Culture

Creating A Work Culture That Doesn’t Suck

There are a lot of different things that go into making a work culture that doesn’t suck. These seven principles are a great starting place.

Dec 8, 2022

After working at many different organizations, I’ve seen my share of work cultures that have been good, some were toxic and some I thought were great, but then realized it may have been for me, but not everyone in the organization felt that way. It wasn’t our culture, just the way I was treated. I’ve been with HomeRoom long enough to see that this work culture is truly felt throughout the organization, and not just by a few. What’s the difference between a great work culture and one that sucks? Let’s dive into what makes HomeRoom unique and a culture that any organization should strive to have.

Emotional and Psychological Understanding

Ola, our marketing manager, describes it as,

“The very first thing I love about working with HomeRoom is the healthy work environment. I feel HomeRoom shows a good level of emotional and psychological understanding towards every employee, to ensure they are in a good state of mind while carrying out their daily obligations with the company.”

Many others at HomeRoom have touched on this too. The healthy work culture does stand out as we all feel it and never have to hide or mask things that are going on in our personal lives. We feel heard and cared for based on who we are as human beings and things that are impacting our physical and emotional well-being. I may have had a boss or manager feel this way about me, but never an entire company! A big part of the emotional and psychological understanding we feel comes from the way we integrate work and life.

Work-Life Balance Integration

Our CEO’s Executive Assistant, Kim, states,

“We all encourage each other not to work on a day off, even though some are still working secretly.”

And it’s true. Weekends, holidays, and vacations are supposed to be just that. Days off are not filled with checking in on work. And as Kim brings up, sometimes each of us has something to get done that requires some work on weekends. It’s not expected and nobody pressures you to do it. And if it is your choice, nobody expects anyone else to respond or help on their days off. For me, as someone dealing with stage 4 colon cancer and undergoing chemo treatment, if side effects impact me too hard, or I have doctor’s appointments, all I need to do is let my team know. If I have any deliverables due, I can see if someone can assist in getting them done. As our Community Architect and Operations Manager, PJ states what they feel makes our work culture unique,

“Flexible scheduling and workloads that are cognizant of the fact that we are all human.”

And while it shouldn’t be something special to consider employees human, in today’s world, too many companies consider employees assets, or more accurately, liabilities on a balance sheet, and not humans. And when you are treated as a human, growth is encouraged.

Growth: Encouraged (Individually AND Together)

Since I’ve been at HomeRoom, I’ve had my job title change twice, and my job description changed more than that. I’m not complaining, just explaining that as a startup we are focused on growth and embrace it. Not just for the company, but for each of us as individuals. Ola says,

“Taking myself as a good example, during my first few months with HomeRoom, I started with basic tasks like composing simple tweets from influencers in the Community space. Today, I am handling podcast management, Community digest, newsletters as well as assets created for the content we create. So, it's been a massive experience of growth with the company.”

And when it comes to how our individual and company growth makes an impact, PJ states,

“Our culture recognizes our superpowers and puts us in positions to make a change & succeed instead of acting as if every employee is a cog in a larger machine and limiting what we can do.”

I love change because it leads to growth. Doing it as an individual and together as a company is the most rewarding experience I’ve had since we celebrate our achievements together. Much of this growth has come from the opportunity to work with a group of diverse individuals.

Queer First

Did this heading catch your attention? When I said diverse, I meant it. As David, our Head of Engineering explains,

“In the default corporate world, many HomeRoom employees would all be targets for discrimination and/or managed out. But in HomeRoom, we perform vital functions. That does require adaptiveness. Without the butt dent to guide us, we have to think about where and how we want to sit. But in exchange, it means everyone has an opportunity to realize individual and shared goals.”

I remember my first two interviews were not focused on my skills or experience, but rather on how open I was to a diverse work environment. It was the first time this had ever come up during a job interview, not to mention the first two! But as the only straight, white male, I now understand why they were asking me. I’ve always been open to others who are different from me, and my time at HomeRoom has opened my eyes up to so much more than I realized. Queer is not just about our sexual orientation or preferences, but about how we look at the work we do. Nothing has to be mainstream. In fact, ideas that are different are embraced as much as people are.

Open And Transparent

Some may think openness and transparency are one and the same when it comes to work culture. But they are different. Open is about being willing to share news, good or bad. Transparency is about telling the why behind openness. What we learned and how we will approach it differently moving forward. Kim shares,

“Arjay (HomeRoom’s CEO) is super transparent with everything about HomeRoom. About the funds remaining from our pre-seed round, issues during the call with the investors, etc.”

