Happy Employees = Happier Customers

Cole Harmonson

A lot has changed in American offices over the last 20 years. Here’s where we were 17 years ago…

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And here’s what your office might look like today…

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That assumes you even have an office, which in 2016 may not even be a thing that your company needs. 9-5 work hours, commutes, pensions, cubicles, and panty hose are all nearly relics now; in their place are a million options for health benefits, space, expectations, dress codes, vacation policies, software, and downtime at work.  It’s great – but amidst all this change, there’s an immense variety of expectations, benefits, and work-life balance – and it can be hard to prioritize, especially when you’re small and growing.

Here’s a couple things to think about. Since we’re a service business, this is a big deal for us – we want 100% happy clients, and that doesn’t happen without a team that’s 100% happy and 100% bought in.

  1. Transparency and values aren’t something you set and forget. They have to be nurtured.

I write a weekly email to the whole company, every Sunday morning. Yeah, sometimes it gets a little long. Sometimes it’s probably a little pie-in-the-sky. But I try to be honest about where we are, where I am as a CEO, and take the time to call out great contributions from team members by name. I share success – and failure – stories from our work, and talk about how our values play into those successes and how they can be used to avoid the failures on the next go-round.

How you do one thing is how you do all things. We’re very big on that here. We’re starting on time, we’re ending on time. We follow our process. We all have the same language about what it looks like to deliver a good customer relationship. That stuff matters – and that’s why I set aside that Sunday time, every week.

Expectations are hard to communicate and harder to enforce. I think it makes everyone’s lives easier when they are clear, consistent, and constantly reinforced.

  1. We’re all just people – not our work selves and our home selves. Our personal lives matter to our work and our work matters to our personal lives.

I want people to be able to be themselves at work. We’ll tell this story at another time, but one of our best and brightest wasn’t able to share a big part of herself with her colleagues until she came to Far West Capital. I’m so proud that we’ve created the kind of workplace where she feels comfortable to be herself. I’m proud that we support new parents – mothers AND fathers. I’m proud that some of our employees have moved on to kill it elsewhere, or even to start their own businesses.

You have to model this stuff. I truly believe in the whole self – spiritual, mental, physical, fiscal, emotional. (See: my blog on journaling.) I don’t want our employees to push themselves so hard to succeed at our outcomes that they neglect their home lives or their physical well-being.

  1. Benefits are great. Being able to use them is better.

Say “unlimited vacation” to a random group of people and you’ll hear some scoffs. That’s because benefits are only as good as the communication and expectations you build around them. If our people don’t feel free to use their vacation, it’s as pointless as giving them a week of it. We can always do better at this – I need to do better at stepping away from email when I’m on vacation – but I think that we’ve mostly set the right tone. If you need to be out, go be out. Nobody’s counting how many days or how long you’re gone.

Same goes for our wellness benefits. We go a step further here. Not only do we have great support for gym memberships, yoga, whatever – you can customize to whatever works for you –  but if you use it, we’ll reward you with an extra contribution to your health savings account.

I really don’t want to work this hard, build this company, and be a broken down old guy. There’s plenty of those around – you see them, and you just think “You did all that, and now you can’t even WALK.” Nope. Not for me. That’s a tradeoff I don’t want to make, and I don’t want our team to make it either.

  1. Outcomes > 9-5.

One thing I see folks screwing up is this attitude of needing their employees to work in a certain way, at a certain time, in an office.

This one’s basic. It’s 2016. There’s no reason that, for example, our head of marketing – who lives far south of the office – needs to be here from 9 am to 5pm. She delivers, and that’s what matters. Not where she is at any given minute of the day.

There’s some tools that can make this easier for everyone – we like Khorus for goals, Trello for project management, and HighFive for video conferencing. But we’re always looking to improve – do tell us if you have a tool that’s helped you.

Really think about what purpose your physical office needs to serve and build for that. You might not even need an office – that’s no longer the default assumption – but it is worth a great deal to have a place where we can be around each other and collaborate. But collaboration happens in a million ways, and not all of them depend on a physical office.

  1. You might not need a pingpong table and a beer fridge, but food makes the world go round.

Ok, this one’s not super easy or cheap – not everyone can have lunch catered every day. But if there’s one thing that’s worth the money, this is it – just having great, healthy food around the office every lunchtime is huge.

Even if you can’t fit this one in your budget, think about it when you pick your office and make sure you’re near plenty of options, ideally within walking distance. Nobody works well on an empty stomach.

Your turn: What formal or informal work policies make your life easier? What tools have helped you?

Cole Harmonson is the CEO of Far West Capital, a company that funds the goals of high-growth entrepreneurs. Know a great company in need of capital to unleash their potential? Send them here and we’ll give them a call.

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