WtF x Hack Summit Labs Present: Company Culture Tips And Workplace Humanity

We The Fueled joined forces with Hack Summit Labs to present a panel on company culture and how to promote a sense of humanity at…

On August 8th, We the Fueled joined forces once more with Hack Summit Labs to host a discussion on company culture and promoting a sense of purpose at the workplace. Continuing in the footsteps of July’s collaboration, which presented the most important tools and techniques for scaling company culture, the latest panel provided more company culture tips, with a special focus on how to keep the workplace human.

We the Fueled is a committee dedicated to inclusivity and diversity in the workplace and beyond. Created by a team of Fueled employees in April 2018, We the Fueled hosts events and panel discussions that explore company culture and dissect the everyday, human issues of the workplace.

Like We the Fueled, Hack Summit Labs is committed to making the workplace a better environment for everyone. The organization works with businesses to create programs, initiatives, and movements that achieve social impact. Keeping the Workplace Human is the most recent installment in Hack Summit Labs’ People & Purpose series, which brings industry leaders together to share their successes, regrets, and company culture tips with the world.

The event featured three speakers: Ashley Westbrook, Director of Talent and HR at Tigerspike, an international company that specializes in enterprise mobility; Priyanka Gupta, VP of People at AbleTo, a technology-enabled behavioral health solutions provider; and Adam Schorr, Founder of Rule No. 1, a consultancy that focuses on leadership, company culture, and purpose. The discussion was moderated by Amos Schorr, Principal at Hack Summit Labs.

A very special thanks to Spring 44, a Colorado-based distillery that takes advantage of natural processes to make craft spirits, for providing liquor for the event.

Company Culture Tips Ashley Westbrook Priyanka Gupta Adam Schorr
Ashley Westbrook, Priyanka Gupta, and Adam Schorr

For those of you who couldn’t make it, don't worry — We the Fueled will be hosting another event in September. In the meantime, here are the key takeaways and company culture tips from the Keeping the Workplace Human panel.

What Does A Workplace with Humanity Look Like?

Having humanity in the workplace means that everyone at the company can feel comfortable showing up to work as their full, authentic self. There’s also a sense of purpose embedded in the definition — employees should feel like they play an integral role and engage in authentic communication and collaboration.

At humanity-oriented workplaces, company culture does not require people to feel like they need to wear multiple layers of themselves. Employees and especially leaders shouldn’t shy away from expressing their emotions. According to Priyanka Gupta, “Authenticity is vulnerability,” but being encouraged to be yourself at work can lead to extraordinary results.

Why Having Humanity in the Workplace Matters

There are a few reasons why promoting a sense of humanity in the workplace is essential. First of all, in a world where we devote so much of our lives to our work, the workplace should be expected to give a little back by providing a company culture dedicated to personal growth.

Also, according to workplace-culture guru Adam Schorr, companies are more innovative and altogether better off when they make keeping humanity in the workplace a priority.

“Who decided that work has to suck?” — Adam Schorr

Finally, for a lot of people, having a sense of authenticity and humanity in the workplace has become more of a foreign concept than a familiar one. However, when companies start to embrace the flaws and beauty of being human, that acceptance can spread it to other aspects of our lives, making the world a better place slowly, but surely.

Prevailing Company Culture Isn’t Humanity-Averse, Is It?

The workplace is full of automatic responses for when people don’t know how to express themselves, but that can also be the case for life outside of the office. And, just like the outside world, people don’t necessarily want to share their real selves with the people around them. Is a lack of humanity a workplace-specific issue, or is it just a part of life?

Being 100% yourself 100% of the time is a challenge — part of being human means that we experience vulnerability in different ways and don’t always enjoy it. The workplace can be much more of a structured environment than others, and it can present different challenges to keeping the workplace human, but they are definitely still there.

While they can’t control how people treat each other after hours, company leaders are responsible for ensuring a company culture that embraces humanity inside of the office, to the best of their ability. It’s not that companies are especially averse to having a healthy, people-oriented company culture, but that they don’t really focus on how to welcomes and promote humanity in the first place.

What Affects Healthy Company Culture And What Are the Norms?

In terms of office norms, Ashley Westbrook brought up a key point: “Why do meetings have to happen in conference rooms? Why not walk around the block, why not go for coffee?”

Part of keeping the workplace human means not conforming to standards all the time and being comfortable shifting roles around. Ashley recommends that next time you’re in a meeting with a manager or with someone you manage, try to reverse the roles and see what happens. We play so many roles outside of the office, so why not encourage flexibility in the office?