I’m sure you’ve probably heard, “We have an open-door policy.” I’ve worked in places that sounded great until you had an issue with your boss and went above their head. Often times that lead to my boss, not their superior coming back to me and discussing and driving a wedge further between us.

At HomeRoom, even though we have job titles and certain things need to be discussed, most of the time each of us is empowered to take action without approval because we are all made aware of our situation. Not just financially, but also from a visual standpoint. Where we want to go and why we want to go there. When I’ve had questions about benefits, I go to our human relations person. When I have a question about attending an event or joining a membership or course, I discuss it with our CEO. When I have a question about Notion, I ask our Operations Manager. Even if I think of a subscription we are no longer using or want to know if our CEO is available for a partner or prospect call, I can get in touch with our executive assistant.

As someone who had traveled to Denmark several times, I learned of The Law of Jante. It’s pretty difficult to explain all the nuances, but I’ll sum it up by saying, “No one person is any more important than another.” When you see a street person, or homeless, as we say in America, you don’t just pass by and ignore them. You don’t belittle them. You talk to them just like another person. The difference is amazing because the street people aren’t just sitting on the sidewalk panhandling. They are selling newspapers, walking around, and dressed like most others. I’m sharing this because I believe that the open and transparent communication we have at HomeRoom is because nobody on the team has an ego. We all look at each other as equals, even as different as we all are. And that goes a long way in being able to trust everyone with information. Trust in the workplace may sound unusual, but what else is unusual?

The ‘Usuals’

Remote work, unlimited time off, limited meetings

I say ‘usual’ because in today’s world there are many companies that are now remote first, providing unlimited time off (UTO), and have a limited meeting policy. But saying it and practicing it are two different things.

At HomeRoom, we don’t have a corporate office. Nobody is told they can work remotely and then asked to attend a weekly meeting at the office unless that office is wherever they have internet access and a device to meet via video using Vowel. We are a dispersed team with members in three times zones in the US and two people in the Philippines.

This is the first company I’ve worked at with unlimited time off. It’s been an adjustment for me because when I’m not feeling well, I don’t have sick time. When I go away on vacation, I don’t have vacation time. It really hit me when I was talking with our CEO, Arjay, about possibly being gone for 2 months when I get my liver transplant. He didn’t blink an eye and told me this is why we have UTO. Does this mean you can just take a year off and get paid? No! But it is practiced and not just talked about. Personal days, celebrations, and vacations are encouraged and even discussed in our weekly standups.

Meetings. I will be sharing a post in the future about how to host meetings that people want to attend, but for now, let me share that HomeRoom has a few things that don’t put us in meeting overload. First, we have a policy of no meetings Fridays. Are we perfect? No. But on the rare times we do have a Friday meeting, it’s generally one meeting, discussed with everyone who is to be a part of it before being committed to and never put on our Calendly schedule as available for clients, partners, and prospects. In addition, we only allow two meetings per day on Tuesdays and Thursdays outside the company. We are able to do this by working asynchronously with clients, partners, and prospects using Slack and Threads. As a technology company, we use technology, but not just as a tool.

Technology As Culture

When I asked each of our team members to share two things that thought made HomeRoom’s work culture unique, our Head of Engineering, David, shared this:

I’ve been working on a way to articulate the idea that software is not a synonym for technology. Technology is the application of knowledge — any domain of knowledge — for the benefit of all. And because applying the knowledge is an act of agency, technology has intrinsic moral and cultural dimensions. I see HomeRoom’s focus on community as awareness of those dimensions, and that’s a big deal. I think HomeRoom has a unique capacity to demonstrate fully realized technology, something that people are only partially aware they’ve been missing.

There’s not much for me to add here, and I thought it was beautiful just as David shared it. Now let’s look at some things that are NOT part of a healthy work culture.

Warning

HomeRoom’s work culture is NOT for you if:

  • You like to be micromanaged

  • You don’t like change

  • You need to be told exactly what to do

  • You seek approval before making decisions

  • You are biased towards individuals unlike yourself

And one additional note. I didn’t think it would be fair to have, Bunny, our Human Relations - People and Culture manager to contribute, but he did review and loved it. Plus, I wanted this to be a surprise for our CEO, Arjay, as he knows the topic I was writing on, but again, wanted the team, and not our HR or CEO, to contribute to the culture they have built.

There are a lot of different things that go into making a work culture that doesn’t suck. The seven principles we’ve outlined are a great starting place, but they aren’t the only thing that matters. What makes your company unique? What do you think is important for people to feel good at work? Let us know in the comments! We want to hear from you about what makes your work culture special and how you make it thrive.

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