Company Culture

At the best companies, "company culture" is more than just a buzzword. Here's how the most innovative companies make company culture real.

To get started, you may want to read articles about specific companies like Zappos, Amazon, Shopify, Wistia, and Buffer.

For a comprehensive look at company culture, read our guide Company Culture for Startups.

When Employees Feel Ignored at Work, Everyone Suffers

What exactly does ostracism at work look like?

On the exclusion spectrum you’ll find everything from accidentally leaving someone off a calendar invite to purposefully avoiding an individual in the lunch room. Feeling ignored at work is a silent but hurtful experience.

The topic may seem trivial — “Are adults really so sensitive?” you might ask — but it’s one that can have a serious impact on your employees’ job satisfaction, performance and happiness. A 2014 study questioned if a lack of attention could be more painful for victims than bullying. Perhaps surprisingly, the answer is often yes.

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University of British Columbia professor Sandra Robinson, one of the study’s authors, told Science Daily that, “Ostracism actually leads people to feel more helpless [than bullying], like they’re not worthy of any attention at all.”

Exclusion is most often accidental, but it may not feel that way to the remote workers who are missing out on meetings and other events. The more spread out your team, the more deliberately you’ll need to address communication. Good processes ensure that everyone has access to the information and people they need to do their job.

Whether your entire team works in the same office or you have employees across the globe, this is an issue you’re almost certain to bump into. Here are a few suggestions, culled from our own experience and that of other successful distributed teams, for addressing exclusion at work.

1. Hire Introverts, But Don’t Treat Them Like Hermits

Introverts tend to gravitate towards remote companies. As employees, they are free to pursue their work in solitude.

“Most inventors and engineers I’ve met are like me,” Apple co-founder Steve Wozniak wrote in his memoir. “They’re shy and they live in their heads. They’re almost like artists. And artists work best alone.”

Working from home or a coffee shop gives introverts the best opportunity get down to the business of creating. As the remote work trend grows, it’s creating new challenges for managers and employees, namely inclusion and communication.

“I believe ostracism is painful regardless of introversion,” Professor Robinson explained to us via email. In other words, just because an employee prefers to work alone doesn’t mean they want to feel ignored at work and be excluded from meetings, group chats and social events.

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“This is because the impact of ostracism isn’t so much about being left out or alone,” says Robinson, “but rather the psychological impact: Why was I left out? Why am I ignored? What does this say about me?

When employees feel left out, they are more likely to feel detached from their work and even quit. It’s an issue that remote companies are uncovering slowly. Managers of remote employees have to work toward a balance of steady communication without micro-managing.

Prioritize face-to-face communication

There is no real substitute for face-to-face interaction with another person, even for introverts. While asynchronous communication is often the best strategy for a remote company, regular video meetings are a great way to spark deeper, more meaningful conversations with your employees. This is a great time to collect feedback on inclusion, exclusion and day-to-day communication. Even introverts will appreciate the 1-on-1 time as long as it’s not excessive.

There are other ways to keep introverted employees connected too. In the book REWORK, Basecamp founder Jason Fried makes the point that in-person interaction doesn’t have to come from coworkers. Introverts may dislike video calls with the team, but enjoy spending time with friends. Encourage them to seek positive social interaction on their own terms. Balance is important for all of your employees.

2. Understand How Bias Affects Your Behavior

Here’s a pill that’s hard to swallow: we are all biased.

To understand bias in the workplace, it’s worth examining how law enforcement is currently addressing the issue. In PoliceChief Magazine, University of South Florida criminology Professor Lorie Fridell explains that there are two types of bias:

  1. Explicit bias: Occurs when a person associates a person or group with negative stereotypes. The person is aware of their bias.
  2. Implicit bias: Occurs when a person is unaware of their bias. Implicit bias can affect behavior towards certain individuals or groups.

“Even individuals, who, at the conscious level, reject prejudice and stereotyping, can and do manifest implicit biases,” according to Fridell. Implicit bias is difficult to detect, but important for obvious reasons. A police officer might say, “I’m not racist, so I don’t need bias training,” while unaware that their behavior could be motivated by implicit bias.

