August 11, 2020
Have you heard this joke? One fish asks another: “How’s the water?” The other fish replies: “What the hell is water?”
This is sometimes the case with our work culture. Caught up in day-to-day task management, and doing our best to drive positive change, we tend to forget that work culture surrounds us eight hours a day (sometimes more), five days a week (at least). Even if your company doesn’t actively create the work culture, it is there.
What’s work culture anyway? It is the ambiance of every meeting and every small-talk in the kitchen. It is expressed in the beliefs, thought processes, and attitudes of your co-workers. It is the way the managers communicate and recognize good work. It’s the glue that joins teams together and that makes you want to stay with a company for better and worse.
And Anthony Reo, a co-founder of Bunch.ai, defines culture this way:
The most cited definition of culture nowadays calls it the line between what you will accept and what you won’t. The question usually asked is “What would you fire someone for and keep someone for?”
There’s also a dark side to culture. If done wrong, it may be the force that throws new employees out of the company’s orbit after just a few months, and that makes you cringe at the very thought of going to work the next morning.
It’s obvious that a positive culture raises morale and productivity. Cultivating it in the workplace is a long process that needs care and attention. Cultivating it remotely is… Something new and we’re all learning to do it properly.
We’d like to speed this process up for ourselves and other companies alike, so we’re sharing our journey.
The first thing you need to know is what values your culture promotes. This will help you prioritize and choose the best tools and processes to facilitate work culture.
In our case, it’s a long-term growth culture. One of the underlying desires in Monterail is to build organizational longevity through relationships — with our clients and our teammates. Monterail evolves to make space for the growth of those two fundamental building blocks. On one hand, this means giving our employees the opportunity to evolve, on the other — having the best experts possible so our clients can trust us.
We also make sure to create an environment where it’s easy to recognize good work done by a teammate. Until recently, we’ve used a platform that allows people to grant a small money bonus for someone who has put extraordinary effort into their work. We found out that it promoted teamwork and engagement and now we’re moving to a platform that will allow us to do even more in this area. To support this practice even further, we decided to switch to the Cooleaf platform which has more recognition options and is also developed by Monterail, so we have the opportunity to look at our code with fresh eyes. Talk about win-win, right?
In short, we want to create a flexible and supportive environment while ensuring the best quality of work on our clients’ projects. For some time now, this means transitioning to a remote paradigm of working. Before the pandemic outbreak, more and more people wanted the flexibility that remoteness grants and we saw no reason not to comply. Our experience showed that not only did remote work not stifle productivity, but in some cases it even increased it. With this in mind, we created a Remote Work Handbook before the lockdown happened.
Remote work was our strategic goal, and we had the right processes and tools in place. However, we wanted to transition to this type of work smoothly and because of the lockdown, we had to leap into 100% of “Zooming” and “Slacking”.
The office was a big part of our culture. A lot of grass-roots initiatives took place there. Board-game meetings, chillout sessions, dev talks, eco-related activities, foosball playoffs, Xbox matches, movie nights, pizza Fridays, and much more. With the lockdown, we lost the opportunity to connect in a shared physical space.
We do our best to offset this inconvenience by creating virtual spaces. We’ve created #remote-kitchen Slack and Zoom channels, sometimes we watch movies together, we try to meet online for exercise and board game sessions. Nothing could save pizza Fridays, so instead of buying pizzas, we decided to support the hospitals.
Our People Team makes an extra effort to ensure that everyone is comfortable working remotely and has everything they need. Shortly after our office shut down and before the government issued an official requirement for lockdown, our Office team took extra hours one evening to deliver office chairs and equipment to those who needed them.
Mastering the logistics of chair transportation around Wrocław.
With the economic slowdown that followed the outbreak, some of our clients had to pull back their investment in software development. We understand that and do our best to figure out the best ways of tackling this challenge. Everyone in Monterail has the opportunity to suggest a new tactic for creating revenue, and they can be sure that our management will consider the suggestion thoroughly.
To support our values and office culture, we’re leveraging the aforementioned Cooleaf. Strengthening and building relationships in the virtual space requires some creative approaches, so we’re creating challenges like “show us your pet” or “tell us about a new activity you picked up due to the lockdown”. Small events like these go a long way in teambuilding and reminding people that they can also have fun at work (which inspires creativity).
All in all, building a positive work culture proves to be important. All of us understand the situation and adapt without complaining. The approach of the leaders plays a big role in building work culture. In our case, we can count on the managers to give us regular, fully transparent, no-fluff, but compassionate updates about the current situation and next steps. We can also ask them any questions we want, safe in the knowledge that they will answer.
We’re also tightening the relationship between HR partners, mentors, and mentees. We encourage increased communication via text messages and video calls, even in minor matters. It’s crucial for us to keep the community spirit alive and growing. As our experience shows, small things like the ability to talk about anything with anyone really help.