Official memos. Oxfords and briefcases. Informal chit-chat in flat grey cubicles. If you’ve ever worked in for company with a strictly formal culture, you know just how drastically things have changed in the last decade. Casual dress codes, flat management organizations, drinking and swearing at work — companies have started to let loose a little in an attempt to adapt to the desires of a younger workforce and bring more fun to the work environment.
Creating a vibrant culture that attracts top talent, inspires your employees and grows your company is leading many organizations to bring a more relaxed, spontaneous, and collaborative atmosphere to their offices. And yet finding the right balance of informality and professionalism can be tricky. Instead of simply planning happy hours and installing arcade games in your break room, focus on these three areas where a more informal—i.e., less rigid—company culture really count.
Transparency & Honesty
What does strong leadership look like? For many, it means looking like you have all the answers, navigating change with confidence, and being decisive when it comes to tough choices.
26-year-old founder Nathan Latka pushed against all that when his company Heyo was approached with an acquisition offer. Instead of holing up with his core executive team, he made the entire process public — not only to his employees, but to the one million monthly listeners of his podcast.
To say it was a risky move is an understatement, to be sure. The lucrative offer may have gone up in smoke. But Latka points to some compelling benefits of being so open with his team: for one, they came up with ideas he would never have thought of and challenged his assumptions and blind spots. It gave his entire company the opportunity to learn from the process, and it gave him the chance to lead with questions instead of answers. Even when he had already arrived at a decision for himself, he went into meetings to listen and ask questions. The result: his team was more invested in the outcome, having spent time analyzing the situation and solution from all angles themselves. Plus, other people brought up opportunities he hadn’t thought of and often either changed or deepened his perspective on things.
Good leaders know that open communication is essential for a thriving business. 85% of employees are unsatisfied with the quality of communication at work, and 81% say they would rather “join a company that values ‘open communication’ than one that offers perks such as top health plans, free food, and gym memberships.”
It’s not always easy to let your team behind closed doors and admit that you may not know the best course of action, but the payoff is worth it. In the end, Latka's deal went through — and he even signed the letter of intent live on his podcast.
Flexibility & Accountability
You have to be willing to let your culture change as your company grows, and that requires flexibility. This doesn’t mean that you simply let your company culture define itself — you have to be proactive and intentional in cultivating the best work environment for your team.
But you also have to be adaptable, and with more of today’s employees working remotely or requiring flexible schedules, that means reframing how you approach company culture (including remote work culture) and how you measure your team’s contributions.
As many others have pointed out, the term “work-life balance” creates a false dichotomy where your work and the rest of your life are in competition, on opposite ends of a spectrum. Companies that recognize their workers’ personal lives not as an inconvenience or distraction, but as an opportunity to enhance employee performance and satisfaction, are able to create a culture of flexibility that results in truly engaged employees. When allowed to set their own hours, research has consistently found that workers are not only as productive as their colleagues with standard office hours, they’re happier, less stressed, and far less likely to consider leaving the company.
With more team members working remotely or non-standard office hours, this can mean significantly less face time with colleagues and managers—and it can be easy for company leaders to tend towards micromanagement to ensure that work is progressing as planned and priorities are clear across the team. But micromanagement actually dampens your team's creativity, motivation, and morale. Making accountability an intrinsic part of your company culture allows employees to take ownership over their work and results, resulting in greater productivity, performance, and work satisfaction.
Personality & Fun
Southwest Airlines is famous for its personable flight attendants who crack jokes and sing songs during instructions and announcements—and for its people-first company culture. As Southwest’s president and CEO Herbert Kelleher says, “What we are looking for, first and foremost, is a sense of humor.” A fun atmosphere builds a strong sense of community among your employees, and it helps counter-balance the stress of hard work.
Among companies noted as “great” in Fortune’s 100 Best Companies to Work For, 81% of employees say they work in a fun environment. A fun work environment encourages free thinking and creativity, helps people build relationships across teams and departments, and encourages productive collaboration.
How to Get Company Culture Right
We asked business leaders and founders their secrets for creating a perfect work environment, from hiring to match your values to inspiring employees. Read their advice, then hit the comments to let us know what you think is the key to a thriving company culture.