16 things we did to reach 100% employee engagement in lockdown
By Lorna Charlish, Digital Radish’s Co-Founder.
When Renaye and I founded Digital Radish, we wanted to build an agency that was more than just a workplace. An enjoyable, blame-free, fast paced, fun office environment where people had autonomy and no one felt that ‘Sunday feeling.’ Then the pandemic hit, and all of a sudden that environment was off limits.
Sure enough, when our employee happiness survey came around, two months into working from home, we experienced a number of downturns in terms of our results. Our net promoter score (+54) may have been higher than the industry average (+14), but it was a great deal lower than what we were used to, with office culture and learning/improvement opportunities in particular taking a large hit.
So we went about rethinking the way we did things – and three months later we hit 100%. Here’s what we learned:
My favourite summer read was Frédéric Laloux’s excellent Reinventing Organisations (2014). It charts how organisations have changed throughout history, identifying 4 different ‘colours’ of organisation, with 4 different world views:
I found the book not only fascinating, but hugely constructive for thinking about our own behaviours as a team. This book really made us think about how we might further devolve and democratise decision-making within the agency, and made me keen to ensure the person with the most ground truth was making the decision, rather than the most senior.
And it was with the above devolution in mind that we realised we needed a fresh perspective on how to keep our team culture alive. Previously we might have been tempted to try to solve the problem as a management team, but instead we realised we needed some perspectives different from our own. So we had our team agree on a social committee, a group of representatives from across the business who have been crucial in coming up with ideas over the past few months.
This has had a hugely positive effect. The ideas they’re constantly coming up with are excellent, keeping the team connected in evermore intricate ways rather than just rolling out the same old weekly Zoom quiz. Secondly, and most importantly, it has created a sense of democracy. With people from every level represented in the committee, and the volume of decisions not increasing with seniority, our team hopefully has a sense that we all have an equal say.
One of the first jobs for our social committee was to help adapt our company benefit package to where we are now as a company, working from home – as well as where we plan to be in the future. The memberships for the gym local to the office are gone, for now, but there is a £200 home office budget to make people more comfortable at home, and we offered an individual learning and development budget to empower people’s own progression in ways they found fit; be that books, subscriptions or online training courses. We have weekly personal training. We brought in Perkbox Sapphire which provides free GP services online within an hour, 4 hours of free counselling, lots of discounts and other benefits. We also have Family Flexibility, so people can work as suits them and around things like school pick-ups. My clients understand that I will leave a meeting when it’s bath time (my toddler’s – not my own).
‘Culture eats strategy for breakfast,’ so goes the quote from influential business thinker Peter Drucker, and it couldn’t be truer. Approaching our rethink, we put culture at the centre of every decision. For example, in the past, if we had a pitch or important client meeting, we’d reschedule a team meeting (it’s only internal, right?!) but then we realised that pitches and client meetings only go well when we put our own people first.
Positive feedback isn’t easy when you’re far away from each other. Which is why we urge our departments to give a shoutout to any great work and share positive feedback – we have a dedicated slack channel and a process referred to, inexplicably, (and potentially slightly embarrassingly now it’s here on LinkedIn) as ‘snappy snaps’.
It’s easy when working from home to get quite insular in the way we think. The creative team at Digital Radish have done a great job in setting time aside every Friday morning to meet, and each person brings a campaign, idea or innovation they’d like to discuss as a group.
When people are encouraged to be autonomous and make their own decisions, that means an element of governance gets removed (especially when working remotely!). This empowerment is important and motivating, but it means mistakes can happen. Something we are really passionate about is creating a blame-free culture. Yes, we are accountable, but when mistakes happen there shouldn’t be blame. We don’t go as far as one example, BambooHR, who created an ‘oops’ email box in order to announce mistakes made in a non-judgemental, open way, but we do encourage people to be open and honest about mistakes they’ve made. In fact, let’s attribute the stream of mistakes I make on a weekly basis as part of my commitment to that culture…
Covid has taught us many things but one is that there is so much more to life than money. Duane Hixon, the founder and CEO of N2 Publishing, describes it this way: “Profit is necessary, but it is not the goal. We need air and water to survive, but that isn’t our purpose. Our purpose is to help people live better lives.” We actually don’t set financial targets, and we don’t have meetings about money. We think about what we genuinely believe is best for the client, never sell things we don’t think they need or we can’t do well, and we genuinely care that our people are happy to work here. After that, the profit takes care of itself.
CSR hadn’t been prioritised enough in the past, according to some employee feedback in our survey, so we’ve created a CSR working group with a mandate that they could donate agency time for free to causes they believe in.
Hard work is in our DNA and there are a lot of ambitious, driven people here who work extra because they care about their clients and want to move their careers forward. But making work all pervasive can also be damaging. Now if anyone works late, especially the management team, we ask that they use the schedule send button on Gmail so emails don’t arrive until the next day.
It soon became apparent how draining back-to-back calls can be in the remote workplace, and how, if you’re not careful, they can tie you to your desk. We try to get everyone to set meetings for 45 minutes, meaning you avoid (some) screen fatigue, giving everyone a chance to breathe, go to the toilet, have a coffee, or just step away from that all-ruling screen for a moment. We also actively try to avoid 1pm meetings.
First thing every morning, without fail, we catch up within our departments. This helps everyone start the day with a social encounter, and ensures positive communication.
‘Deep thinking’ is how we as human beings increase our number of valuable and useful thoughts. It’s how people innovate, reframe problems and see solutions. Slack, and its communication brethren, are incredible tools that are invaluable for working remotely. But they can be the enemy of deep thinking. We tell everyone they are welcome to turn their notifications off – and despite the instant nature of Slack we don’t expect instant replies. After all, that kitten GIF will still be there later.
This is something we’ve always done, and it’s crucial. Having set out our values of ‘what makes a Radish’, we know who we’re looking for, enabling us to build a positive, resilient community within our team. And once they’re in, we ask them to fill in a DISC personality profile, so we know exactly how to help them integrate.
At the same time, if any employee does show signs of behaviour we don’t condone – politics, not owning up to mistakes or blaming others – we address it openly, honestly and immediately. We know it’s easy to undermine a company’s culture, particularly while working remotely.
Digital onboarding is no picnic, but bizarrely onboarding seems to be working better in lockdown rather than out of it. Each new employee has a 15 minute one-to-one meeting with every member of the Digital Radish team. It takes a while but it feels worth it, and rather than the old style onboarding process* (*Nandos and a trip to the pub) it enables genuine, one-to-one time rather than a rushed, loudest-speaks-most group setting.
We take our quarterly survey extremely seriously. I record each and every comment and what the actions will be against each one. Sometimes the action is simply to talk about it in the team meeting and explain why it isn’t something we can (currently) change. But at least this means it’s openly acknowledged, and the team can see we are trying our best, even if we don’t always get it right.
Like the sound of how we do things?
If, like me, you want to work in a fun, blame-free, autonomous environment, then maybe you’d like to work for us! We’re hiring for a few roles at the moment, so take a look at our jobs page and see if any of them suit.