OPINION25 March 2019

Beyond ping-pong and happy hour

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Workplace culture is about more than just a relaxed environment. With technology making it easier for offices to communicate internationally, Ben Hogg outlines how to build a positive company culture across borders.

When we think of ‘company culture’, we often think of a token ping-pong table in the office, a Friday afternoon ‘happy hour’ and perhaps even a flexible working schedule which welcomes ‘hot-desking’ and working from home. But company culture runs deeper than just encouraging a ‘relaxed’ vibe where employees are allowed to dress casually on a Friday (we are based in Shoreditch, every day is ‘dress down Friday’).

Company culture is your brand’s identity and the values that the business stands for, and to be authentic it needs to be personified by all employees. It is essential for helping your company grow, both in terms of attracting new talent and for portraying an image of your company to potential clients.  

But when a company expands globally, growing into new markets that have their own individual cultures, how can it retain its own singular culture while embracing differences? By the end of this year, Lucid will have 11 offices across nine countries. Taking a single company culture across the globe can appear challenging, but from my experience, with encouragement, technology and the right hiring practices, it can be simple to create international cohesion around common goals.

Of course, first of all you need internal agreement around your vision, mission and values and ensure this is totally aligned across the senior team. There’s nothing more destructive to a company’s culture than the CEO saying one thing and a local director doing another. Having a cohesive idea of where you are going is vital. But once you have that, in this day and age, being global should be no hindrance to having a strong shared internal culture.

Advances in technology have been hugely important in spreading company cultures around the globe. Never before has it been easier to communicate ideas and build team relationships that promote mutual values across borders. Critical for this is face-to-face communication and thankfully, with technology such as Zoom, Hangouts and GoToMeeting this is not just doable, but incredibly simple to achieve. When colleagues may never actually meet each other in person it’s important that the face-to-face experience is replicated through technology so they can put faces to names, ultimately strengthening the bond of the wider team. It adds a familiarity to a relationship that cannot be achieved just over the phone.

Regardless of whether your meeting is face-to-face on Zoom, or even just via telephone, communicating internationally will of course be restricted by time differences. In scenarios where working days never intersect (London and Sydney, for example), it can be tempting to leave all communications to email, so people can respond at a time most convenient for them, or to Slack, so that people can respond at a time least convenient for them.

However, while this may reduce late nights or early mornings in the office, it also removes the personal element of communication and leads to alienation of different markets, never mind email overload. To avoid this siloed effect, teams should take it in turns to stay later or arrive earlier in the office for a call in order to make face-to-face communication work. It’s important to remind teams that, despite geographical differences, each office is working towards a common goal, so making small sacrifices every so often is important for encouraging unity between the teams. 

It’s important to make sure you’re hiring the right personality types to create the company culture you’re looking for. If the people you hire are aligned with your company’s values, it’ll be easier for your company to practice what it preaches and as time goes on it will become easier to attract more likeminded people. Skills-based hiring practices are obviously important, we wouldn’t hire someone based on company fit and personality alone. But when hiring for new international offices, where getting off to strong start in terms of company culture is important, for us, it’s vital to hire outgoing people – those who will make an effort to bond across teams and markets by introducing themselves, asking questions and showing an interest in others.

However, as well as hiring the right people, promoting company culture globally means leading by example. Companies may shout about their values and put them on their website, but unless the culture is embodied by employees, it’s only words. So, across markets, start with the right people who exemplify the values you promote and use the technology available to strengthen the team internationally. Giving your company a human culture doesn’t have to be difficult, but it does have to be embedded in order to make a real impact. 

Ben Hogg is managing director international at Lucid