Culture: keeping the lights on

ALSO: we'd take less pay to never go back / voluntary work inspires engagement

Make Work Better is written by Bruce Daisley. If you’re new to the newsletter - here are some great podcast episodes that document where we’re up to on the changes in work.

It’s a long newsletter today. I guess a lot of stuff has been coming in at the start of the year. Down the page is some research that suggests people would swap a paycut to allow them to continue to work remotely. There’s also a link to this week’s podcast which is a discussion with a co-working operator.

Keeping the lights on with culture

Last week I dropped an email to the list asking people to share what their firms have been doing to keep culture going. I got a wonderful response - both on the thread and on LinkedIn. Here are some of the highlights:


Asking questions of team members seems to give more opportunity to find connection. Melissa from a research company said they are using Microsoft Teams to create channels for different interests:

“We have channels for book, podcast, tv recommendations etc. and then we run a Friday poll… which is usually about a random topic and there is generally a lively chat that follows… this week's poll is about food “you have to remove all cuisines of food from your life except one. Which do you pick?”

In the same vein Eddie Smithwick says:

”We have a team of 20 people and to bring us a bit closer together and recreate that team bond feeling we ran a questionnaire asking things like favourite TV series, best book, … if you were hosting a Come Dine With Me what would you cook and which celebrity would you invite? It provided some laughs and kept connections going”

Amy on LinkedIn said they’d gone as far as creating confidential spaces where people could go and chat about more serious experiences. They’d even arranged a talk from The Samitarans.

Virtual coffees were definitely mentioned. Richard Roberts explained how his firm randomly match up their Wednesday morning virtual coffees:

‘No one has any idea who they’ll be matched with. They then meet virtually that morning to have a chat and get to know each other better… the CEO is a regular drinker in the sessions’


Christopher from Turner & Townsend mentions they have a ‘Wellness Wednesday’ campaign where everyone in the firm has been given an extra hour on top of their lunch Wednesday lunch break to do what ever they want.

“It’s a 2 hour lunch break with encouragement to go outside and get some exercise on the basis that it’s cold and dark after work during winter. Directors have booked everyone’s diary out to from 1-2pm on Wednesday to give it a bit more emphasis".

Opening the conversation

A few people mentioned how they had changed the questions that they ask in group meetings. Ben Hulme mentioned his firm’s approach:

“Often we try to start each conversation or meeting with a simple optimistic question - "what are you looking forward to this year/month/week" or "share something good that has happened to you recently.” Changes the tone and opens the creative bits of the brain!

‘Perking from home’

A number of people mentioned that in a time of isolation receiving something tangible seems to have a magical impact. This was from Charlie Blum:

“We've been sending one-off perks to boost morale during lockdown. We've sent pizza kits, biscuits and small treats through the post as part of our 'Perking From Home' programme. The spontaneity has been a nice surprise for everyone and a welcome distraction from the 9 to 5/6/7/8pm”

Some people mentioned that they had remixed The Lockdown I party classic ‘the Zoom quiz’ by getting family/pets involved. Andrew from CPC Project Services mentioned they’d gone as far as getting their Lycra out in front of each other:

We've started offering live online yoga sessions twice a week for staff and their families. We are also doing a 100 mile run/walk challenge in January, with charity sponsorship and a Strava club to motivate each other. This helps us feel more connected and the exercise means we're more energised too.

Of course in the podcast a few weeks ago Abadesi from Brand Watch also mentioned they’d created a Strava challenge for their team too. Exercise seems to be a great bonding exercise, Andrew from Brand Genetics said they’d set themselves the goal of collectively covering the virtual mileage to Rio (the Rio Steakhouse in Newcastle was the version they settled on after some hasty recalculations).

