Company culture: It’s more than just a buzzword. For your employees, it is at the core of how they experience their working hours and how they feel about you as an employer. But as vital as an open, kind, and connected workplace culture is, creating one can be quite the struggle.
We sat down with Danielle Charbin, Executive Assistant to CEO & Sr. People Experience Specialist at integrate.ai, and got the details on what they do to create a workplace that thrives and inspires.
Q&A on how to create a thriving workplace
Thriver: Thank you for taking the time to chat with us today. First things first, we’d love to know a little more about your company. Could you tell us a bit about integrate.ai?
integrate.ai: Absolutely! Well, we’re a small company based in Toronto, with 38 full-time employees. Our company mission is predicated on the belief that the future of enterprise applications lies in being powered by network data. We use an analogy: today, enterprise applications are like a single-player game – largely driven by the data that the enterprise directly owns. We’re leading the charge to the inevitable future of a multi-player game – where the applications are driven by much broader data sources than just what an enterprise has within their four walls. Basically, the core of our product is enabling the building of machine learning models across these siloed data sets in a privacy-safe way.
Thriver: When you think about culture at integrate.ai, what comes to mind? How would you describe it?
integrate.ai: The first thing that comes to mind is that we are an extremely values-driven organization. When the first nine of us first met 4.5 years ago, our first task on the first day of integrate.ai was to set and align our values. It was an incredible afternoon, and it was extraordinary to see how nine strangers could be so aligned on values.
A couple of weeks later, while we were working on our first hires, we established that no matter what, we do not compromise on our values. Ever.
The sentiment was communicated by our COO, Jason, and has resonated with me ever since. It created a ripple effect of action where we incorporate values into everything we do, including (but not limited to) interviews/candidate experience, how we interact with each other, how we create internal policies and philosophies, how we interact with or choose vendors, how we cultivate relationships with our customers – everything.
Thriver: It’s been a tough year for everyone. How has your company culture changed/shifted this past year?
integrate.ai: Company culture isn’t about standing desks and free snacks…it’s a vibe. It’s intentional. It’s diversity of thought; it’s how we work together towards a common goal and shared vision; it’s trust; it’s great leadership. So in that way, it hasn’t changed.
But let’s not get it twisted – the year certainly brought its challenges! We did, eventually, find our groove and adapted very well, considering the circumstances.
What I learned fairly quickly is that culture initiatives that work in-office/in-person don’t necessarily translate well remotely. I find “virtual hangs” or “virtual water coolers” tend to be exclusive with only a few people talking with no purpose or direction.
It’s important to have an agenda. Fill the time and be thoughtful about inclusivity so everyone can participate in some way, shape, or form. It takes more time to plan but is well worth it for more meaningful interactions with the team. It’s also not fully solved. We continue to work on innovating, evolving, and in turn, improving our remote experience.
Thriver: What are some culture-related initiatives that you organize/take part in as a company?
integrate.ai: My absolute favorite initiative we did was our 2020 Virtual Holiday Party called “Holiday Cabaret.”
“Cabaret” was used on purpose, which means a night of entertainment, not just hanging out and mingling like we typically would when we buy out a restaurant. We had tons of team games, speeches, awards, videos, and I sent wine and charcuterie to everyone.
It took weeks of planning – but the team is still talking about it today! It launched us into the new year on a total engagement high. I’m pretty proud of that one.
In addition to that, we do monthly “Celebrations” team-building events.
We did intensive Diversity, Equity and Inclusion Training; we built our own app in Slack where we randomly get paired up with another employee or two to catch up. (The app is called “Ketchup!”) We also just did our first lunch-time virtual yoga/stretching (with Thriver!) and got really good feedback about it.
To address burnout, we offered two “Self-Care Days” this past summer where we tacked on to long weekends to give our employees some extra time off to fill their cups.
Thriver: In general, what do you think are the most important aspects of company culture at integrate.ai?
integrate.ai: There is, of course, hiring the right people and incorporating your values into the hiring and onboarding process, being vision/mission-driven every day, inclusion, equity and diversity, promoting feedback, etc.
But most of all, what’s really important to me is to emphasize that even though I organize and lead culture initiatives, I am not the culture; we are the culture.
There is no culture without the dedication and participation of our team…we are all culture co-founders. And I like to think we do a pretty good job of creating a safe space for people to be their authentic selves and participate/contribute in their own way, which makes every culture so unique and ours so special.
Thriver: Could you tell us about where you are working from right now and what practices you’ll introduce when returning to the office?
integrate.ai: We are still fully remote and planning for hybrid sometime in the future.
In terms of preparation, we learned that big change can often be perceived as a loss or that we are losing something. With that and from some feedback from the team, we did reopen the office a couple of months ago as optional, if anyone was interested in going in and working there with temporary conservative safety requirements.
Making the return to office a process empowers the employee, rather than making a one-day mandate that the office is reopening. It’s working out really well so far!
Thriver: That’s great! We really appreciate your insight. Thank you so much for chatting with us.
Supporting Your Company Culture One Event at a Time
Companies like integrate.ai understand the collaborative nature of company culture success and how to meet employees where they are. If you are looking to enhance your company culture by boosting wellness and employee growth, allow us to help. Thriver’s marketplace is chock-full of enriching experiences and employee engagement ideas.