We all learned about the definition of work in different ways. I grew up on construction sites with my dad, and in many ways it was as stereotypical as you can imagine. You show with a breakfast burrito in hand, make a wise crack at someone else’s expense, and make sure the project progressed at the end of the day. I always said that was a fun way to make a living. I also thought that fun had more to do with the people involved rather than the culture of work that was created.
Or was it?
As an independent electrician, my father had the luxury of roaming back and forth between construction sites. If a site was run by a not-so-fun foreman, he wasn’t forced to be a part of the work culture for long. I did notice, over the years, that he started taking jobs that were run by people he wanted to work with (unless the money was just too good to pass up).
The beauty of watching my father work as an entrepreneur is he was ahead of the curve. He started choosing the work that would not only make him money but make him feel good about how he made it. Business owners today recognize their employees want the same enjoyment from their paycheck. They recognize that good talent is hard to find. Especially in the IT community, great talent can mean the difference between being out of business in a few years and starting something truly successful. Great talent can also come and go as they please. So the task becomes two fold: attract great talent and keep them engaged once they come on board.
To do so, the notion of making your office fun has become extremely pervasive in the current work place. The problem comes when leadership has the wrong idea about bringing about this fun. Relaxed dress codes, decorated work spaces and free soda are easy choices that sometimes accomplish the goal. You might even take it to the next level that could involve working from home, team-building exercises, and early release days. Some of the truly innovative thinkers go way outside of the box with company kickball leagues, free laundry service and gourmet-cooked meals.
With all of those awesome ideas, one question keeps coming up: does any of that truly guarantee that you will have fun at work?
To me, a lot of those fun ideas seem like attempts to fake-bake culture into their company. What good is it to have a yearly holiday party if you barely know the people you work with? How much do free soda and coffee help when you need more than just caffeine to make it through the day?
Prior to my time here at SevenTablets, I was fortunate enough to be introduced into true community with co-workers. I spent a few years on a great team of people who cared about each other’s work and personal lives. We went out to lunch together and attended birthday parties for each other’s kids. In these times together, we also came up with some great ideas that helped the workplace. To this day I keep in touch with almost all of them.
A true community of co-workers is one that learns how to balance life in and out of work and enjoy as much of it as possible. I do not believe that this is solely accomplished by having an end-of-the-month bash or the occasional team lunch. From the president of the company down to the most recent hire, everyone must get up and decide to model community every day. If the team you work with is comfortable and lively, then the atmosphere my father raves about on construction sites will happen.
Of course, not every day is a picnic. When the team is behind, it’s tough for me to model atmosphere. Work must still get done. I don’t fix things by having an awkward icebreaker during daily standup, however. Trying to fix an atmosphere is how people retreat into their silos in the first place. Just relaxing, taking a deep breath and sharing one of your favorite clips from the Chappelle Show is sometimes all that is needed. At other times, someone senses the need for a batch of fresh kolaches from the bakery down the street. Bottom line is, at SevenTablets we don’t make ourselves have fun. We recognize that fun will happen if we just be ourselves and create an atmosphere where you can just enjoy the day.
That is when we start seeing progress in work and people showing up for work early. I’m proud of the culture we are letting grow naturally, not forcing to take root. It’s easy to invent a culture and promote it around the office. What’s hard is to take a step back and let it happen on it’s own.