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What are the Essential Ingredients of a Remarkable Company Culture?

After working at Highland Solutions for almost four years, it’s clear to me that we’ve transformed into a different kind of company over time. We have new leadership, new team members, a new approach to the work we do, and a new approach to how we do it.

One of the things I’m most proud of through that era of transition is the number of cultural changes we made to ensure that Highland team members come first in everything we do. Some are pretty small and happen all the time, and some are much larger and happen maybe once in a team member’s tenure with us, but they’re all equally important to make sure that Highlanders feel happy and valued.

Below is a list of the top ten things I feel are crucial to our culture here at Highland. But I didn’t want you to just take my word for it, so I asked some of our fellow members of Built In Chicago’s Best Places to Work list about what they thought makes a company culture truly great.

1. Sending GrubHub gift cards to the family of team members who are traveling

Our team members travel often for the work we do, and that can take its toll on the family members who are at home taking care of families on their own. We like to send a GrubHub gift card to team members with little ones at home so the parent not traveling has one less thing to worry about while their partner is gone.

2. Providing a weekly lunch for all team members

This was a tradition that started many years ago at Highland that stopped for some time. A few years ago we started to order in pizza on Fridays and then that turned into a permanent catered lunch every Thursday for the entire office. There’s no greater sense of community than sharing a meal together, and our team loves it.

We use Fooda and love their ease of use and level of service. We’re able to feed 20 team members each week for about $1,500 a month, which we feel is well worth the investment.

Our friends at Showpad, a sales and marketing enablement platform, have a similar tradition of in-office meal-sharing:

Every Tuesday our Chicago office gets together to enjoy a catered lunch. It’s an opportunity for us to step away from our desks, enjoy a meal and get to know each other. We’ve found this is a great way to build relationships with people you may not work with directly. Our office team does an incredible job of keeping it fun. We’ve done just about every theme from a baked potato bar to tacos to Indian, Thai and Mexican cuisine. The food is always great, but the fellowship we build while enjoying it is even better.

3. Giving gifts to Highlanders celebrating significant life events

As someone lucky enough to benefit from both a wedding shower and a baby shower, you never imagine your employer as one of the people who would be sending you a gift for either. We try and make sure to send a sizable gift whenever anyone on the team is celebrating a major life event like getting married or having a baby. This allows us to be a part of those special moments without overstepping the boundaries of work/life balance. We always pass a card around the office as well for the team to sign so everyone can share a personalized note with the employee.

4. Sending flowers for family members that pass

I promise this will be the only somber item on this list. As all of us hope this never happens to anyone, but unfortunately there are going to be folks on your team that must deal with the pain of family members passing away.

We always try and send flowers to honor the family member that passed in accordance with that particular team member’s beliefs. Local funeral homes across the country are always super gracious to help find a local florist to help with this one.

Most of the time, we can use online sites like ftd.com or 1800flowers.com to make things easier. We always pass a card around the office as well for the team to sign.

5. Facilitating a weekly all-company stand-up

Every Monday morning we do an all-company standup that every Highlander is encouraged to join. Team members share their personal and professional best from the last week and what they’re working on in the forthcoming week. People usually share snippets of their personal lives from over the weekend, it’s a fun, lighthearted way to connect as humans before diving into the workweek. We also share what’s in our sales pipeline so that the entire team can see what deals we’re working on and what prospective projects may close soon.

Over time, Highlanders sometimes choose to swap out “personal best” with “personal worst,” when they’re going through a really difficult time. Our culture of transparency and vulnerability helps normalize the highs and lows every person experiences, and lets all Highlanders know that it’s okay to not be okay sometimes.

Our pals at Punchkick, a digital innovation firm, shared that they also take pride in using their standup to connect on a personal level:

Spending dedicated time together as a company is one of the foundations of Punchkick’s culture. Every morning at 9:00am we have a company-wide huddle, and each day is different. Some days we all share good news in our lives or ask each other fun questions, and other days we spend time demoing project work or talking about new sales wins. We end each huddle with shout-outs, recognizing team members going above and beyond. Starting the day together every day reminds us of why we’re here doing what we do.

6. Hosting a weekly Beer:30

Our team usually works from home on Fridays, so every Thursday afternoon at 4:30pm we all head into the kitchen and enjoy an adult beverage together. We keep a couple of small fridges stocked with beer and wine and make sure to have something a little stronger on hand to share as well.

It’s a great way to decompress after a long week and to get to meet with team members that you may not work directly with. Sometimes we’ll even turn Beer:30 into a potluck with a theme so we have some snacks to enjoy as well!

7. Providing team members with the option to work from home

For some organizations this may not be possible, or may work only for some particular roles, but we’re privileged with the work we do for our clients that our entire team has the freedom to work from home within reason.

Team members usually work from home 1–2 days a week, and most team members choose to work from home on Fridays. We ask our team to primarily be in the office on Mondays and Thursdays so we know we can schedule team meetings for those days. As someone who takes advantage of this most Fridays so I can watch my 18-month-old son, I’m able to experience first-hand the benefits this has on our family and my work schedule.

G2, a software and services review site, also emphasized the importance of a generous WFH policy for its team members:

I cannot begin to emphasize the importance of providing employees with the option to work from home. Not only is it a fantastic way to show appreciation and respect for your employees and the needs they have in their personal lives, but the ROI it delivers from a productivity standpoint is immeasurable. G2 provides a no questions asked work from home policy to all of its team members, and the respect and trust I feel as a result only encourages me to give that much more to the company in exchange.

8. Giving people the tools they need — no questions asked

This one might seem small or obvious, but when it comes to the right tools for our team, we don’t pinch pennies. In the long run, this works out so much better than trying to get a great deal. We make sure to buy brand new laptops, high-quality accessories, and any software tools our teams might need to do their best work.

We’ve all been there, using hand-me-downs or the wrong tools — it just makes the work you’re doing a little harder to do. We want the least amount of friction possible and know that we’re making the cost increase back in the productivity of our team.

9. Encourage celebration

We encourage our teams teams to celebrate! When a project wraps, it has become customary to gift a personalized item to our clients to commemorate the project’s end (we’ve created everything from mugs to puzzles). We also like to go out for a nice dinner if the client happens to be local.

10. Creating (and encouraging the use of) a self-care room

We’ve always had a small closet-sized room in our office that we formalized this room as our Self-Care room earlier this year when we wanted to create a Nursing Room for one of our team members.

Nothing fancy, but this chair is 10/10 comfortable and yes, it reclines all the way back.

We hung some holiday lights, put in a Google Home so you could play music or turn on white-noise, bought a nice reclining chair, and threw a dry erase board on the door so there was an easy way to tell others when it’s occupied. The response has been great as almost all of us always need a place to get away to relax, take a phone call, or even a midday nap!

11. Creating a #help Slack channel

Last but not least, one of the best things we have created for our team is our #help Slack channel. This is the one place everyone goes whenever they need help with anything.

It removes all the barriers of knowing where to turn to or who to turn to for specific needs when you’re having an issue as one of our team members. From things as simple as inviting a client into a Slack channel to some pretty big technical issues, it’s the one place where you know immediately where to go to get help with whatever just doesn’t seem to be going right that day.

A handful of Highlanders, mostly on our Operations Team, monitor the channel and assist with requests as they come in. We use the checkmark emoji to note which requests are complete and which are still outstanding. ✔️

There you have it — 11 ideas that could take your company culture to the next level! Some are easy to implement and others are a bit more elaborate, but I hope you find some inspiration on this list that helps make the lives of your team members even better.

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