Creating a winning office culture
Human After All’s Head of Production - and social secretary - Andy “Tweds” Tweddle explores how HAA’s unique company culture might be its secret to success.
Last year, I left Human After All to join a much larger advertising agency. Much of what this agency was doing was good. They created good work. They did it for good clients. But something big was missing.
What I could no longer feel was a creative energy - that electricity generated by a team with shared beliefs, shared passion and a set of clear creative goals. It manifests itself in all sorts of ways, great and small. At Human After All, I had immediately been handed the affectionate moniker “Tweds”. At this new workplace, I was “Andy”. At Human After All, I was a collaborator. In this new space, I was a cog.
Love, as the lyrics go, is a doing word. Great office culture inspires powerful values that in turn create powerful actions and drive powerful results. There’s a strong argument that Human After All’s success has emerged from its key foundations: respect and collaboration, sharing knowledge and lifelong learning, and a passion for creating amazing work.I’m now back at Human After All - working on projects I love, in the way that I love, with people I love - and the value of a great office culture has never been more evident. So what does that mean?
During our adult lives, we will spend more time
with our work colleagues than with our families
None of these are hung on the walls in motivational banners or preached at company meetings. They’re ingrained on a deeper level: felt, understood and acted out every day by everyone here. (Worth saying, some very successful companies do like to show off their mantras. When we visit Facebook’s offices, we see company values like “Move fast and break things” proudly displayed throughout the building.)
During our adult lives, we will spend more time with our work colleagues than we will with our families and more time in offices than we will at home. Increasingly, companies of all shapes and sizes are getting wise to why this matters: if employees spend most of their waking lives in the office, the culture in that office will define the success of those employees, the work they produce and the company itself.
The tactic of creating a dynamic office space as a means of boosting morale was heralded by original startups like Google, DreamWorks and Apple. Ten years ago, rumours began bubbling of slides linking one floor to another, in-office bowling alleys and free food for all. Yet these quirky physical treats weren’t always just indulgent gimmicks.
“Our offices are designed to encourage interactions between Googlers within and across teams,” says Google’s official about page. “To spark conversation about work as well as play.”
A great office culture isn't a ping pong table in the corner. It's the air that every employee breathes, the creative oxygen that circulates through bloodstream of the company. This unique atmosphere is what sets the tone for the work the agency does.
People talk about their work. It’s noisy. There’s clutter... You feel something in the air: energy
“When people talk about ‘agency culture’, they seem to leave out the very thing that defines it most: the work,” says Wade Devers, Executive Creative Director for ad agency Arnold. “In an agency with a great creative culture, people talk about their work. The office has energy. It’s noisy. There is clutter...You feel something in the air: creative energy.”
At the heart of our design agency - and, I’d guess, every successful company - are positive shared values. When an office culture is an honest expression of these values, it inspires great work. It can’t be faked. It can only be felt. It's a special alchemy that, if you get it right and keep it right, just might be the defining secret behind your company's success.
I’m not a CEO who’s spent years nurturing the cultures of Fortune 500 companies, but here are four things that Human After All has learned about fostering a winning office culture:
1. Communicate and collaborate
We believe that a good culture is an open culture: a place where everyone is encouraged to talk, share, listen and learn. Communication is how you ensure every single person on the team feels like a meaningful part of the mission. We give our best when we feel like we matter. It’s why working at Human After All often feels like being part of a family. (You’ll know you’re doing it right when people start saying “we” instead of “I”.)
2. Create the joy
“Your work still gets me excited. And work isn't work when it's fun!” That testimonial, from our client at BAFTA, is one of our favourites. It’s not always easy, but finding the joy in your daily working life - with both clients and colleagues - is infectious and inspiring. Since people are most creative in those moments between ‘work’ (it’s why you have your best ideas in the shower), we also dedicate time and budget to having fun together. For our company’s 2nd birthday, for example, we let ourselves in for a Crystal Maze-style experience called HintHunt. Creative thinking, problem-solving, teamwork and embarrassing amounts of fun. (Followed by cocktails, naturally.)
3. Respect and recognise
Especially in a design agency, it’s all too easy to label those who don’t work in a “creative” role (yours truly included) as “not creative”. The truth is that everyone is a vital contributor to the creative process, from directors to the producers. Recognise that and celebrate each other regularly. At HAA, we end every Friday with a snack-fuelled show-and-tell of the work we’ve created that week and a round of applause for the people who helped make it happen.
4. Share the same beliefs
A culture is a group of people who believe that same thing. Human After All believes in design as a force for good. It’s not written on the walls anywhere, but it’s something that everyone feels. It’s both a reason to come to work and a compass that guides us: we hire people (and work with clients) who are infused with the same values as us and instinctively dodge those who aren’t.
I believe that our office culture is what keeps us producing work that makes us and our clients happy. There’s a reason why our logo looks like a smile.