Culture club: How companies bring cool to the workplace

By , ITworld |  IT Management, corporate culture, Culture

And then there are those things that we've come to associate with dot- com excess, but which can really make a workplace fun for employees -- company outings, foosball, free snacks in the break room, and so on.

Of course, in tough economic times, these are some of the things that get taken away -- but CubeTree's Wiegner thinks that's a bad idea. "The first thing that happens in bad times is that the free soda gets taken away!" he says. This is the sort of small but very visible thing that panicked companies tend to rescind when times are tough, and he thinks that's a bad idea. Frivolous or not, little touches that make employees' days brighter are a big part of the culture as employees experience it -- and taking them away can be demoralizing all out of proportion to their monetary value.

Fighting the culture wars

If you're a CEO like Wiegner or Schlossnagle, you to a certain extent get to set the tone for your company's culture. But if you're an employee, how do you maintain the benefits of a company culture that's doing everything right? I heard one story that I'm not ashamed to admit that I found downright inspiring on this front.

John Nelson, is currently the manager of application engineering at LiveOps, a company that offers cloud-based contact center services. Nelson had disliked the fact that his previous job had seen a lot of silos, where coworkers ended up divided into mutually suspicious factions. In contrast, folks at LiveOps were very welcoming, and there was a strong culture of company barbeques, sporting events, holiday parties and the like. Even more intriguing was the fact that there was no real HR infrastructure organizing these events; they were managed (to the extent that they required management) by a self- selected volunteer group that called itself "the culture club."

Not long after Nelson arrived, LiveOps embarked on an ambitious expansion plan. This is exactly the point in most corporate evolutionary paths when that fun startup culture dies. But the new CEO and VP of Human Resources, both coming from eBay, saw what the culture club contributed to the company, and gave it a bigger role.

Redubbed Team LiveOps, the group not only helps orient new employees, and keeps an ear to the ground to see if there's problems arising -- for instance, when the company moved offices, they helped workers work out the details of their new commute and organized carpooling. And they still do the fun stuff like the barbeques and holiday parties as well.

Nelson's a team member now; the team includes folks from all the different departments, to prevent that siloing that he found so problematic at his old job.

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