First Person: On Creating a Desirable Workplace
I believe a workplace is only as attractive as its culture. If the remote workplace is a city, then the workplace culture is its zoning laws.
Many workplaces produce value, but at what cost? Take the gaming industry, which — despite a workforce I would describe as one of the most passionate next to scientists — is laden with incidents of burnout. Accepting misery could have been the case here at Proton, as we’ve seen rapid growth, even during the few months since I joined the company earlier in the summer. Fortunately, it’s a breath of fresh air: I’ve found that Proton is a great place to work.
We use data, and a little bit of magic to reveal potential profits to distributors. The product has proven its utility, has a healthy market of wholesalers, and thus a lot more room to grow. In pursuing growth, I am convinced companies are best off building a culture that is inviting to employees and conducive to their professional growth. “Only 29% of Gen Z indicated competitive salary and benefits were key to their engagement, compared to nearly half (49%) of those over 55”. Consequently, it is wise that employers habituate more employee-eccentric investments to boost employee engagement and satisfaction - from the company’s perspective, a means to draw in talent for the sake of its long-term growth. “When asked what employers should offer to engage employees, workers placed work-life balance (51%) and career advancement opportunities (43%) at the top of their list of priorities …”. The IBM Institute for Business Value (IBV) launched an extensive CEO research project which revealed some extraordinary insight; the study identified that in today’s trust climate, it is an emerging competitive advantage to designate as critical, a sense of purpose and mission to engage employees. Such is the vernacular consistent among the leaders of outperforming businesses.
When I started at Proton, I found the company Slack an interesting read. With themes from music to food and outdoor activity posts, you would think everybody knew each other in person. More recently, I have discovered if you are feeling extra appreciative of someone’s efforts, you can hop into our #shoutouts channel to sing their praises. After a comfortable onboarding period, settling into my role was a gentle immersion into “how we do things around here”.
It helps to have an active effort by leadership to remain accessible and approachable. Generally, most of the time spent at work is used to work, not build camaraderie with others. With people who have mostly never met, fostering collaboration and camaraderie is a tough task, and Proton has embraced methodology that enables it. Constant stage-setting from leadership (notably our CTO Joseph) for open discourse is a splendid example. It is important that employees feel safe enough to speak up because - as my experience supports - maintaining a healthy internal atmosphere is only possible if an avenue for honest employee feedback exists.
Not just stuffy work matters either. Something to admire at Proton is how easily you can put time on someone’s calendar for discussions. Sometimes with no roadmap or agenda, just chat. Given we are collaborating with our team from behind a screen all the time, a regular one-on-one with your manager is also a very welcome welfare check, and one I would say should be standard.
In true startup spirit, teams are friendly, nimble, and adaptive - traits that contribute to the great work atmosphere at Proton. Take the feeling of pressure during stand-up when you do not have much progress to report. Particularly in engineering, we all have those days, and it goes without saying a cheerful atmosphere and the absence of heavy-handed management are helpful in nudging you along to hammer out a solution. Create team cohesion and camaraderie to develop talented workers so team members are happy to stick around. You are still empowered by company policy if “sticking around” means taking a necessary break and coming back ready to perform – we want to put our peers in a work-conducive scenario. That could be as simple as shifting a team’s regular standup time to benefit the productivity of a teammate in a different time zone.
Everyone does an amazing job at driving inclusivity, which is something I appreciate. It makes the company a great place to work. Ever asked a coworker a work question, then watched them pause and ponder? Not that they are incapable of formulating an answer, rather they have never been asked what they thought. Yikes. Open discussion – ideas getting shut down or rejected respectfully while building upon each other’s contributions — begets conscientiousness. Cultivating this trait, among others, over meetings is challenging through screens. Particularly on the engineering side of things, reduced developer productivity and care for work quality, these can disrupt the product and sales departments, introducing more problems. Hence the importance of interview questions which evaluate “culture add” to get a grasp of applicants’ soft skills. While being mindful to avoid gatekeeping, it is reassuring that we are deliberately thinking about these issues.
“When we feel psychologically unsafe or unvalued, we protest quietly, sometimes even silently or subconsciously.”
Chris White, former director of the University of Michigan’s Center for Positive Organizations
Active effort from the company leadership with empowered and willing employees to uphold a positive work atmosphere make a company culture great. I often wonder what would be different about Proton if we had an office. Would productivity be any higher? During interviews, would it feel different having your potential team with you in the room rather than examining each other through a screen? Our job postings state: “Independence. You take ownership of your own work and thrive when given freedom.” Those are not empty words, so I can say I am very happy with the current arrangement and that is thanks to an active effort from leadership. I am only six months in, yet I am pleased to witness employee-centric growth at Proton and loving my time here. Noster Nostri.