In case of emergency, TikTok…

Philip Allen Bennett advocates the power of inspiring the teams to feel creative (in this case to introduce themselves to people who don’t know them):

”We got teams to record a 2-3 min video that introduces themselves and what they are currently working on. It works amazingly well, the creativity was off the charts. They ranged from a team doing it completely as TikTok videos spliced together, to a team that rewrote the lyrics to a Backstreet Boys video and recorded a Hangouts based music video for it. The engagement was high and the positivity that came from it was amazing, plus we have the bonus that now everyone in the domain knows a little bit more about what all the teams are doing, and who is in the team. Win-win”.

Keeping on with ambitious culture projects

Gary from culture agency Wonder tells me about a project he’s just completed with marketing agency Wavemaker. They typically hold a company offsite for their 500 employees but when that wasn’t an option they didn’t want to settle for doing nothing:

Despite the obvious challenges of putting on such an event in 2020, we were determined not to let the pandemic get in the way of doing something core both to Wavemaker’s culture and their diversity and inclusion ambitions.

The task was to deliver an engaging, full-day experience that involved the whole agency working together in support of four charity partners, held virtually.  Everyone was part of a team for the day, using the full range of their skills, ideas and products to support and raise awareness of the charities. The impact made for the Charity partners was considerable and they were very impressed by the commitment and the results.

To add to the impact they had started the day with a guest speaker, Matthew Syed, and door bells buzzed throughout the day delivering cocktail kits (matched to people’s person consumption tastes) for mixing and consumption at the end of the day. As Gary says:

“You worry when you embark upon something of this scale virtually, especially when most people had probably had enough of being on Zoom by then, but the feedback and levels of engagement from the people was incredible and felt like a real shot in the arm at the time.  The event  - two and a half months in the planning involving a team of twenty committed people working with us from the business - was a huge success. This could have easily been put off or placed in the "too difficult" box this year.  It wasn’t - instead it's a great example of a business that recognises the role a strong culture plays in its success and as a result works hard at building and maintaining it”.


Done something better? If you’ve got a suggestion of what your firm has been doing please share it on the thread or directly with me by replying to this email.

What's going to happen with our workplaces? This week’s podcast is a discussion of how, if we're not careful, the way that we're using our workplaces is going redefine our work culture for bad as well as for good.

At the start I reflect on some of the themes in last week's newsletter and then go on to chat to Nick LiVigne from Convene. Convene is a coworking/events business in the US that allow firms to adapt their needs to the minute-to-minute demands of their business. I found it intriguing to pick his brain.

Apple / Spotify / website

The culture of a crowd

I wrote something about how the idea of ‘mob madness’ just isn’t borne out by the evidence - there’s a brilliant TEDx Talk by Professor John Drury in this one.


Boris Johnson creates a ‘law’ of remote working 🤔

The British PM addressed 250 UK bosses last week and predicted the boisterous return to office life. A disconnected take I think. It’s pretty clear that firms are ready to offer workers the balance they’ve become happy with. By Johnson persisting with this belief, while most firms I talk to are reinventing their workplaces for 2022, makes him look increasingly out of touch.

Have we stumbled into a better way of living?

There’s a really interesting trend in some of the research that’s been out there this week. Firstly, ask yourself the question: how much pay would you give up to keep working remotely? 75% of remote workers say they’d give up money to keep their new balance to life. The average offering was 14% of salary but there’s a lot of people offering substantially more, especially older workers. Then secondly I saw a really interesting piece saying that workers who did voluntary work during the pandemic found that their motivation and commitment to their main job went up. It’s really interesting to think about those things in aggregate. A lot of us have seen creating a happy workplace culture as the route to life satisfaction, but maybe the real story is getting our jobs done well and seeking our happiness in the richness than connections in the community can offer us?

Make Work Better is created by Bruce Daisley, workplace culture enthusiast. You can find more about Bruce’s book, podcast and writing at the Eat Sleep Work Repeat website. I’m speaking at The Economist’s workplace conference in a couple of weeks - it’s free to join.

Image by @Jez Timms on Unsplash.