In a climate where the tech and digital skills gap means exceptional candidates are hard to come by, where there is increased demand for exciting company culture and a good work-life balance, employers must step up to the mark.

Luckily for people based in the South West, there is a multitude of dynamic tech and digital organisations to choose from – namely the 2021 nominees for The SPARKies Best Place to Work award.

To showcase these fantastic companies during Talent Month at TechSPARK, we teamed up with category sponsors Interaction, the strategic workplace design and build experts, to chat with the shortlisted about their take on nourishing a healthy company culture.

Speaking with us today is Richard Godrey, founder and CEO of Rocketmakers. The Bath-based agency designs, develops and deploys award-winning apps, websites, and software for startups, scaleups, and large innovative organisations.

How would you summarise your workplace culture?

Friendly, professional, flexible, trusting, empowered. Our values are at the heart of our culture: Collaborative, caring, supportive, and in it together. Learning continuously. Integrity and Trust. Pride in what we do. Self-starting and motivated.

In a world where you can leave a job on a Friday, get a laptop sent out over the weekend and start a new remote role on Monday doing roughly the same work, how important actually is culture?

As Peter Drucker says, “culture eats strategy for breakfast.” It’s central to our success or failure as a business and has been our highest priority since the inception of the business.

How do you know when you have a strong/good culture?

What are the subtle signs? When crew members live and champion the values; when retention is high (and when people choose to leave for the right reasons and are supported in their decisions); when we don’t need to keep telling/reminding everyone what the culture is; when crew members take on leadership of innovative projects and practices within the business because they feel a sense of ownership for it and when crew members are friends that are willing to go the extra mile for one another.

What’s the role of leadership in creating culture?

To what extent is it their responsibility and to what extent does it belong to the people in the organisation? At Rocketmakers everyone is a leader – it’s a trait that we encourage in everyone and that makes culture creation and curation a role for everyone. Those that take a more active role do so by being open and receptive to our crew’s ideas, wants and needs. Those people provide some gentle encouragement for others to carve their own paths and always ask themselves ‘how can I answer yes to this?’ We are lucky that one of our real strengths as an organisation is that our culture flourishes without any need for direct leadership intervention.

As a result of the ‘new normal’ our working practices have changed. What do you see as the impacts of hybrid and flexible working being on company culture?

If anything, we’ve seen hybrid working strengthen our company culture – the advent of covid has seen the crew band together to make things work in the face of adversity. It certainly hasn’t been easy – our culture had long been energised and informed by our everyday interactions, client discovery workshops, crew games nights, fat Friday brunches, Thirsty Thursday nights out, and moving those things online was really hard. It has definitely put even more focus on the time we do spend together. The very fact that we have expanded the team by nearly 3x during the pandemic and haven’t seen only one person leave feels like an amazing reflection of our culture particularly as developers now have access to more lucrative opportunities remotely.

How do you make your company values come alive, rather than just the names of your meeting rooms?

Our values were derived from the way we work in the first place – the culture came first and the values are our best attempt to capture it. They are woven into all of our people practices from interviews, onboarding and even when people leave the business. Before they join the business we help new crew members to understand how important they are to us. Our values are celebrated day to day through our peer to peer mentoring and feedback mechanisms.

What are the key considerations when trying to build a culture digitally?

Trust everyone, don’t be afraid to innovate in an iterative way, and keep connected. At Rocketmakers, as our COO James Routley says, “we’ve made the informal catch-up meetings the highest priority in our week to make sure they happen” – whether those are small group donut catchups or whole organisation-wide standup sessions.

What do companies (or what have you) got wrong about workplace culture?

We realised that the ‘one size fits all’ approach to perks, benefits, and social activities wasn’t going to work as we grew. Once we started growing rapidly it became obvious that culture was about so much more than just grabbing some drinks after work. Kickstarting and growing our social and benefits offering organically based on people’s ideas and input helped people feel they had shaped our culture rather than just adopting it.

What’s the one thing you’d advise other organisations to think really hard about when considering their culture?

Think about why you want to build a positive culture. What is it for? Then focus on that, rather than the steps you’re taking. In our case, ultimately we want our people to feel valued, like they can be themselves, have a voice and genuinely enjoy coming to work. The way we approach culture curation and creation is entirely driven by that goal. Be generous whenever you can, the opportunity costs are often far greater than you’d imagine and the goodwill generated by generosity has immeasurable positive impacts.