faces as often as possible. We have a status meeting twice a week where we can actually see each other, no matter where in the world we are. Status is great because it’s an opportunity to keep everyone in the loop about what’s going on in the company. It’s a very routine part of the week and we all benefit from touching base. Sometimes the meeting is just to say “there are no updates” and share some friendly conversation, but it’s worth getting together to make sure there are no other announcements or questions. Consistent communication is incredibly important to the culture of a distributed workplace.
The Right People, The Right Projects
A good company culture flourishes in the hands of its employees, whether or not the office is distributed. Our team is aligned on company goals, and we’re all actively contributing to reach those goals, as well as our own professional goals. We trust one another to get our work done, and hold one another accountable. It’s amazing what reliability and confidence in one another can do for your culture.
When you have the right people in place, you don’t need a ping pong table to create a warm environment. We aim to pursue projects that are engaging and we hope our team can feel enthusiastic about their role. I think a main component of our culture is producing work that we’re excited about. We are primarily behind screens every day, so it can be hard to detect what kind of energy staff have surrounding a new business prospect. Happy Cog encourages full communication and input regarding our work. When there is a prospect on the line, the team has an opportunity to weigh in. Employees feeling invested in what they do ultimately affects the success of the project, so it is important to us to make sure everyone is on board.
In a world that is growing more digital every day, working remotely will become even more common. How will your business stay cultured?