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Company culture is more than just a buzzword. It’s an organisation’s personality; it’s where people and business operations collide and work together towards a shared set of goals. It also defines how an organisation interacts with and is perceived by its employees, customers, and the larger community. A good culture will attract happy employees who become advocates for the wider business, building its reputation and boosting productivity.
Whilst creating and maintaining a strong culture can be challenging, keeping it during times of business growth is even harder. When a company rapidly scales, even the most firmly held values can get lost along the way. In allowing this to happen, businesses put their entire future at risk.
Andrew Filev, Founder of Wrike, knows all too well about nurturing company culture, particularly in times of organisational change, expansion, and acquisitions. Read on to hear his words of wisdom on maintaining the best type of company culture.
Can you sum up what company culture means at Wrike in 3 words and explain their significance?
In three words: Grow, Execute, Collaborate.
The values that provide the foundation for our company culture are; grow, execute and collaborate. We grow by learning new things, being curious, and seeking feedback. We execute by minimising waste and maximising value while getting things done. And we collaborate by working as a team, celebrating successes, and having fun! We also know that each one of us is different, and there is strength in our differences.
When you first founded Wrike in 2006, what visions and goals did you have for its systems, ethics, work environment(s) and employee engagement? Have they evolved and moved with the times since Wrike’s 15 years of operation and expansion?
While some systems have had to evolve and become more scalable, there is a common foundation that has stayed the same through the years. With us spending a significant part of our lives in the workplace, at Wrike we wanted to make sure it was the best place to work. As the company grew, we were able to afford more and more perks and benefits, but we always knew that the work experience has more to do with people, culture, mission, career growth, and recognition than it does with the perks. This attitude towards building the best place to work transcended from the office environment into the hybrid workplace of today that supports remote work.
We actually carried forward many other parts of our original culture. As a start-up, ownership and creativity are paramount to survival and success, and we cherish the same qualities now when we are 1,000 employees strong. Similarly, diversity was part of who we are well before it started to dominate today’s boardroom conversations.
How can hybrid-working, global companies create and maintain a healthy culture?
A major benefit of having a hybrid workforce is the ability to hire the most talented people, regardless of location. However, once you've assembled your A-team, the last thing you want is to lose them because they're isolated and disengaged from their colleagues and the business as a whole. Distance doesn't have to be a barrier to strong company culture.
To create or maintain a positive hybrid culture, organisations must start at the very beginning. The onboarding phase is a critical part of this, and one that can make or break a new employee’s impression of the company. Optimising your virtual onboarding process, therefore, heavily influences their decision to stay long term.
You will also want to create multiple opportunities for team members to connect, whether it’s at the individual, team, or company-wide level. One way they can connect is to recognise achievements. At Wrike, for example, we use Bonusly to reward colleagues for work they’ve done or milestones they’ve hit. With our Bonusly points, they’re able to purchase swag or donate to charity. Business leaders can also organise virtual activities to encourage employees to communicate and get to know each other. Over the last two years, our PeopleOps team has worked on Zoom trivia games, St. Patrick’s Day Bingo, a Halloween costume contest, and a month-long wellness challenge.
We are hopeful that, as pandemic-related restrictions begin to ease, we’ll be able to run in-person kick-offs and team-building activities, at least at the smaller team level. The current environment drives decentralisation, which is ok, as long as you still have connective tissue at a team level, there’s a common vision, strategy, and culture, and there’s some level of mixing between the teams.
With hybrid workers, as with on-site employees, continue to nurture professional growth and support a healthy work-life balance for those working outside the office walls. Understand what excites and motivates your team members by getting to know them on a personal level, beyond project expectations and due dates. Discover their goals and help them learn new skills to advance their careers. But do this whilst also encouraging flexible working schedules and paid time off.
Wrike is recognised as one of the Top 25 Great Places to Work in North America in 2021, scoring an impressive 90% employee satisfaction rate. Do you think company culture is more important to people and organisations now more than ever before?
There’s no doubt that company culture has never been more important than it is today. Strong culture drives engagement and motivation, and I believe that motivation is highly correlated to success for all of us. And a company’s success is ultimately orchestrated by the success of the individuals in that company. We win together.
To add to this, the competition for experienced and talented professionals has never been fiercer. Every organisation out there is looking for outstanding individuals who can deliver results. Today, employees are, rightfully, in the position of power – they have access to data on the job market, benefit packages, and can read through a plethora of online reviews. They also value strong company culture and actively seek out companies who offer it. In fact, recent research discovered that 77% of UK professionals would consider a company’s mission and purpose before applying for a job, and 57% go as far as to say that culture is more important than salary when it comes to job satisfaction.
Citrix acquired Wrike around the same time this Great Places to Work certification was issued. Do you think the company’s growth influenced the influx of positive employee feedback on life at Wrike? If so, how and why?
As your company grows, you have more levers to make positive changes. When we joined the Citrix team, we took some interesting practises from their culture, for example, offering employees additional “Thank You Days” throughout the year, which is worldwide company-sponsored time-off for employees. We’ve also retained all the core pieces of Wrike culture that I discussed above.
In general, as you grow your organisation, you can make more impact, both in your own workplace and in the world around you. For example, we have very successful employee resource groups supporting our various diversity initiatives. Being able to come together to recognise and celebrate our differences has had an unbelievably positive impact on our employees. In fact, Glassdoor found that 67% of job seekers consider workplace diversity an important factor when considering employment opportunities, and more than 50% of current employees want their workplace to do more to increase diversity.
How can business leaders avoid a ‘culture crossroad’ and successfully scale without compromising their values?
When you grow rapidly, culture can easily become watered down unless it is appropriately emphasised. My advice to other business leaders would be:
- Hiring is key. Hiring for culture fit is a big part of growing mindfully. Making hiring decisions while keeping your company's core values in mind will help you find talent that’s a more seamless fit, resulting in less friction and tension for all. Many of us in the management seats have compromised on this under the pressure at one time or another, and have regretted those compromises later on.
- Keep traditions. Your team’s existing (and beloved) traditions should be maintained, even if they have to be adjusted as the group expands. Whether it’s a weekly pizza party or the annual company Olympics, keeping some rituals intact will reinforce your company’s identity and establish camaraderie as you welcome new team members.
- Build feedback loops. When it comes to culture, you have a commitment to the team and need to ask for a commitment in return. At Wrike, we run detailed employee feedback surveys once or twice a year, and I commit to reading all the comments provided, before putting a plan in place to tackle the common emerging threads. The commitment I ask in return is that everyone contributes to the culture. The majority of your work experience is made up by your interactions with your team, and your direct manager. You are that team member for others, and a boss for some, so the culture starts with you.
Consider mentoring. New hires can be matched up with a more seasoned employee (whether from within their department or outside it) who can show them the ropes and get them up to speed on the unwritten rules of your company culture.