Building a positive team culture has never been more critical. The tech skills shortage means acquiring and retaining the best employees remains a big challenge for most businesses. But if you are able to get your culture right, your business can stand out and attract the best talent.
The importance of a positive tech culture
Building a positive tech culture is about much more than just doing the right thing. Of course, it’s better to be around a happy and positive workplace, but a great culture also has a range of business benefits that are crucial if you want to attract and retain employees and drive growth.
Here are a few of the big advantages of getting your workplace culture right.
The UK, like most other developed nations, is struggling to produce enough qualified graduates within its expanding tech industry. The industry is now worth $1 trillion. It’s only the third country, after the US and China, to exceed this milestone. Putting that growth into context, in 2018, the industry was worth less than $500bn.
According to a UK Government report, UK tech businesses raised almost £30bn last year. Tech is booming in the country, but a persistent problem threatens the industry’s growth.
The BSC State of the Nation Report 2022 report highlights this issue further. In Q3 2021, there were about 64,000 tech job vacancies in the UK. This number represents a 191% increase for a similar time period in 2020.
It’s clear there are too many job postings and too few job applicants. This problem isn’t easy to solve. The causes are a mix of issues, such as Brexit visa issues, increased specialisation, and a rapidly-growing industry.
Some commentators suggest that it’s not that the UK isn’t producing enough STEM graduates; it’s not delivering enough of the right graduates. The same BSC State of the Nation Report also suggests about 34,000 tech specialists were looking for work. This figure indicates at least part of the problem is due to a skills incompatibility.
Whatever the causes, a tech skills shortage exists. Finding staff who can push your business to the next level is hard due to a lack of suitable workers. Additionally, the best employees are being headhunted — including yours.
Retaining staff remains a challenge. Businesses can only compete so far on salaries before becoming unprofitable. A great employee value proposition (EVP) has become an important tool for attracting top talent, and positive team culture is one of the critical ingredients of a compelling offer.
Facilitate remote working
Following on from providing a positive Employee Value Proposition, remote working is symbolic of a more human-centric approach to work post-pandemic. COVID-19 has caused a rapid change in mindset and has made staff rethink their relationship to work. Better benefits, more flexibility, and a better work-life balance are just some of the upsides for employees.
Remote and hybrid working present challenges for company culture. With staff not sharing the same space, it can be challenging to build a sense of camaraderie. Video conferencing tools and regular check-ins can do some of the work, but a gap still exists.
A positive work culture can help overcome these challenges. Even while working remotely, people can feel valued, supported, and connected with the right culture. In these more fragmented times, a culture that isolates its employees only amplifies disconnection.
A positive work culture has many benefits for employees. With a bigger focus on health and wellbeing, employees are less stressed, overworked, and less vulnerable to burnout. Employee burnout is an issue that affects about two in five tech workers, according to a recent Yerbo study across 33 countries.
Workers in an environment that offers support, stability, and respect, are more loyal and productive. A study from the University of Warwick showed that happy workers are 12% more productive. A toxic environment is a financial liability!
Diversity & Inclusion
The last few years have opened people’s eyes to some of the problems in Tech. The media has been awash with stories about misconduct and discrimination at some huge firms.
Like many other male-dominated sectors, Tech has had some issues that need to be addressed. Allegations of routine sexual misconduct, sexism, and “tech bro” cultures have blighted the industry. These reports showcase a major roadblock towards creating a more diverse and inclusive culture.
The fallout from these events is that more businesses are now more conscious of diversity. In particular, there have been efforts to close the gap and build cultures that will attract — rather than repel — women and minorities.
How to build a better culture
OK, so now that we know the reasons why it is important to foster a great company culture, it’s time to figure out how to get there.
Building a solid company culture is about a lot of things — both big and small. It involves forging connections that drive team building. It’s about offering a strong sense of stability and respect. In short, it’s about building an environment your employees are proud to call home.
While all of that might seem a little vague and nebulous, don’t worry. We’re here to help with some steps that you can take to build a work culture that will keep your employees engaged, valued, heard, and happy.
Build an EVP for a post-pandemic world
An employee value proposition (EVP) is part of your employer brand. Basically, it’s a way to attract and retain employees. As we mentioned earlier, the job market is hugely competitive. So what does this mean for your EVP?
Gartner released a report last year that looked at EVPs. They concluded that in light of the way the pandemic has changed people’s relationships with work, EVPs must adjust to meet this demand.
The study suggests three significant changes businesses must consider to create better cultures. They are:
- Employees should be treated as people, not workers.
- Employees want better life experiences, not just work experiences.
- Value comes through feeling, not features.
Additionally, they suggest that businesses have been overly focused on which benefits they give employees rather than why they provide them.
