Posted by Darrell Lerner 

We began hiring at SNAP in 2007 and lost our first employees in 2010 - several of them in a short period of time.  But our company was thriving.  Revenue and traffic were growing steadily.  Everyone seemed happy.  No one had left us in more than 3 years until that point.  What happened?  We didn't get it.  It had always been a source of pride for us that no one had ever left our company.  We treated people well, paid them well, and provided them with interesting and challenging work.  What more could they possibly need?  A lot more, we soon realized...  Especially in the ultra-competitive tech start-up space where the market for talented developers is white-hot.  It was then, for the first time, that we made a concerted effort to really focus on elevating our office culture.

Like many of you, my first reaction to hearing some of the things tech companies were doing in the dot com boom was laughter.  A rock climbing wall in the office? Scooters? Scavenger hunts?  Come on… is it a workplace or is it summer camp?  But as we began to implement some activities and traditions to make our office a little more fun, I finally began to understand the value of seriously focusing on office culture and making the office a place that people enjoy coming to every day.  These seemingly silly little activities create bonding and foster a better team atmosphere.  They cause employees to love coming to work and to love their company.  Fun things in and out of the office get tweeted about, Instagrammed, and posted on Facebook.  After all, what could be better for hiring than existing employees repeatedly posting cool pictures with comments like "I love my company" and "I love my job"?  People see that and want to be part of the team. 

So, we started small - a few fun things here are there like happy hours or a free lunch for everyone.  But momentum breeds momentum and by 2011 I had made office culture one of my primary areas of focus as Co-Founder.  I read about it, brainstormed ideas and kept introducing new things into our office culture to make the office a place people loved coming to and the company one that people loved working for.  And it all paid off - culminating with perhaps my crowning glory in the culture department: an extensive showcase of our new office by Business Insider ("Why Gamers Love Working for Facebook Dating-App Developer SNAP Interactive") which has been seen by more than 43,000 people and counting... nbd…

Looking back, there were probably over 100 different things we did to turn our company culture into one worth bragging out, but I thought I'd call out a few of the highlights.  What’s worth noting is that these are primarily small things that any company can introduce into their own office environment to instantly improve their office culture. 

1. Massage Day - This is a big winner.  Trust me.  And it's not nearly as expensive as it sounds.  We simply hired someone to come in for a few hours every week or every other week and offer 15-minute chair massages to all employees.  Takes very little time away from work and isn't very costly but it's something employees really look forward to.  And it's a really cool perk to be able to advertise in your recruiting package.

2. Company Newsletter - As we grew in size, it became more and more difficult for employees to learn about each other on a personal basis.  So we began a quarterly newsletter where we'd include everything from company highlights and pictures from events, to employee birthdays and milestones, as well as profiles & interviews with new employees. 

3. Summer Fridays - From Memorial Day to Labor Day we'd allow employees to leave any time after 4pm on Fridays.  The couple of hours of lost productivity are more than made up for by the goodwill generated from this.  We even encouraged employees to submit photos of how they were spending their Summer Friday and we put a collage of them into the newsletter. 

4. Birthday Donations - As we grew, it became more and more difficult to acknowledge birthdays on an individual basis and challenging to find a convenient time to gather everyone together for cake.  Still, we wanted to continue celebrating employee birthdays so we came up with the cool idea of offering employees $100 to donate to charity of their choice on their birthday.  Employees were asked to write a paragraph explaining what the charity was, who it helped, and why they selected it - and we'd include each of these write-ups in the company newsletters for all to read.  This is a very simple "feel-good" item that simultaneously helps good causes in the process.

5. Timeline - We re-created the "History of SNAP" in a timeline that went across the entirety of one of our whiteboard walls.  The timeline contained a picture of each employee right above their start date along with key company milestones. This became a great conversation piece as evidenced by this Tweet from Lance Ulanoff (Editor in Chief of Mashable):
https://twitter.com/LanceUlanoff/status/167419132013322240

6. Ping Pong - Everyone loves ping pong but I never imagined what a hit this would be in the office.  Employees would retreat to the ping pong table for a quick game during the day and specifically stay late just to get in a few more matches.  We even began to hold tournaments to determine the office champ (the entire company would gather round to watch the finals) and I went so far as to order a custom-made WWF-style championship belt to award to the winner.  A little friendly competition goes a long way toward team bonding.

7. Chipwich Wednesday - Every Wednesday afternoon we'd all take a short break to gather in the conference room and enjoy a tasty dessert.  On a rotating basis, each employee would get the chance to select a treat for the entire office.  We'd give them a budget (say $50) and employees would have fun trying to one-up each other in coming up with something creative.  Some desserts were homemade while others were purchased by those less inclined to bake, but they were all great. Named for the first dessert ever purchased, Chipwich Wednesday was always a weekly hit.

8. A Warm Welcome for New Employees - They say first impressions mean everything so we wanted to make sure new employees come home smiling on their first day rather than stressing.  A few of things we did to make sure this happened included funny balloons waiting for them at their desk, a small bottle of our custom-labeled Champagne to "celebrate" their arrival, and the introduction to a "buddy" whose job it was to take them out to lunch on their first day and readily answer any questions they might have.  

9. The Culture Club - I put together a group of some of the most creative and enthusiastic employees specifically for the purpose of working on culture-related activities.  We'd meet regularly and new and creative activities (like the ones mentioned on this list) would emerge every time we'd brainstorm.  We called ourselves the "Culture Club," and yes, some meetings even included the playing of "Karma Chameleon!"  

10. “Excuse Me, I Believe You Have My [Anniversary] Stapler” - With so much focus on recruiting new employees in the start up world, we thought it would be nice to specifically acknowledge those who stay with us for a while.  We came up with the hilarious idea to mark an employee's 1-year anniversary at SNAP by awarding them a red Swingline stapler engraved with their name - presented to them at our company-wide morning meeting on the day of their 1-year anniversary.  People loved this and new employees would eagerly count down the days until they earned their stapler and could post a picture of it on Facebook.  

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Changing an office culture requires time, effort and a commitment to the cause, but I learned that little things (and fun) go a long way.   We spend more time with the people we work with than we do with our families, so making the workplace fun and bringing employees closer together pays dividends in spades. 

As I set out on my next journey with DCL Ventures, I've committed to prioritizing office culture from the outset in order to build an amazing atmosphere and an amazing team.  A Business Insider spread on the office is a tough act to follow but I look forward to hopefully doing it again with DCL Ventures.

What are some other cool things you've seen companies do around culture?  Let me know in the comments. 

-DL

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AuthorDarrell Lerner