In law enforcement, a keen understanding of bias can be the difference between life and death. The stakes at your company likely aren’t as high, but managing bias impacts everything from the diversity of your employees to who gets invited to sit at the lunch table. Bias is nuanced, but worthy of your attention.

Here’s an example we’ve seen play out in remote companies. A manager has embraced asynchronous communication by limiting unnecessary meetings and encouraging the use of Slack, Trello, etc. Developers are happy because they now have more time to work deeply. But the manager overcorrects by excluding developers from the weekly standup meeting, reasoning that they are introverts and don’t want to come anyway. This is implicit bias in action and can make folks feel ignored at work.

It won’t take long before the developers are disconnected from the rest of the company. The lack of standardized communication can leave individuals feeling left out because of the type of work they do. It’s exactly this type of ostracism that can lead to reduced job satisfaction and performance, along with a host of other negative outcomes for the affected workers.

Get Feedback Early and Often to Make Sure No One Feels Ignored at Work

Intangible problems require qualitative feedback.

As a culture, we are looking to data for more and more answers. And while there are a host of questions that data can answer, it’s going to be nearly impossible to measure something as ambiguous as exclusion with anything other than regular conversations.

New York Times columnist David Brooks suggests that data is a terrible way to measure social interactions:

Your brain is pretty bad at math (quick, what’s the square root of 437), but it’s excellent at social cognition. People are really good at mirroring each other’s emotional states, at detecting uncooperative behavior and at assigning value to things through emotion.

Collect feedback from your employees through conversation or anonymous surveys. (Know Your Company is built for this exact purpose. Google Forms, SurveyMonkey and Typeform can work too.) But don’t wait around for a tool to tell you that your employees aren’t happy or feel ignored at work.

3. Address Exclusion Before It Becomes a Problem and People Feel Ignored at Work

Imagine you manage a development team. You ask your lead developer to send an invite to the weekly standup meeting. They do so, but leave out a member of the team. The meeting is recurring and the ostracized coworker misses several meetings before anyone notices.

Chances are, they simply forgot to add the entire team and the mistake can be easily corrected. It’s already difficult to keep track of the myriad emails, chats and invites that cross our desks each day. But the employee who was left out could be wondering why they weren’t included. Is the quality of their work? Does the team not like them? Before you know it, a great employee, left feeling ignored at work, could be looking for another job.

Businesses grow strategically, but communication usually isn’t deliberate. Early employees choose the tools, and communication habits evolve as more team members join. It’s time to thoughtfully reconsider how your employees communicate.

Processes don’t have to be complex to be effective. Simple procedures — filing status updates in I Done This, handing off drafts to an editor via Trello, etc. — go a long way towards good communication. An informed employee is an effective employee.

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Communicate Deliberately

There are two highly effective ways to encourage the free and open flow of information, which is an obvious defense against accidental exclusion.

  1. Embrace asynchronous communication. Nearly four million people work from home at least half the time. If your company has multiple offices, is entirely distributed or is somewhere in between, asynchronous communication — i.e. using tools like I Done This, Trello and Slack — makes information accessible to everyone. A commitment to asynchronous communication means that information is always accessible. The more information is accessible, the less likely employees are to feel ignored at work.
  2. Treat all employees the same. Regardless of location or time zone, every employee deserves the benefit of open communication. The team at Basecamp, who literally wrote the book on remote work, believes that equality is the key. As Basecamp designer Jason Zimdars wrote on the company blog, “There are no advantages for people who come into the office, no disadvantages to staying home to get your work done.”

It’s good to keep an eye out for ostracism, but it’s better to prevent it altogether.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

Why You Should Stop Copying Google’s Employee Perks

Not only is Google rated the #1 place to work year after year, but it’s one of most valuable companies on earth. And that’s by no coincidence. To get there, Google spent years perfecting their employee perks to create a positive and highly-productive environment.

