Hey Office admins! Building a healthy office culture is hard enough at a small company – and as your company scales, the difficulties scale as well. How can you juggle differing employee interests and time while still fitting within your office’s budget and time frame? Look no further – today, we’re serving up the complete guide to boosting culture in your office.
What is office culture?
Office culture is the essence of your workplace. It’s how your coworkers interact with one another, view their work, and think of their teams. At its core, office culture is what makes your company your own – the unique values, traditions, style, and community you have. According to ERC, office culture is “the sum of [your business’s] values, traditions, beliefs, interactions, behaviors, and attitudes.” That is to say – basically, everything that happens day-to-day at work is your office culture.
So how can you create office culture?
Office culture may be the sum of all workplace interactions. But culture influencers like you are able to nudge, steer, or completely u-turn their culture based on community-building activities in the office. That’s because all workplace interactions aren’t necessarily created equally. Office culture actually starts at each individual desks – but it only grows from there. Ultimately, all-team events influence office culture the most. From All Hands to office happy hours to quirky company traditions to – of course – office catering, the vibe you create when coworkers gather together is going to heavily influence your office culture.
There are a million directions you can take your office culture, and it all depends on the vibe you want to create. Does your office value headspace and calm? Do your coworkers want to engage in friendly competition? Is your favorite way to relax actually thinking about work in creative ways? Whatever your office wants, as the admin, you have a huge part in making that happen.
But you’re not alone!
Like we said, we’ve built a comprehensive guide to boosting office culture – and creating the culture you want. Read our 3 part guide to learn more and boost your office’s culture today!
Part 1: Office culture baby steps
Some people might suggest starting big – throwing a happy hour of planning an office party. We’re all for a good party, but your event may fall flat if your coworkers don’t already feel comfortable at work. Sure, they likely know and like their teammates, and can hold an ok conversation with them. But depending on the size and scope of your team, as well as how collaborative your departments are, many of your coworkers may not know each other.
What happens, then, when you host a big event is your coworkers will naturally split into pockets. You first have to help your coworkers get to know each other in smaller ways, and build up to a large event.
Culture starts at your desks
We recommend starting where you might never expect to find office culture: when your coworkers are plugged in and working. The goal, at first, isn’t to get them to engage in anything huge. Rather, you want to give them 5 minutes off, once a day, to do something fun.
This can be whatever you want it to be! For example, we know one company that sends around a daily Sporcle quiz. In another company, they somehow got on the trend of sending an in-depth recap of the Bachelor (with, of course, too many gifs to count). Still another company has a daily 10-minute workout challenge in the breakroom. One day they might try to do as many pushups as they can, the other day they might switch to wall sits…
The point isn’t to find a tradition and force it on your coworkers, but rather see what they’re drawn towards, and encourage it in a small way.
Another note here: depending on your company size, this may not work for the whole company. And while that’s completely fine, the best thing you can do is keep the activity open to the whole company. Even if your Sporcle quiz is mainly filled out by your engineers, or your marketing team is the only team that’s really into the workout challenge, simply opening up these daily activities to the whole company makes everyone feel included. When everyone has a seat at the table, we naturally feel more connected to the people around us.
At Chewse, our daily activities permeate every team. Before every meeting, we do a “color check-in.” We each take a few moments to go around a circle and report on our “color” on a stoplight. These colors can be personal or professional, and we’re encouraged to share as much or as little as we want. Green means we’re feeling great and ready to go. Maybe we’re stoked about a project we’re working on, or we had a really great date last night. Yellow is the most varied color – it can be anything from “I haven’t had coffee yet” to “I’m feeling overwhelmed right now” to “I slept poorly last night.” Red usually means there’s something seriously wrong in our lives, either personal or professional.
We run color check-ins at the beginning of every meeting. That helps us get a sense of where everyone is at, and better tailor feedback to suit that person’s need. These activities align strongly with our company culture of authenticity, love, and excellence.
Office culture and feedback
Another huge way to impact office culture in a “small” but tangible way is by thinking of how your company does feedback. How (and whether) your coworkers feel comfortable providing feedback can be a huge indicator of how comfortable they are within your company – and as a result, with your company’s culture.
This is important because company culture can be a driving factor for retention and reduced turnover – when it’s done right. When it’s done poorly, people can feel unhappy and they may be more likely to leave.
