Company culture can be a powerful force. In addition to helping you recruit top talent, your company’s culture can help keep productivity high and turnover rates low. Beyond that, culture is part of the secret sauce that makes your company unique. Once you’ve created a great culture, the challenge becomes maintaining it as your company grows and expands across different physical locations.
We’ve hit that hurdle recently here at Stack Exchange—at the start of 2012, we only had about 30 employees. Now, we’ve upped that number to nearly 100, and we have bigger satellite offices in Denver and London. As the office guru of our Denver locale, I've tried to help our team here embrace the culture that is distinctly Stack Exchange while still hanging onto our favorite local pastimes. This, we’ve learned, is easier said than done. But we think we’re starting to get the hang of it, so in case you’re going through a similar expansion, here are a few tips on unifying your company culture across space and time zones.
Accept this: No matter what you do, no two offices will be the same. As a result, your company’s culture may not translate exactly from one location to another. But instead of noticing what’s different, focus on what you have in common. Identify your core values to ensure that they get passed along without having to create a cookie-cutter copy of your HQ in every new space. Once they’re instilled, these values may manifest themselves in different ways based on the unique set of personalities found in a particular office. The key is to focus on the bigger picture without getting bogged down in details.
From time to time, it may be worthwhile to have employees spend time working in a different office. At Stack Exchange, we’ve held company-wide summits, training sessions, and other off-site team-building activities. This opens up lines of communication, establishes new relationships, and gives employees a chance to interact with coworkers in a casual setting outside of work. If you can, plan ahead and set up a few spare workstations in your office to accommodate guests easily and take some of the hassle out of welcoming visitors.
Competition is inevitable, but if you want to avoid having the “Us versus Them” mentality develop between offices, it’s important to remain consistent with both policies and perks. Hopefully you’ve hired the kind of people who won’t quibble over small distinctions, but you should make it a point to offer the same opportunities across the board. A bit of healthy competition is one thing, but you have to work to make sure members of your team don’t feel like outcasts.
Never underestimate the power of a free t-shirt. Give a man a fish, and you feed him for a day. Give a man a free t-shirt, and he will totally think you’re awesome forever. Plus, chances are that your company merchandise isn’t available to the general public, so swag is a great way to help employees feel like they’re part of a larger, but still exclusive team. There’s also something to be said about having people recognize your company’s logo at events or even while walking down the street.
Your company culture is an asset, and as such it’s worth the effort to maintain it even during periods of rapid growth. Preserving core values across multiple offices made up of different personalities can be tricky, but the end result is a stronger company overall.