What Makes Your Company’s Culture Unique?

Written by Formstack on December 9, 2010

Posted in Formstack Updates

Does your company have annual soapbox derby races in your parking lot? Do you offer unlimited vacation time? Do you employ a full time cat and a part time dog? They may sound a bit off the wall, but these are all responses we received in a recent survey asking business owners and employees to describe what makes their company’s culture unique.

Some of the answers were interesting to say the least, but there were certainly some recurring themes among the responses.

1) A Fun Environment

I think the folks at Roundpeg, a marketing firm focused on small businesses, were whispering answers to each other while taking the survey. When asked to define their company’s culture, they all answered “fun” as their first descriptive word.

I’d love to say there aren’t any rules that say you can’t have fun at work, but I personally know people that have been chastised by their employer simply for laughing with their coworkers. That’s a prime example of a company that just doesn’t get it. When you’re policing conversations, you’re doing something very, very wrong. By not allowing occasional chitchat and camaraderie among coworkers, a company’s culture is stifled from the get go.

A company that does “get it”, is BatchBlue Software in Providence, Rhode Island. Co-Founder and Communications Director, Michelle Riggen-Ransom said, “We work very closely together. I think this makes for a great deal of engagement at both the personal and professional level: we all care a lot about what happens with the company and what’s going on with each others’ lives. We have a lot of fun, laugh all the time and eat an enormous amount of donut cake, our celebratory confection of choice.”

2) Dedication to The Company

Successful businesses have employees that are dedicated to their own individual goals and those of the entire company. A lot of that dedication is built through company culture – cultivating an environment where people love what they do and share the company’s vision. If you encourage and reward success, your staff will be dedicated to achieving it.

Employees from One Click Internet Ventures, described their atmosphere as, “Casual, comfortable and friendly – where expectations are high and employees work hard to meet goals. Everyone is really on-board, dedicated, and working towards a common goal.”

3) Flexible Schedules

It’s important to let employees strike a healthy balance between their work lives and personal lives. Flexibility is key to that balance. Topher Overstreet, President and Founder of xiik, gives his employees unlimited vacation time. “The reasonable workdays and unlimited vacation policy give people time to spend with their families and to have an active life outside of work. We are good at pulling together when it’s necessary to pull late-nighters or hit tough deadlines.”

Flexibility doesn’t mean less productivity. Allowing an employee that isn’t an early riser to work a slightly later schedule can make a big difference in their productivity and overall happiness in the workplace. Michelle at BatchBlue said, “Integrating work with life’s other priorities (be they family, music, hobbies) means a happier, more productive staff. We have very flexible work hours to allow for all the other stuff going on in our lives. For example, many of us work around school pick-up times so we are off-line in the afternoon but back on for a few hours at night.”

4) Treat Your Employees as You Would Your Customers

A company that truly exemplifies this philosophy is Freshbooks based out of Toronto. They’re known for having some of the best customer support around. Sunir Shah, Chief Handshaker (yes, that is his official title) said, “We understand that how we treat our employees is how they will treat our customers. So, we also work very hard to ensure that our employees are doing the things they love to do. We hire people who want to be here, and then once they’re in, anyone can do any project they want to lead.”

You Can’t Manufacture Culture

I once had a manager whose idea for improving company culture was implementing “silly hat day.” Really? Is a silly hat going to make me more productive or excited to come into work? It actually had quite the opposite effect. I worked in a very formal corporate environment with straight-laced executives. We didn’t even have casual Fridays! Worst of all, she only wanted our department of three people to participate without mentioning anything to others in the company, including senior management. Needless to say, my coworker and I “forgot” to wear our hats that day.

There were a lot of similarities between that company and Initech from Office Space – clueless managers that thought having something like Hawaiian Shirt day would get people excited. The reality is that you can’t manufacture culture at the leadership level and force it down the throats of your employees. You can do things like providing flexible schedules, casual dress codes and even picking up the occasional lunch tab. This results in a satisfied staff which in turns leads to a fun and relaxed culture.

Chelsea Liechty, an Account Manager with Centro, said, “We probably get breakfast provided on average two days a week, same with lunch. We have about two planned happy hours/parties a month to give everyone a chance to socialize with each other outside of work.” It’s those little things you do that make your employees happy and that’s important because they’re the ones shaping your culture. Sometimes all it takes is a box of donuts in the break room or a  big burrito from Qdoba.

Life at Formstack

We have a lot of fun here at Formstack. Whether it’s challenging each other in ping pong, watching The Office reruns together during our lunch breaks, or going out for a day of putt-putt – those activities bring us closer together and lead to open communication and teamwork.

We’re trusted and empowered to do our jobs, to set personal and professional goals and are rewarded for good work. The environment here fosters success. In fact, as I’m writing this post, I just learned that we were voted as one of the Best Web Apps of 2010. That’s a huge honor and is a reflection of the dedication our employees have to providing the best product and service possible to our customers.

We had a new CEO come on board earlier this year, but our culture has remained consistent. Chris didn’t try to come in and make big changes to our existing culture. The transition was seamless because he took the time to observe, listen and understand the culture that was already in place. He has incorporated a few new ideas that have lead to increased communication and have brought us even closer. Check out the video below we made for his birthday and you’ll see how. Enjoy!

What makes your company’s culture unique? Share it with us in the comments section below!