In April, we were thrilled to hear that we made the Inc. Best Workplaces 2021 list, a true testament to our team’s open, engaging, and growing company culture. With a staff topping 24 people for the first time, our culture is always evolving, but still filled with meta jokes from days of just the founders. Our team prides itself on making time for fun and emphasizing the human element of work. Despite doubling our team size during a pandemic, and staff working remotely, we’ve taken a proactive stance to prioritize our company culture over the past year. Following are our five tips for creating a contagious company culture.
1. Be Open and Embrace New Ideas
Keeping an open mind is not only a must for start-ups like EnsoData, but also for any established company. Like many workplaces during the pandemic, we went from an in-office setting across from the capitol in Madison, WI, to remote home offices, with a heavy reliance on video calls for collaboration. The EnsoData team fully embraced this change to the business environment both strategically and culturally.
Coincidentally, we received our series A funding when the pandemic began and were charged with adding to the team to achieve high growth over the next few years. Due to the successful adaptation of the existing team to this new remote environment, the leadership team felt confident to geographically broaden their search for new employees instead of solely relying on a talent pool from central Wisconsin. In fact, 8 of the 13 new hires over the past year are located in states other than Wisconsin, including Illinois, Ohio, Tennessee, and South Carolina.
Adding employees from different areas and professional backgrounds is a great way to ensure an influx of new and different ideas. The culture at EnsoData fosters a workplace where idea sharing is encouraged and expected. Likewise, companies pursuing a contagious company culture should ensure that employees’ ideas for process improvement or potential solutions to problems are not only heard, but acted upon. Leadership must trust and enable employees to try out new ideas to help reach the collective goals of the organization. This will result in increased employee satisfaction and ownership of company goals and objectives.
The new norm of remote working, coupled with the doubling of our team within a year, also meant finding creative ways to continue to build the EnsoData company culture. EnsoData has always had a unique and contagious culture that the leadership team has strived to cultivate, even when in-person meetings and activities were unable to take place. This resulted in a number of after-hour virtual activities, such as Friday Night Happy Hour and EnsoGaming Night, where our team played the fad game of the pandemic, Among Us. Gens X, Y, and Z all took to our phones and traversed the halls, playfully eliminating each other, lying our faces off, and laughing hysterically. It might have sounded odd at first, but the Among Us rounds were an outstanding team building exercise worth replicating.
2. Schedule Time to Build Relationships
Due to the success of the Among Us game night, regular team activities have been scheduled to intentionally set aside time for camaraderie. In addition to after hours fun, the team shares a lot of what’s happening in Slack, a channel-based messaging platform. Besides having channels for non-work water-cooler-type conversations such as #parenting, #hackjams, #volunteering and #hobbies, one specific functionality in Slack that encourages our teammates to get to know each other on a more personal level is the Donut meetings function.
Occurring biweekly, Donut meetings are scheduled conversations that rotate among all staff. Employees are randomly matched with a different co-worker each time and encouraged to use the meeting to get to know each other better on a personal level by limiting conversations to non-workplace topics. These 30-minute meetings are a great way to get to know and find common ground with staff that are on other teams and are critical to building a company culture of inclusiveness and acceptance. Oh, and we love them, with average donut meeting rates around 90%! So, whether it’s donuts or some other method of intentionally getting to know one another, intentionally set aside time can significantly help build co-worker relationships, especially in a remote working environment.
3. Encourage Feedback
Like most companies, we have both weekly team meetings and regularly scheduled 1:1 check-ins between management and staff. Employees are encouraged to meet with their manager monthly, or more frequently, to provide feedback on the process, the job, and their comfort within the team. Leadership specifically uses that feedback to improve the cultural experience for staff. In addition, a unique way that EnsoData embraces a culture of providing feedback is through a company-wide Kaizen.