Google Campus Dublin - Gasworks - Microkitchen - Floor Identity: Waterworld - Foto Peter Wurmli - © Camenzind Evolution

Google Campus Dublin – Gasworks – Microkitchen – Floor Identity: Waterworld – Foto Peter Wurmli – © Camenzind Evolution

But Google has only been able to grow into a $360 billion company by trying bold new things and constantly iterating their systems—not by blindly applying the successful models of other companies.

To succeed as a startup, you also have to be careful not to just adopt trendy fads, but rather find what works best for you through constant iteration. In fact, there are tons of companies that do the opposite of what Google does and thrive as a result.

Here are some examples of super successful startups that refrained from Googlifying their environment.

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Google’s Unwritten Rule for Team Collaboration

This week’s article is a guest post by Paul Berkovic. Paul is Co-founder and CMO at ScribblePost (productivity software for capturing and sharing task and project information with anyone, anywhere).

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We do a lot of collaborating these days. But despite the number of open offices, designated “thinking” areas, and our managerial focus on small teams, we still haven’t mastered collaborative work.

In fact, we’re really bad at it.

The point of collaborating is to get everyone in a group involved and exercising their strengths. But according to the Harvard Business Review, “In most cases, 20% to 35% of value-added collaborations come from only 3% to 5% of employees.” In most collaborative teams, the bulk of the work still comes from a minority of participants.

In response to this imbalance in their own organization, Google launched Project Aristotle, an internal research project studying Google teams to discover why some were superior collaborators.

Google has a known penchant for quantifying everything. Project Aristotle expected to find something quantifiable, like the optimal team size or the most productive structure for group meetings. But Project Aristotle hit the ultimate irony: the key to collaboration is not a quantifiable. In fact, it wasn’t even codified. The best teams don’t have a measurable, highly visible solution to collaboration—they have an unwritten social code.

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Want To Get More Done? Make Communication Harder

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Of all the problems the country faces, very few of them make their way to Oval Office.

Yes, there are many problems for the president to solve. There is a lot on his plate. But for every one problem the president is briefed on, there are hundreds — maybe thousands — that never make it to the West Wing. They are intercepted along the way, solved or deemed not critical enough for the Commander in Chief.

It’s hard to communicate with The President. It’s hard to get in touch with the President. Politicians campaign on the promise of addressing everyone’s concerns. But that’s not what they do in office, not even close. It would be impossible. The flood of information and data flying in would crash the whole operation.

So they make it hard to reach the president. Any problem that actually gets there has been vetted and analyzed by many layers underneath him. This happens on purpose. It makes things work. Communicating with the president is hard.

Maybe your organization should take the same approach. Maybe your open door policy is making it too easy for people to hijack people’s time. Maybe adding a little friction to communication could be exactly what you need.

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5 Ways Using Daily Goals Helps You Level Up Your Productivity

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This is a guest post from James Sowers.

The MBA programs at Harvard and Yale are widely known as some of the most competitive in the country, if not the world. Acceptance rates have hovered between 10-15% since the 1970’s. Those who complete their program can expect to receive salary offers starting at $100,000 or more with generous signing bonuses to help them make the transition from academia to the workforce. But, despite having a pool of the country’s best and brightest young business minds, a small selection of these graduates have made anywhere from two to ten times as much money as all of their classmates combined! What’s the difference? According to a series of studies done from 1950 – 1980, having “clear, written goals for the future and plans to achieve them.” At least that’s what the internet would have you believe.

As it turns out, despite being cited in hundreds of books, those studies never actually happened. They have since been refuted by social scientists, investigative journalists, and representatives of the universities involved. Turns out, the whole thing is just one long-lived urban myth. However, that doesn’t negate the fact that regular goal setting is still one of the most effective ways to level up your productivity.

Dr. Gail Matthews, a researcher at Dominican University, received over 149 responses to her study that attempted to arrive at a result similar to the previously mentioned ivy league interviews. Participants were divided into five groups, ranging from those who simply thought about their goals to those who not only wrote them down, but also shared them with others and engaged in weekly progress reports. After four weeks, participants were asked to rate their progress. Here are some of the results:

  • Those who wrote down their goals and were responsible for submitting progress reports to someone else where the most accomplished.
  • Every group that wrote down their goals (Groups 2-5) significantly outperformed those who simply thought about their goals (Group 1).
  • When writing down your goals, there was no statistical advantage to sharing your goals with someone else.

