These days, culture is paramount for having a strong team to execute your business’ vision. Ideas are worthless on their own; without a strong team, you won’t succeed. When building a business, you want employees who deeply about the company. A big piece of that is recognizing that, at the end of the day, they’re just people with normal daily stresses and worries.
My company TheSquareFoot is an unconventional business—we’re taking commercial real estate into the digital age—so we’re used to alternative practices. But like our business model, our unconventional ways have a purpose and rely on three major points: team building, nourishment and fun. Throughout our growth, I’ve recognized a few unconventional ways (that anyone could try) to positively impact office culture and foster a strong team.
Team building allows us to cultivate a culture that works together to reach goals. Our team-building activities are sometimes conventional (we’ve gone on plenty of team hikes) and other times unique. For example, we went as a team to the Philharmonic in the Park. Doing activities like this allows all of us to realize that being a team is about more than just solving problems together at work: it also means enjoying things together. Being able to move as a unit is a great indicator of how well we function.
Team building comes in many forms, but field trips are some of our favorite ways to build morale. Eating together and having fun together are two other favorites. The founders usually come up with three to five suggestions and poll the team. To keep track of these outing ideas, keep an Evernote open. Every time someone mentions something that would fun, jot it down and use it in the next poll. If you start listening for it, you’ll notice people make suggestions off the cuff all the time.
Nourishment is energy, and employees who eat together work better together, since chatting over food allows everyone to get know each other on a personal level. Understanding what is going on in someone else’s life makes you feel more connected and increases the odds that everyone will work as a team and help pull their weight when someone else has a personal issue that may cause a distraction. That’s why we emphasize nourishment as a tenet of our culture.
To foster this, our developer Sam organizes an oatmeal bar every Friday. This has impacted culture immensely, as no one schedules calls or meetings on Friday mornings, which allows a time for everyone to be in tune with the office and not be distracted by the daily grind. What’s more, other team members bring in baked goods because they also want to contribute. Having a warm meal together starts Friday off right. I’ve also found it to prevent any grumpiness throughout the office.
For our Fourth of July fiesta, we had delicious Mexican food and margaritas. While most people would expect burgers or hotdogs for the Fourth, we took an unconventional route because Mexican food is better for sharing. This event showed our employees that we enjoy vacations too, and allowed everyone to start their vacation early and share what we would be doing that weekend.
Work-life balance is essential to our culture, and that means we work as hard at having fun as we do at progressing our business. Happy employees are much easier to be around: no one wants to sit next to a grumpy co-worker. We generally tell employees that we expect about 50 hours a week, and our main hours are 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. However, we live in busy NYC, so if someone needs to leave early because of an event, they’re encouraged to do so. We just ask them to keep in mind overall hours and pull the same weight as the rest of the team.
From N64 Mario Kart tournaments to creating (and sometimes arguing over) Spotify playlists, we keep ourselves entertained every day in the office. These two fun practices provide a bit of lighthearted competition, which is an important factor of our culture. Not only do these simple acts help us collaborate, but they’re also a way to build relationships in smaller groups. For example, the N64 only incorporates four players. So what better way for us three founders to introduce ourselves to a new hire than by playing a round of Mario Kart?
At the TheSquareFoot, our practices are all rooted in positive progress. Unconventional or not, as long as we’re able to grow value out of our practices, they’re worth it. Although all of this makes work fun, we do remember it’s a business — without driving revenue and profit, after all, none of this could even exist. However, when people feel like you treat them as people and not cogs in a machine, it has seriously positive impacts on productivity.
About the Author
Currently the co-founder and CFO of TheSquareFoot, Aron Susman began his career in the International Mergers & Acquisitions group at Deloitte in Houston. Most recently a Vice President with MDTech, a healthcare technology company, Aron oversaw the company’s financial, accounting, and business development efforts. He graduated cum laude from the University of Texas at Austin, where he earned a masters degree in accounting and holds a CPA license.
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