Anthony Del Monte is the CEO and founder of Squeaky Wheel Media, a Web design and development agency based in NYC, as well as the co-founder of IHadCancer.com, one of the first social-networking sites for cancer survivors, fighters and supporters.
As an entrepreneur, it’s important to realize one surefire reality: you will be spending more time with your partners/employees than with your own family. Thus, how you treat those people should be reflective of how you want others to treat your company. In essence, your end product or service is the result of the strength and happiness of the people that make it all possible.
I had one mission when building Squeaky — produce great work for clients I respect, with people I love. Twelve years later, this remains the same. I invest my time and money in my people and am committed to fostering strong relationships amongst my people.
I consider everyone who works at Squeaky to be important to our mission and have built our culture to reflect this. Culture is a dynamic that makes hard work enjoyable.
However, as expected, it comes with a cost. Over the last few years of tough economic times, I couldn’t help but take a closer look at the price tag that comes with maintaining our culture. Like most small business owners, I had to decide if I should compromise morale-boosting activities in order to prevent a dent in revenue.
However, when I thought back to what has made us so successful in the past, I knew that culture and employee happiness is what enhances the quality of life for my team, so the answer was clear. Culture isn’t something that I’m willing to compromise…ever. Plus, happy people are creative people, and creativity is the heartbeat of innovation.
So if you’re looking for ways to keep your company’s morale up while keeping the expenses down, here are a few simple ideas to experiment with that have been proven successful at my agency for the past 12 years:
1. Promote health (not only the mandated kind)
Exercise not only benefits your body physically but mentally as well, improving memory and overall brain function. Who says you need to have an in-office gym to exercise during the day?
At my agency, I encourage people to spend their lunch breaks going for a run, bike-ride or stroll along the Hudson River (don’t worry, we have a shower). We also offer free in-house yoga classes twice a month.
Taking an hour out the day to be active will only make your team more effective in mind and body while at work. And plus, nothing says “team bonding” like sweating out stress as a company.
2. Share the wealth (of goods, that is)
When discussing payment with a client, (depending on the client) think about how your employees could benefit and consider asking for a partial amount of barter to share with them. It helps everyone in the agency feel connected to all of the clients and ongoing projects, even if they were not directly involved.
Sharing the opportunity also allows your staff to have a better understanding of the product or service that they are helping to promote, or in my case, build a website and digital presence for. As they begin to experience the company or brand, the work that they do for that client is bound to improve.
3. Give back to your community (think local first)
It’s easy to get overwhelmed by a heavy workload and with today’s technology it’s often very hard to disconnect from these stresses. Giving your employees the opportunity to make a difference and will allow them to feel good about themselves in a non-work related context.
It isn’t very difficult to find easy, inexpensive ways for to give back to your city and your community — especially in the aftermath of natural disasters like Hurricane Sandy. Not only will you enhance your agency’s public image and better your community, but you will also strengthen the leadership and interpersonal skills of your employees, all while helping them put their work-related stresses into perspective.
4. Keep your employees in the loop (address your team weekly)
From executives to interns, having your employees educated and well-informed is a key component in making sure the wheels are always spinning. Your employees likely come from different cultural and educational backgrounds and therefore have unique perspectives and insight that they could offer.
Holding weekly meetings is the perfect way to update your team and get everyone in a room together. For big or unique projects, organize staff brainstorming sessions where you can collect everyone’s input – even those who are usually not involved in the early stages of a project.
The more ideas offered, the better it is for the process and the better the end result will be. As an agency owner or entrepreneur, you must subscribe to the belief that there are no wrong answers and great ideas can come from anyone.
Don’t be afraid to take team members outside to discuss business in a new environment to spark fresh ideas – maybe even start a yearly company-wide offsite that allows you look back on the past year and plan for the next one in a new environment.
5. Feed them often (an army marches on its stomach)
When you get off the elevator and walk into to our space, the first thing you see is an open kitchen. Why? Because, like your home, it’s the epicenter of activity. As the word “companion” translates to “breaking bread” in Latin, that’s exactly what we do.
We indulge our team to eat together, cook together and enjoy each other in a comfortable setting. I cook for them once a week and always enjoy the challenge of making so many people happy. The idea of breaking bread with people you work so hard with isn’t unknown – it’s just important to practice as often as you can within your space, at the local watering hole or for an impromptu park picnic or ice cream run.
These are just a few potential ideas that we have always done at Squeaky, but when it comes down to it, our culture isn’t defined by having yoga or doing “cool” things, it’s defined by overarching ethos of thoughtfulness and gestalt. On a snowy day, when you know that nobody really wants to schlep out into the city to get lunch, ask yourself, “how hard would it be to go to the supermarket and get some ingredients for a warm chicken soup that everyone would be grateful for?”
Oh and by the way (hope they aren’t reading..) they usually work longer or through lunch on those food-for-all days. Winning!