Their solution to the issue is the Human Deal, an approach they suggest will improve employee satisfaction by 15%.
The Human Deal encompasses five areas:
- Deeper connections
- Shared purpose
- Radical flexibility
- Holistic wellbeing
- Personal growth
Gartner offers some recommendations for each section, with a big focus on forging connections and team building through a series of human-focused interventions.
We’ll briefly touch on a few below, but you should definitely read the full report to see how your organisation can implement some of these measures.
- Deeper connections: A greater focus on workplace inclusion, benefits that help an employee’s family, and a more significant emphasis on trust building by management.
- Shared purpose: Get buy-in from your entire team on societal issues via peer coaching and alignment with the company mission as a whole.
- Radical flexibility: Give employees more flexibility on issues like work hours and remote or hybrid work.
- Holistic wellbeing: Encourage more discussions around mental health and ensure managers know how to support employees around these issues.
- Personal growth: Create opportunities to grow personal growth and career progression through coaching and mentoring.
All in all, it’s good recommendations from Gartner. Not all recommendations will work for each business, but moving in a more caring, human-centred direction would be a vast upgrade for some tech businesses.
Welcome each new hire
Starting a new position can be full of uncertainty. Employees might not know anyone, so adjusting can take time. One solution to this is to ensure that you welcome each new hire and introduce them to your team.
Introducing new hires to their workmates can help establish a bond. In large companies with frequent hires, you can do it on a team level.
Leaders can build this step into your onboarding process. It doesn’t take much, and you can apply it in whatever way you can. If you think it’s appropriate, you can even ask the new hire to fill out a little profile or their interests. It might spark up a conversation with their new workmates.
Another popular way to mark a new hire joining is to give them a little gift basket with stuff they might need, like branded cups, tote bags, t-shirts, and an employee handbook.
This step is all about team building and making connections. It’s essential in an era of remote and hybrid work. Something like a short video call introduction could do the trick—even an announcement on Slack. Just find a way for them to start making connections.
Team-building is a great way to build meaningful connections. However, despite best intentions, plans can easily get mislaid during a busy working week. As a result, it’s a good idea to schedule team-building days or exercises in the same way as you would a meeting.
Team-building has many benefits. For starters, it helps employees develop an understanding of each other on a more human level. When you pick the right activities, they can do a lot for trust and camaraderie.
However, it’s essential to consider your team when booking or designing activities. Hunting each other down with a paint gun in a forest isn’t everyone’s idea of a good time. So try and find activities that everyone can buy into.
Again, this is something you can practice in a remote environment too. Even something as simple as solving a puzzle during the last 10 minutes of a meeting can stimulate discussion around a shared purpose.
Encourage growth and development
A positive tech culture involves supporting your workers to achieve their best. And one of the best ways to do that is by encouraging growth and development.
We get it. Work is busy; deadlines, sprints, and problems come up all the time. It’s hard to place a focus on the future when you need to attend to the present.
However, defining career paths has many benefits. For starters, your employees feel valued because you care about their future. Secondly, it can stop you from losing good staff.
Too many talented individuals leave companies because they are offered a great opportunity elsewhere. But if they can progress to the next level at a company, why can’t it be yours?
So look at ways that you can keep your workers engaged and fully motivated. You can’t always hand out raises or promotions each year, but you can do stuff like invest in education, or send your team members to courses and conferences where they can improve their personal development.
Encouraging growth and development, and providing a career pathway, is an excellent way towards retaining staff. Additionally, if your business gets a reputation for helping people learn and progress, it will help you attract the next generation of top talent.
Offer employee recognition and praise
One of the best ways to drive connections between employees and management is to ensure you make staff feel valued and seen. Employee recognition is one of the best ways to achieve this.
However, a 2021 report from Quantum Workplace suggests employee recognition is declining in our post-COVID world. During the pandemic, 81% of employees felt they would be recognised for making a strong workplace contribution. Since then, that number has dropped to 72%.
There are probably a few things happening here. For starters, the pandemic was such an unusual event that everyone really pulled together. Isolation and being stuck at home were something we were all in together, so it was easier for management to empathise with the effort people were making.
However, good work should be praised regardless of whether there is a crisis or not.
Recognising your team’s hard work and dedication can increase motivation, morale, and unity. How you award the kinds of behaviour you want to see depends on your business. An email of thanks, a voucher, a day off, or an award are all small gestures that can mean a lot.
Of course, remember that not every employee wants to be made a fuss of. Some people prefer to get their heads down and don’t want a public gesture; however, they might like something else.
So, get to know your team. Then you can find the right buttons to press to show them your thanks for all the hard work and loyalty they offer your business.
Any recognition plans you implement can be done individually or collectively. Obviously, awarding a team can do a lot for cohesion.
