Habits and organizational norms helped the manufacturer Alcoa become one of the safest—and most profitable—companies in the world.
In the late 1980’s, after a fatal accident killed a plant manager, Alcoa’s CEO sent a note to everyone at the organization. In it, he encouraged employees to be vocal about how to improve safety—and to call him at home if managers failed to take action on their suggestions.
Establishing a company-wide habit of discussing safety improvements not only reduced accidents, it also created a new communication pattern that boosted Alcoa’s bottom line. Employees started making all kinds of useful suggestions for how the organization could become more efficient. For organizations of all sizes and industries, habits and “norms” of behavior are the foundation of a company’s culture.
At Humu, we’re no different—in fact, we’re more focused than most on the ways that group and individual behaviors, habits and norms impact workplaces. Both in our customers’ cultures and our own.
The academic literature tells us habits are often formed by “cues.” This can take many forms, including specific times, people, or emotional states. Realizing that it’s 8am, for example, might propel you to start a series of habits: you jump out of bed, you brush your teeth, you eat a bowl of oatmeal.
Another powerful habit cue is physical location. Which is why, when we moved into our beautiful new office a few months ago, our People Scientists flagged that it was an excellent time to discuss our office norms and behaviors (the research shows that the act of talking about norms can help to motivate positive change).
Enter Emily Nelson, who leads Employee Experience at Humu. Emily helped us build consensus around the rituals that matter to us most. Below are four of Humu’s most treasured office norms, how we’re making each a habit, and why we value each one so much.
1. We try to eat lunch together every day
We know that trust falls, rope courses, or dramatic sky-diving sessions aren’t the key to unlocking real, lasting connections. While it’s a much less flashy activity, sharing a daily meal is one of the most effective ways to bond with your co-workers. Research shows that firefighters who prepare and eat meals together are better able to focus and to collaborate on the job than those who don’t.
To honor this norm, we make it a habit to avoid scheduling meetings over the lunch hour, and to mix up who we sit with each day. Of course, there are always times when we need to go solo for alone time—but we like to think of that as the exception, not the rule.
2. We respect each other’s room needs
We make it a priority to honor conference room booking, which helps us steer clear of the “I’m standing outside the door simmering with resentment” moments that are all too common in the workplace. Establishing compassionate norms (like respecting a colleague’s schedule) makes all the difference when it comes to creating a healthy emotional culture.
To help keep everything running smoothly, we’ve added a visible clock to each room—and encourage people to check it regularly to ensure they’re keeping tabs on time.
3. We make it easy to work at work
We all sit in an open office space, which can be noisy and distracting if teams aren’t careful to establish ground rules. To ensure that everyone gets the quiet time they need for heads down work, we’ve made it a habit to keep long and/or loud conversations out of the main workstation area. We also have ample booths where people can take calls, since we know that listening to someone else on the phone can affect your focus and productivity.
We’ve also established a red flag norm: if someone has a red flag on their desk, we don’t interrupt them.
4. We take steps to avoid creating silos
Every few months, we shuffle our desks (though we try to keep members of the same team in the same general area). Rotating seat assignments can boost productivity, creativity, and performance: sitting next to someone new gives you an opportunity to exchange ideas, which can benefit both of your work.
We also come together every day for a company-wide stand-up, which helps to increase info-sharing as we grow—and is a great opportunity to ask those hard-hitting cross-functional questions. (Pro-tip: we strategically hold stand-up right before lunch, knowing that our hunger levels will help us keep things moving!)
As we continue to add new team members, being explicit about office norms helps everyone feel like part of the team and keeps the office running smoothly. These intentional daily actions are what create our culture––and help us keep it even as we grow.