In the end, there was enough scientific evidence to support that writing down goals, committing to those goals over time, and having some method of holding yourself accountable all lead to improved performance and greater achievement. So, we can agree that writing down goals is a good way to be more productive, by why?

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Why Nature Should Be Part Of Your Working Space

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What’s difference does your physical environment have on the work you do? Quite a bit.

In a 2002 study, two groups of high school students were asked to spend some time making creative collages. One group made their collages in a setting with direct sunlight and natural wood surrounding them. The other group was in a room built of manufactured materials not found in nature, like drywall and plastic.

When a panel of six independent art critics viewed the students’ finished work, the results were overwhelmingly clear. The students who worked in the natural environment produced more innovative and creative pieces.

It makes perfect sense, our species was designed to wake with the sunlight. For millennia we’ve worked outside, hunting and farming and building societies. We lived in nature and then build shelters of wood and stone.

Then, everything got all … artificial. Synthetic walls, plastic, poly- this and carbon- that. Nature stopped being something we live in and started being something we vacation for. But you can’t pack a year’s worth of nature into a week-long vacation. Natural environments need to be part of our everyday lives. That includes the workplace.

Here are some ways to get started.

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How To Start Real, Meaningful Conversations With Your Email List Subscribers

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By now you’ve heard all about the benefits of building an audience over an email list.

Let say you’ve even set up a Mailchimp account and built an awesome landing page for capturing emails. You’ve targeted the people you want to reach and aggressively marketed your landing page. You’re even starting to see some emails coming in. Your list is growing.

Now what?

One of the biggest challenges entrepreneurs and marketers have with their email list strategy is figuring out how to connect with people once they’ve signed up. Too boring, people unsubscribe. Too sales-y or pushy, people unsubscribe. Bother people too much and they’ll unsubscribe.

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12 Awesome Infographics To Help Grow Your Business

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Constant learning is one of the the best habits an entrepreneur can build. Thankfully there is no shortage of information available. More than ever before, in fact. From books, essays, Ted Talks, email newsletters, even entire college curriculums. Not to belabor a point that everyone is making — but there’s a world of information at our fingertips.

Sometimes, you need that information fast. The world is recommended a 5-course meal, and all you’ve got time for is a protein bar. Especially if you’re hard at work growing a business. Enter the infographic, Web 2.0’s comic book, magazine, pamphlet and business card all rolled together.

Why Everyone Will Have to Become an Entrepreneur

Shaking off the office grind to chase entrepreneurial dreams is more common than ever before. This infographic from San Francisco-based startup organization Funders and Founders breaks down just how important entrepreneurship has become. And it shows exactly why so many companies prefer to hire contractors over employees.

How to Never Give Up on Becoming an Entrepreneur

Another smart infographic from Funders and Founders. This one helps you overcome the drudgery and pain of growing a business. It is quite comforting to know that Michael Jordan missed the important shot more than 300 times.

How to Increase LinkedIn Engagement by 386%

This infographic from Quicksprout will help you master LinkedIn. It’s a huge network and unquestionably valuable in the business world. Consider the stat that 94 percent of recruiters use LinkedIn to screen potential job candidates.

Email Cheat Sheet

Don’t build your empire on rented land. Facebook or Stumbleupon might allow you to reach tons of people in an easy way, but those businesses will always control those channels. You’ll never be in the driver’s seat. That’s why so many companies still prefer to build their communication over email. The folks at Marketo built this great infographic that shows you how to build a killer email strategy.

How to Grow a Business: When Big Companies were Small

Everyone starts somewhere. Especially in tech, where behemoths like Facebook, were they a person, wouldn’t be old enough to drive a car. This helpful infographic from Salesforce shows you how giants like Amazon, Virgin and Facebook grew.

The Modern Small Business Owner

No two businesses operate the same way. And no two small business owners work the same way. But they definitely have a lot of things in common. This infographic from Intuit breaks down the characteristics of the modern small business owner. Did you know that running a business brings three times as much stress as raising children?