Diversity, Equity, and Inclusion (DEI)
Modern consumers want to buy from businesses that share their values. The contemporary worker feels the same way about where they work. We’ve seen this played out across various sectors, like publishing or streaming services, where workers have been vocal about the content their businesses produce.
Commitment to diversity, equity, and inclusion goals are important. Tech is traditionally a male-dominated industry that veers towards a monoculture. But efforts are being made to change that.
There are lots of benefits to committing to DEI initiatives. It makes your business look more attractive to women and minority candidates. Similarly, top tech talent wants to work in more inclusive cultures. In fact, a recent Gallup poll suggests that a diverse, inclusive workforce is a key consideration for 42% of workers.
Employees see their workforce as a microcosm of society. While controlling society’s inequalities is difficult, they are demanding it happens at a business level.
You can review several things to ensure that you have more diversity. For starters, you can set targets for things like internships, education support, mentorship, and hiring. Being conscious of potential biases in decisions is a great beginning.
There have been countless studies over the years that praise diversity for helping businesses become more creative, innovative, and productive. So in some ways, it’s a business imperative too.
However, perhaps the greatest impact it can make is on employee engagement. A recent study by mthree highlighted the effects that a bad culture has on retention. Shockingly, 71% of people said they felt uncomfortable at work due to their:
- Socio-economic background
- or Neurodiversity
The result is that, according to the study, half of all young people are either leaving or thinking of leaving the tech industry.
The report makes a few recommendations that could help achieve a better balance of people. Some of the more interesting are:
- Businesses should anonymise CVs (only 37% currently do)
- Implement bias-aware hiring practices (only 9% of survey businesses have currently)
- Use gender-neutral job posts (54% do currently)
- Invest in anti-bias training for recruitment managers (46% currently)
- Recruit from less traditional universities
- Attend more job fairs
Simply put, if you want buy-in and engagement from diverse staff, they need to believe you are on their side. Building that trust takes time, but it pays off.
An excellent recent paper on the topic by Nazli Mohammed called Trust in the Workplace highlights some of the benefits. It’s definitely worth a read.
Management understands the importance of collaboration. Before the pandemic, about 44% of people used collaboration tools at work. These days, that number is 80%.
However, investment in these tools is just one part of the puzzle. The other part is culture. Unless teams use these tools better, they can’t have the desired effect on team building and connections.
The best tools open up lines of communication. They make people accessible in ways they weren’t before. Breaking down departmental silos is an excellent way to boost productivity and streamline existing processes or workflows.
But management needs to be at the forefront of this. They need to promote collaboration by leading by example. There are several ways you can achieve this.
If businesses want employees to collaborate more, they must set this precident. A workplace needs to be a place where open and honest communication is prioritised.
One big part of encouraging collaboration is to allow workers to take risks and experiment. Of course, we’re not advocating gambling away the company’s resources on long shots. However, some of the best work happens when employees aren’t punished or penalised for trying new things.
Other things to consider are things like intentional spaces. If you have the office space, consider building an area where people can go to trash out ideas together rather than being confined to their desks.
But intentionality shouldn’t stop there. Leaders should promote their vision of what collaboration looks like. Explain the benefits, set some targets, and encourage cross-functional collaboration.
Again, a lot of this comes down to communication and trust. Setting up projects that require collaboration and finding ways to reward teamwork can greatly promote a positive culture.
Setting goals can have a positive effect on culture. One of the hallmarks of a toxic culture is a lack of clarity around what workers are meant to be doing. Dysfunctional management and poor communication are big contributors to broken cultures, so businesses should find a way to improve these situations.
You should set goals for:
- Teams or departments
- The entire organisation
This process can lead to a more inspired and engaged workforce. And, if the goals are ambitious enough, it will force your workers to build the connections that facilitate great team building.
Goals are instrumental in promoting a growth mindset. They are something that everyone can gather around. Everyone can feel happy and proud of their contribution when they are achieved.
A big part of setting goals that can help build a positive culture is ensuring everyone has input. Instead of telling people what you want them to achieve, you can come up with shared goals together. This process ensures the goals are meaningful for your team, which boosts engagement.
Growth can cause some issues for your company culture. Many tech businesses start with a core group of like-minded people working on what is effectively a passion project. As funding and success happen, it leads to the appointment of a different type of worker.
One of the perils here is diluting the culture you have built. This problem is something that many organisations have faced on some level.
On top of this, during times of intense growth, HR’s role can shift more towards talent acquisition rather than a focus on present employees.
There are a few different things that businesses can do to protect culture during growth. For starters, it’s important to codify some practices. Smaller teams often organically develop an unwritten agreement around what is or isn’t acceptable. As a business grows and adds new members, this situation becomes harder to maintain.
