One of the worst experiences of my early working life was working for an agency where the corporate culture was so toxic that its attrition rate skyrocketed – the micromanaged employees left the company at the slightest opportunity.

I was even willing to swallow a wage cut to get a job at almost any other company. Fortunately, life had different plans for me when I got my next job with a popular e-commerce company and eventually started my own startup agency in London. My co-founder, who was also a victim of a negative culture, and I decided that we will do everything we can from the start to build and promote a healthy culture in our agency.

It makes me very proud to look back and admire the corporate culture we have built at NOVOS – the sudden shift to remote work has actually strengthened it! This enabled us to enlarge our team by over 50% during the pandemic and to make remote onboarding smooth. As I continue to see the benefits in my company, it seems advisable to share our approach here with the hope that it will help other agencies.

Why is corporate culture so important?

Corporate culture is critical to the day-to-day effective functioning of the company as it informs the team of how it is behaving and what to expect of its employees while working together. It is important that your employees function as a team and their role becomes stronger when the team works remotely.

Building your corporate culture is one of the most important tasks you will take on as a founder. You should take extreme care to become aware of the process. Otherwise, you will become part of a culture you did not create, and once it is established it will be difficult to change.

First, the company shapes the culture, then the culture shapes the company.

4 components of a positive corporate culture

1. Emphasis on collaboration, not just competition

While a degree of healthy competition can stimulate creativity, intense competition can lead to stress and distrust among employees. While we offer individual rewards for achieving ambitious goals, teamwork is the focus of all tasks. A culture that encourages cooperative competition or collaboration will certainly be beneficial as team members would help each other achieve common goals.

2. Mental wellbeing at the forefront

According to a recent report by Glint, employee burnout due to the disruption of work-life balance has reached a record high. Having a system for finding out how your employees are feeling and taking the appropriate steps to help them is now central to your corporate culture.

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We use anonymous surveys to measure team satisfaction on a weekly basis and offer free yoga / meditation and personal training sessions to support the team.

3. Company growth synchronized with individual growth

The results of a recent survey show that lack of growth opportunities isn’t as surprising as the number one reason talented people quit. When creating strategies to grow their startup, founders should also have a professional development policy for their employees.

We have set monthly budgets for each employee that they can use to participate in skills development events and courses.

4. Trust and Transparency

Nobody wants to be in a low-trust workplace characterized by laid-off workers. However, a survey of over 30,000 respondents showed that one in three does not trust their employer! Building trust among employees can be a huge challenge as it has to be earned, but a consistent presentation of policies and workplace policies can help make it part of the culture.

We treat our employees as shareholders and routinely share the company’s financial position in team meetings. We also have an open ended vacation policy based on the relationship of trust and respect we share with one another. So far I’ve never seen it taken advantage of. In fact, there are times when we have to ask the team to say goodbye as they are working too hard!

Finally, as agency founders, we need to recognize that a trust-based corporate culture is critical to driving change management initiatives.

Khalid Raza Khan, CEO of an Asian fashion brand, says:

When employees distrust the organization, they focus on their individual goals and act as a deterrent and passive resistance to change. Any organization that treads this path is doomed to failure. Leaders should drive top-down change to empower their team and lead by example. Collaboration is essential for a healthy, prosperous organization

And I couldn’t agree more.