In September last year, as I was sat on Zoom interviewing candidates for an upcoming role at EmailOctopus I was asked a question "What is the culture at EmailOctopus like?". While not an unusual interview question, it's the first time I'd ever had to answer that question, perhaps as we've mainly hired people who have worked with us previously.
So what does a good company culture look like to me? And what is it not?
Company culture is not about free dinners, unlimited paid time-off or fußball tables in the office. It's about creating an environment whereby individuals can grow for theirs and the company's benefit.
It's about knowing that unless they drastically underperform, they will always have a secure job. Meaning that as a business we will not hire or spend beyond our means.
With that security it's about allowing individuals to take risks and make mistakes. And that those mistakes, as long as good intentioned, understood and not repeated, are allowed and encouraged to be made. Mistakes come from going outside ones comfort zone and in wanting to make things better. It's always much easier to be indecisive and not make a mistake – decisiveness must be encouraged.
It is about celebrating and wanting the business to be successful, which is why we offer profit-based bonuses and regularly take time out to celebrate milestones.
But it is also about knowing that as individuals we are more important than the 'company'.
EmailOctopus, realistically, is not going to change the world. It can, though, have an impact on each team members life and positively impact our immediate surroundings. We look to support the environment. We minimise our carbon footprint, offsetting that which remains, through supporting innovative climate technology. And through local businesses we also plant hundreds of trees in the Derbyshire countryside and actively support the cleanup of the ocean.
For our team, it also means valuing their input as people. That starts by paying them fairly and ensuring they work no longer than their contracted hours. But, at a less tangible level, means giving each member of the team space to grow within the business. And, as importantly, outside of it too. One team member has dreams of being a photographer, so they takes time out per week paid to learn photography. Another wants to hike across Nepal, so we're supporting them in working flexibly to accomplish that. Me? I want to bench 100kg at the gym, so I take a couple of hours a week to visit the gym during working hours.
We can always do more, too. So in 2023 we will go above and beyond, formalising policies on parental leave and sabbaticals so it never feels like work has gotten in the way of life. And while these may only small things, they do redress some of the balance and (hopefully) stop employees feeling like work is the most important thing in life.
We do these things pretty quietly, we don't shout about them and it takes an interview question for me to even rationalise them. Because for Jonathan and I, that's what we see as right.
Nobody should fear for their job when the NASDAQ stops growing as fast as it once did. And nobody should need to accept working long hours, with the only carrot being a free lunch.
Work should be the vehicle to achieve what we want to achieve in life.