You spend a solid 40 (or more) hours at work each week — would you really want to spend any more time than you already have to with your co-workers?
Statistics show that you should — strong relationships with co-workers foster happiness and productivity. A report from RedBalloon/AltusQ found that companies with high employee engagement levels were up to 10 times more likely to see an increase in sales and profit than those with lower engagement. What’s more: Coaching, buddy programs, company lunches and nights out had the greatest effect on employee engagement levels. In other words, employees want to feel nurtured and belong to a community.
Company culture is important, and brands have found it worth the investment to spend a little money on cultivating a team dynamic. As Zappos CEO Tony Hsieh once said, “If we get the culture right, then great service and building a long-term, enduring brand or business will just be a natural byproduct.”
Mashable spoke with several startups about whether they do company outings and how it contributes to an improved company culture. Step one: Break out the karaoke machine.
A Great Spark for Ideation and Innovation
In a fast-moving, high-pressure tech environment, it’s important to take a break. The brain is a muscle, and while working it out will strengthen it, it’s also important to give it a rest and let it recover. Even better if you can have some fun during the recovery period.
“We’ve found that team members often get their best ideas when they’re out of the office with time to breathe and have fun,” says Rent the Runway founder Jenn Hyman. Her team goes “off the island” for team-building so the company’s 70 employees understand one another and enjoy communicating with one another on a personal and professional level. This summer, the RTR team will go aboard a trendy pirate-themed boat cruise, enjoy a day of beach Olympics and have a cookout at their warehouse in New Jersey.
Escaping the city is a good plan — a metropolis can be an overwhelming place, and leaving, even if it’s just for the day, can feel like a vacation. StumbleUpon teammates recently headed out to Angel Island to soak up the sun and engage in the playful pickup games in the park. Another team took a sweet outing to TCHO, a San Francisco chocolate factory. A StumbleUpon staple is karaoke, and as you’ll see in the video above, even higher-ups (Marc Leibowitz, VP of Business Development and Marketing, and CFO Mark Bartels) aren’t afraid to belt a few jams in front of the entire company.
“Outings are a fun break — people from different functional areas get to know each other better in a casual setting,” says Bartels. “We’ve found that it’s often in these relaxed and open moments that we get some creative solutions and collaboration that ends up back in the office.”
On a similar note, Foursquare hosts team drinks every month or two so everyone can meet the new employees at the fast-growing company, and the team indulges in local “culture.” The NYC team went to the rodeo at Madison Square Garden (and then went out for karaoke), and the SF team went to a monster truck show (of course, they checked in). Like many tech startups, the team has offices in San Francisco and New York, so they make an effort to get to know each other when someone’s in town — face-time helps to bring those email avatars to life.
“It’s very important to us that employees continue to socialize and share ideas across teams as we grow,” says Susan Loh, head of talent at Foursquare. “Some of our best ideas have started as casual conversations over beers.”
Scopely, a mobile company based in Los Angeles, does regular paintball outings, hosts company dinners and has a kickball team. Last year, there was even an all-company trip to Hawaii, which included group surfing lessons. All of this quality time has created a “huge boost” in company morale.
“We often have incredible late night brainstorming sessions on some of the outings, and it’s clear these have led people to become even more passionate about the product,” says Sujay Tyle, VP of business development.
The Startup That Plays Together Stays To
When you’re working in a team, it’s important that you like one another and understand where the others are coming from. Two heads are better than one because everyone has a different perspective, and if you can put some time and effort into getting to know your colleagues on a personal level, your company’s work will benefit from these multiple points of view.
Eventbrite‘s teams take quarterly off-sites — doing anything from river rafting to bowling — and the company does BBQs in the park, movie nights, happy hours and trips to Giants games. For the bold, there’s even an annual talent show with trophies (unfortunately, no footage was available).
Located just down the road, Klout employees enjoy their fair share of “Kloutings,” including a camping trip, trips to the Santa Cruz Beach Boardwalk and a St. Patrick’s Day Pub Crawl.
“These outings really help the team reinforce existing bonds and forge new bonds with newer employees as we grow the business,” says Lynn Fox, head of communications. “The fact that team members genuinely like each other makes them want their peers and the company to succeed.”
If you’re looking for a way to engage your team, think about the business you’re in — being on-brand reinforces the purpose of the company and reinvigorates your employees’ passion. Green Mountain Digital, a nature and wildlife app developer, seeks to connect people with the outdoors via technology. So for fun, the team heads to the great outdoors.
“We’ve done hikes, bird walks and fly-fishing classes with our apps … this summer, we’re planning a special event for our interns at Equinox’s British School of Falconry,” says CEO Brendan Cahill. “When we bring the team into these different environments, it really gives a new perspective to the content we build into our apps, as well as how we work together day-to-day.”
Likewise, artists swing by Spotify‘s offices for intimate concerts, and employees are encouraged to pause their tasks and drop by the session to see artists like Grouplove, Walk the Moon, Civil Twilight, Emeli Sande and the Kooks in the flesh. Another sweet perk that takes the term “outing” to an extreme: All new employees go through orientation in Stockholm, where they learn about the company and hit the town with their Swedish colleagues. Other out-of-office, team-building extracurriculars include a company softball team, trips to Yankees and Mets games, bowling nights and karaoke outings.
“When you’re growing a company there’s nothing more important than the team you build,” says Irving Fain, CEO of CrowdTwist, whose team frequently partakes in karaoke, neon bowling, Jenga competitions and wine tastings. “The journey is long, and even in the best of circumstances, it’s difficult. No one person can do it on their own, so everyone needs to rely on teamwork and trust in those around them. There’s no better way to foster those values than getting out of the office and spending time with the team away from the day-to-day grind. At the end of the day, we’re all people that have interests and passions outside of work, and it’s important to develop friendships and relationships with the people that you work with to reflect this reality.”
Hierarchy Goes Out the Window
Startups are a unique workplace, but they’re still a workplace and the people there are in “work mode.” Sometimes we need to let loose and not feel like we can’t say something to someone because he’s a superior. Outings facilitate conversations between people across various departments and throughout the company hierarchy.
“To get the greatest variety of thought from our team, we have to be a team in other contexts and other situations. When we do testing on the latest alpha of Wordy Bird or Quiz Night, we have conversations that aren’t going to come up during a Monday staff meeting,” says Mikhael Naayem, co-founder of Grantoo, a social gaming platform. “Where else is an unpaid intern going to call the co-founder ‘A lousy card-counting liar!’ and have everyone laugh about it?”
At the end of the day, people want to have fun — the more fun they have, the more they’ll look forward to going to work the next day. Startups are leading the charge with fun, bright environments and company cultures that foster collaboration, creativity and, most importantly, productivity. As is evidenced here, company outings are a crucial component of a good culture.