Some companies just get it right when it comes to culture, productivity, and team happiness. A company’s mission and values play a big role in building a positive culture, as do the leadership’s management. But more often than not, there is an entire team of people–or just one or two superhumans–who make everything run smoothly and preserve the company’s culture. These folks are so good at their jobs that you don’t even realize how big their impact is.
A prime example of one of these people is Nikki Richard, Efficiency Manager at Bark & Co, the parent company of BarkBox. At Bark & Co employees work to fulfill their mission of making the world a better place for dogs. Nikki strongly believes that seeing their mission come to life starts from within and she shared how Bark & Co has created a happy home for their team.
A happy team is a connected team
Bark & Co has 230 team members split between two offices in New York City and Columbus, OH and added 100 employees since Nikki joined 18 months ago. She says that when a company grows as quickly as they are, it becomes increasingly important to keep team members connected, especially across different offices.
To create team togetherness, Nikki explained, it’s crucial to communicate effectively and often. For Bark & Co, this means having weekly all-team meetings with both offices where each department shares their goals and priorities. They use that time to discuss how they can work together, as well as to celebrate company successes, birthdays, and personal milestones.
Nikki added, “The kitchen TVs are one of the most important fixtures in both offices. We have Google Hangouts on each at all times so the two offices can say hi to each other or gawk at the dogs in the other office. It may sound simple, but they play a vital role in bringing us together.”
That sense of family-like togetherness that Bark & Co has had since it’s early days has been a big influence in keeping the team so happy. She added, “We really value face time so we make sure team members visit the other office often. We also have annual, company-wide retreats where we encourage cross-department and cross-office engagement. This past summer’s retreat was our third, but the first I planned and managed - and the first with our Columbus team!”
Communication becomes tighter and shared passions becomes clearer when everyone on a team is aligned around a specific goal. At Bark & Co, their culture feels easy and genuine because everyone truly cares about what they're working towards.
Unity starts with a mission
Fulfilling the Bark & Co mission starts from within the company. Nikki explained, “Creating a better world for dogs starts internally - and that has a big impact on our culture. All employees are obsessed with dogs. Most of them are dog parents and many foster rescue dogs. We do everything we can to make our offices a happy and comfortable place for team dogs. Having dogs in the office also makes for a more inclusive environment - they’re like an ice breaker!”
Nikki elaborated on how their mission extends beyond their internal culture, “We don’t just want places to be ‘dog-friendly.’ We want dogs to feel at home wherever they are. Everything we do is to bring pure joy to dogs’ lives.” Whatever the scope of your company's mission, when you’re all working towards the same goal, not only will your communication be tighter but you’ll be more unified in how you work. According to Nikki, Bark & Co’s mission have given team members focus and created a supportive rapport that keeps them close as a family.
Nikki said, “I’d say our culture is uniquely inappropriate. No fart joke is off limits. We’re focused on making dogs as happy and healthy as possible, but we also like to have a lot of fun together.”
Always move the mission forward
Although you want your team to have fun and feel like a family, your end goal is to be a successful and growing business. Nikki plays a unique role in ensuring that the team is focused on the company’s mission while enjoying their work.
In order to keep their mission and culture alive, Nikki sets an example for the team. “I say hi to the dogs first, then the people. I’m also working to create more mission-driven HR policies and benefits. We offer pet insurance for our employees, which is pretty unique. During our weekly meetings, we frequently share our team values, that remind the team of our culture and what we’re working to accomplish together. I also work closely with the Recruiting team to make sure we’re attracting people who also fit our culture and are passionate about our mission.”
Their mission and their team’s happiness plays a big role in hiring as well. “Aside from looking at someone’s skills, we want to make sure they’ll feel at home with us. That’s why we often have dogs in the room when interviewing. As a part of the application process, we also ask for applicants’ best joke to make sure they’re a personality fit in terms of being light-hearted and positive.”
Transparency at scale
To build a happy team, you have to make your team comfortable. But how do you do that at scale? Bark & Co has found ways to maintain their culture and team happiness no matter how big they become. Beyond structured meetings and events, all three of Bark & Co’s co-founders are available and approachable to the team–a characteristic unique to a fast-growing startup. They value transparency and that plays a big role in maintaining a sense of their mission-driven and fun-loving culture.
Nikki said, “It’s important for our leaders to be approachable. For example, we have bi-weekly meetings with our at least one of our Co-Founders, where they answer absolutely any question.” As they have grown, Bark & Co has worked hard to maintain transparency and the sense of culture that brought the team together in the first place.
Nikki added, “My biggest piece of advice to those working in growing companies is to not let culture slide as a team grows. Bark Culture is still just as alive today with 230 people as it was when it started. All employees are in on inside jokes from the early days. We’re always sharing and creating new memories together.”
Make your team feel literally at home
A big component of employee happiness at Bark & Co has been making their team and their dogs comfortable. Nikki said, “We don’t have typical office furniture. Our Co-Founder, Henrik, is Danish, so there is a lot of beautiful, modern-minimalist home furniture throughout the office. Our conference tables are dining room tables, we have a real coffee machine like you’d find in a home, and our kitchen is an actual kitchen like mine - or what I wish mine looked like.”
A comfortable environment, combined with the fact that the team really likes being together, makes for a homey and happy environment. “We make time to get to know each other. We feel more like a family than a group of coworkers. Most people don’t rush to go home, they like to hang out at the office together. We go out and celebrate each other’s hobbies and have monthly parties where we have new team members dress up or play bartender so that current team members know who they are and can introduce themselves.”
At the end of the day, a company is a community of like-minded people with varied interests, hobbies, and lifestyles working together to accomplish one big thing. No matter how different your team members are, they’re going to be more comfortable in their work if they’re comfortable with each other.
Create the feeling of finding your people
Making a team comfortable is about building a unique community of people who understand each other, compliment each other’s skills, and enjoy working together. Nikki said, “I think you become truly happy in a job or with a company when you feel like you’ve found your people. When I started an Instagram account for my dogs, Reba and Kassie (@rebakassie) at my old job, they thought I was crazy. At Bark & Co, we have our dogs’ handles in our email signatures.” By reflecting their mission through cultural practices big and small, Bark & Co has attracted passionate people who are focused on the same goal.
Make your team feel like a family
Not every company has a mission as inherently warm and fuzzy as making the world a better place for dogs. However, you too can make your team feel at home - make them feel like family. Get to know your team members and their interests. Organize events to bring them together. Make team introductions as fit. Be a resource to your fellow team members so that they can ease into the culture till they settle in.