As the office admin, you’re likely tuned into these culture ideas, even if you don’t consciously realize it. That’s why, at Chewse, we call our admins superheroes, and our office admin is our Office Love Manager. What can you do if you sense some dissatisfaction in the way feedback is run at your workplace? Try encouraging your coworkers to use “I feel…” language in feedback. “I” statements are proven strategy in nonviolent communication that Chewse Founder and CEO, Tracy Lawerence, learned from Landmark Forum.
With “I” statements, you change a sentence from being about what happened to being about how what happened impacted you. For example, instead of saying “You cut me off in that meeting,” you might say “I felt ignored when I wasn’t able to share my thoughts during yesterday’s meeting.” This type of communication takes the focus off of the perceived intent (“You cut me off on purpose”) and onto the resulting impact (“I was hurt by that action”). If you’d like to share more with your coworkers, we highly recommend this worksheet by Boston University.
Part 2: Building an office culture wireframe
The small, daily, low-barrier-to-entry activities that will get your coworkers thinking about office culture are the foundation to your office community. From there, start introducing larger activities that will get the whole company together. Examples of these types of activities might include:
- All Hands
- Morning meetings
- Weekly happy hours
- Office catering
You may have some or all of these traditions already in place. Here’s how to boost them even further to enhance your office culture.
Maybe your company gets together monthly to talk about metrics, performance, and goals. If you do, that’s awesome! But if your All Hands is anything like ours, likely only a few people have the opportunity to stand up. While your company likely can’t make time for everyone to present, there are ways you can inject a little culture.
For example, try saving some time at the end for shoutouts – whether they’re big ones like large project completions or small ones like a coworker who just got married. Giving your coworkers space to get up and celebrate each other reinforces the idea that your company is a community. By making this type of space, you’re essentially telling your coworkers “Your achievements are important and we all recognize that.” Which, if you think about it, is pretty special.
Many companies (Chewse included!) have Monday morning meetings to recap last week and set this week up for success. Companies often use this time to share past wins and current goals. They may also share customer success stories, new insights, and unforeseen challenges. If you have the space to do so, try adding a few minutes in those meetings and rotating the departments through.
Why? Oftentimes, office culture can suffer because some departments feel more separate than others. This happens at every company – your product team might have more to share in a given quarter than your support team. But by making the space to rotate through every team, you can make all of your coworkers feel like a part of the team. When everyone has a seat at the table, you’re enhancing overall company community.
Weekly happy hours
Everyone loves a good happy hour, but workplace happy hours actually go beyond good drinks and great vibes. When your company offers a happy hour – especially if it starts, say, at 4:30 on a Friday and slightly cuts into the workday – you’re telling your coworkers that company culture is important enough to be part of their jobs.
That, in essence, is the heart of office culture. Some culture bubbles will naturally appear at work, but the best way to create company-wide office culture is to clarify that your company is invested in the culture. The best way to do that is to host culture-building events during work hours. Your coworkers, if they really need to, can stay behind and crank at their desks, but they no longer have to take time out of their schedules to engage with your company. You can reduce the barrier to entry, and increase their chance of having a great time!
Somewhat predictably, an office catering blog thinks office catering creates office culture. And yes, we do think it does – but we also have the facts and figures to prove it.
At its core, office catering reduces social barriers and allows your coworkers to get to know each other. Sharing a catered meal together makes culture-building especially easy for two reasons:
- Food is the universal human connector
- Family-style office catering reduces tension and boosts trust
We’ll dive into each of these below, but for a full, in-depth look at how catering can help boost your office culture, take a peek at our eBook, The Benefits of an Office Catering Program.
ONE – Food is the universal human connector
Did you know that only 32% of employees feel engaged at work? Lack of engagement can lead to lower retention rates, reduced employee satisfaction, and increased turnover. Because the thing is – employees want to feel connected at work. 70% of Millennial employees want the people they work with to be a “second family” – we just have to help them get there.
Office catering enhances workplace culture-building because it gives employees uninterrupted time away from their screens. Better yet, they’re able to replace their digital time with face-to-face interaction, which is sorely lacking in most modern offices.
Connecting over food is a great start, but office catering takes it a step further. Family-style catering encourages everyone to eat at the same time and for longer amounts of time. Conversations at the “water cooler” can be valuable, but they rarely get to the level of intimacy that a chat over a meal can.
Finally, office catering also encourages cross-team engagement. When you sit down at the breakroom table with your family-style meal, you’re likely going to sit next to whoever was in front and behind you in the lunchline. As a result, these people may not be members of your team. Rather, you’ll get to engage and converse with other members of the company.