Kaizen, a Japanese term meaning “change for the better” or “continuous improvement”, is a Japanese business philosophy regarding the processes that continuously improve operations and involve all employees. About once per quarter, the team gets together to discuss how things are going at EnsoData. Anonymous input on what is not going well, what’s just okay, and where we are having success are provided by employees beforehand to encourage honesty and thoughtfulness. During the meeting, the team votes on the topics they feel most strongly about, resulting in those with the highest votes getting discussion time synchronously on the call. After the meeting, action items and takeaways are compiled and addressed with leadership and implemented with the team.
An environment of encouraging feedback led to the creation of EnsoData’s Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI) committee. EnsoData’s vision, to address the disparities of access to healthcare by providing affordable, accurate, and accessible healthcare for all, is consistent with taking a proactive approach to diversity and inclusion. The goals of the committee include recruitment and hiring initiatives, internal diversity education and training, community outreach, and investing in the future.
Whether it’s Kaizen, or another method to gain employee input, requesting and acting on honest feedback from employees on an ongoing basis not only nurtures an environment where employees feel valued, but also empowers your team to own stake in improving company processes and culture.
4. Share Your Gifts and Talents
Since our team comes from various backgrounds with differing professional experiences, we also intentionally schedule time to formally share our expertise with each other during lunch-n-learns. Held on a monthly basis in 2020, this time of information sharing is being relaunched as Internal Continuing Education. These weekly educational 1-hour lunch sessions are an opportunity for each team member to share something they are passionate about, or educate the rest of the team on a specific area of expertise. Past topics include Effective Task Management for Others, Effective Meetings, Optimizing Python, How to Spot Phishing, and Hiring “A” Players. Leverage the knowledge and experience of your team members to educate
and develop the rest of your team. In doing so, you’re not only giving them a platform to showcase their strengths, but also acknowledging their value and the talents they bring to your organization.
Sharing gifts extends beyond just professional expertise. One of our biggest virtual meeting highlights of 2020 was our talent show. Featuring a little magic, 100 digits of Pi (seriously!), poetry, music, athletics, and more, the talent show was a must-attend event, and will definitely be replicated in 2021! Not only are we eager to share our gifts with the rest of our team, but we are also passionate about giving back to our community.
The EnsoVolunteering group recently organized an opportunity to share culinary gifts by participating in Lasagna for Love. Some of our team members are participating in The Ride, an annual wellness event where 100% of money raised goes to cancer research and patient treatment initiatives at the University of Wisconsin.
Carving out time and providing ways for employees to share their gifts with the team and community not only promotes individual development and team building opportunities, but also gives employees purpose to achieve the higher company vision in addition to achieving the goals of your organization.
5. Appreciate Your Team
Everyone loves to be appreciated, and your employees are no different. This is likely the easiest way to build a contagious company culture, and it really is just that, contagious! There are many ways to creatively appreciate your team – from a sincere personal email, to verbal thanks for a job well done, to company-wide appreciation and gifts. It’s best to take an expansive approach that includes all of these methods for showing gratitude.
One way EnsoData encourages giving appreciation is through our #shoutout channel in Slack. Shoutouts are given to recognize a job well done, going above and beyond for a customer or coworker, birthdays, or other personal and professional milestones. In addition to shoutouts shared on Slack, 10 minutes are reserved at the end of our EnsoWeekly team-wide meeting to give shoutouts to each other.
We also have a Good Vibes Award that is paid forward at each meeting to someone who has embodied the best of EnsoData that given week or someone who needs the positive energy going into the following week. While individual expressions of gratitude have their place, public, company-wide appreciation truly makes individuals feel valued on both a personal and professional level.
Another company-wide outpouring of appreciation occurred over the summer when the executive team gave each employee an allowance to purchase supplies to enhance their home office space. Recognizing that employees displaced from the Madison office might not have an ideal home office set-up, this thoughtful gesture allowed the team to make their remote working space a more productive and enjoyable environment.
With that, Thank you to our EnsoTeam for an amazing 2020-2021!
In order to have a contagious company culture, your whole team will need to buy in. Collectively, if you heed our 5 tips, you will be well on your way to a company culture that enters (and wins) culture competitions like the Inc. Best Workplaces 2021 award. And cheers to all the current EnsoData employees. We couldn’t have our contagious culture without each and every one of you!