Often the job of sustaining and advancing the culture of the office falls to those working in office management roles. When “culture” becomes one of the many tasks you need to juggle on a day-to-day basis it can feel overwhelming. When asked to do something to “build culture” you may be tempted to order some beer and wine, get a cheese plate, throw a “Office Happy Hour” reminder on the team calendar every few weeks, and call it a day. However, with some reflection and advance planning taking on office culture building can increase employee engagement and be a great way to grow your career. As the editor of All Hands, a publication about life at work from Managed by Q, I’ve gotten the chance to learn from office managers and culture experts about their strategies for building culture with minimal time and budgets. Here are five approaches that can help you strengthen company culture.
1. Company culture should be reflective of the company mission, vision, and values
Culture is not something you have, but something that you do. The culture building activities that you undertake should feel authentic to your particular company and be an extension of the company’s mission, vision, and values. Gillian Davis, of ustwo, explained, “Culture is fundamentally the behaviours that people are exhibiting and the values they are living by – not the ones on the wall but the ones that are actually rewarded.” Work with your colleagues to get clear on what those values are, and then use those to guide what activities you plan.
2. Culture building activities should be as inclusive as possible
When planning culture-building activities, pick activities that won’t isolate or exclude any of your team members and keep them optional so that no one feels forced to participate. For the ones who hesitate to participate, ask them what they’d like to see the team do together. Pay special attention to scheduling - are there working parents on your team who may need to leave earlier to pick up kids from school or child care? Others who work a late shift or have a standing, can’t-miss meeting on certain days? Be sure to take these into consideration when planning.
3. Schedule a regular time for your team to come together
Making dedicated time and space for your team to come together and interact as humans can do wonders for employee happiness and unity. When this time is on everybody’s calendar and all participate, just like their regular departmental meeting, you can create a positive group tradition. At TransferWise, Office Guru Aditi Ramesh created Fika time, a weekly, office-wide coffee break inspired by on a Swedish colleague’s tradition. And why not invite others to help you plan and spread out the team building glory (and responsibility)? Sara Lewis, Accounting and Office Manager at Idealist, invites colleagues to take a turn each week planning the refreshments for their company-wide Thursday afternoon tea.
4. Get out of the office on the cheap
Getting out of the office can be a great way to inspire cross-departmental creativity and communication. While any group outing requires a certain degree of logistics, you can keep it straightforward and low-budget and still have a great time. Try a picnic and lawn games in the park, a visit to a donation-based museum (you can most likely negotiate a great group rate and maybe even get a tour), or a day of volunteering to bond as a team without breaking the bank.
5. Consider making culture central to your career
If culture building activities are some of your favorite part of your job, as you grow in your career you might consider making culture your focus. Vanessa Shaw, founder of Human Side of Tech and producer of Culture Summit thinks that office managers, admins, and facilities staffers make great candidates for cultural roles. She says, “You have an important vantage point. You have eyes and ears on the organization when other people are heads-down and don’t know what’s happening in other departments. That cross-departmental view of the company is hugely valuable.”
Just like people, workplace culture is always changing and evolving. Embrace that flexibility and try out new ideas that can engage your team members and encourage different kinds of collaboration. To stay on top of ideas for building culture from top companies, as well as emerging trends and ideas in the world of work, visit All Hands and join our newsletter.
Eleanor Whitney is the Managing Editor at Managed by Q. She is a writer, musician, and community manager based in Brooklyn, New York. In 2013 Microcosm Publishing released her first book, Grow, a field guide for creatives to build satisfying companies and careers. She is currently working on her second book, a feminist memoir, to be published in 2018.
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