It’s hard to pinpoint when exactly the emphasis on the importance of company culture came about. If you think about it, the organisational culture of traditional companies are simply the result of its processes and team – considered at most, accidental at the very least.
The increasing competition between companies in getting talent could be a cause, as companies now begin to look beyond salaries and benefits to attract, hire, and retain employees. Add to that countless of studies that are all saying the same thing in many different ways: happy employees lead to productive employees, which then lead to successful companies.
But what does a happy employee mean in today’s fast-paced and ever-changing business and workplace landscape? And what has culture got to do with it?
A lot, according to Miguel McKelvey, co-founder of global giant WeWork. With 253 locations servicing 248,000 members globally, WeWork not only has a good view of how company culture affects employees but has a hand in steering it as well.
Putting Science into it
As WeWork’s Chief Culture Officer, McKelvey directs the company’s personality, a role, he says, that has no precedent. “This role, there really isn’t a model, it’s not something that is typical.”
What prompted this focus on culture are insights that they get from WeWork employees dealing with members – employees who deal with intense situations and different personalities who, by the nature of their job, needs a lot of optimism and energy.
McKelvey’s approach to the situation is figuring out what it is like to be in that role. His answer? Being in a place of Love.
“You have to feel like you love your job, you love the members, you love the opportunity,” McKelvey said, a thought that led to the question of how to make sure employees remain in that place of Love.
The approach that they have developed is dealing with the tangible side of it. “We think of culture as an ephemeral state, but a lot of things that keep you there are very practical,” McKelvey said. “We could document all these things, all these points that could keep you in that optimal state.”
And while company culture is an intangible thing, WeWork has documented and operationalised the methods of getting people into that optimal state. They have developed a system, through an analysis of interviews with different team members, that they call CultureOS to proactively manage their culture.
How CultureOS works is that they have broken down the things that affect team members in eight pillars. Within each pillar, they identified opportunities where they can create an impact and then create initiatives around those.
“We are in the space business so we think a crucial pillar is the space you walk into every day,” McKelvey said. “So if you walk in and feel uplifted and happy, that will help you have better interactions with people.”
Another example that McKelvey gave is the role of the leader. Leaders are encouraged to “wander around the space” every day to not only be visible but to make them accessible to the members of their team.
McKelvey said that wandering through the office is some of his most productive times. “I’ll learn new things going on in the company. Five-minute conversations can replace one hour meetings. Someone has something crucial, but they can’t get their hour-long meeting on the calendar so they are waiting for this approval and all it takes is we bump into each other and quickly talk about something.”
As with most things, input from those directly impacted goes a long way. Not everyone reacts to the same processes and programmes the same way and WeWork understands that.
“Some people need some structure and support. They need learning programmes,” McKelvey said. “Through this process we went from zero to 30-40 people in our learning programmes and that was in direct response to the input when we were asking, ‘where can we improve culturally’.”
Accessibility is key. What WeWork is doing is allowing its employees to influence their company culture and making sure that all types of personalities and work methods are represented and catered.
WeWork is, first and foremost, a provider of space. Their workspaces are designed specifically to promote collaboration not only between members of the same company, not even only between members of the same location, but between all members across 71 countries.
In the eight years since WeWork launched, they have had different insights on how space design matters and applies them to make sure that all members can comfortably work and collaborate.
“One thing we try to do is overlap as many functions and paths into one place as possible,” McKelvey said. “It’s weird, you want to balance this energy and feeling that there is action with the opportunity to be focussed.”
McKelvey believes that they have struck a good balance, putting a lot of thought, effort, and analysis into putting together all the elements of their spaces to make it work. Their designs aim to be “cool enough to take a picture” but “never be so cool that it feels exclusive.”
Exclusivity is not a goal, as it is a fine line to cross from exclusivity to inaccessibility and WeWork aims to continuously be accessible, designing both their spaces and their company culture around that core idea.
“WeWork is inclusive from the beginning. That’s the whole point,” McKelvey said. “There is no velvet rope, no barrier to entry. That goes for every industry.”
That goes for all sizes of companies, as WeWork has begun to service large enterprises, too. While WeWork’s beginnings saw them servicing freelancers, their expansion had brought them to bring their space and their culture to small companies, tech startups, and enterprises.
And while some large companies within the WeWork space and network may have a natural inclination to be isolated, McKelvey said that their community management team works hard at finding connection points to draw people out and encourage them to collaborate and interact with the community.
It is working, as WeWork boasts of 70 per cent of its members actively collaborating across the network globally.
“A lot of companies could have the conception that they should be isolated. But once they move in, they realise that to be surrounded by a lot of positive energy is actually a good thing, then they loosen up on those ideas.”
Disclosure: This article is produce by e27 content marketing team, sponsored by WeWork.