And you never know what ideas might spring from those conversations! A sales member might be frustrated by something that a Marketing team member has a great solve for. A product engineer might be inspired by an anecdote from the customer experience team. Not that your coworkers have to or will always talk about work at the lunch table. But when those conversations spring up unbidden, you might get some great results.
TWO – Family-style office catering reduces tension and boosts trust
Office catering (done right 😉) is more than just a meal delivered to your doorstep. It’s a community-building experience that provides common ground between your coworkers and enhances your already budding workplace community into something to write home about. The core of this experience is the food: specifically, sharing food. According to a recent study done by University of Chicago professor Ayelet Fishbach, sharing a meal boosts trust and decreases tension. In Professor Fishbach’s study, she asked two strangers to participate in a negotiation – but to share a snack first. Take a peek at the results:
Family-style meals can also be restorative. The connection and face-time interactions office culture encourage (rather than the digital interactions most of us have day-to-day) help your coworkers get ready for the afternoon productivity session. In fact, 90% of employees report feeling refreshed and ready to go after having a sit-down lunch.
All of this to say – office catering isn’t just tasty, it’s also good for your team and good for your office culture. But you don’t have to stop there.
Part 3: Reinforcing your office culture with unique traditions
Once you’ve gotten your coworkers chatting and engaging, the only thing that’s left is to establish your own unique office culture! This can be the hardest and easiest part – you have the momentum, but now you need the creativity. While you by no means have to develop the same traditions, here’s a peek at what Chewse does:
Attitudes of Gratitude
Attitudes of Gratitude, or ATTs, is a Chewse Friday tradition. Originally, as a company of 12 people, every employee would share one thing they were grateful for for their coworkers for. Now that we have over 150 Chewselings, that would take a little too much time – but like all great office culture traditions, ATTs has grown as we did.
Every Friday at 4 pm, we gather in a circle (or, as our Office Love Manager has dubbed it, an “amoeba”). New employees have the opportunity to introduce themselves and share a fun fact, then we all grab index cards and head back to our desks. During the next 7 minutes, we write little notes to our coworkers. These can be anything from “thanks for bringing snacks yesterday” to “I couldn’t have done this week without you, you’re amazing.” You don’t have to write a note, but we’re encouraged to write notes to anyone in the company. Then, we go around the office and share our notes.
Even though this is a community-wide effort, everyone does their sharing slightly differently. Some employees just hand their coworkers notes and give them a brief hug before moving on, others have mini-speeches ready to go. Personality, impact, and time plays a huge factor – which makes every ATTs as unique as we are.
Finally, we gather back into our amoeba to share public ATTs. These “thank you”s can be directed at a particularly impactful person or a team that did some great work. When everyone is done sharing, we do a giant group hug/group scramble, and break for the afternoon.
It’s not a particularly complicated tradition. But traditions like ATTs are what keep the Chewse culture alive. We’re not just an office catering company – we think of ourselves as a culture-building company, too.
Syssitia is an ancient Spartan feast that connected soldiers through communal eating. And, while we aren’t exactly headed to a Greek battle here at Chewse, we do fight all sorts of challenges – together.
With our monthly Syssitia, we get together for a culture-building activity of some sort – something more involved than ATTs. We’ve done roller skating, line dancing, board came night, guacamole making competitions… the limit does not exist. The what of Syssitia matters less than the why – getting the chance to engage together outside of work with our coworkers makes us feel even closer as a community.
Granted, Syssitia might not work so well if we didn’t already feel connected. That’s why activities like ATTs and Syssitia are Part 3 of the office culture-building process. In a vacuum, these activities might be awkward to the point of pain. After all, coworkers who don’t know each other that well might not be comfortable being authentic and vulnerable around each other. So start by building a foundation through daily activities and weekly events. Then, you have the opportunity to develop unique company traditions. These traditions help your coworkers feel connected to your specific company, rather than anything else.
[Your tradition here]
Hey, we’re not here to tell you what your company traditions should be. When you get to this point of office culture-building, you’ll find that your coworkers naturally have opinions. Do they like sharing and connecting with one another? In that case, something like ATTs might work well for you. Are they more into competition? Try hosting a trivia or board game night.
Office culture, done right, develops into a beast of its own. But as the culture builder in your workplace, you can help nudge it in the right direction. However, at the end of the day, remember that office culture is a group effort. All you have to do is make space for everyone else to engage – that engagement will naturally come!