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.

Up next is Immersive Labs, the Bristol-based company develop tech and content that helps businesses to increase and evidence human capability in their cybersecurity.

How would you summarise your workplace culture?

We have three pillars to our values that help define our culture: Inclusivity, Drive and Agility.

They underpin everything we do. Every single person at Immersive Labs is a custodian of our culture, and the inclusive behaviour ensures everyone feels they have a voice, a sense of belonging, and that everyone understands their role in ensuring people feel included from day one. Maintaining our connection is imperative to making life at Immersive Labs feel unique.

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?

We’re glad that you asked; our culture is something we’re incredibly proud of. Immersive Labs is only five years old and we’ve grown from a couple of people based in a shipping container in Bristol to hundreds of people across the world, many of whom have joined remotely in the past 18 months. Through all of this, however big we get and wherever people join us from, one thing remains a priority: our culture. Why? We think this is exemplified in the question itself. You could leave a job Friday, get your equipment and on Monday be doing roughly the same ob. Therefore culture has never been so important. 

As human beings we crave meaningful connection, what makes the job different is the people you work with, the way you communicate with each other, the behaviours of those around you and a sense of belonging. In this COVID world of working, culture is the reason people stay at the same company. We believe everyone who joins Immersive adds to the culture, they own and shape it into the culture we have today and what that culture will look like in the future.

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

The subtle signs are that people are not afraid to fail, they speak up when things aren’t going well, and they magnify the businesses successes. People know they are an important part of the business success and that their opinions matter, and are acted upon. It’s when your people go quiet, they don’t share success or speak up, and instead they show up in anonymous surveys. A great subtle, or maybe a very in your face, sign is when you log into LinkedIn in the morning and every single post you scroll past is people in your business sharing a success story from within. You know then you have a collective of passionate individuals striving for success with the people they work with.

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?

Leadership is essential to creating culture, but not at the detriment of those within the organisation feeling a sense of responsibility for culture. Leadership should exemplify but not overpower voices from across the organisation. Culture is every single person’s responsibility, which is why we feel inclusivity is key to our values.

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

We know from our company wide surveys that those that work remotely, ie they come to the office once a month or less, can feel less of a sense of belonging. We have established this from our weekly pulse checks through a tool we use called Officevibe, and also through our recent Diversity and Inclusion survey. It is much easier to feel a connection and a strong link to our culture when you physically visit the office frequently. Although the discrepancy in that sense of belonging is a few decimal places, we take it seriously as we want everyone to feel part of the culture no matter where they are based.

We know people value the flexibility of being able to work remotely and at times which are best for them so we have built that into our new hybrid working policy.

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

Firstly, we don’t name our meeting rooms after our values, that almost makes them ‘novelty’ rather than our DNA. They are woven into our policies, our career matrices, our recruitment practices, our reward and recognition practices, our company-wide stand ups and how we make decisions. We highlight and celebrate behaviours that demonstrate our values are alive and well.

One of the ways our value of drive has come to life is through our recent partnership with the McLaren Formula 1 team that will see them use our platform to build human cyber capabilities for their technical and non-technical teams and carry Immersive Labs branding on cars.

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

Getting the balance right between videos on versus videos off. As much as people are suffering from Zoom fatigue, it is a way to build connections. Having tools available for collaboration and connection and remembering, teams and individuals want to feel empowered to lead on culture. And, while digital is great, it’s important to give people regular opportunities to get together in person (as long as people are comfortable).

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

To claim you have a perfect culture is the first step to getting your workplace culture wrong. Knowing that everyone is imperfect and human is very important, knowing we make mistakes, we fail, and we always have things to learn. Never get to a space where you think you have got it right, instead continuously measure and act on feedback to improve.

We’ve recently updated our hybrid working policies to allow for more flexibility and for those that love working in an office we’ve invested in a new space in Bristol, UK and Boston, USA for our employees to spend in person time together when they want.

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

Would you delay hitting a revenue milestone in order to get your culture right? If not, do you really stand by your company culture?