Startup Perks don’t make the Culture

The concept of Startup Culture has attracted loads of attention and it has ofter been presented as the panacea for workplace satisfaction. Aspects that are frequently highlighted are fun office spaces, flexible hours, and perks such as free meals, massage sessions, and ping pong tables in the office (here it is again: the ubiquitous ping pong table).

But there must be more to it than meets the eye. Is the a startup’s culture just a particular aesthetic? Is it enough to offer perks to your employees?

This post looks into how our culture is created and maintained here at ShuttleCloud, in particular from the human relationships point of view. Why should you read this post? Maybe you are not familiar with the topic, like myself when I started working at ShuttleCloud: “startwhaaat?” (Yes really, she says looking slightly embarrassed.)

Or you may work for one startup but be curious about how others do it. Either way, this is the post for you.

Values, Environment, Perks and Some Construction Tips

Values, not perks, define a startup culture. However, the perks and the environment maintain the culture. So as you see, the perks are not the be-all and end-all of a startup but they are also not the frivolous policies they are sometimes portrayed as. If the values are the foundation, as everyone knows without a foundation the building crumbles but without the building… (Ok, I’m not really sure how to continue with this metaphor but you all get the gist, right?)

The values define your culture and your culture determines the environment you want to create. The perks and environment are both reflections of your culture and the tools to maintain it. They make the culture something tangible, alive beyond that piece of paper where the values were first written.

The Cradle of ShuttleCloud Culture

So enough with the rambling. Let’s get to the nitty-gritty before you all fall asleep. Without further ado, here is a brief summary of ShuttleCloud’s core values:

  • Exceptional colleagues
  • Work/life harmony
  • Working hard & smart → Autonomy & Accountability
  • Continuous learning & development

These core values, along with the ShuttleCloud vision, were set early on by the team members who were at ShuttleCloud back then. All good, but how do we make sure these are not just words in an old Google doc?

ShuttelCloud Team Values

Let’s give that “foundation” metaphor another go. The core values are the foundations and determine the type of structure you are going to build; however, without the building and the people in it you just have a pretty useless slab of concrete. (Ha! I got there in the end.)

So how is the value of exceptional colleagues reflected in the ShuttleCloud culture, and how it is maintained and implicitly passed onto new team members? It may seem obvious, but let me remind you that building a team with people who understand, share and perpetuate your culture and vision is paramount.

Here at ShuttleCloud, we have a great bunch of people, if I may say so myself. (Feel free to get a tissue; it’s getting a tad emotional around here.) This does not happen by chance. The team takes a hands-on approach during the hiring process, reviewing CVs, conducting interviews and working with the candidates.

They look for the best candidates with great CVs but also consider how well they will fit within the team. They hire not only based on talent but also on culture fit. As far as I am concerned, so far, so good.

Welcome to the Crazy Family

But the process doesn’t end there. Now that you have a new team member, it is crucial to get them up to speed quickly, not only with their job but also with your culture and team dynamics. You do not want anyone falling behind and feeling disconnected. There are small details you can consider during the onboarding process to avoid this.

Here, for example, we send an email where every team member welcomes the new employee and shares a joke, meme or YouTube video to help them understand some of our inside jokes. There is even a survival guide with useful tips such as, “Always laugh at Antonio (one of our senior developers)’s jokes no matter how bad they are,” or, “Always nod along when Angel, our project manager, has one of his amusing rants.”

But let’s be honest: trust and rapport don’t just happen and cannot be forced upon people; they develop overtime. So if the exceptional colleagues value is as important for you as it is for us, I suggest you carefully choose those perks that will reinforce your culture and promote this particular value in your startup on a daily basis.

The Team that Eats Together, Stays Together

For example, we get free lunches at ShuttleCloud. I can hear you thinking, “Nice one!” and yes, you are right, but there is more to it than may appear at first glance. Free lunches encourage us all to sit together for meals. The team that eats together, stays together.

We chat, discuss current affairs, tell bad jokes, bring up geeky topics, throw in some soccer banter, and when we feel inspired, we set the world to rights. Bonding experience number 1: check.

Another of the perks that encourage the team-building experience is the gatherings outside office hours. ShuttleCloud invites us to dinners outside the office, or we organize summer BBQs on our patio. These opportunities allow us to unwind and see each other in a different setting. Some of the funniest things happen these nights and give way to loads of friendly trolling at the office next day.

As you can imagine, we all have been on the receiving end of these jokes at least once.

ShuttleCloud Team

And, last but not least, the offsites. This is the week when the team works remotely from some vacation destination and gets to do some bonding. I’d like to tell you more about them but, unfortunately, the team is adamant on this one: “what happens at the offsite, stays at the offsite.”

In the spirit of continuous learning & development, the engineering team also gets to attend different conferences, events and workshops around the world. Next stop: Budapest. The team will be attending the CRAFT Conference there at the end of this month. Have fun guys, enjoy the pálinka and say hello to Candutas!*

To sum up, hire for talent and culture fit, get the new team members acquainted with your culture pronto and make sure the perks you offer reinforce your values and the team-building experience. Of course other things like the office space itself, policies such as flexible hours and holidays or how the team members work among themselves (daily standups, learning sessions) all encourage and maintain other aspects of our  culture but I’ll leave those for future posts.

And since I’m sure you’re all dying to know whether we chose a film for the movie night, can’t wait to hear what the last pranks at the office are, and need to read all about the last meetups and whether there has been a party worth mentioning lately, I’ll dedicate the next post to those.

I hope the wait until then isn’t unbearable 😉 Until next time!

* Candutas is one of those things you would have to learn during your social onboarding process if you ended up working with us.

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