Web & Digital Design
How culture and process are delivering surprising results during COVID
"In some cultures, people are expected to have all the answers already, but the fact is that even the smartest person doesn't know everything."
By Juan Sanchez, Creative Director at Baunfire
Leaving the office hasn't affected productivity at all (and has possibly even increased it), and it's because of how our infrastructure was created at the very beginning. We have an egoless culture and true process that we think all companies could learn from.
Hire outstanding talent and let them make mistakes
First, it’s people who are most important — as is always the case for service-based business teams — so we make sure to hire really talented people who are passionate about what they do. They genuinely love what they do. We’ve found that people who love what they do and are good at what they do tend to be problem-solvers and go-getters. They know how to overcome obstacles, and in March, working remotely was the biggest obstacle.
We allow people to make mistakes. It is okay to not know something and it is OK to ask for help. If you’re asking for help, it means that you want to learn. In some cultures, people are expected to have all the answers already, but the fact is that even the smartest person doesn’t know everything, and burdening people with this unrealistic expectation prevents them from asking questions and being as efficient as they could be. They might stumble and finally figure it out, but wouldn’t it be easier just to ask someone who’s already solved the problem you’re working on?
This is how we create an environment without egos, which I believe is rare these days. No one is going to sit in a chair and wonder what they should do when they have a problem because they don’t want to look dumb.
As far as communication technology during COVID like Slack or Zoom, that doesn’t really matter. Those are just methods of communicating. What distinguishes us is that we’ve made it OK to communicate directly and without fear of failure.
Have a core process, but offer flexibility
We’re definitely not winging it when it comes to project process and workflow. Everyone knows what’s coming next so it’s like clockwork, and we’ve found it pretty impressive because we didn’t do it with remote work in mind, but it’s worked perfectly.
In general, we’ve made a major investment in creating process here. Sometimes when you have a very lean team, people avoid setting up a process because they feel like it just slows things down. The attitude is, “We get it, we know how to do it, we get it done.” There was a time when I felt that way in the earlier years.
But I’ve grown to value process, and while at times it can be slightly slower, I think at the end of the day having the structure is much more beneficial. It’s almost like the tortoise and the hare — without it you feel like you’re going fast, but sometimes you run into these blockers that you could have otherwise avoided.
The process is very visible to all the teams, so it’s easy for them to tell what’s needed and at what point. The “why” behind each step is addressed too, because if you don’t believe in the process, you probably won’t follow it. What are our goals and objectives? Who should be involved in this step of the process and why this component is important? This is important to communicate.
We do let people modify the process a little bit here and there as long as the core process stays the same, because we realized if you force a process on people and it’s not natural to them, it’s hard for them to implement it well. I think that’s a major learning because we used to be more rigid, but then people would make mistakes because they were trying to memorize it instead of having it be second nature. Once we gave permission for people to put their own spin on things, it was crazy how much faster they learned.
One huge unexpected benefit to having an accessible process during COVID is that if a project manager wants to take a day off because they’re going stir-crazy, they can do that and someone else can easily jump in and pick up where they left off. They know exactly where everything is and it’s very easy to hand off projects.
Investing in transparency pays off
We’ve been fortunate that our business hasn’t been burdened with the physical obstacles of COVID in the same way that many brick-and-mortars have been impacted, and we’ve been able to reassure everyone that their jobs are secure thanks to continued new business. No one has had to worry about getting a pay cut. It would be awful to have to have additional anxiety about this, and I was very intentional about making sure this information was communicated in the absence of normal office chatter, which typically keeps everyone in the loop.
Because of our upfront investments in setting a precedent of transparency across the board, we’ve hardly had to “pivot” — instead, we’ve been able to stay the course, focus on doing great work, and learn a little more about each other along the way. Over the past few months, these investments have proven to be well worth the cost time and time again.
Juan Sanchez is the creative director and founder of Baunfire, an award-winning digital agency serving some of the most innovative companies in Silicon Valley and around the world. Baunfire’s clients include Google, Nike, Netgear, Honda, and a slew of companies in everything from biotech to artificial intelligence. As a digital strategy expert with over 20 years of experience, Juan has developed a successful approach to finding the most powerful and engaging methods of connecting B2B companies with their customers, partners and investors.