The Rebel guide to crushing corporate culture

Ellen Thomas

25 October 2018

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Get a job with Google and you’ll be working for the happiest corporation in the world. Walk into an interview with Zappos dressed in “business casual” and you’ll be leaving with half a tie. Take a tour of Epic Campus in Wisconsin and you could find yourself stuck on a neverending morning commute.

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Epic Headquarters office hallway, designed to look like a New York subway station

Whether you’re concerned with attracting new talent or keeping your existing talent from tearing down all your motivational wall posters in a timesheet induced rage, the importance of a healthy and engaging corporate culture cannot be understated. There are plenty of examples out there of brands with a strong, or at least memorably novel, approach to corporate culture – but which approach is best for you and your team? There’s more to corporate culture than ball pit breakrooms and buzzwords, let’s take a moment to focus on a few specific examples.


Conventional culture


A more traditional workplace has its advantages. At scale, more structure means less confusion; clearly defined roles and teams can help businesses avoid design by committee. In some cases, there are also more readily available opportunities for training through mentorship programmes and graduate schemes.

The disadvantages, however, are obvious. An inability to communicate fluidly leads to a stifling of creativity, diversity of thought and cross-departmental collaboration. In many cases, traditional workplaces suffer from an excess of red tape and bureaucracy. They’re not usually as digitally literate as the startups they’re competing against, nor as agile. If it’s a well-established organisation, they’re often catering to an audience that they’re terrified of alienating which can make it difficult to encourage creative risk-taking. More conventional companies may also find it more difficult to attract younger talent.


Horizontal culture


Horizontal culture is characterised by a flat hierarchy and an emphasis on equality of opportunity. Transparency is key and these types of companies will often publicise salaries, or offer their employees the opportunity to crowdset salaries – something we’re exploring internally at Good Rebels. A more proportionate distribution of profit could lead to a more positive relationship between the C-Suite and employees. A flat hierarchy encourages communication and collaboration between employees no matter their level of experience, resulting in a more diverse decision-making process and more opportunities for personal growth.

On the downside, horizontal corporate culture has been criticised for lacking direction and accountability. After all, if no one’s really in charge, then who’s responsible when things go wrong? Conversely, are horizontal workplaces really so egalitarian? You’re usually still reporting to someone – and with no formal titles you risk disaffecting your employees and diminishing their sense of achievement.


Nomadic culture


Within a nomadic workplace, employees are encouraged to work from home or remotely whenever it suits them. The nomadic approach is pretty common but it does change the landscape of an office pretty significantly. Individuals perform better in different environments and the freedom to take some time away from the office helps employees to establish a better work-life balance.

That said, remote working can make it harder for employees to communicate with one another – although with tools like Slack and Google Hangouts, it’s not nearly as challenging as it once was. There’s also something to be said for the development of a group dynamic through day-to-day interaction in the workplace. In the end, it’s about finding a happy medium.


Common sense culture


In a common sense culture, employees are judged on the basis of achievement and ability rather than the number of hours they work. They’re given the freedom to experiment and devote time to personal growth. Trust is a huge part of it, and common sense policies have been championed by tech giants like Netflix, Google and Virgin. At Netflix, employees get unlimited holiday time and are trusted to expense without approval from a direct superior. Google’s famous 20% policy encourages employees to spend 20% of their time on creative and innovative projects not directly related to their normal day to day – a policy which has resulted in Google News, Gmail and AdSense.

In theory, employees are free to make their own decisions and are trusted to work productively in their own time on fulfilling, creative and profitable projects. The reality, however, is often not nearly so simple. CEO of Yahoo and former Google employee Marissa Mayer once dismissed their 20% policy as a “120%” policy and according to other former employees the policy is now ‘as good as dead’. Unlimited holiday policies have been criticised for working better in theory than in practice, with a significant number of employees rarely taking leave owing to a sense of guilt or a lack of urgency. And of course, there’s always the possibility employees will abuse common sense policies and productivity will suffer for it.


How culture works at Good Rebels


At Good Rebels, we’re proponents of the human-centred organisation. Your company culture is a reflection of your brand, and our brand is people-first.

We’ve established a human-centred culture through smart recruitment strategies, a multi-generational friendly workplace, a commitment to digital communication methods and radical transparency, and the encouragement of personal growth in order to turn employees into intrapreneurs.

More specifically, we offer unlimited holiday time with a mandatory minimum, we limit structure and encourage diversity within the workplace through a flat hierarchy, and we promote a healthy work-life balance through flexible working arrangements. We foster a culture of co-creation through our internal collaborative platform Brain. We’re obsessed with creating experiences designed to strengthen co-worker relationships like Rebel Fridays, Rebel Ruckus socials, Rebels at Work workshops and a casual and open atmosphere. We facilitate the discussion of issues related to the day to day of our organisation through the forum tool Focus; this helps us to align co-worker values with our Rebel Culture manifesto.

We’re always striving to build a more engaging, positive working environment, in part inspired by other human-centred corporate culture advocates like Airbnb, Plum and Twitter, whose commitment to employee wellbeing and personal growth is demonstrated by the availability of health and fitness classes, educational courses provided by Twitter University, and working environments designed to encourage productivity and increase employee satisfaction.


Get serious about corporate culture


Corporate culture affects everything from employee satisfaction, to brand reputation, to creative capacity. According to Deloitte, 94% of executives and 88% of employees believe that a distinct workplace culture is important to business success, and in a recent study Deloitte found that being named ‘Best Place to Work’ is associated with a 75% stock jump. So before you dismiss the whole corporate culture craze as creative co-working spaces gone mad, understand that figuring out which approach to corporate culture works best for you and your brand means a happier, more innovative and profitable workforce in the long term.

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