How + Why: Driving Office Culture Change

Rachel Taylor / November 7, 2017

With 25+ years of experience, Laura Tufts is an expert on community, culture and staff management. As a vice president at The Fearey Group, she focuses on continuously improving the office dynamic through communications trainings, staff feedback surveys and a head-on approach to igniting change. Laura firmly believes that a healthy office culture is not only beneficial for the agency, but also for its clients. She knows that people are at their best in an environment that genuinely fosters positivity, quality, determination and comradery.

What’s all the fuss about culture?

By Laura Tufts

Think about your office culture as its personality. Said personality develops over time and is a sum of all the people that work there and how they contribute to it. Culture is quite simply the way of life in the office, and in many ways, it contributes (or not) to healthy relationships within this space. A good environment will champion growth. An unhealthy environment does exactly the opposite.

A solid culture doesn’t just help attract amazing people, it magnifies their skills and helps them do their best work. Who doesn’t want to spend their day with team members who are pleasant to one another, who love what they do and are good at it?

We know people thrive when they are given the ability to make continuous progress and when they feel a sense of purpose. We also know that we have dramatically changed how we live and work…

We used to focus on retirement, now we want passion and purpose.

We used to want a great boss, now we also want great colleagues.

We used to work from 9-5, now we want more flexibility in our schedules.

We used to stay in one place for an entire career, now we move on often.  

How can we respond to these changes and provide an environment in which staff can thrive? If you haven’t taken a good look at your office culture and adjusted for today’s work force, it’s probably time to do so.

If your office personality or culture needs a face lift, here are ways to investigate, improve, or even overhaul if necessary, to become the place you want to be.

Step 1: Investigate

Start by taking an honest look at your current culture. Take some time to observe interactions between people in your office. Are people engaged, happy, friendly to one another? Do they smile at each other, laugh every once in a while? Do they gather in common areas and interact with one another? Would you want to spend 8+ hours here every day?

Share your observations with other leaders and ask them to weigh in with their thoughts and observations, as well as possible solutions. You may also want to consider an anonymous survey or conduct cultural interviews with staff to gather key information from your team. Remember to be willing to listen to what they have to say. Share your desire and plan for change, and ask them to help support this work in a variety of ways.

Step 2: Improve (Hell, overhaul if you need to)

Commit to Change: Do you like what you see? If not, it might be time for change. It’s important to remember that culture is something you shape, not change. Culture is learned through interaction in the space. When you set about making changes that may propel you in a new direction, it’s important to remember that you can persuade it, but you can’t expect that simply adding bean bags, snacks, and music will transition your environment overnight. It takes time to build, shape, and nurture a culture shift.

Trickle Down. Culture is especially influenced by executives and leaders in the organization. Leaders set the tone for the space. Leaders should be willing to show that it’s ok to gather, converse and collaborate in your environment. They should greet people in the morning and say good night before they leave. They should want to get to know their teams and spend time with them, in and outside of the office. The opposite can lead to a stale, depressed, lonely work environment that does not encourage anyone to return tomorrow and give it their all.

Step 3: Sustain

Hire for Cultural Fit:  In addition to having the hard skills needed (core competencies and abilities), think about cultural fit as how everyone might fit within your group. Are they likely to be able to conform and adapt to the core values and behaviors that make up your organization? If they are a good fit they are more likely to remain with an organization, support improved productivity, and will help cut down on churn (agitation or turnover). Hire people who contribute to the personality of the office, who will thrive on your team and who support ongoing success.

Redesign Your Space: The design of your office space contributes (or not) to your culture. Think about your space as you would when you design your living room at home. Does every space in your office have an element of warmth? Do you have an open work environment and comfortable spaces for your team to talk and collaborate? If not, what can you do to redesign your space to encourage this type of interaction?

Top 6 ways to contribute to a positive culture.

Hold weekly team meetings – TMZ style if possible. Engage your team – as a whole! Update them on progress toward goals, celebrate wins, answer questions and don’t forget to ask them for their opinions. Most importantly, get to know them as people.

Engaging activities. Start a culture committee and ask your staff to be a part this work, offering opinions and helping out as a group. Consider offering a series of team lunches, host a happy hour, or plan mini holiday celebrations that happen during the workday, so everyone can participate. At Fearey we also celebrate birthdays by assigning “birthday buddies” to make each person’s day more personal and special. Every staff member is given a budget of $50 to plan something special for the person they draw. Often desks are decked out in decorations and the buddy will give a few small gifts.

Rachel Taylor's birthday at The Fearey Group
Birthday celebrations at The Fearey Group

Plan team outings. Team outings are a way for staff to bond and get to know each other more deeply. It’s amazing to see how leaving the confines of the office, allows people to open up and be themselves. If you’re not sure what to do, consider planning a summer paddle or picnic, a holiday party off-site, take a cooking class, walk to the market, go to a sporting event or take a trip to the zoo. For one of our summer parties, Fearey spent half a day on a geocaching competition all over downtown Seattle. Small teams, big teams, leadership group – mix it up and have fun together outside the office.

Focus on health. Simple things can really make your staff feel cared for. Try on demand massage services (a Fearey fav), host a meditation session, hydration or steps challenge, hire a wellness coach. What are you proactively doing to encourage your employees to be healthy and live a healthy lifestyle? People are not designed to sit all day – encourage people to move! Care for them as whole beings, and they will return the favor.

Say thanks! Commit to a rewards or recognition program that is sustainable over time to reinforce quality work, provide real value and build relationships within your team. Consistency is key! Put someone in charge of tracking this work to be sure you are sharing the love.

Involve the team. Work with your team to create rules/guidelines for the work place. Involve your team in the creation, implementation, and conformity of these rules.

 

Smile. Play music. Talk to and engage with each other – start building your community one day at a time. Support a comfortable work space and give your team the freedom to do their best work. You know you’ve made progress when you start to see a blurring between the boundary of home and work life. Espresso machines, bicycles, bean bags, shaggy rugs, dogs, lamps, and fancy tea. These are signs that you have supported the creation, natural vibe and personality of your space. These things in turn support a healthy, happy place to work. A healthy, happy workplace will quickly translate to happy clients as well. And the cycle continues!

 


Does your culture need some love? Let us know if we can help (we don’t mind sharing 😊). Contact us here.

Rachel Taylor

Marketing + PR Manager

Rachel is a born communicator and marketing specialist. After spending three years on the client side, capturing media hits and crafting powerful stories for a variety of organizations, Rachel now tackles all of Fearey’s marketing and public relations initiatives from the inside.

She loves punching out a solid strategy and dropping data into Microsoft Excel to drive decision making. Her skills lie in project coordination, media relations, digital marketing, social media management, SEO and website development.

As a Seattle native, she’s a go-to resource for information about hiking or anything outdoors. You will find her squeezing every adventure into the time outside of work – Whistler ski trips, post-work training hikes up Mailbox Peak, canoe camping, summiting Mt. Adam’s on skis, backpacking the North Cascades or paddleboarding on every body of water possible. In the rare moments of rest, she’ll kick back in a hammock with a good read and the pup.