Adam Schorr mentioned that companies, especially large corporations, never want to be caught on the wrong side of race or gender issues at work. That’s perfectly acceptable, however, as a result of avoiding touchy subjects at all costs, many companies have substituted humanity with policy, processes and risk-averse systems.

Fueled Company Culture Panel

How Can We Design Systems That Promote Healthy Company Culture?

For Priyanka Gupta, setting the right tone from the start is key. Companies need to have strong, relevant values in place and encourage them whenever possible. For example, when companies linking values to performance evaluations, employees can know that their being valued for their human performance, not just their output.

Priyanka also mentioned that, in order to maintain a positive company culture, companies need influencers across locations. Leaders should identify managers that are passionate about feelings in order to build a cohort of influencers who can own making sure that employees are heard.

How Can We Design Systems That Help Keep the Workplace Human?

In keeping humanity in the workplace, the first line of defense is the people themselves.

Managers need to feel comfortable and safe, strong enough to have the kinds of authentic conversations that reflect humanity. At AbleTo, there’s always a personal check-up before every meeting, which helps team members not only stay in the know about events that might affect work, but also so have a chance to connect on a personal level.

“Authenticity is vulnerability” — Priyanka Gupta

Adam noted that people have a false belief that every situation should be comfortable, but at the end of the day,  people who really care will not shy away from a conflict-laden conversation. This belief that we should always be pleasant can have negative effects and can replace the most basic aspects of human culture, like disagreement and resolution, with complacency.

When It Comes To Office Communication, Have UX Designers Changed How We Interact For The Worse?

At Tigerspike, with ten offices around the globe, there’s a definite need for platforms like slack and email for quick communication. However, according to Ashley, the company culture promotes making time to in-person conversation.

“Why send a slack when you’re in earshot of someone? Why not go have a conversation with someone?” — Ashley Westbrook

Having real-life conversations isn’t only a way to connect with people, it also removes the ambiguity in tone that digital conversations can introduce.

When Priyanka was building a new team of remote engineers at AbleTo, she used a platform called Sococo. Sococo creates a virtual office for remote employees, which can help them feel united as a group by introducing more visual interaction.

Are Scale and Efficiency the Enemies of Healthy Company Culture?

Most companies start off with a positive mission, but as companies grow, healthy company culture can get sucked out of the workplace to make room for efficiency. According to Adam, the path to driving humanity out of the workplace is not paved with not bad decisions. What happens is companies make a lot of good business decisions that cause them to grown, but that have unintended consequences.

“That thing inside of us, the special thing that we have to contribute to the world is under attack more or less from the time we are born.” — Adam Schorr

Companies need to understand that humanity is not perfectly efficient. It’s not always buttoned up, it’s a little bit flaky, a little messy. Optimization mentality can help businesses grow, but it can also optimize the human qualities out of the office.

What’s The Appropriate Amount Of Humanity At The Office?

It’s tricky to draw clear lines when it comes to company culture and humanity at the workplace. However, even in real life, there are boundaries that we set for ourselves when deciding how to act, so it’s only natural that there would be boundaries at the office as well.

At the end of the day, it’s important to ask yourself if your coworkers are getting the real you, or if they’re getting a facade that you’ve constructed. If you feel that you aren’t able to be your true, authentic self at work (to a certain extent), then it might be time to bring that to the attention of the company leaders.

Fueled Company Culture Pizza

Many Companies Offer Quirky Office Perks, But Does That Actually Help Company Culture?

At startups and even larger and more traditional companies, perks are sprouting up in order to attract applicants and the keep employees happy. Are these perks helping, or are they superficial attempts and quick-fixes?

From nap rooms to beer on tap, perks are definitely enticing, but, as Ashley mentioned, at the end of the day people aren’t looking for perks, they’re looking for an investment in themselves. Perks are very different from true benefits for an employee.

3 Company Culture Tips For A Healthy, Human Workplace

Ashley Westbrook: Within the next week, pause before you send email or message and have a human interaction instead.

Priyanka Gupta: Put feelings on the agenda. Next time you have a meeting, make sure to talk about aspects of life that occur outside of the office.

Adam Schorr: Avoid canned responses. Next time someone asks you how you’re doing, answer with complete honesty and see what happens.

We the Fueled exists to bridge the gap between leadership and team members by creating conversations like the one you just read about, not just at Fueled, but at workplaces worldwide. These conversations are vital to creating an inclusive office environment and a healthy company culture. WtF aims to extend the dialogue to people across the globe. Want to be a panelist for the next event? Let us know!

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