Inside The Mind Of A Startup Entrepreneur

What goes on inside the head of a startup founder? This infographic from Top Management Degrees answers exactly that. Did you know Bill Gates never took one day off in his 20s.

18 mistakes that kill startups

How do you sink a startup? Mark Vital at Funders and Founders built this helpful infographic based on the iconic Paul Graham essay on the topic. A simple infographic packed with great advice. Be sure to read the corresponding essay.

The Year in Startup Funding

Where does funding come from and flow to in the startup world? The crowdfunding platform Fundable has an excellent infographic that dives into startup land and follows the money.

The Many Paths to Starting a Startup

Starting a business can happen a lot of different ways. This infographic from Polish web development agency Naturaily illustrates a few of the most common paths.

The Staggering Cost of a Bad Hire

A bad hire can sink a business before it gets very far. Before you make the mistake of hiring the wrong person, use this infographic from Mindflash to burn in the hard truth: bad hires cost big bucks.

The 10 Commandments of User Interface Design

Is there any better medium to teach design than a well-designed infographic. The folks at Designmantic show off great principles of UI design using a beautifully-built infographic.

P.S. If you liked this article, you should subscribe to our newsletter. We’ll email you a daily blog post with actionable and unconventional advice on how to work better.

Anatomy Of A Great Mission Statement

Richard Branson has a thing for mission statements.

He likes them. He just thinks most of them suck.

Most mission statements are full of blah truisms and are anything but inspirational. A company’s employees don’t really need to be told that “The mission of XYZ Widgets is to make the best widgets in the world while providing excellent service.” They must think, “As opposed to what? Making the worst widgets and offering the lousiest service?” Such statements show that management lacks imagination, and perhaps in some cases, direction.

Mission statements — the good and the bad — have a way of bringing out the true core of your company. If that core is boring and jargon-filled, so will be the mission statement. If it’s fun, inspired, unique, caring … you can see where this is going.

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How To Dress When You Work From Home

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Work remote, and this conversation comes up all the time.

“You don’t even wear pants to work! Lucky!”

Some version of that.

Workers without an office are the pantsless winners in the occupational lottery, sleeping until 10 before enjoying a few hours of gleeful twirling in an office chair while wearing boxer shorts. At least that’s what the rest of the world seems to think.

In reality, remote work is a lot harder than that. In many ways it’s harder than working in the traditional office setting. It takes discipline, practice and the right kind of person to pull it off.

But unfortunately, many of us have succumbed to the stereotype. OK, maybe we’re wearing pants. But probably not the kind of pants you’d prefer to be seen in outside the house.

When you work in an office, you’re concerned about being presentable for the people around you. Even if the dress code is silicon valley casual, it’s nice if your t-shirt and hoodie aren’t stained. Or worse, smelly. It’s being polite to the people around you. Or as iconic designer Tom Ford put it: “Dressing well is a form of good manners.”

Working remote makes it easy to ignore this.

Dressing well isn’t just for other people. It makes you feel better. It helps your self esteem. It gives you confidence. It helps you feel — and thus, act — like the best version of yourself. Even if you work from home, the best version of yourself isn’t wearing dirty gym shorts and a smelly oversized sweatshirt.

The legendary writer Gay Talese works each day from a home office underneath his New York townhouse. Before going to work alone in his basement all day, Talese puts on a jacket and tie. Talese channels his Italian heritage and the phrase “La bella figura,” the beautiful figure, a reminder to put care into how one looks and composes themselves.

So maybe you’re not an 83-year-old magazine writer. Maybe you’re a 33-year-old designer. La bella figura can be a part of your life, too. You just have to find your own version of it.

It probably doesn’t include a jacket and tie. And that’s OK.

Here’s my rule of thumb on all this. I call it the waiting room rule. If there suddenly were an emergency and you had to spend the next 12 hours in a hospital waiting room (morbid, but stay with me), would you be embarrassed about what you’re wearing? If so, don’t wear it to your remote job.

You gotta find what works for you. Here’s a guide to get you started*

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