Transparency around employee relations is also a huge part of building a positive culture. That can take lots of different forms, from good communication, investing in tools for tracking workers’ issues, or being accountable when you fail to maintain the standards you’ve set out to achieve.
A great onboarding process is another part of dealing with rapid growth. Devising ways to communicate the culture you want can help new hires get on the same page as current staff. Even simple things like an employee handbook can make a big difference.
Finally, how you deal with issues can be just as important as the outcomes or resolutions. Most businesses will experience some level of conflict. However, building processes to resolve these issues that are fair and transparent can mitigate the fallout from disputes. When workers believe they have been treated fairly — and the process was satisfactory — it can reduce the likelihood of problems of resentment and employee attrition.
Build starts; don’t buy them
Finding people with the right skills is an ongoing challenge. When you need a software developer or cybersecurity expert, it can take a long time to find one, and because of scarcity, it can cost you a lot of money.
So what’s the solution here? Should companies keep forking out huge salaries and benefits to stay competitive? Sure, that might work over the short term, but there are questions about the sustainablity of ever increasing salaries.
Tech salaries are increasing all the time. It’s a simple supply-demand problem. For example, data scientist compensation is up 16% in the last 12 months.
Despite several attempts and investments, the UK government doesn’t seem to be able to solve the skills gap shortage. Throw visa restrictions on top, and it’s not hard to see why tech businesses are struggling to fill positions.
One solution is to build from within. Of course, not all businesses have the time, resources, or educational expertise to train workers. However, there are some excellent alternatives that can help you achieve similar results.
Building a relationship with businesses like Academy can give you access to employees with relevant skills that outperform. We find and develop high-potential individuals and provide them with the training and skills they need to thrive in a tech environment.
Academy can provide businesses with a steady stream of the right junior candidates who are ready to hit the ground running. Previous businesses have been pleasantly surprised with Thanks to our comprehensive program, the vast majority of our Scholars exhibit excellent leadership potential.
Don’t just take our word for it:
“I was hoping if Martha could get to ‘net zero’ in terms of quality of her output vs. time we put into onboarding her within 3 months. She did it in one month.”
- James, co-founder and CTO at Stitch
By scouring the market for top talent from non-traditional backgrounds, we unearth the hidden gems that aren’t visible to many recruiters.
As we said above, we understand that businesses can’t always implement training programs to produce the next generation of talent. While they have the knowledge, they’re not in the education business.
However, the next best thing is to build a relationship with a business that is actively developing staff to fill in-demand roles. So get in touch today to set up a discussion.
Over-communication is a concept that initially seems undesirable. To some ears, it evokes ideas like info dumping, oversharing, and micromanagement. However, it’s something far different.
Over-communication is about ensuring that all your employees understand your message. It’s a management style that prioritises sharing information to reinforce important messages, like company values and vision.
The rise of remote and hybrid work can lead to some communication getting lost. Regular checks in and updates are a vital component of keeping employees in the loop.
As we mentioned earlier, a lack of clarity is a hallmark of a toxic work environment. It stems from inadequate leadership and leaves workers unsure about what they are doing or what is happening within the organisation.
On the other hand, overcommunication ensures that key messages are heard. It strives to put everyone on the same page and is especially important during times of upheaval.
A positive culture is about respect. It fosters connections and team building by building a sense of stability around information. Employees who know that a business is transparent about what is happening don’t feel lost, neglected, or out of the loop.
Stability is an integral part of feeling happy. It can encapsulate job security, consistent messaging, or a feeling that processes are predictable. More than anything, it’s a cornerstone of the trust required to build a great team culture.
Be Patient (Tech is Complex)
There are so many benefits to a great company culture that, understandably, many leaders will want to rush through the process. However, building a positive culture takes time.
As we’ve mentioned, trust is a massive part of team building. And it can’t grow overnight. Leaders need to promote and nurture things like fairness, transparency, inclusion, and respect before these feelings grow into a culture that people want to embrace.
So, take your time and be intentional about your efforts. Listen to your workforce and find out what a great company culture means to them. Sure, salary and benefits packages are important, but a great mission is a powerful motivator too. Often more so.
Tech businesses are at the forefront of a society being transformed by digitisation. Modern products and services are changing how we work, live, and communicate. At their best, tech products are changing people’s lives for the better.
Being involved in important missions like this can be deeply meaningful. Your product and your business’s core values can provide something your team can gather around. It can be a source of profound connections as your team strives towards a goal that actually matters.
Get your communication right, include people from different backgrounds, and prioritise a collaborative and supportive workplace that treats employees like humans, not workers, and a positive culture will emerge.
Building trust takes time, respect, and stability. But if you do the work, it’s possible. From there, it still needs to be tended carefully, but if it is, it will unlock a world of benefits, from productivity to retention and a whole lot more.
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