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4 Ways to Improve Company Culture That Won't Cost a Single Cent

January 26, 2023 |
Erin Martin |
15 Minute Read

Over the years, we've seen businesses introduce various initiatives to bring their teams together. Early on, we re-defined office spaces as a place for collaboration. Along with that came a variety of kitschy ideas to get people socializing and enjoying their work: table tennis, video games—anything that was considered "fun" was purchased to keep employees happy.

Looking back, it's funny to ask ourselves, "Did we really think this was going to improve our culture?" We can all agree that it got people up out of their desks and talking to eachother, but it didn't align with the key values and beliefs of the company—which are crucial in shaping culture.

Fast-forward to the present. As the co-founder of a 30-person+ agency, I’ve learned from my own experience that there are four simple yet effective ways to boost company culture. The best part is, these methods don't cost a cent, but have had a tremendous impact on our business—and we have data to prove it. Our employees have told us how much these practices have meant to them and they can see the cultural difference.

#1 - Say thank you and mean it

Yep. That’s it.

Before you roll your eyes and move on from this article because I’m Mom-ing you, think about how often you really are thanking everyone and amp it up. Of course, you say "thank you" when you conclude a Townhall speech, sign off on a company-wide email, or end a Zoom call, but do you actively do it in your day-to-day life on a micro-level?

I started saying "thank you" to everyone in the office at the end of the day before I left. Not just a quick, general "thank you," but before I would leave, I would do a tour through the office to say goodbye to everyone and thank them for the day. Every. Single. Day. If someone did something special that day or overcame a challenge, I acknowledged it.

We also make a point of thanking each other for even the simplest things like tidying the kitchen, refilling/restocking the coffee pods, or helping clients navigate the office. If the team pitches in and helps, we show our appreciation.

This isn't about asking your employees to clean up the boardroom or wash the dishes, it's about recognizing and praising the helpful behaviors that align with your company culture. We should give some lovin’ whenever we can.

And it works. The impact of saying “thank you” at the end of the day has been the most consistent positive feedback we’ve received from employees responding to our company surveys.

Here’s what happened with just a few “thank yous”:

  1. Our teammates felt good about being recognized for their real, day-to-day wins. People need reassurance that what they're doing is good and correct.

  2. The increase in praise and recognition in front of their peers led to a boost in confidence and morale. Let's face it, acknowledgement is a corporate love language, but it doesn't need to feel fake or off-putting to people who are shy if it's done authentically.

  3. Everyone felt equally valuable and important to the team. As the business leader, I spend most of my time talking to the management team, but connecting with everyone is important. Our employees add just as much value to the organization, and they deserve every "thank you" they receive. We're one big symbiotic snow globe.

#2 - Do the dishes

If you want to instill a culture of helping each other, then you have to model it. Practice what you preach, right!?

If you aren't willing to jump in and tidy up the kitchen or do some extra dishes for the team, don't be surprised when your team isn't quick to jump in and help a fellow colleague on a project. Everything is looked at as a reflection of our values and if you believe being in a leadership position means you're "too busy" or "too important" for mundane tasks, then your employees will model that. The business becomes more about ruling over each other than playing an integral role at all levels. Remember, we’re symbiotic-ing over here!

Other areas to jump in:

  • Helping any custodial or cleaning staff with doors, an extra hand, or a convo!
  • Do the shitty part of the project. I want them to learn and build confidence with me, so I am often the one cutting assets or formatting presentations.
  • Making coffee.

There’s something special when “the boss” makes you a cup of coffee—it’s a small gesture that indicates that everyone has equal value. Don’t get me wrong, it’s important to be a strong leader and find balance between helping and coddling, and equally important to maintain authority for tough conversations.

The beauty of doing the grunt work every-so-often is it manifests when it’s time to provide feedback and coaching to your team. The conversation doesn’t come from the top-down as you can point to your own experience and behaviour to provide the necessary feedback to keep moving forward.

#3 - Get out of email and into DMs and chats

Okay, I said culture doesn’t cost a cent but investing in a communication tool like Slack is totally worth it.

Don't be an outdated dinosaur and conduct all internal communication through your email account, and don't be a formal foo-foo and have communication only in your project management software. The magic is in using platforms like Slack or Teams—a place to be connected and be yourself throughout the day.

Slack houses a lot of business conversations and efficiencies but it also brings us all together every day. If you’re working remotely, logging onto Slack instantly connects you to your whole team. In a digital workforce, being connected is one of the most important aspects in keeping our company culture alive. And, it does so much to humanize management. The more you share your personality, the more the team shares theirs, which gives you the opportunity to connect with your team on a personal level.

We use it to share cool shit we saw on the weekend; to kindly poke fun at someone for something funny that happened; to listen to the same playlists and to post memes of exactly how we’re feeling. Slack is the best way to casually connect, and casually connecting is the most important thing in our team collaboration. Feeling comfortable and secure is the only way to get creative or complex work done well.

A few features we love in Slack:

  • /giphy is everything you need to communicate your truest feelings and induce lolz.
  • Turning employees into emojis. It’s honestly like a right of passage here.
  • The “Random” channel and “General” channel to keep us all connected, like people sharing if they’re leaving for lunch, etc. (which I have never asked for…hahaha!)

#4 – Get the whole group together regularly

We adopt some good practices from the Agile methodology and start every day with an all-hands-on-deck meeting. Everyone joins our 9:30 am meeting to kick off the day with a round-table discussion of what we're working on.

I'll be the first to admit that it can be cumbersome if you don't cultivate it. At one point, we were taking 30-40 minutes to complete updates from all employees, but now we're efficient at 15, sometimes 20 minutes long for all 30 of us. With our group now in a hybrid work structure, a quick face-to-face with everyone just reinforces creating a culture of working together.

We take a couple of minutes to discuss work-related topics and then a quick update from each person, organized by departments to create accountability and ensure our scheduling is accurate.

The repetitive exercise is easy-to-do and is a place to reinforce the cultural values of the company:

  • Team leads, or even peers, use this time to give a shout-out to team members that are crushing it.
  • It’s a chance for management to show their appreciation.
  • It’s a place to allow immediate feedback/questions for any company-wide notes shared on the call (always better than a company-wide email).
  • Everyone is equal—all levels share their priorities for the day.

Morning stand-up is a place where we have seen the most laughs, excitement, and insight into each team member. From celebrating a win from our favourite sports teams to gushing over trash TV (ahem, Housewives), it’s fun to participate and again, create that collaborative environment without losing sight of clients and project responsibilities.

At the end of the day, improving company culture doesn't have to be expensive or complicated. I’ve seen firsthand how these methods can improve morale, boost confidence, and make people feel valued and appreciated every single day. After all, it costs nothing to create a happy and successful symbiotic lil’ snow globe.

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