We all spend a lot of time at work – especially those who work at fast-moving start-ups. But these days, your workplace is often not a commercial office, lab, factory, or other traditional work venue. You may work at home, with a customer, or somewhere else entirely – and it might be a different place every day. At Slamcore, over 40 percent of our team lives outside a reasonable daily commuting distance of our London headquarters, and the majority of our people work remotely at least some of the time. So how can we create a good workplace culture when there is no single ‘place’ where we all work? We expect this is a challenge for many businesses and hope our experience and decisions might be useful to others.
When COVID hit, we all experienced significant upheaval in our daily work routines. Whether we’d been used to remote working or not, the enforced separation and confinement to our own homes in lockdowns was a sudden and dramatic change. We learned that empathy was the number one skill needed to cope. Understanding how each team member was different, and required different levels and types of support, was critical to ensure that all were coping physically and mentally. Compassion, flexibility, and trust were crucial to allow everyone to continue to work and contribute effectively in those difficult times.
Right Balance post COVID
As we emerged from lockdowns, we looked at how to maintain these core pillars and strike the right balance between on-site, remote (virtual), and flexible working practices while still creating an enviable and attractive workplace culture. Our first step was to create a new dedicated role to spearhead initiatives and help define what best practice looked like in this new ‘hybrid’ world. Traditionally businesses appoint an office manager to take on the critical tasks of managing facilities, suppliers, meetings, and events. They ensure that the office environment is a pleasant and attractive place for our people to work and our customers/prospects to visit. Clearly, with fewer people in an office on a regular basis and the majority working elsewhere at least some of the time, that role needed to be updated.
Enter the Workplace Experience Role
Our first dedicated Workplace Experience Coordinator, India Gilmore, was appointed in April 2022. India’s role still includes responsibility for the physical space and facilities at our offices in Borough, south London, but the focus is on creating a positive, engaging, and supportive experience for all our people, wherever they live and work. There was no playbook for this. India is a key element in our ambition to redefine PeopleOps best practices for fast-moving businesses in the post-COVID era. Suddenly the obvious (and easy) paths to creating vibrant and welcoming workplaces – things like having a ping-pong table and drinks fridge – while still important, are less effective. After all, having a table-tennis table in the office does not help you relax if you mainly work at home.
Inclusivity and connecting people are the watchwords of our workplace experience. Not only do we use Slack channels to make sure no one misses out on important information and work collaborations, but to engage everyone in office social chat – even when they are on the other side of the world. We have channels for music, movie recommendations and reviews, coffee, and cake – sharing our love for baking and baked goods, as well as Strava for our fitness. One of our most popular workplace experience initiatives was Step-tember, four teams competing virtually to log the best total steps tally across the whole month. Exercise, fun, and team building in one initiative, which everyone could join, whether London-based or remote!
Creating the right workplace experience ultimately comes down to treating employees as humans and individuals. Wherever possible, we create guidelines rather than policies to give employees the autonomy to navigate their work and personal time most effectively. These all rely on two-way trust. We employ highly motivated, super-smart individuals and trust them to deliver what they need to. Where and how they complete that work is up to them – it’s our job to ensure they have the equipment, connectivity, confidence, and support to succeed. Each team player understands how their work impacts others and so collaborates to ensure nothing is held up. In this environment, it becomes more important to make sure that everyone does step away from work, relaxes, and rests. Our employee handbook guidelines make it clear that downtime and time away from work are critical aspects of our workplace culture.
Health Before Sickness
Inspired by the infectious positivity of our workplace experience, one new initiative is to change how we think about ‘sick leave’. Instead of taking sick days because you have become ill, why not take health days to focus on getting yourself back to good health? Flipping a negative concept to an optimistic one could have a significant impact, especially when it relates to mental health (a subject close to my heart). Nobody wants to refer to themself as ‘sick’ when their mental health is not at the top of its game, so this unfortunate archaic label can prevent people from booking time off to acknowledge and nurture this vital element of overall wellness.
Today’s workplace is far more fluid physically and virtually, so rethinking traditional PeopleOps practices and roles to reflect this is fundamental to continuing to build an attractive and supportive employee culture. The wellbeing of our employees is at the core of our workplace experience, and crucially, this fully embraces mental wellbeing, as well as physical.
As with so many aspects of our work at Slamcore, we are creating our own paths and discovering our own best practices. We believe we are pioneering in our workplace experience, evidenced by an impressive 100% employee retention rate in 2022. Having a dedicated Workplace Experience Coordinator is a key element in this redefinition and a role that itself will doubtless evolve over time. We hope that innovative ideas like this will not only enhance and nurture the psychological safety of our people but that others will adopt, learn from and build on our approaches.